Sunday, January 17, 2010

Hidden Haiti

Here's a commentary worth reading, on the subject of the Haitian earthquake on the website . I reproduce it here in full, it's not very long and it makes cogent points. Already we have started to see pictures of big, butch, well equipped white people carrying dusty dark skinned people out of piles of rubble. This commentary provides a little balance to the pictures, I think.

Published on Thursday, January 14, 2010 by
What You're Not Hearing about Haiti (But Should Be)
by Carl Lindskoog

In the hours following Haiti's devastating earthquake, CNN, the New York Times and other major news sources adopted a common interpretation for the severe destruction: the 7.0 earthquake was so devastating because it struck an urban area that was extremely over-populated and extremely poor. Houses "built on top of each other" and constructed by the poor people themselves made for a fragile city. And the country's many years of underdevelopment and political turmoil made the Haitian government ill-prepared to respond to such a disaster.

True enough. But that's not the whole story. What's missing is any explanation of why there are so many Haitians living in and around Port-au-Prince and why so many of them are forced to survive on so little. Indeed, even when an explanation is ventured, it is often outrageously false such as a former U.S. diplomat's testimony on CNN that Port-au-Prince's overpopulation was due to the fact that Haitians, like most Third World people, know nothing of birth control.

It may startle news-hungry Americans to learn that these conditions the American media correctly attributes to magnifying the impact of this tremendous disaster were largely the product of American policies and an American-led development model.

From 1957-1971 Haitians lived under the dark shadow of "Papa Doc" Duvalier, a brutal dictator who enjoyed U.S. backing because he was seen by Americans as a reliable anti-Communist. After his death, Duvalier's son, Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" became President-for-life at the age of 19 and he ruled Haiti until he was finally overthrown in 1986. It was in the 1970s and 1980s that Baby Doc and the United States government and business community worked together to put Haiti and Haiti's capitol city on track to become what it was on January 12, 2010.

After the coronation of Baby Doc, American planners inside and outside the U.S. government initiated their plan to transform Haiti into the "Taiwan of the Caribbean." This small, poor country situated conveniently close to the United States was instructed to abandon its agricultural past and develop a robust, export-oriented manufacturing sector. This, Duvalier and his allies were told, was the way toward modernization and economic development.

From the standpoint of the World Bank and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Haiti was the perfect candidate for this neoliberal facelift. The entrenched poverty of the Haitian masses could be used to force them into low-paying jobs sewing baseballs and assembling other products.

But USAID had plans for the countryside too. Not only were Haiti's cities to become exporting bases but so was the countryside, with Haitian agriculture also reshaped along the lines of export-oriented, market-based production. To accomplish this USAID, along with urban industrialists and large landholders, worked to create agro-processing facilities, even while they increased their practice of dumping surplus agricultural products from the U.S. on the Haitian people.

This "aid" from the Americans, along with the structural changes in the countryside predictably forced Haitian peasants who could no longer survive to migrate to the cities, especially Port-au-Prince where the new manufacturing jobs were supposed to be. However, when they got there they found there weren't nearly enough manufacturing jobs go around. The city became more and more crowded. Slum areas expanded. And to meet the housing needs of the displaced peasants, quickly and cheaply constructed housing was put up, sometimes placing houses right "on top of each other."

Before too long, however, American planners and Haitian elites decided that perhaps their development model didn't work so well in Haiti and they abandoned it. The consequences of these American-led changes remain, however.

