The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

FEMA makes them refugees again

Feb 13, 2006

After Hurricane Katrina, two million people were left homeless. They were made refugees in their own country. No one can forget the spectacle of how completely the government failed to act. How government at all levels failed those thousands and thousands of people trapped by floodwaters.

What has been the refugees’ fate in the months since Katrina? Did the government come to its senses – or rather, change its spots? No.

The refugees’ homes are being seized, condemned, put on the block for real estate speculators. If the speculators don’t want the properties, they sit in rubble.

No jobs are provided, not even jobs clearing rubble and rebuilding the refugees’ own communities. The jobs are contracted out to political cronies like Halliburton, with no requirement that the people flooded out should be the first put back to work.

The government – after long delays – simply warehoused refugees for the months since Katrina. This may have ensured a period of guaranteed profits to hotels and motels. But it provided no means for people to rebuild normal lives. And now FEMA is cutting off payments to hotels. The refugees from Katrina are now being made refugees from FEMA!

Meanwhile the trailer homes that were at first promised are not being set up. For example, at the airport at Hope, Arkansas, 10,770 house trailers are stockpiled, bought and paid for – but not being shipped to where they are needed. Sitting idle, while those who were promised trailers are being evicted and made homeless elsewhere. The most requests for temporary trailer homes have come from the New Orleans area. What area has the fewest FEMA trailers set up? New Orleans.

The government has been criminally negligent toward the hurricane’s victims. And not only during and after the hurricane! Not only because of Bush, Cheney, and “Brownie!” but because of deliberate policies for years before the hurricane. Administration after administration was fully informed that New Orleans’ levees were capable of holding only a Category Three hurricane. Administration after administration – federal, state, and local – took the money needed to upgrade the levees and floodwalls, and put it to “other priorities.” Other priorities that did not involve protecting the working-class areas of New Orleans! Other priorities that did not involve planning and preparing for the inevitable disaster that would wipe out hospital services, flood nursing homes, and require the rapid evacuation of half a million residents.

If an individual person allows a dangerous condition to exist on their property – for instance, leaving a swimming pool unfenced so that children can wander in – that person is criminally liable. They can be made to pay damages in court for injuries or death that may result.

In exactly that way, the government deliberately neglected New Orleans’ own dangerous condition. In exactly that way, the government owes the hurricane victims full damages. Full housing, full employment, full rights of return to their homes, full rebuilding of their communities. Full and complete compensation for problems that government was responsible for – and deliberately decided not to fix.

If any one of us were so negligent, the government would have us in court in a minute. Guilty. Pay up.