What Can an Equitable Recovery Look Like?

Recovery from a natural disaster should be able to make survivors “whole.” However, when the starting point is life in one of the poorest and most dangerous countries in the Western hemisphere, getting back to normal becomes a trickier proposition.  Haiti has the highest rates of infant, under-five and maternal mortality in the Western hemisphere.  In 2003, 80% of the population was estimated to live under the international poverty line.  As demonstrated by the extended recovery process from Hurricane Katrina, economic condition has a determinative effect on the ability to recover from a natural disaster, with the worst impact and least independent ability to recover suffered by the poorest residents.

Although this paints a bleak picture, and there’s no denying that the reality is grim, the only possibility for hope or optimism lies in a new roadmap for recovery.  Any attempt to rebuild Haiti must be developed with an eye to erasing past inequities.  It cannot be enough to rebuild the Haiti of January 11, 2010.  Most Haitians lived by subsistence farming.  With a lack of arable land, continuing deforestation, and destruction of much of the country’s infrastructure, Haiti’s economy must be rebuilt on a new basis.  If the country must begin anew, the opportunity to develop something entirely new exists.

The lingering effects of colonialism, racism, and poverty must be eliminated as the country begins to map out its future.  Internal and external factors that have perpetuated, and actually increased, the disintegration of Haiti – its infrastructure, its agriculture, and its people – must be left out of the country’s future.  The color line of Haiti’s elites must go.  An economy based on unsustainable agriculture must go.  Governmental instability and corruption must go.  Unacceptable mortality rates for infants, children under five, and women giving birth must go.  All of which leaves room for a new, more equitable, more self-determined Haiti – with the help of all of us.

Read more at The Opportunity Agenda website.

Weekly Diaspora: Does Coakley’s Loss Spell Trouble for Immigration Reform?

By Nezua, Media Consortium Blogger

Professional pundits and Democratic politicians are in a frenzy over what Martha Coakley’s senate seat loss to Republican Scott Brown might mean for American politics.

Immigration reform in jeopardy

As Harold Meyerson of the American Prospect reports, the loss of one seat probably won’t derail heath care reform, but it does make the chances of passing immigration reform slimmer. Meyerson writes that immigration reform is “necessary to restore our economic vitality and political equality,” and actually passing reform would benefit the Democratic faction. Unfortunately, that means that immigration reform will require 60 votes in order to pass the senate.

The Texas Observer’s Melissa del Bosque writes about the slim chances of immigration reform passing in 2010. According to Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX), a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, a 2011 target date is “probably more realistic.” del Bosque refuses to lose hope, reminding us that Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) has assured the public that “the Obama administration promised to bring up the issue in 2010.” Of course, bringing up an issue and actually passing reform are two very different animals.

Holding on to hope for 2010

In her daily roundup of Spanish-language media, Erin Rosa of Campus Progress also urges a positive outlook “despite the reorganization of the Senate.” Rosa relays that Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-CA) assured the media during a telephone conference that President Obama “remembers his promise well.” While “most latinos” interviewed are impatient, they hold on to hope that 2010 is the year for reform.

TPS for Haitians

Haitian undocumented that are currently within U.S. borders will be given Temporary Protected Status (TPS), as Julianne Hing reports for RaceWire. The decision only applies to Haitian immigrants in the U.S. prior to January 12, 2010. Hing observes that it is unfortunate that it took “a disaster of this magnitude” to inspire the White House to offer TPS to Haitian immigrants, though it is “a great relief.”

What will the recently granted TPS status mean for Haitians that are already in deportation proceedings? Such is the case of Haitian immigrant Jean Montrevil, as Aarti Shahani reports for New America Media. Montrevil came to the U.S. on a green card in 1986 to “make it big,” but in his efforts, “got stupid,” and caught up in selling drugs from his taxi cab. That was 20 years ago, and Montrevil has served 11 years in prison to pay for his errors. Montrevil is now a father of four and a community leader. The Department of Homeland Security considers his prison time proper cause to deport him. Many others feel he has done his time, and is a positively contributing member of our society. Democracy Now! also covered Montrevil’s story recently, as noted in the Jan. 7 Diaspora.

