Workers Vanguard No. 970
3 December 2010
All Imperialist Occupiers Out Now!
Haiti: Cholera Epidemic and Imperialist Oppression
Once again the impoverished black population of Haiti faces devastation. Nine months after January’s catastrophic earthquake killed some 250,000 people and left another two million homeless, an outbreak of cholera originating in the Artibonite region has swept this country of ten million people. By November 24, five weeks after the first diagnosis, the United Nations counted 2,000 dead. Seventy thousand Haitians have been infected so far, with forecasts of up to 400,000 more cases over the next six months. Every day the papers feature another tragic story: a mother cradling her infant’s lifeless body; a teenager carrying his grandmother for miles in hope of reaching a clinic or hospital in time; the mass graves that are dotting Haiti’s landscape.
January’s earthquake was a natural disaster, but the death toll and devastation were man-made, products of imperialist depredation that could be seen in the shoddily built buildings in the capital Port-au-Prince that collapsed like houses of cards. Cholera is not a natural disaster but a disease of poverty that can be stopped by applying the most basic public health measures. But more than a century of imperialist rape, plunder and brutal repression, continuing to this day under UN occupation, has left the Haiti population defenseless before this disease.
Cholera is a prime example of diseases of the poor. Characterized by acute diarrhea and vomiting, cholera is caused by bacteria that lodge in the intestines and is spread by the contamination of water supplies by human feces. Controlling sewage and making water supplies safe can prevent this scourge. Timely replacement of fluids and salts lost through diarrhea by oral rehydration solution—a simple, and cheap, mixture of sugar and salts—will prevent death for over 99 percent of cholera patients. Purification of water through the use of chlorine will also stop its spread. But in the impoverished slums of Third World countries, there is no sanitary public water supply, and untreated sewage is simply dumped into streams. Particularly at risk are children. Around the world, waterborne diseases yearly claim the lives of 1.6 million children under the age of five.
Ten months after the earthquake, 1.5 million Haitians are still homeless, living in tent camps where rainfall leaves them wading through a swamp of mud and feces. The disease is spreading especially rapidly in urban slums, such as Port-au-Prince’s Cité Soleil. Even before January’s earthquake, just 17 percent of Haitians had adequate sanitation, while nearly one out of every two Haitians had no regular access to drinking water. Haiti ranked dead last out of 147 countries in the World Water Council’s 2002 Water Poverty Index, a measure of sanitation and water quality.
Some hotels and private homes may have their own septic systems, but that waste also often gets dumped in canals and drainage ditches, which double as sewers. These are often clogged with garbage and animal carcasses, which cause floods that spread infected water. In a country with an unemployment rate before the earthquake as high as 80 percent and with more than half the population living on less than one dollar a day, some Port-au-Prince residents dive into these “canals” to unclog them, aware that they are being exposed to life-threatening disease but desperate for their miserable monthly pay of $112 (if the bosses ever pay them).
Haiti’s unspeakable poverty is the direct product of racist vengeance and imperialist ravages. For 200 years, the Haitian masses have been paying in blood for the revolution carried out under Toussaint L’Ouverture against the French colonial slavocracy. Culminating in the first independent black state established in the modern era, the Haitian Revolution inspired slave revolts across the Americas and met with a frenzy of racist hostility from both France and the then-slaveowning U.S. In return for recognition by France, in 1825 Haiti was compelled to agree to compensate the former slaveowners 150 million francs ($20 billion at today’s prices), a debt service that consumed around 80 percent of Haiti’s budget and was only finally paid off in 1947. Until last year, Haiti had been forced to pay the imperialist bloodsuckers another $1 million a week to pay off a debt of $1.54 billion, mostly left over from the murderously corrupt Duvalier regime that took power in the 1950s.
With consummate imperial arrogance, the New York Times (20 November) laid the blame for the cholera epidemic on its victims, “since, as in syphilis’s case, they are careless about whom they cavort with, and with cholera, they must lack good sanitation for it to spread.” Left unsaid was that between 2001 and 2004, the U.S. government blocked $54 million in Inter- American Development Bank loans to rebuild urban water systems in Haiti, a country that lacks even one sewage plant. That act of imperialist cruelty was part of Washington’s efforts to undermine the regime of bourgeois populist president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who was overthrown in a U.S.-backed 2004 coup that brought in the UN’s MINUSTAH occupation force.
