Delaying aid for a photo-op

January 25, 2010

Jesse Hagopian, a teacher from Seattle, was in Haiti with his wife (who works on HIV education in the country) and one-year-old son when the earthquake hit. Here, he looks at the U.S. government's priorities on display in Haiti right now.

EVERYTHING YOU need to know about the U.S. aid effort to assist Haiti in the wake of the catastrophic earthquake can be summed up by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's touchdown in Port-au-Prince on Saturday, January 16: they shut down the airport for three hours surrounding her arrival for "security" reasons, which meant that no aid flights could come in during those critical hours.

If there was one day when the Haitian people needed aid to flow all day long, that was the day, because the people trapped under the rubble on Tuesday evening couldn't survive much beyond Saturday without water.

Defenders of Clinton will say that her disimpassioned, monotone, photo-op speech was needed to draw attention to the plight of the Haitians. But no one north of hell can defend her next move: according to airport personnel that I spoke to during my recent evacuation from Haiti, she paralyzed the airport later that same day to have a new outfit flown in from the Dominican Republic.

I am having a hard time readjusting to life back home after having survived the earthquake and witnessed so much death, so even typing those words is making my heart pound uncontrollably. I guess for America's rulers, a new pantsuit is more valuable than the lives of poor, Black Haitians.

Hillary Clinton stands beside Haitian president René Préval, speaking to reporters at the airport
Hillary Clinton stands beside Haitian president René Préval, speaking to reporters at the airport

Unfortunately, Clinton's model of diverting and delaying critical aid to the Haitian people, while emphasizing security, has become standard operating procedure.

Alain Joyandet, the French minister responsible for humanitarian relief in Haiti, charged the U.S. with treating this as a military operation rather than an aid mission. Mr. Joyandet told the Daily Telegraph that he had been involved in an argument with a U.S. commander in the airport's control tower over the flight plan for a French evacuation flight, saying, "This is about helping Haiti, not about occupying Haiti."

But with the U.S. occupying Iraq and Afghanistan, and funding the Israeli occupation of Palestine, it seems our government knows how to do little else when it comes to international affairs.

The day I left via Toussaint L'Ouverture International Airport, I saw lots of crates of food, water and medical supplies piled on the tarmac. But I didn't see that aid being transported out of the airport to actually get to Haitians.

What you can do

Donations and aid are desperately needed in Haiti. Here are some organizations with connections to the grassroots movements in the country.

The Haiti Emergency Relief Fund, organized by the solidarity organization Haiti Action, delivers resources directly to grassroots organizations. It was founded in 2004 after the coup d'etat that forced President Jean-Bertrand Aristide out of office.

For more information, including a telephone contact, go to the Canada Haiti Action Network Web site.

The Zanmi Lasante Medical Center is located in the Central Plateau of Haiti and delivers health care through a network of clinics. The health center survived the earthquake and delivering aid to the disaster zone. You can donate to the center through the U.S. non-profit organization Partners in Health.

SOPUDEP is a pioneering school in Petionville. The resources of the school and its teachers are being mobilized to assist the neighboring population. You can support the school via the Canadian-based Sawatzky Family Foundation.

Undoubtedly, there has been some aid distributed, but because there was no serious effort to disperse that aid in the first four days after the quake, tens of thousands of people trapped under rubble have died needlessly because they couldn't get a sip of water.

The Geneva-based organization Doctors Without Borders has been turned away from the airport numerous times to allow U.S. troops to land. A ring of U.S. warships surrounds Haiti to make sure that Haitians don't escape the disaster and try to get to the United States.

The U.S. has taken control of Haiti's main airport and seaport, and is in the process of deploying 18,000 U.S. troops to bolster the 9,000 UN troops already occupying the island nation--and as an eyewitness, I can tell you those troops are guarding their own compounds rather than distributing aid.

The Obama administration will try to dress up their ambition to occupy and pillage Haiti in a humanitarian evening gown. But clothing is in short supply in Haiti, and we can't afford to waste it.

As a man from Léogâne, Haiti, told Democracy Now!, "Myself, if you look at me, I don't have shoes, and I don't have food. Even my shoes, if you look at them, you see. I need clothes. We need everything. Even medicines, we need."

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