Blackwater before drinking water

by Greg Palast

Chinese search and rescue teams arrived in Port au Prince within 48 hours after the earthquake. Now that the airport is controlled by the U.S. military, aid agencies and other governments trying to bring in relief are furious at being turned back. – Photo: AFP

1. Bless the president for having rescue teams in the air almost immediately. That was President Olafur Grimsson of Iceland. On Wednesday, the AP reported that the president of the United States promised, “The initial contingent of 2,000 Marines could be deployed to the quake-ravaged country within the next few days.” “In a few days,” Mr. Obama?2. There’s no such thing as a “natural” disaster. Two hundred thousand Haitians have been slaughtered by slum housing and IMF “austerity” plans.

3. A friend of mine called. Do I know a journalist who could get medicine to her father? And she added, trying to hold her voice together, “My sister, she’s under the rubble. Is anyone going who can help, anyone?” Should I tell her, “Obama will have Marines there in ‘a few days’”?

4. China deployed rescuers with sniffer dogs within 48 hours. China, Mr. President. China: 8,000 miles distant. Miami: 700 miles close. U.S. bases in Puerto Rico: right there.

5. Obama’s Defense Secretary Robert Gates said, “I don’t know how this government could have responded faster or more comprehensively than it has.” We know Gates doesn’t know.

6. From my own work in the field, I know that FEMA has access to ready-to-go potable water, generators, mobile medical equipment and more for hurricane relief on the Gulf Coast. It’s all still there. Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré, who served as the task force commander for emergency response after Hurricane Katrina, told the Christian Science Monitor, “I thought we had learned that from Katrina: Take food and water and start evacuating people.” Maybe we learned but, apparently, Gates and the Defense Department missed school that day.

7. Send in the Marines. That’s America’s response. That’s what we’re good at. The aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson finally showed up after three days. With what? It was dramatically deployed – without any emergency relief supplies. It has sidewinder missiles and 19 helicopters.

Click to enlarge.

8. But don’t worry, the International Search and Rescue Team, fully equipped and self-sufficient for up to seven days in the field, deployed immediately with 10 metric tons of tools and equipment, three tons of water, tents, advanced communication equipment and water purifying capability. They’re from Iceland.9. Gates wouldn’t send in food and water because, he said, there was no “structure … to provide security.” For Gates, appointed by Bush and allowed to hang around by Obama, it’s security first. That was his lesson from Hurricane Katrina. Blackwater before drinking water.

10. Previous U.S. presidents have acted far more swiftly in getting troops on the ground on that island. Haiti is the right half of the island of Hispaniola. It’s treated like the right testicle of Hell. The Dominican Republic the left. In 1965, when Dominicans demanded the return of Juan Bosch, their elected president, deposed by a junta, Lyndon Johnson reacted to this crisis rapidly, landing 45,000 U.S. Marines on the beaches to prevent the return of the elected president.

11. How did Haiti end up so economically weakened, with infrastructure, from hospitals to water systems, busted or non-existent – there are two fire stations in the entire nation – and infrastructure so frail that the nation was simply waiting for “nature” to finish it off?

Don’t blame Mother Nature for all this death and destruction. That dishonor goes to Papa Doc and Baby Doc, the Duvalier dictatorship, which looted the nation for 28 years. Papa and his Baby put an estimated 80 percent of world aid into their own pockets – with the complicity of the U.S. government happy to have the Duvaliers and their militia, Tonton Macoutes, as allies in the Cold War. (The war was easily won: the Duvaliers’ death squads murdered as many as 60,000 opponents of the regime.)

12. What Papa and Baby didn’t run off with, the IMF finished off through its “austerity” plans. An austerity plan is orchestrated by economists with an irrational belief that cutting government services will somehow help a nation prosper.

13. In 1991, five years after the murderous Baby fled, Haitians elected a priest, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who resisted the IMF’s austerity diktats. Within months, the military, to the applause of Papa George H.W. Bush, deposed him. History repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce. The farce was George W. Bush. In 2004, after the priest Aristide was re-elected president, he was kidnapped [by U.S. Marines – ed.] and removed again, to the applause of Baby Bush.

14. Haiti was once a wealthy nation, the wealthiest in the hemisphere, worth more, wrote Voltaire in the 18th century, than that rocky, cold colony known as New England. Haiti’s wealth was in black gold: enslaved Africans. But then they rebelled – and have been paying for it ever since.