Invisible to the first world

Why are countries like Haiti mostly invisible to first world nations like the U.S. until catastrophe strikes? Leonardo Padura asks, before the earthquake, “Who talked about Haiti?” for IPS News. Haiti desperately needs the emergency aid so generously given today, but the country has needed help for a long time. “Let us hope that tomorrow, when the tragedy no longer dominates the headlines, and the dead are buried,” writes Padura, “we will not forget Haiti exists….”

Disappointingly, “U.S. corporations, private mercenaries, Washington and the International Monetary Fund” are remembering Haiti in a rather cruel and opportunist fashion, as Benjamin Dangl reports for AlterNet. At a time of crisis and great human need, Washington D.C. is “promoting unpopular economic policies and extending military and economic control over the Haitian people.” This is disturbing, as a long history of economic exploitation helped render the country vulnerable to disaster. The recent earthquake has claimed roughly 200,000 lives so far.

Haiti in context

While borders and border cities bear the brunt of blame when migrants move, the cure won’t be found in bigger bails of barbed wire, or harsh enforcement tactics that deny escape from economic desperation or dangerous conditions.

Jocelyn Barnes, reporting for The Nation, provides a much needed contextualization of Haiti. There are many related factors that weakened and harmed Haiti’s ability to thrive, not the least of which have been storms and earthquakes. But the privatization of Haiti’s infrastructure—which was “championed” by current envoy to Haiti in charge of “leading the quake assistance brigade” former president Bill Clinton—have definitely been instrumental in the country’s fate.

Marching against Arpaio

Finally, given the recent holiday celebrating the life and efforts of civil rights hero Martin Luther King, Jr., we would be remiss in overlooking the January 16 march in Arizona protesting Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. The event was organized by Salvador Reza, a respected Mexican American activist and community organizer in Arizona. Musician Linda Ronstadt, Co-Founder of United Farm Workers Dolores Huerta, and approximately 5,000 people marched from a park to Tent City, the name for the sheriff’s makeshift detention center.

Arpaio is reviled by many in the Latino and undocumented community for his methods of racial profiling and humiliating treatment of detainees. Recently, Arpaio was compared to Bull Connor by an ad published in in the Arizona Republic by 60 black leaders and the Center for New Community.

King’s vision was large and led to new horizons; it cannot possibly be contained to one era, or one day on a calendar. The struggle continues, every day, everywhere.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about immigration by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Diaspora for a complete list of articles on immigration issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, and health care issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Pulse . This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Weekly Audit: Fighting Economic Inequality in Haiti and at Home

By Zach Carter, Media Consortium Blogger

Rampant poverty can’t be written off as the result of historical accident or a worker’s incompetence. It is actively cultivated by bad public policies that direct economic resources into the hands of a wealthy few. The resulting inequality creates unnecessary suffering all over the world, from the humanitarian crisis in Haiti to the alarmingly high poverty rate in the United States.

Systemic poverty in Haiti

The tragedy in Haiti is not only the result of a massive earthquake. As Richard Kim explains for The Nation, Haiti has long been one of the world’s poorest nations, and that poverty has prevented the country from protecting itself against natural disasters. As Kim explains:

Haiti’s vulnerability to natural disasters, its food shortages, poverty, deforestation and lack of infrastructure, are not accidental. To say that it is the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere is to miss the point; Haiti was made poor—by France, the United States, Great Britain, other Western powers and by the IMF and the World Bank.

Kim details Haiti’s struggles under the weight of colonialist debt that dates back to 1804, the year it won its independence from France. Soon after the revolution, the U.S. and France threatened a trade embargo against Haiti unless the nation of former slaves agreed to pay reparations to its former slave-masters in France. Haiti paid off this extortion with loans from U.S. and European banks. The country was still paying those loans back in the 1940s.

