24 January, 2010 — MRZine-Monthly Review
Nine days after the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti on 12 January 2010, it’s now clear that the initial phase of the U.S.-led relief operation has conformed to the three fundamental tendencies that have shaped the more general course of the island’s recent history. It has adopted military priorities and strategies. It has sidelined Haiti’s own leaders and government, and ignored the needs of the majority of its people. And it has proceeded in ways that reinforce the already harrowing gap between rich and poor. All three tendencies aren’t just connected, they are mutually reinforcing. These same tendencies will continue to govern the imminent reconstruction effort as well, unless determined political action is taken to counteract them.
Haiti is not only one of the poorest countries in the world, it is also one of the most polarised and unequal in its disparities in wealth and access to political power. A small clique of rich and well-connected families continues to dominate the country and its economy while more than half the population, according to the IMF, survive on a household income of around 44 US pennies per day.
Mass destitution has grown far more severe in recent decades. Starting in the 1970s, internationally imposed neo-liberal ‘adjustments’ and austerity measures finally succeeded in doing what no Haitian government had managed to do since winning independence in 1804: in order to set the country on the road towards ‘economic development’, they have driven large numbers of small farmers off their land and into densely crowded urban slums. A small minority of these internal refugees may be lucky enough to find sweatshop jobs that pay the lowest wages in the region. These wages currently average $2 or $3 a day; in real terms they are worth less than a quarter of their 1980 value.