Workers Vanguard No. 1001
27 April 2012
UN Whitewashes Role in Epidemics Outbreak
Haiti: Cholera Scourge Continues
The outbreak of cholera that erupted nine months after the catastrophic January 2010 earthquake in Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, has now killed more than 7,000 people, making it the largest current cholera epidemic in the world. Almost 500,000 people in this desperately impoverished country—some 5 percent of the population—have been infected since the start of the outbreak. The cholera bacteria, which had previously not existed in Haiti, was introduced by newly arrived Nepalese troops, part of the UN occupation force known as MINUSTAH that has occupied Haiti on behalf of the imperialists since 2004. The disease spread like wildfire due to the lack of a safe public water supply in the country, where untreated sewage is simply dumped into streams and gutters. Last month, as the rainy season began, the number of new cases suddenly rose again (to 77 per day) after declining since last summer.
MINUSTAH has always denied introducing the cholera bacteria to Haiti. However, there is now a mountain of evidence proving that UN troops did just that—and that UN officials have engaged in a deliberate and cynical cover-up of responsibility. UN officials obstructed a medical investigation of the outbreak by prohibiting Haitian health officials from entering the base where it originated to examine UN soldiers. They repeated the lie that the base used sealed septic tanks that were regularly emptied by a contractor. But shortly after the start of the outbreak, Al Jazeera filmed UN troops with shovels “working furiously to contain what looks like a sewage spill” and reported excrement from latrines flowing directly into the river bordering the base (New York Times, 31 March).
Despite that evidence, an official UN investigation last year concluded that the epidemic was “not the fault of, or deliberate action of, a group or individual.” Then, last August, researchers in Denmark using DNA analysis reported definitive evidence linking the Haitian cholera bacteria to bacteria in Nepal. The Times article reports that the same experts who had conducted the UN investigation now admit privately that the evidence that the cholera came from Nepal is “irrefutable.” But UN officials continue to stonewall. A spokesman for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon declared early this month that it is “not possible to be conclusive about how cholera was introduced into Haiti.” Needless to say, the UN’s efforts to muddle and distort the data have undercut efforts to fight the epidemic.
The UN’s responsibility in the outbreak and the subsequent cover-up has greatly deepened popular hostility to the imperialist occupation forces. On 9 December 2011, several thousand people demonstrated at a UN base in St. Marc demanding compensation for people infected with cholera. Renewed outrage against the occupation has also been fed by a video posted online last September showing Uruguayan troops from the UN contingent raping a young Haitian man.
Since 2004 there have been a number of demonstrations against UN “peacekeepers,” who have repeatedly backed violent assaults by the Haitian police on poor communities and on demonstrations against the masses’ abject living conditions. In July 2005, hundreds of troops moved by land, sea and air into the Cité Soleil slum in Port-au-Prince, unleashing 22,000 rounds of ammunition and leaving scores of residents dead, including children. During hunger riots in 2008, UN troops fired on crowds, killing several demonstrators.
It was to shore up this bloody occupation force that Barack Obama dispatched 20,000 combat troops in the guise of a “relief effort” soon after the January 2010 earthquake. U.S. imperialism’s reoccupation of Haiti aimed to secure military control and support the MINUSTAH force. In a 2008 diplomatic cable released last year by WikiLeaks, former U.S. Ambassador to Haiti, Janet Sanderson, emphasized that the UN force “is an indispensable tool,” producing “real regional security dividends for the U.S.” in “the hemisphere’s most troubled country.” The elementary interests of the Haitian masses begin with the demand: All UN troops out!
Hail Cuban Doctors!
Doctors from the Cuban bureaucratically deformed workers state played a crucial role in first identifying cholera in the town of Mirebalais in October 2010. They promptly sounded the alarm about the outbreak, thus lessening the death toll. “We knew cholera from school, but it was hard to believe and see it here because Haiti didn’t have it before” (New York Times, 7 November 2011).
The Cuban medical mission, which has provided vital aid for Haitians since 1998, has been highly praised for staying on the front lines to do what they could to fight the epidemic. While Cuban doctors were inundated with patients wasting away from uncontrollable diarrhea, many imperialist-funded aid organizations pulled out as the death rate started to peak late last year. As one UN official put it: “Half of the NGOs are already gone, and the Cubans are still there” (New York Times, 7 November 2011). Cuba has been working with officials from Haiti and some other countries to build, staff and equip dozens of small community hospitals and clinics, a measure of the quality of both its own public health system and its high-level medical training.