In 2003, Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide demanded that France repay Haiti $21 billion of these unjust payments. He was ousted by a military coup for his efforts. Even today, the emergency IMF loans that are ostensibly helping Haiti cope with the disaster are crippled by insane stipulations, such as raising electricity prices for Haiti’s poorest citizens.

One-eighth of U.S. population receiving food stamps

The U.S. has been waging a quiet war against its own poor for decades as well. In a blog for Working In These Times, Akito Yoshikane highlights today’s record level of poverty: One in four U.S. children are living on food stamps, while one-eighth of the entire nation is receiving them. That’s over 38 million people, or more than four times the population of New York City. A poverty epidemic on this scale is a total affront to any concept of economic justice, liberal or conservative.

MLK and economic justice

Just economic policy was a critical concern for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. But today’s 13.2% U.S. poverty rate is actually higher than when King spoke out against it in 1968, as Rich Benjamin notes for AlterNet. The economic oppression of minorities continues to this day. While the overall U.S. unemployment rate is 10%, among black workers, the rate is an astonishing 16.2%, while Latino and Latina workers face 12.9% unemployment.

10% unemployment vs. multi-million dollar bonuses

It’s impossible to tolerate 10% unemployment in any economy. But those high rates are especially cruel considering the multi-million-dollar bonuses being paid to bankers who were bailed out with U.S. citizens’ tax dollars. Nomi Prins‘ fantastic interactive chart at Mother Jones reveals both the obscene executive pay levels and staggering federal bailouts that banks subsequently used to boost profits and banker pay.

Top bank executives scored regal paydays for nearly destroying the economy, and some of them even helped pervert the government into an enabler of banking excess. Need an example? Prins highlights Robert Rubin, who pushed through a host of radical deregulatory laws as Treasury Secretary in the 1990s, then left to take a job at Citigroup, where he reaped over $120 million before his company needed a massive bailout. There’s no reason for policymakers to accept a 13.2% poverty rate while subsidizing paychecks for wealthy bankers.

What can be done?

The Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, a panel convened to uncover the causes of the financial crisis, could play a key role in overturning the injustices embedded within the U.S. financial system. As Ruth Coniff notes for The Progressive, it’s not simply that the bailouts saved the banks. It’s that the banks are piggybacking on taxpayer-granted perks to score record profits.

Economic arguments are routinely deployed to excuse outrageous social injustices—the most common argument for the U.S. bank bailout claims that things would have been much worse for everyone if we hadn’t thrown billions at the banks. There are grains of truth in the argument. If all of the banks had actually failed, the result would have been economic mayhem. But that bailout money should have come with major strings attached. There is no reason why bank CEOs, rather than taxpayers, should be reaping the rewards from profits that taxpayer funds generated.

In both global and domestic politics, severe inequality is often accepted as an economic fact, not a problem that must be solved. But the moral outrage prompted by the disaster in Haiti and the U.S. financial bailout is both real and justified. If we want to live in a just society, we cannot continue to subsidize the rich by exploiting the poor.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Audit for a complete list of articles on economic issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Mulch, The Pulse and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Saving Haiti


Hati is on the island Hispaniola, which it shares with the Dominican Republic.  In 1492, Christopher Columbus arrived and claimed the whole island for Spain.  They brought with them Small Pox and other Old World diseases.  While setting up a settlement, Columbus's men murdered, raped and enslaved the native Tainos.  This was he worst known case of depopulation in the Americas.  Hispaniola was rich in natural resources and the Tainos had a lively culture, similar in ways to the Na'vi population in Avatar.  


The Spanish began to pillage precious metals and some other resources.  Columbus left behind a small settlement but these people where probably killed.  The Spanish returned to set up more settlements and they established the capital in Saint-Domingo.  There was a major piracy problem, and Spanish interest began to wane when they captured Mexico and South America.  


