I met Dr. Paul Farmer yesterday after he spoke at the Nourse Theater yesterday. He quoted Dr. Jim Kim in regards to the current Ebola Crisis in Western Africa as stating, “We are all Liberians now.” I thought this was a very transcendent way of outlining the cultural and philosophical shift that must occur if we are to solve some of today’s most pressing problems in the world.
I am so excited to share this book with the rest of the members of the San Francisco Public Library!
As I embark upon my early career as a healer and friend to the poor and disenfranchised members of our global community, with the humility of a life-long learner, I regard collaboration as an utmost necessity for global progress. I recognize that as an individual among billions, I must improve, utilize and share my skills and knowledge to maximize my ability to helpfully collaborate. Paul Farmer is my role model in this regard and I feel absolutely honored to have met him last night.
Though the crisis in West Africa looks grim, with forecasts of up to 1.4 million dead by the end of the year, I remain optimistic because transnational cooperation and unification of efforts through strong leadership have the capability to end the pandemic.
Unless otherwise stated, the content outlined below was taken directly from the first chapter of Noam Chomsky’s book “Hopes and Prospects,” with augmented details from wikipedia. If you enjoy this at all, go read that book and you will not be disappointed, believe me.
In 1492, Columbus initiated Europe’s conquest of the Western Hemisphere. “Columbus and the other murderers quickly wiped out the indigenous population with indescribable savagery.” There was chaotic violence among Spanish, English, Dutch, and French settlers and buccaneers, as events determined which European powers would come to colonize Haiti and the rest of the Western Hemisphere. In around 1660, the French colonized Haiti, dubbing it “Saint-Domingue.”
Haiti became the richest colony in the world. In 1789, Haiti produced 75% of the world’s sugar and was the lead producer of cotton (“the ‘oil’ of the early industrial revolution”). Haiti was deforested, exporting timber to France (who in turn exported slaves to Haiti to continue increasing production of commodities). With revolutionary momentum at home, as well as support from the United States, Haiti declared independence on January 1, 1804, “becoming the first free country of free men in the hemisphere, twenty years after the slave society that now dominates the world had liberated itself from England” and returning to its indigenous Taíno name of Haiti (“Land of Mountains”).
In 1825, France would only recognize the independence of Haiti in exchange for 90 million gold francs, which Haiti agreed to pay in exchange for both its independence and to lift an embargo imposed by France, Britain and the United States.
It took the United States until 1862 to recognize the independence of Haiti, the same year it recognized that of Liberia and for identical reasons: the potential exportation of non-whites as slaves were being freed and non-whites were not welcome in the “land of the free.”
In 1915, President Woodrow Wilson led an invasion of Haiti, killing fifteen thousand and injecting United States corporations into the Haitian economy.The Haitian Parliament was disbanded by United States marines at gunpoint after it refused to accept a new, U.S.-written Constitution. A referendum was conducted by a 99.9% approval among a mere 5% of the Haitian population, executing “progressive” measures which put Haitian peasants to essentially slave labor within U.S.-owned assembly plants. The World Bank’s “export-oriented development strategy” limited domestic consumption, placing emphasis on “the expansion of private enterprises,” minimizing support for education, social objectives, and subsequently leading to the conglomeration of miserable urban slums in Haiti. Further, food exports to Haiti from the United States began and continue to this day, helping grow the subsidized American agriculture industry we now see, and out-competing non-subsidized Haitian farmers (thank Reagan later for his reforms in this area).
The 90 million debt to France was repaid in full by 1947. “The civilized world agreed that France’s punishment of Haiti was just, and still does.”
From 1957-71, François Duvalier was the president/dictator of Haiti, emphasizing voodoo and casting fear throughout his people while having his rural militia take the lives of 30,000 Haitians and exile many more. At the beginning of his presidency, Duvalier became known as “Papa Doc” after successfully fighting diseases. In 1964, a rigged, constitutional referendum made Papa Doc “President for Life.” He died in 1971 and was succeeded by his 19-year-old son, Jean-Claude Duvalier, who naturally became known as “Baby Doc.”
Baby Doc delegated most of his near-absolute power to advisors, living a luxurious life funded by a tobacco monopoly. In 1971, the United States restored the US aid program for Haiti under the Nixon Administration. Thousands of Haitians were killed or tortured and hundreds of thousands fled the country during Baby Doc’s rule. In 1983, widespread discontent spread throughout Haiti when Pope John Paul II condemned the regime during a visit. In 1985, the legislature passed a law requiring that every political party recognize president-for-life “Baby Doc” Duvalier as “the supreme arbiter of the nation,” granting the government the legal power to suspend the rights of any political party. In accordance with this “progress of democracy,” the Reagan Administration continued providing military aid to the “vicious and venal dictator.” In February 1986, after months of disorder, the junta forced Duvalier to resign and go into exile.
From 1986-1990, there was a “transitional government.” The November 1987 election was canceled when hundreds were massacred on election day. The Haitian Presidential Election of 1988 saw a 4% turnout and elected Professor Leslie Manigat to be President; he was ousted by a military coup three months later. On September 11, 1988, the church of Jean-Bertrand Aristide was attacked and burned down. Aristide was a preacher of liberation theology, expressing the injustice towards the poor and advocating on their behalf.