Cholera is a disease of poverty. Less than 12 percent of the Haitian population has access to potable water delivered through plumbing. Only 17 percent have access to what is termed “improved sanitation,” a category that includes simple pit latrines. Access to such minimal facilities has actually declined since 1990. Almost a third of Haitian children are chronically malnourished. According to UNICEF, malnutrition is responsible for about 60 percent of all deaths of Haitians under the age of 18.
Haiti’s unspeakable poverty is a direct product of racist vengeance and imperialist ravages. The Haitian masses have been paying in blood for the revolution carried out under Toussaint L’Ouverture against the French colonial slavocracy over 200 years ago, which culminated in the first independent black state established in the modern era and inspired slave revolts across the Americas. This provoked a frenzy of racist hostility from both France and the then-slaveowning U.S. that has never really receded.
During the past century, the U.S. has repeatedly asserted its domination of Haiti’s political and economic life. The U.S. occupied the country from 1915-34 and drowned an anti-imperialist revolt in blood. Washington then installed and propped up a series of brutal, corrupt bourgeois puppet regimes, most infamously that of François “Papa Doc” Duvalier, who organized the Tonton Macoutes paramilitary thugs and oversaw the killing of 50,000 of his opponents.
Measures imposed by Washington on behalf of American agribusiness further aggravated the impoverishment of the country. In the 1980s, the U.S. pressured the Haitian government to wipe out Creole pigs, an important food source, and substitute U.S. pigs, which did not survive the tropical climate. Following a U.S. military intervention in September 1994, Haiti’s production of rice was destroyed after the Clinton administration forced the country to drastically cut tariffs on imported U.S. rice. Haiti, which once imported only 20 percent of its food, now has to import most of its food, at much higher prices. This includes 80 percent of its rice, which was once grown in abundance. In recent years, the poorest Haitians have resorted to eating cakes of dried mud and sugar when prices for rice and other staples are high.
Today, more than two years after the quake, almost half a million displaced people continue to live in tents and tarp-covered shacks. In spite of the millions pledged and crocodile tears shed by the imperialists, almost nothing has been done to rebuild destroyed houses and what little infrastructure existed before the quake. A “recovery commission” headed by Bill Clinton that was supposed to oversee aid spending simply closed up shop last fall.
In January 2011, the Obama administration reversed a moratorium on expelling Haitians from the U.S., which was declared following the quake, and began deporting Haitians convicted of crimes, even minor ones, by the hundreds. Since most “criminal aliens” sent back to Haiti are immediately thrown into the country’s overcrowded jails in the middle of the cholera epidemic, the deportations represent a potential death sentence. Indeed, journalists following up on the first group of 27 deportees, all of whom were imprisoned upon their arrival in Haiti, reported that one died of the disease within days of his expulsion from the U.S.
Imperialist System Condemns Masses to Misery
The World Health Organization estimates that up to 120,000 people die of cholera every year internationally. The fact that this highly treatable and preventable disease is on the rise is a damning indictment of imperialism’s subjugation of the masses of the Caribbean, Latin America, Africa and Asia. As we wrote when a cholera outbreak ravaged Lima, the capital of Peru, in 1991:
“Virtually wiped out in the 20th century, large-scale epidemics of cholera have reappeared in direct proportion to the increasing poverty and backwardness inflicted by the Wall Street bloodsuckers upon their semi-colonial slaves….
“Cholera is not a natural disaster. Like the waves of famine lashing Africa in recent years, it is a manmade disaster. More specifically, this epidemic is a capitalist disaster. It is a direct consequence of imperialism, which squeezes the life out of the poor to fill the coffers of the capitalist bankers.”
—“Debt and Death in
Cholera and Capitalism,”
WV No. 527, 24 May 1991
Cholera can be stopped by the introduction of the most basic public health measures. But such needs cannot be met in impoverished countries like Haiti, devastated by plunder and brutal repression under imperialist subjugation. The only way out of the misery imposed on the Haitian masses lies in socialist revolution throughout the Caribbean and, crucially, in the North American imperialist heartland. The social base for workers revolution is exceedingly narrow in a country as destitute and ground down as Haiti. Struggles by the Haitian masses against imperialist depredation must be linked to class and social struggles in the neighboring Dominican Republic, where Haitians are a sizable component of the proletariat, and elsewhere in the Caribbean.
Our perspective—for a workers and peasants government in Haiti as part of a socialist federation of the Caribbean—is inextricably linked to the fight for the revolutionary overthrow of U.S. imperialism. In diaspora, Haitians, Jamaicans and others can play a crucial role as a bridge to the rest of the American proletariat, particularly to other black workers. The key is to build revolutionary workers parties—sections of a reforged Fourth International—to lead the workers in this struggle.