French pirates had long been attacking Spanish ships, and they established a settlement in 1625.  Unofficial wars broke out between the Spaniards and the French, of course ignoring the indigenous population.  In 1664, the French West India Company was established, and the mercenaries immediately conquered the colony and named  it Saint-Domingue.  Under the 1697 Treaty of Ryswick, the western third of the island, with the most resources was ceded to France.  


This marked the beginning of the importation of African slaves.  The planters became the majority of Europeans on the island.  They began growing cashcrops such as tobacco and cotton.  Up until 1756, the French thoroughly robbed Hati of its resources in (of course unsustainable) a methodical way.  The slaves had it the hardest, at times, the life expectancy for an arriving slave was about one day.  Slave rebellions where frequent because there wasn't much incentive not to rebel.  You where brought there in the brutal condition of the slave ship, often stacked like cargo.  You got off in the Caribbean, if you survived, knowing you had a pretty good chance of not lasting the week.  In 1685, because this system was so efficient, Louis XIV enacted the Code Noir, which said the master had to at least attempt to keep his slaves alive by providing some basic necessities.  There was mass murder to go along with slavery, as future Hatian President Henri Christophe's personal secretary noted:


"Have they not hung up men with heads downward, drowned them in sacks, crucified them on planks, buried them alive, crushed them in mortars? Have they not forced them to eat excretement? And, having flayed them with the lash, have they not cast them alive to be devoured by worms, or onto anthills, or lashed them to stakes in the swamp to be devoured by mosquitoes? Have they not thrown them into boiling cauldrons of cane syrup? Have they not put men and women inside barrels studded with spikes and rolled them down mountainsides into the abyss? Have they not consigned these miserable blacks to man-eating dogs until the latter, sated by human flesh, left the mangled victims to be finished off with bayonet and poniard?"


Many slaves where able to find freedom by escaping to indigenous communities, and there was also a free, mixed race community, resultant from rapes, also known as "Mulattos".  


In 1776, (some of) the American colonists rebelled and defeated the British empire.  This inspired the 1789 revolution in France.  During the French revolution, some slaves began to rebel.  By 1792 the slave controlled much of the colony.  By this time, Toussaint L'Overture became the leader of the black militia.  Toussaint was a self-educated brilliant military strategist and diplomat.  He defeated three different colonial powers.  He ran the island as an autonomous entity but still had ties to France, at which time France was controlled by revolutionaries, so he saw no need in effectively dissolving those.  He was also supported in the United States, albeit cynically.  President Thomas Jefferson was a supporter of abolishing slavery.  As a result of losing his source of income, Napolean sold Louisiana to the United States.  Also, many in the political class in the United States wanted to take over Hati at some point, and it would be easier to take over an independent Hati than a French one.  Many white planters moved to New Orleans.  Also as a result, Britain abolished the slave trade.  In 1804, Hati was officially independent.  The U.S. did not recognize its independence.  At this point, France had plundered Hati so much that France was know a wealthy country, largely because they plundered Hati, taking its resources.  


In 1825, France recognized Hati's independence at the price of an indemity of 90 million gold francs.  This fee was the result for "loss property", including slaves.  This was so large for Hati it would be the equivalent of the U.S. paying trillions to a foreign power today.  They had to do it because Britain and the United States where enforcing a crippling French Embargo under the Monroe Doctrine.  To pay this, they had to take out high interest loans, mainly from the United States, and this huge debt, which crippled the government and the economy, was not repaid until after World War II.  


The U.S., however did not recognize Hati's independence from France until 1915.  In 1915, Woodrow Wilson ordered marines to invade Hati.  (This is a perfect example of what is called Wilsonian Idealism)  On July 28, 1915, 330 marines arrived at Port-au-Prince to protect American and Foreign "Interests", namely the economic and political power of the mostly Europeanized, white elites, from the population.  To avoid criticism, the occupation was labelled as a mission to "restore peace and order".


