“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx
Aug 16, 2021
On August 14, a magnitude 7.2 earthquake hit Haiti.
At the time of this writing, the number of deaths and the overall level of destruction are unclear, but they are surely dire. Homes, workplaces, and stores were reduced to rubble in the city of Les Cayes. The main supermarket and many smaller stores collapsed, leaving about half a million people with dwindling supplies. Underground pipes snapped, flooding the streets, cutting off water. All this while Tropical Storm Grace is predicted to bring heavy rains and high winds to the island starting Monday.
Geologists warned that the 2010 quake had made another powerful one more likely. And yet, millions still live in the same type of ramshackle structures that collapsed by the thousands 11 years ago, when a quarter of a million people died and 1.5 million were displaced, in this country of 11 million.
Haiti still lacks the most basic medical infrastructure to take care of the wounded. Officials estimate there are only about 30 doctors total for about 1 million people in the most affected area, and that all of the hospitals are damaged. Dr. James Pierre, a surgeon working at the general hospital of Les Cayes, said the hospital was lacking even gloves and IV needles. Doctors worked overnight to build a makeshift operating room made of tin sheets by the airport, which is now manned by one surgeon. He reported that he doesn’t even have antibiotics, and that they do not have the capacity to do lab tests.
On top of all that, Haiti is in the midst of a governmental breakdown following the assassination of Haitian president Jovenel Moïse, making any kind of effective, coordinated rescue operation even more unlikely.
Haitians are the victims of the earthquake, but they are even more the victims of the poverty imposed by centuries of imperialist domination. Ever since Haiti’s birth, in the world’s first successful slave revolt in 1804, first France and then the U.S. have been sucking the wealth out of this country. The U.S. occupied it from 1915 until 1934 and has been propping up corrupt dictatorships—and occasionally invading—ever since. Those dictatorships have allowed U.S. corporations to make huge profits from the labor of poor Haitians, while impoverishing the majority: today, about 60% of the population lives below the official poverty line of $2.41 a day.
The U.S. and other rich countries plus various charities pledged aid for earthquake victims. But don’t expect charity to help very much. In 2010, as images of the devastation spread around the world, millions of people pledged money to help. But little of it reached the desperate people who needed it. Ninety-three cents of every dollar stayed with the donor organizations and the contractors they used, in their home countries. Instead of building housing, hospitals or schools, the first projects funded were hotels in the capital, while more than a million slept out in the open. On top of all that, U.N. soldiers stationed in Haiti reintroduced cholera, a disease once eradicated there—almost 5,000 Haitians died.
Faced with another disaster wrought more by capitalism than the shaking of the earth itself, what is needed is the determination of those who live in the centers of imperialism like the United States to do whatever is necessary to overthrow this capitalist system that condemns Haiti to one disaster after another.