From 1825 to 1947, France forced Haiti to pay an annual fee to reimburse the profits lost by French slaveholders caused by their slaves’ successful uprising. Rather than enslave individual Haitians, France thought it more efficient to simply enslave the entire nation.

15. Secretary Gates tells us, “There are just some certain facts of life that affect how quickly you can do some of these things.” The Navy’s hospital boat will be there in, oh, a week or so. Heckuva job, Brownie!

16. Note just received from my friend. Her sister was found, dead; and her other sister had to bury her. Her father needs his anti-seizure medicines. That’s a fact of life too, Mr. President.

Through our journalism network, we are trying to get my friend’s medicines to her father. If any reader does have someone getting into or near Port-au-Prince, please contact immediately.



  1. January 18, 2010 at 18:06

    To the writer – you have my sincerest condolences for the loss of your friend’s sister; I pray that aid arrives soon so that her father is able to get the medications that he needs. Please do not take my comments personally – I am only writing in an effort to keep things in perspective.

    There are some interesting distortions in this article that present the situation in a manner that doesn’t exactly represent the facts as demonstrated by the information coming out of Haiti.

    First of all, all of the foreign aid in the world could not do anything considering that the one airport in Port-au-Prince only had one functioning runway (an in-out runway) before the tragedy with only two access roads to the city. Why could the aid do nothing if it arrived at the airport the day of the quake – or even the next day? For the simple reason that there was no transportation TO the city FROM the airport. It wasn’t until the US Air force began running Air Traffic Control from the cockpit of an aircraft on the ground (using the aircraft’s radar and a laptop computer) that it became possible to even coordinate the landing of the hundreds of aircraft that had flown to Haiti, their cargo holds full of aid, relief workers and all sorts of other necessary things … all which ended up getting unloaded at the airport and left there – much of which is still there, until such time as the roads are cleared and there is enough transportation to move the food and water and everything else out to the people in desperate need of relief.

    The reason for the deployment of the aircraft carrier that seems so anachronistic to the writer is answered in his own comment: there were nineteen helicopters on board that aircraft carrier. Helicopters that will be vital in the relief effort; helicopters that have already dropped supplies into areas where roads – or the lack thereof – make the movement of trucks or other vehicles impossible. Of course, it is only the beginning of what must be much more, but it is a beginning, and over the next days and weeks and months … and years, much more will have to be done to rebuild the city of Port-au-Prince from the ground up.

    It is always disheartening when there is criticism of things when everything seems to be out of the control of everyone – when it seems as though this is one of those times when true and absolute chaos has been loosed upon the world and, for a time, has been given free reign to run rampant without check. The chaos has been seen in news reports coming out of the destroyed area – chaos that includes young Haitians running around, desperate for food and water, armed with machetes. The idea of ‘law and order’ is something of a theory now in Port-au-Prince – there is none, save for that which exists in the proximity of the soldiers that have arrived in order to distribute humanitarian aid. The troops of the 82nd Airborne is currently carrying their rifles without them being loaded (they are carrying ammunition with them, but their ROE is that they will have to be under attack before even LOADING their weapons).

    The hardest thing that anyone can do in a time of extreme crises is to ask someone to be patient, to not allow themselves to be ‘worked up’ over what seems to be a lack of movement in a time when it would seem that bringing supplies should be the easiest thing; logistics are a nightmare to the aid workers who have been, quite literally, stranded at the airport, waiting for a way into the city with the precious supplies that they have flown in for the relief of the agonies that exist in such massive numbers. Frustration is the word of the day for these people who want, more than anything, to put their hearts and souls into the work that – hopefully – will not only comfort those who have survived but save lives as well.

    Wie viel ist Aufzuleiden!

  2. Ken LaRive said,

    January 19, 2010 at 17:15

    Here we come to save the world!

  3. Al said,

    January 20, 2010 at 12:59

    Yes those scary machete wielding Haitians actually managed to force a US warship to turn and flee failing in their attempt to return the democratically elected leader of Haiti Father Jean-Bertrand Aristide. One should note that this would be comical if it were not true. But it is. What is also true is that it was the US that orchestrated the coup against Aristide not once but twice.

  4. Al said,

    January 20, 2010 at 13:02

    And while we are at it USAID – that bastion of morality – dedicated $26.7 million of ‘aid’ to politically oppose Aristide’s plan to raise the minimum wage from 33 cents per hour to 50 cents per hour.

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