The marines dissolved the Haitian parliament when it refused to pass progressive legislation.  Marine commanders took over as the effective governors of Haiti, with veto power over Haitian institutions.  They held a free election, in which 5% of the population voted 99% for the progressive legislation that would have allowed U.S. based corporations to take over the country.  The occupation lasted nineteen years.  The debt, however, allowed the U.S. government to effectively control Haiti's government until 1947, and you could be sure they where making certain Haiti's government was pursuing policies beneficial to corporate america.  There where several rebellions to U.S. rule, but the Marines put them down easily.  On the positive note, the marines improved Haiti infrastructure, for obvious reasons.  The effect of this occupation was to transfer much of Haiti's economy and remaining wealth to U.S. corporations.  The Marines left Haiti on August 14th, 1934, shortly after FDR's vacation there. 


In 1937, some 30,000 Haitians where massacred by President Rafael Trujillo, with the authorization of U.S. Secretary of State Cordell Hull.  In 1947, Haiti was finally free from official U.S. control(at the whim of the President the economy could be ruined).  From 1947 until 1990, the country was ruled by elites, u.s. created paramilitaries, and the brutal national guards.  There was widespread human rights abuses.  The economy this time was that Haiti had to import basic commodities and necessities from the U.S., while women and children toiled in U.S. owned assembly plants, which where there after U.S. workers refused to meet demands.  Then in 1990, the impoverished masses organized, entered the political arena, and elected their own candidate, a populist Roman Catholic priest, Father Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who won with 67.48% of the vote in an election in which all international observers agreed was free and fair.  This came as a major surprise in intellectual circles who expected an easy victory for his main opponent, a former World Bank official.  This election threatened these economically rational programs.  His platform was on reforestation, increasing access to healthcare and education, increasing adult literacy, protecting civil liberties, prohibiting human trafficking, disbanding the military, doubling the minimum wage, building low cost housing, reducing government corruption, instituting land reform among other things.  


The elites of course where not going to stand still, and neither was the army.  He was overthrown in a coup d'etat.  The UN passed an embargo, which had the effect of crippling the economy while strengthening the military junta.  The U.S. ignored this embargo when Bill Clinton authorized oil companies to ship gasoline to the junta, who otherwise would have run out.  Nonetheless, Clinton agreed to send troops, when Aristide lost three years of his term, to restore his rule, on the condition he accept the program of the candidate he defeated.  This was cynically referred to as "Operation Uphold Democracy".  


When it came time for the next election, the Constitution of Haiti prevented a second term.  However, there was a debate about whether or not he should get the three years he lost in the coup.  A power struggle ensued, but Aristide got to serve the three years.  In the 2000s parliamentary and presidential election, Aristide's party won while only 10% of the vote turned out.  They ignored the requirement of the run-off election.  


Was Aristide a saint?  No.  But even if he was, the same series of events would have happened.  Human Rights Watch claimed that arbitrary detention, summary executions and police brutality became everyday reality.  When in fact, these abuses greatly decreased under Aristide, who disbanded the Army.  These abuses had been around for decades, they where not going to disappear over night.  He has been accused of drug trafficking, but that has not been substantiated.  He has also been accused of corruption, which he of course denies, and there isn't much evidence for.  These accusations where made by the government that overthrew him.  


In 2004, there was yet another coup, when President Aristide was overthrown again.  He asked France to repay the indemnity, and they refused.  He began to refuse to adhere to the Washington Consensus.  In 2003, there was a conference in Montreal to decide Haiti's future, although no Haitians where invited.  Journalists reported that officials at the conference wanted regime change.  During the 3rd week of the rebellion, Aristide left Haiti on a US military plane to the Central African Republic.  The U.S. said he left voluntarily.  He says he was kidnapped.  The Associated Press reported that the Central African Republic tried to pressure him to stop making his charges to the press.  Amnesty International began to observe severe human rights abuses on the increase.  He left behind a "resignation letter" but denies this.  Brazil then sent troops to help with the situation. 