“Haiti’s first free election, in 1990, threatened the rational programs imposed by Washington and the international financial institutions. The poor majority entered the political arena for the first time and, by a two-thirds majority, elected their own candidate, the populist priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide — the the surprise and shock of observers, who had been paying little attention to the extensive grassroots organizing in the slums and hills and took for granted that U.S.-backed candidate Marc Bazin, a former World Bank official who monopolized resources and had the full support of the wealthy elite, would win easily; Bazin received 14 percent of the vote. During Aristide’s brief tenure in office, the refugee flow reversed: instead of refugees fleeing from terror and repression, and being turned back by the U.S. Coast Guard (or sometimes dispatched to Guantánamo) in violation of international conventions on refugees, Haitians were returning to their homeland in this moment of hope. U.S. refugee policy shifted accordingly: though they were few, refugees were now granted asylum, since they were fleeing a democratic government that the United States opposed, not vicious dictatorships that the United States supported. Aristide’s success in controlling finances and cutting down the bloated bureaucracy was praised by international lending institutions, which accordingly provided aid. The situation was dangerous: Haiti was moving toward democracy, drifting from the U.S. orbit, and adopting policies oriented to the needs of the impoverished majority, not the rich U.S. allies.”
Washington shifted aid to business-led opposition. In September 1991, there was a military coup against Aristide with probable CIA participation, confirmed by Emmanuel Constant who led the terrorist organization “Front pour l’Avancement et le Progrès Haitien” which killed thousands of Haitians; “Constant was later protected from extradition to Haiti by the Clinton administration, very likely because he had too much to say.” Secret export of U.S. oil to the military junta took place despite an embargo and oppositional presidential directives. “Now that Haiti was in the hands of a murderous dictatorship serving the wealthy, refugee policy returned to the norm.”
Military rule continued until “Clinton apparently decided that the population was sufficiently intimidated” and U.S. forces restored Aristide to the presidency in 1994, confiscating 160,000 pages of documents in the process “to avoid embarrassing revelations about Washington’s support for the military junta,” specifically by Bush senior and even more so by Clinton. In order to be returned to his fairly-elected position, Aristide was forced to agree to adopt neoliberal policies, somewhat identical to the platform of his former presidential opponent who in fact became president for some time with support from the military junta in 1992.
In 1995, a USAID report observed that “export-driven trade and investment policy [that Washington mandated will] relentlessly squeeze the domestic rice farmer,” and drive people into miserable slums. “Meanwhile neoliberal policies dismantled what was left of economic sovereignty and drove the country into chaos, accelerated by Bush II’s blocking of almost all international aid on cynical grounds.”
Starting in 1996, Préval, a historical ally of Aristide, served as President after being fairly elected with 88% of the vote. There was dangerous political deadlock during Préval’s presidency due to his opposition to Aristide. Then in May 2000, Aristide was elected to his second presidential term with 67% of the vote but there were controversies regarding the validity of the election. In a subsequent November 2000 election for president, Aristide won 90% of the vote on a turnout of 50% according to international observers. There was conflict between the Aristide and Préval regimes, but Aristide took office again in 2001. Allegations of drug-trafficking rose to the upper-echelons of the Aristide regime.
“A few years ago, Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide politely asked France whether the time had not come to compensate Haitians for this crushing debt, at least slightly.” France was outraged. In 2004, under the guise of a rescue, France and the United States overthrew the Haitian government and kidnapped the elected president, dispatching him to Central Africa. This instituted yet another reign of terror and horror ensued. “In August 2006, the world’s leading medical journal, The Lancet, released a study of human rights abuses from the February 2004 overthrow of the government until December 2005. The researchers found that some eight thousand individuals (about twelve per day) were murdered during the period, and sexual assault was common, especially against children, with the data suggesting thirty-five thousand women and girls were raped in the Port-au-Prince area alone. The atrocities were attributed primarily to criminals, the Hatian National Police, and UN peacekeepers. They found very few attributed to the pro-Aristide Lavalas forces. The study passed without notice in the United States, very little elsewhere.”
Haiti was left particularly vulnerable to food price fluctuation at this time. Coincidentally, riots broke out in both Haiti and Bangladesh in early 2008. With the economic crisis in the West, severe budget cuts took effect within the UN World Food Program, causing the “toll of hunger” to exceed a billion people, with 100 million added in a 6-month period.
The newspaper “New Nation” of Bangladesh reported:
“It’s very telling that trillions have already been spent to patch up leading world financial institutions, while out of the comparatively small sum of $12.3 billion pledged in Rome earlier this year, to offset the food crisis, only $1 billion has been delivered. The hope that at least extreme poverty can be eradicated by the end of 2015, as stipulated in the UN’s Millenium Development Goals, seems as unrealistic as ever, not due to lack of resources but a lack of true concern for the world’s poor.”
Thus, the outcomes of disasters such as the earthquake of January 2010 are in actuality “substantially man-made, the consequences of policy decisions and others like them since the U.S. invasion of 1915 exacerbating the disasters set in motion by France as it enriched itself by robbing and destroying its richest colony.” “Intentional ignorance” shields public perception from the “human hand” in these “not just natural disasters.”
In a donor’s conference held in Montreal after the January 2010 earthquake, two of the “most urgent requirements for ameliorating the grim conditions of Haiti,” namely writing off Haiti’s debt “for which the population bears no responsibility” (as the United States advocated for Cuba’s debt to Spain to be forgiven after U.S. takeover of Cuba in 1898) and “reducing the agricultural subsidies of the rich countries that have been a lethal blow to the agricultural system and a major spur to the urbanization that is largely responsible for the colossal death toll of the earthquake.”
So now you know. Don’t forget that “one of the enduring principles of intellectual history” is, as Francis Jennings wrote, that “In history, the man in the ruffled shirt and gold-laced waistcoat somehow levitates above the blood he has ordered to be spilled by dirty-handed underlings.”