It is documentaries like this that set Al Jazeera apart from other major news networks. Sebastian Walker examines why a system that was designed to help actually ended up exacerbating Haiti’s misery.
It is one year since Haiti suffered a huge earthquake. More than 200 000 Haitians died and more than a million were left homeless, most of whom still live in tent cities amidst the rubble. Unicef describes the past year as “probably the worst year in living memory for most Haitian adults” and children.
Residents of the largest slum in Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince have been demonstrating over the country’s response to the cholera outbreak. The protesters in Cite Soleil said the government and the UN have failed to protect them, as the number of people killed by the highly contagious water-borne disease soared to 724. In the meantime, the US Congress continues to block the delivery of the $1.15 billion in reconstruction money it promised to Haiti back in March.
The Pan American Health Organisation, the regional office of the UN’s World Health Organisation, has warned Haiti to expect hundreds of thousands of cases now that the disease appears to have taken hold.
They also vented their anger at NGOs operating in the country, where a devastating earthquake on January 12 killed more than 250,000 people and destroyed homes, forcing more than one million people to seek shelter in cramped makeshift camps.
Haiti aid pledges still unfulfilled.
Remember the Israelis who rushed to Haiti for ‘disaster relief’ because, as one Ma’ariv columnist put it, the catastrophe was ‘good for the Jews‘? Well, they are gone. Mission, presumably, accomplished! All the publicity they were striving for, they got. Hasbaraniks distributed VNRs (Video News Releases) to all major networks, and most obliged with favourable coverage. The networks failed to notice the contradiction between this conspicuous humanitarianism and the deliberate cruelty with which which the same army continues to punish the imprisoned Gazans. Meanwhile, the United States does not even do Haitians the courtesy of pretence. It recently suspended aid flights for five days over a petty squabble over operational costs. What use do they have for image enhancement? They have a PR product for a president, you see.
So, amid all this insensitivity, is there anyone who still persists in their devotion to the doomed island? Why, the luxury cruise vacationer, of course.
By Joe Shansky
As the extent of the destruction in Haiti becomes clearer, so do the priorities on the ground. The majority of Haitians affected by the earthquake are now homeless, and the need for shelter is urgent. There are many ways to help for those who cannot afford to donate money, and innovation has become a major theme in many of the smaller grassroots efforts.
One example is a US-based initiative whose mission lies in the name, “One Thousand Tents for Haiti”. Created by Seattle activist Johnny Fernandes, the beauty of the project is that it is both simple and practical. Anyone can participate. The initial goal is to collect 1000 extra tents from around the US by the end of February to send to Haiti.
Even if you have been watching Democracy Now’s outstanding coverage of the Haitian tragedy, the despicable neglect with which the United States and other rich countries have treated the disaster-struck nation, you still can’t fathom the depth of outrage the Haitians feel unless you put it into the context of its tortured history. Here is an excellent overview from C. S. Soong’s Against the Grain.
It was a cataclysmic event, the first and only successful slave revolution in the Americas. In 1791 brutally exploited slaves on a small Caribbean island rose up and eventually won emancipation. Their story, a legacy that has inspired and instructed people and nations for centuries, is told in Laurent Dubois’s Avengers of the New World.
This is how the ‘International Community’ (read the West) is responding to the tragedy in Haiti: still no aid, yet plenty of guns. US has taken control of the Port-au-Prince airport and according to Al Jazeera it is turning back aircraft with much needed aid from other nations.
Don’t miss Patrick Cockburn’s brilliant piece. Here are some highlights:
The rhetoric from Washington has been very different during these two disasters, but the outcome may be much the same. In both cases very little aid arrived at the time it was most needed and, in the case of Port-au-Prince, when people trapped under collapsed buildings were still alive…In New Orleans and Port-au-Prince there is the same official terror of looting by local people, so the first outside help to arrive is in the shape of armed troops. The US currently has 3,500 soldiers, 2,200 marines and 300 medical personnel on their way to Haiti…
A sour Haitian joke says that when a Haitian minister skims 15 per cent of aid money it is called “corruption” and when an NGO or aid agency takes 50 per cent it is called “overheads”…
This superb documentary by Oscar-winning director John Demme (Philadelphia, Beloved, Man from Plains, The Manchurian Candidate) uses the story of legendary Haitian journalist and broadcaster Jean Dominique as a focus to present the larger history of the country’s political struggles. The film features excellent archival footage and interviews, and a briliant soundtrack (although Wyclef Jean I have just learned is a poseur who actually echoed the Bush State Department line in laying the blame for the 2004 coup and kidnapping of Jean Bertrand Aristide on the president himself).
(Don’t miss Democracy Now!‘s excellent, in-depth coverage of the tragedy in Haiti)