15 February 2004

Killing Them Softly

Common Sense
John Maxwell

Many people speak of poverty as if it is a sacred responsibility to be assumed by certain people in the same way the British 'nobility' assume their titles and honorifics at birth. Some of us, it seems, are called to poverty, as holy men are called to the service of God. This concept has made its way into a hymn about "All things bright and beautiful":
The rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate, God made them each and every one
And ordered their estate.
We know better. And the church now knows better. It has erased that verse from modern hymn books.

Even if we have never heard of Karl Marx, the annual reports of the IMF and World Bank make it plain that poverty is the result of deliberate policy and action by people who have seized the power to extract tribute from the rest of us. Structural Adjustment Programmes, overseen by the IMF and the World Bank, are the main engines of this unjust reallocation of resources from poor to rich. The theory behind this malignant behaviour is that 'wealth' will trickle down from 'investors' to those lucky enough to catch the crumbs which escape the rich man's grasp.

But since wealth is created by labour, why is it that it has to go up before it comes down? In the long run, we are told, wealth will trickle down so well that poverty will disappear. In the long run, as Lord Keynes said, we are all dead. But most of us will not perish in miserable slavery to utopian fantasies.

'God made them - every one.'

For most of its history, the Haitian state, its military and a small elite class have ruthlessly extracted what wealth they could from the country's poor majority. The result is massive inequality, with one per cent of Haitians controlling 50 per cent of the country's wealth and over 75 per cent of the population living in severe poverty.

The burden of inequality has fallen particularly hard on the agricultural sector, where 70 per cent of the population makes its living. . .more than 80 per cent of government revenue has historically been drawn from the peasant farmer, while over 90 per cent of government expenditures have been made in the capital city, Port-au-Prince.

(Lisa McGowan, Structural Adjustment & the Aid Juggernaut in Haiti. The Development Gap, 1997)

As McGowan points out in her paper, the foreign programmes of aid to Haiti, when they were actually working, made it impossible for the Preval government to respond to the expressed (and obvious) needs of the poor people of Haiti. The result in 1997, before Aristide's return, was that "popular frustration and cynicism are palpable and the deepening polarisation of Haitian society increasingly evident".

Now, under Aristide, the trickle of aid has been stanched, because the Haitian Government is unable to provide the US State Department and foreign investors with the level of comfort and confidence they require in order to go to the rescue of the only people who managed to abolish slavery on their own and make themselves into free men.

As I have said before, they have never been forgiven for their temerity and their military success, and the Western capitalist democracies have spent the last 200 years re-ordering their estate and putting them, explicitly, outside the gated community of modern democracy.

Ira Lowenthal, an authority on Haitian voodoo and politics, explains the problem as seen by the Opposition (which he advises): ". a populist demagogue, his cronies and his clients - all apparently quite willing to pervert the nation's fledgling transition in the interest of consolidating their own personal powers and privilege - emerged as the greatest threat to Haitian democracy. Surely, there is precious little comfort to be drawn from noting that at least this time, the leader of this ongoing assault has been 'duly elected'." (Ira Lowenthal, The US Policy Imperative in Haiti, and How to Achieve It. wehaitians.com)

Democratic Convergence leader and Aristide opponent, Evans Paul, recently declared "We are willing to negotiate through which door he [President Aristide] leaves the palace - through the front door or the back door." (This vulgar sentiment should be eerily familiar to Jamaicans who lived through the 70s).

Of more immediate concern is the fact that the recent insurrection by armed gangs has cut off important sectors of population from the rest of the country. Haiti's infrastructure is almost non-existent. The few roads are hellish obstacle courses even without the gangsters.

A Jamaican Red Cross plan to deliver food to Cap Haitien has been aborted and the United Nations a few days ago issued a warning that the violence was shutting off deliveries of necessities to thousands of needy Haitians, threatening a broad humanitarian crisis. Bertrand Ramcharan, the acting UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva, urged "all concerned to stop the violence and resolve the political crisis in a peaceful and constitutional manner".

