Haiti is usually depicted as the archetypal impoverished underdog – never as a fighting republic with a proud revolutionary history. Earthquakes and disease make the news but not the self-organisation of the Haitian people and their struggle for political independence.
It is in this light that we must view the present explosive cocktail of disease and political tension which is once again rocking Haiti. The killing of a demonstrator by UN forces yesterday results precisely from the fact that a combination of charitable donations and big power political interference can resolve nothing.
On the contrary, imposing “solutions” from outside has only worsened things for the 10.1 million inhabitants of the island. Haiti has in no way recovered from the January 12 earthquake which killed around a quarter of a million people, out of a total population of around 10 million.
The immediate cause of the street clashes aimed not only at the UN troops but also local police stations is the rising death toll from cholera – now approaching 1,000. Some locals blamed Nepalese forces who form part of the multinational UN occupation for introducing cholera and vented their anger against them.
The UN has appealed for $164m (£102m) in emergency funds in a desperate effort to prevent the lethal disease from spreading beyond the capital Port au Prince to the 1.1 million people who still live in camps. Less than 40% of the aid pledged internationally for the past year has in fact reached the country, while US aid is still due to arrive, seven months after it was promised.
On the ground, investigative writer Georgianne Nienaber quotes social networking sites:
“Chatter on Twitter and Google paints a picture of a totally broken health care system, and demonstrates malfeasance in planning for an epidemic …Here is a World Share report from Twitter: Cholera now hits the island of La Gonave, Haiti. The only functioning hospital on the island is filled to capacity. There is insufficient medical staff to treat those affected. Newborn babies and their mothers are dying.
“Here is another from a Google Group: The situation at the other Limbe hospital (Government hospital St. Jean) was worse. We brought a patient there only to discover a huge tent and no one attending a building full of patients. There was no doctor or nurse present, dry IV bags, and when we asked how a doctor could be reached no one really knew. Staff have been overwhelmed and they are looking for nurses. I think that things are not great at the hospital (St. Michel) or at the gymnasium where they are putting the suspect cholera cases. I had thought that MSF [Doctors Without Borders] was all set up, but they still won't be for a couple of days apparently.”
The street clashes are taking place in the run-up to the November 28 elections. On November 1 there was a massive demonstration organised by the Fanmi Lavalas party through the streets of the capital, Port au Prince. Tens of thousands called for the return of forcibly exiled President and Lavalas leader Jean Bertrand Aristide to the island, currently living in South Africa.
As pro-Lavalas writer Randall White says: “The picture of a meaningful, healthy and politically engaged Haitian popular movement is a picture rarely painted outside of Haiti. In fact, it the greatest resource that Haiti has today, its people. Disrupting, diminishing and destroying this movement has been the primary objective of the power elite in Haiti and Washington D.C.”
The forthcoming election is raising expectations amongst Haitians for an alternative to the corrupt elites and those backed by corporate interests who currently hold sway. The need for an alternative to these is more urgent than ever before.
A World to Win secretary