Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Relief for Haiti, The White Man Will Save Them

Haiti caught the world's attention when it was hit by a massive earthquake.  Celebrities spoke out and people were encouraged to text to donate to the relief effort.  Families were separated and many were unable to bury their dead.  Part of the reason that Haiti was so devastated by the earthquake, is a history of slavery and colonialism.  The average salary in Haiti is still less that 1USD per day.  As I predicted when the earthquake first happened, now that the initial sensationalistic media coverage has ended and the Anderson Coopers are safely behind their desks, the world have forgotten the Haitian people who are still trapped in their rubble.
The Associated Press reports only two percent of the rubble has been removed and only 13,000 temporary shelters have been constructed. Not a single cent of the US aid pledged for rebuilding has arrived in Haiti. In the last few days the US pledged it would put up 10% of the billion dollars in reconstruction aid promised. Only 15 percent of the aid pledged by countries and organizations around the world has reached the country so far.

There is no electricity at all in the camps. Some have lights on poles that work some of the time. Many have no lights at all.

There is no food. The children are terribly hungry. The food aid program was terminated in April and nothing took its place. The authorities cut off the food so people would leave the camps, but where is there to go?

Security is a huge problem. Less than a dozen of the thousand plus camps have official security at night. During the day the police may come around or maybe the heavily armed MINUSTAH UN forces will patrol. But at night security forces vanish. With little or no light at night, tens of thousands of unguarded sheet structures and canvas walls offer thieves and gangs an inviting target. Violence against women and girls is widespread. Women who go to the latrines at night are attacked. Some women talk of carrying rape babies. Others will do anything for the crudest abortion. When they go to the police and ask them to investigate, officers demand money for gas. Even those who pay the police usually end up frustrated. There is a sense of impunity.

There are an estimated 1,300 “camps” of homeless people in Haiti. Homeless people live literally everywhere. People are camped in the middle of many streets. Shanty structures are built right up to the edge of streets. Every park, every school yard, every parking lot appear to have people living under sheets or lean to tents.  (source)
Many people texted their latte money to Haitian relief and felt that they had really accomplished something.  The western world patted itself on the back about its charitable efforts, with no acknowledgment of how culpable we all were in the deaths of innocent people.  It was easy to believe that because an earthquake is a natural disaster, that the west has not been equally devastating to the tiny Caribbean nation.

Right after the quake hit, Wyclef Jean hopped on a plane to do his part to heal the suffering.  He even recently tried to run for president.  Shortly after the quake, reports surfaced suggesting that Wyclef was wrongfully profiting off of Yele, causing once positive perceptions to become negative.  Actor and activist Sean Pen and Jean engaged in a very public argument over what was the best for the people of Haiti and Wyclef's ability to be a leader.
Former US president Bill Clinton has given $500,000 to actor Sean Penn for Haiti.

Clinton has shown his support of Penn's ongoing work in Haiti by donating half-a-million dollars to his charity.
The Clinton Foundation gave $500,000 to Penn's charity, J/P Haitian Relief Organisation. 

The donated money will be used to provide bridge funding for a camp in Petionville, which is run by the organization.

Penn, 50, told People.com: 'The support of President Clinton and the Clinton Foundation is an extraordinary boost in our organisation's ability to continue its work in Haiti. (source)
Sean Penn has certainly come a long way since Shanghai Surprise.   He is generous with his time and has put his celebrity power behind NGO's in great need of support.  He was one of the first celebrities to speak out against the Iraq war, and he endured ridicule for his trip there to tour the country.  It is fair to say that Penn has been on the right side of history in recent years; however, he is still a White man, with enormous class and western privilege.  When we think of what it means to exist with privilege, Penn is the definition.

If Clinton truly had doubts about  Wyclef's organizations, surely he could have found a relief group led by the Haitians themselves to make his generous donation to.  His actions suggest that it is the White man's burden to save Haiti, rather than their obligation to correct the historical wrongs that lead to this tragedy in the first place.  To me the first step would be to acknowledge that Haitians are the best equipped to decide what they need, as well as have the knowledge to properly direct the funds to achieve their goals. 

Haiti has long been Clinton's pet nation building project.  It was his administration with the collusion of France and Canada that staged a coup to remove the democratically elected leader Jean-Bertrand Aristide.  It comes as no surprise that today Clinton still believes in his right to circumvent the Haitian people to accomplish his goals.  While he was president of the United States,  he had every opportunity to create positive change and yet, all he did was enforce neo-colonialism and therefore any charity that he would support, in my mind is immediately questionable and that much more so when it is lead by a White western man of extreme privilege.

If the western world was really serious about Haitian relief, the nation would not be in the terrible condition that it is today.  It seems to me this is a case of saying the right thing, while actually doing as little as possible to secure concrete change and increase the living standard of the Haitian people.   Haiti is the worlds sweatshop and it is filled with the descendants of Blacks who launched the first large scale successful slave rebellion.  The west has never forgiven the tiny nation for daring to and win its independence and has sought to punish Haiti for this for generations.  Don't expect any efforts to help that doesn't involve the face of an over privileged White western man.  Neo-colonialism has been far to profitable to make any real change in how we relate to the tiny Carribbean nation, no matter how many florid speeches are given.