In 2006, Rene Preval was elected President.  By this time, Haiti had lost the capacity to feed itself.  Haitian rice farmers are remarkably efficient despite poverty and lack of capital.  Still, they could not compete with U.S. Agribusiness even without the huge government subsidies U.S. Agribusiness relies on.  Corporate Agribusiness can withstand price fluctuation.  Small farmers can't.  Poor peasants can't tell their kids we will eat next year, not this year, so they import factory made food.  The farmers go out of business, the land and capital become idle and can't be used without major investment that they don't have.  This is as a result of the program Clinton forced on Aristide, called "The Plan of Death" in Haiti, among the policies there must be no protection for the economy.  While Haiti is dependent on the U.S. for food, they are vulnerable to the political and economic situation in the U.S..  


Ethanol mandates and the global financial crisis greatly increased food prices, leaving the Haitian market no longer viable.  This resulted in a sever food crisis, which has since spread through ought the southern hemisphere.  The major powers met in Rome to discuss a plan to combat this crisis.  12 billion dollars was pledged, with tight restrictions, and only 1 billion was delivered.  This is better understood in context of the TARP bailout.  700 billion was given as low interest loans with no purpose or strings attached to the major financial institutions.  This also pails in comparison to similar international efforts or the massive intervention of the Federal Reserve.  


This crisis went unreported in the U.S..  Then in 2010, this week, there was an Earthquake exceeding a 7.0.  The results where just devastating.  Haiti's poverty clearly was not the result of Communism, as Rush Limbaugh claimed.  The U.S. military has taken over the airport in Port-au-Prince, a dicey but necessary move.  President Obama had already appointed Bill Clinton as US envoy to Haiti, as Clinton has taken a special interest in Haiti, as I have covered.  Hopefully the government will pursue meaningful policies, such as permanent resident status for all Haitians, in accordance with their rights under international law.  (Like the U.S. has done for Cubans)  That means allowing these people to work and freeing those in jail who have not been convicted of a crime.  France should repay the indemnity and both countries should pay reparations for this history.  Public money, not donations, should be used to offset this crisis.  Finally, President Jean-Bertrand Aristide should be allowed to return and have a major role in the relief and development efforts.  

U.S. grants temporary protective status to undocumented Haitian immigrants

ABC News reports today that the U.S. will grant "temporary protective status" to undocumented immigrants from Haiti in light of the recent devastating earthquake there:

"This is a disaster of historic proportions and this designation will allow eligible Haitian nationals in the United States to continue living and working in our country for the next 18 months," Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced late today on a conference call. "Providing a temporary refuge for Haitian nationals who are currently in the United States and whose personal safety would be endangered by returning to Haiti is part of this Administration's continuing efforts to support Haiti's recovery."

Napolitano estimated that there are 100,000 to 200,000 Haitian nationals currently in the country illegally.

"TPS gives them sort of an intermediate immigration status," said the secretary. "It allows them -- only for a period of 18 months, while Haiti gets back on its feet -- to remain in the United States and authorizes them to work during that period, among other things." [...]

By law, the secretary of Homeland Security can offer temporary protected status to illegal immigrants of a particular nationality if calamities such as natural disasters or war make it too burdensome for their home countries to receive them.

Many politicians in both parties have expressed support for granting TPS to Haitians, Andrea Nill noted at the Think Progress blog. But Republican Congressman Steve King (R, IA-05) put a wingnutty spin on the humanitarian crisis:

"This sounds to me like open borders advocates exercising the Rahm Emanuel axiom: 'Never let a crisis go to waste,'" Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, said in an e-mail message to ABCNews. "Illegal immigrants from Haiti have no reason to fear deportation, but if they are deported, Haiti is in great need of relief workers, and many of them could be a big help to their fellow Haitians."

How very compassionate of him.


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