Following last January’s earthquake, the U.S. imperialists cried Hollywood tears. While former presidents Bill Clinton and G.W. Bush joined hands on a national TV campaign to raise money for Haiti, Barack Obama dispatched 20,000 combat troops in the guise of a “relief effort” and ordered a naval blockade to prevent Haitians from fleeing to the U.S. Carried out under a “humanitarian” cover, U.S. imperialism’s re-occupation of Haiti aimed to secure military control and to reinforce the battered UN occupation force. The White House also sought to demonstrate American imperialist domination over the Caribbean, posing a particular threat to the Cuban deformed workers state. U.S. military authorities who took command of the Port-au-Prince airport prevented the World Food Program from landing cargos of food, medicine and water for two days, diverting their flights so that the U.S. could land troops and equipment and save Americans. We demand that all UN troops, and any remaining U.S. forces, get out now!
Since then, conditions have progressively worsened, accompanied by rising anger at the occupation forces. In May, MINUSTAH troops brutally suppressed a Port-au-Prince student protest against the occupation. One month later, 10,000 peasants protested against the U.S. agribusiness giant Monsanto, which had donated 475 tons of maize. The peasants reasonably feared that this was a ploy to force them to buy new seeds from Monsanto each year at prices they could not afford. By the time Hurricane Tomas approached in early November, there had been no reconstruction and no plans to protect the population—although the Pentagon did ready a helicopter carrier and a brigade of Marines for another possible occupation. The rains came and went without major damage. But the homeless remain homeless, the unemployed are still unemployed, and the starving are still starving, while the billions pledged for relief remain in hermetically sealed coffers.
It was no surprise that protests against MINUSTAH broke out in October after evidence emerged that the bacteria causing the cholera outbreak was similar to a South Asian strain and may have been introduced by troops from Nepal, who had recently arrived at a military base near the Artibonite River. As anger grew, on November 15 thousands of protesters took to the streets of Cap Haïtien, Haiti’s second-largest city, burning tires and closing the airport. They were met with gunfire from the MINUSTAH base in nearby Quartier Morin that killed two protesters and wounded 16 others. In the northern city of Pont Neuf, protesters set fire to a police station. Hundreds also protested in Hinche, demanding that MINUSTAH leave the country. On November 18, the protests spread to Port-au-Prince, where hundreds of youths erected barricades of burning tires and attacked MINUSTAH vehicles.
UN and Haitian officials condemned the protests as designed to disrupt the November 28 parliamentary and presidential elections. Held under the jackboot of foreign occupiers oppressing a population ravaged by intense poverty and disease, this exercise in “democracy” was a complete sham. Even before the polls closed, protests broke out against massive election fraud; two-thirds of the presidential candidates called for the results to be tossed out. At any rate, real authority is in the hands of the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission headed by Bill Clinton.
The most popular politician, the exiled Aristide, was barred from the elections along with his Lavalas party. Elected president in 1990 with overwhelming support, Aristide was soon overthrown by his military chief, Raoul Cedras. To quell growing turmoil in Haiti, the U.S. Marines invaded in 1994 and returned him to office. After an interim regime under René Préval—the current nominal president—Aristide was re-elected in 2000 only to face a U.S.-led destabilization campaign and his ouster in 2004, when he was whisked to Africa on a U.S.-chartered jet.
Since that time, UN “peacekeepers” have backed up violent assaults by the Haitian police on poor communities and on demonstrations demanding Aristide’s return. We demand that Aristide be allowed to return to Haiti and that the ban on his party be dropped. At the same time, as Marxists we have never given any political support to this capitalist politician and have opposed the imperialist interventions that installed him and subsequently removed him from office.
We support the struggles of the Haitian masses against their abject conditions, which are reinforced by imperialist occupation. But we understand that there is no solution to those conditions within Haiti itself. As we wrote in “Haiti: Mass Misery Under Imperialist Occupation,” (WV No. 962, 30 July):
“The only way out of the misery imposed on neocolonial Haiti lies through proletarian socialist revolution throughout the Caribbean and, crucially, in the North American imperialist heartland. But 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 struggle 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.”