Amy Goodman and Sharif Abdel Kouddous discuss Haiti's history of military coups and other reasons for the extreme poverty that has savaged that country with their guests Kim Ives and Edwidge Danticat. This is the type of discussion you surely won't hear on our mainstream media which is busy ambulance chasing instead of looking at the root causes of the poverty that have made this horrible natural disaster even worse. You can watch the entire segment at Democracy Now's site--Haiti Devastated by Largest Earthquake in 200 Years, Thousands Feared Dead.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And can you explain why are there UN peacekeepers deployed on the ground? Explain for people. We had the ouster of the democratically elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004. Where does it stand politically right now in Haiti?
KIM IVES: Well, the UN occupation is extremely unpopular. This was sent in after Aristide was removed by a plot essentially by the US, France and Canada on February 29, 2004. US, France and Canada sent in occupation troops, which remained there for three months. And then they handed off the mission to the UN, as they’ve done in the past—in 1995, in particular—to the UN to carry out. That’s mainly done by the Brazilians, are heading that. But it’s extremely unwelcome. People are sick and tired of the millions being spent, having guys riding around in giant tanks pointing guns at them. And, you know, essentially, this is a force to keep the country bottled up. And I don’t know what’s going to happen now, because the dogs of madness have really—are going to be unleashed by this catastrophe.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: I want to read a statement that was just released by the former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. He said, “My wife and I stand with the people of our country and mourn the death and destruction that has befallen Haiti. It is a tragedy that defies expression; a tragedy that compels all people to the highest levels of human compassion and solidarity. From Africa, the ancestral home of Haiti, we send our profoundest condolences and love to the thousands of children, mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters worst affected.” Where in Africa right now is he speaking from, Kim?
KIM IVES: He’s in South Africa, in Johannesburg. And this is one of the things. Aristide is being kept in exile, even now under the Obama administration, being kept out of the hemisphere. Apparently he’s gotten tremendous pressure since he went on the radio on November 25th and spoke out against the exclusionary elections that the Haitian government is trying to carry out, where the Lavalas Family party, the country’s largest, the party he founded, has been excluded from those elections, along with fourteen other parties.
And now he’s stuck in South Africa. He has no passport, which has long since expired. He has no laissez-passer, which he asked for explicitly in that radio address. And he should be invited. In fact, he should be brought back to help heal the country. I mean, the Haitian ambassador to the US, Ray Joseph, who was a participant in the coup d’état, has called for unity. I think if ever there was a moment when the Haitian government could now demonstrate unity, it would be now in allowing Aristide to come back, which has been one of the principal demands of the Haitian people over these past five years.
AMY GOODMAN: When we asked about the history—1915 to ‘34, 1991, explain the significance of these dates.
KIM IVES: Nineteen fifteen to 1934 was the first US Marine occupation, carried out under Woodrow Wilson, and finally, during the administration of FDR, it was ended. In ’91, Jean-Bertrand Aristide was inaugurated and—
AMY GOODMAN: As the first elected president.
KIM IVES: As, yes, the first democratically elected president. Eight months later, he was overthrown by a US CIA-backed coup. He remained three years in exile. They thought the coup could be somehow consolidated. It wasn’t. The resistance to it continued during that period. Finally, Clinton was forced to bring in 20,000 US troops, not to stop the coup, really, but to stop a revolution, which was in the making because of that coup.
AMY GOODMAN: Which would lead to immigrants coming into the United States.
KIM IVES: Possibly, yeah. I mean, the immigrants were being forced out by the coup. If there were a revolution in Haiti, maybe the flow would reverse. But the fact is the Clinton administration brought Aristide back as a sort of hostage on the shoulders of 20,000 US troops, and they remained until about 1999.
He was reelected in 2000. They again immediately started a coup when he was inaugurated on February 7, 2001, involving Contras based in the Dominican Republic and diplomatic and economic embargos, and all the—the whole works. They forced him out at gunpoint, essentially. A team of US Navy Seals came in and kidnapped him from his home in Tabarre on February 29th, 2004. And he’s been in exile ever since.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And also, Kim Ives, the issue of food. We saw last year a food crisis around the world in early 2009. Haiti was one of the worst hit by that food crisis. There were reports of people eating mud for—because of starvation. Explain the issue of food and also how the United States affected the food supply in Haiti.
KIM IVES: Well, yeah. Essentially, Haiti was self-sufficient thirty years ago in its production of food, particularly rice. And since the fall of the Duvalier regime, it has really been opened up. The neoliberal regime, one of its principal demands is the lowering of tariff barriers, so that rice grown in Arkansas and Texas and Louisiana can be dumped on the country, which has effectively destroyed the rice farmers of the Artibonite Valley, leaving Haiti now required to import almost 80 percent of its food. So foreign aid has essentially destroyed Haitian food self-sufficiency.
AMY GOODMAN: And then the poverty that that leads to, the deforestation of the mountains. Having spent—gone to Haiti a number of times, people going up into the mountains to make charcoal, to burn whatever wood they can get, and that leads to the precarious natural situation, where you have an earthquake or a hurricane and the mudslides that—from Pétionville down, right?
KIM IVES: Exactly.
AMY GOODMAN: That make the crisis much worse.
KIM IVES: Exactly. And, Amy, just in the days before this, there was a lot of rain. So a lot of this is mudslides. I mean, the ground was already saturated with water, so it was extremely unstable. And I think that made the collapses even more terrible.