The Spark

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

Natural Catastrophe Must Not Cover up Reality in Haiti

Feb 1, 2010

Two hundred thousand dead, or perhaps double that number? No one knows the number of victims from the earthquake in Haiti. The bodies are not all removed from the ruins. The television cameras show teams carrying a few survivors from the rubble, but they have not ventured into the poor neighborhoods. And how many more victims will there be from epidemics, or from thirst or hunger?

The earthquake is an act of nature, but the number of victims is caused by class society. It comes from the poverty of this country and of the majority of its inhabitants. When the TV media say earthquake standards were not respected, it’s a euphemism for neglect.

The fact that the capital of Port-au-Prince is located on a fault line and thus susceptible to earthquakes was well-known. Scientists often drew attention to the risks. But the Haitian government could scarcely worry about such a risk when it barely worried about the deaths of all its poor people from hunger, from poverty, from treatable illnesses easy to cure. Even in normal times, the hospitals lacked doctors, nurses, supplies and medicines.

The television is filled with images of people saved by the rescue teams from the wealthy countries. But the majority were actually saved by Haitians, showing even in such a disaster an extraordinary degree of solidarity. How many people were pulled from the ruins by those using their bare hands, long before the arrival of forces coming with modern equipment?

But who could trust these imperialist countries? When the United States took control of the airport, it was in order to bring in more soldiers. What the wealthy governments want is to prevent social explosions in Haiti, not to mention the flight of massive numbers of Haitians toward the shores of the U.S. France made a lot of noise about its rescue teams, but the impact is minimal.

The food rations that have been delivered can certainly ease the situation. But if these efforts touch part of the population, they do not reach the poor neighborhoods. Even today, two weeks after the earthquake, the poor population can only really count on the solidarity coming from its own ranks.

As for reconstruction, what will the big powers do other than hold conferences? They will help rebuild the presidential palace and government ministries. They will assure the infrastructure necessary for the industrial zone to once again engage in production with its workers paid about two dollars a day.

What is urgent, besides basic necessities and medicines, is the rapid construction of inexpensive housing using anti-quake standards. But that is not what the rich countries will do.

Nor will they aid workers and peasants in the countryside to have the means to live decently from their labor. To do that would not cost more than what is spent to carry out the war in Iraq and Afghanistan every month. It would cost just a tiny fraction of what was given to the bankers in the United States, France and elsewhere.

The present and the future of Haiti are much less the result of a natural catastrophe than they are the image of a despicable organization of society at the level of the world.