When on the afternoon and evening of January 12, 2010 Haiti experienced that horrible earthquake and round after round of aftershock the destruction was, no doubt, greatly worsened by the very real over-crowding and poverty of Port-au-Prince and the surrounding areas. But shocked Americans can do more than shake their heads and, with pity, make a donation. They can confront their own country's responsibility for the conditions in Port-au-Prince that magnified the earthquake's impact, and they can acknowledge America's role in keeping Haiti from achieving meaningful development. To accept the incomplete story of Haiti offered by CNN and the New York Times is to blame Haitians for being the victims of a scheme that was not of their own making. As John Milton wrote, "they who have put out the people's eyes, reproach them of their blindness."
Carl Lindskoog is a New York City-based activist and historian completing a doctoral degree at the City University of New York. You can contact him at

The Impediment Of Dog

Dogs are a total pain in the backside. They shed hair, their mark bamboo floors, they need attention, they generate veterinarian bills. You can't take a vacation without worrying whether they come or stay and if they stay who looks after them? They generally die before you do and when they die they take a piece of your heart, painfully, with them. Why own a dog?You might want to own a dog because they take you places you never went before. Who knew bracken (a particular kind of fern) grows in the Keys? Cheyenne does:

"She's eating something in the grass" the distraught snowbird called out as he cycled by. Hey, she's a dog, she hunts, and I am not going to put my hand in her mouth, thanks. Are you? She's a fine way to make friends if that's what you feel like: Sometimes she trundles back to me with some foul smell on her breath, but she's a dog. You might own a dog because dog faces are cute:

Sometimes owning a dog means you just get to look the other way and hope when she throws up it's not in the house. Cheyenne agrees whole heartedly licking those furtive lips:

And watching your dog drink disgusting puddle water instead of the refreshing, clean, filtered water you offer her, just makes no sense at all. No wonder Muslims wrinkle their noses in disgust at dogs they really can be dirty.A happy dog's life is a thing of wonder and endless entertainment. Dogs are the perfect Christians. They forgive us our trespasses endlessly, they don't hold resentments, they don't commit adultery or covet our things, they have blind faith in the future and in us and they love like there is no tomorrow, even if you beat them and ill use them. Amazing creatures:And you get to share the woods with someone who likes them as much as you do:

The fact that you are there is what makes it fun for her. Dogs are pack animals and locking them out of the house just makes them lonely. Dogs want to share the joy of the walk with you. What fun is exploring on your own?Cheyenne cringes when I apply medicine to her feet and ears but she still wants to be with me when I'm done torturing her:A night at work without a Labrador is nowhere near as fun as answering 9-1-1 calls with a wet snout in your lap. Even if it was just a quick visit to introduce my new family member:
And dispatchers are notorious for ordering more food than they can possibly eat and putting the discards in the trash which is just the place for a dog to stick her head:The Labrador slept happily in the car all night for a week while the wife was away and waited patiently for the early morning walk followed by breakfast and a deep sleep at home in that order. She shows all the signs of being an excellent night shift drone:Then you find yourself out looking for pictures and you see a corny but pretty picture of a boat on the water and it looks like this:
But Cheyenne blunders into the frame and as you shoo her away the picture comes out like this:"Well, shit," you say to yourself trying to squeeze some lemonade out of the lemon the dog handed to you , "I'll put Cheyenne in the picture." No sooner said than done, except the exposure is all wrong. Double shit, start again.She doesn't care, she's got smells to explore and rotten food to find in the mangrove roots. In summer it will be too hot to explore so we need to make the most of winter:
And some local live aboard left his over sized dinghy around just ripe for a Labrador to explore.I see lots of dog owners dismally walking their bored animals up and down their streets or running them so their owners get their exercise and the dog has to speed past the interesting smells. I am firmly of the belief a dog, like a human needs to use it's brain when exercising and I like to let Cheyenne roam as much as she can. She comes home and passes out. "What a well behaved dog you have," they say, marveling at the inert bundle on the bed when they come to dinner.Partly it's her temperament but partly it's the fact that she gets to go out and walk and explore and be a dog. Then, when we get home, she sleeps:There is no doubt that a dog is a responsibility, but if we hadn't taken her from the pound who would have? And why not? Nobody it seems wants a large old dog. A pox on them, I'll give her a home. Bryce may be right; I may have to start a campaign to get a sidecar for the Bonneville.