This warning will, like most others, fall on deaf ears. After all, the North Atlantic powers have been perfectly at ease watching Haiti starve, watching the rapacious progress of AIDS as it decimates the Haitian population, and perfectly happy to wait until starvation, violence and abject misery force the Haitians to capitulate to the American Imperative, which is, after all, more important than Haitian lives and welfare.

' . . .and ordered their estate'

The result of the failed Structural Adjustment Programmes, combined with the embargo on further financial aid has had predictable results. "Nutt'n nah gwaan", as I've pointed out before, and, as might be expected, many who thought that Aristide heralded a new day for Haiti have been turned against him and his Government because they cannot deliver the goods. "Old-time people used to sey 'yu cyan mek brick widout straw'". You can't provide drinkable water without filter plants and pipes.

Unfortunately for Democratic Convergence, the Committee of 184 and their associated gangs, their patron, the illustrious President George Bush, has new troubles of his own which seem to preclude his making any new adventures in the area of nation building.

If confidence in Aristide has dropped in Haiti, confidence in Bush has plummeted in the United States. And while Aristide began from a much sounder electoral base and good title to his presidency, President Bush's legitimacy is questionable and his fellow citizens no longer overwhelmingly consider him a trustworthy person, according to the latest polls.

There is no way of measuring support for Aristide expect by the wholly empirical evidence that the Opposition has been unable to hold a rally in Port-au-Prince because of the 'intimidation' of pro-Aristide people.

Since both sides depend on 'gangs' it should be easy for the majority to impose its will. In Gonaives, where a small but well-armed gang ousted the public administration recently, people are reported to have fled from the tender mercies of the Opposition forces. A website sympathetic to the Cannibal Army (since renamed) was displaying pictures this past week of rebels brandishing the severed leg of a dead policeman and another of a dinner plate on which lay the severed ear and thumb of another dead policeman.

So much for civil disobedience.

All things bright and beautiful

Meanwhile, it is reported that the pro-Aristide militias are retaking some of the towns interdicted last week by the rebels.

The American secretary of state was forced on Wednesday to hurriedly deny his underlings' promise that Aristide must go. Instead, like the true, sea-green incorruptible democrat he is, Colin Powell affirmed that usurpation of authority was not, just now, on the democratic order paper.

The Democratic Convergence, and the Group 184 financed by the European Union and USAID, now appear to be gradually disabusing themselves of the idea that they might be rescued by the intervention of the US Marines. Instead, they are seeking terms of surrender for their supporting cast in the countryside, as Powell retreats and the militias of Aristide advance.

But, no matter who comes out on top in the latest skirmish, the war against Haiti's poor will continue, despite, as Ira Lowenthal contends, a convergence of interest between the US and the Haitian poor in getting rid of Aristide: "Not incidentally, of course, such progress is expected to relieve the pressure of illegal emigration to the United States, whether by economic or political refugees, and to reduce the threat of another mass exodus, as occurred in the early 1990s.

"Yet, this US interest also broadly (and happily) coincides with that of Haiti's poor majority, for whom the delivery of even minimal government services and a marginal increase in real incomes would be an enormous advance over their current desperate - and deteriorating - straits."

Meanwhile, Haitians can wait for democracy, while happily dying (in their own best interest, of course) from officially sanctioned starvation, AIDS and communal violence. And the English-speaking Caribbean people will 'wait for Grandma to cough'.

The US, obeying the Precautionary Principle enunciated in Agenda 21, is preparing Guantanamo Bay for a reprise of the 1994 exodus from Haiti, just in case some Haitians resume the habit of 'chopping off other people's faces' - as Bill Clinton graphically described it 10 years ago.

In these circumstances it may be instructive to remember that: "Deliberately inflicting on [any] group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part" is one of the definitions of genocide enunciated in the Convention Against Genocide. That convention, not incidentally, was signed the day before the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was promulgated by the United Nations.


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