To Haiti with hate, from the US right

The attacks on Haiti by the religious far right can be traced back to the US occupation of the count

Let's stop all this nonsense about the suffering people of Haiti. Listen to what Rush Limbaugh, king of the far-right radio airwaves here, says we should all do: nothing. "We've already donated to Haiti," Limbaugh lectured a caller on his daily show, which is broadcast by 645 radio stations throughout the US and earns him $35m a year. "It's called the US income tax."

From the pulpit of the religious far right, 79-year-old Pat Robertson, a semi-serious presidential contender in 1988, chimed in with his own unique wisdom, telling us that the Haitians had got what they deserved because they had made "a pact to the devil".

President Obama, meanwhile, held three press conferences about the earthquake within five days (remember George W Bush's feckless trance following Hurricane Katrina in 2005?) and announced that he was ordering "a swift, co-ordinated, and aggressive effort to save lives in Haiti". He did not forget the obligatory presidential braggadocio - the US "steps forward and helps" when tragedy strikes, because "that is who we are, that is what we do".

Television news, for once, dropped just about everything else to devote itself to a foreign news story about how the US had come to the rescue. CNN's medical correspondent even stepped into the operating theatre himself to carry out one or two operations because a wimpy Belgian medical team, fearing for its safety, had pulled out of a beleaguered hospital for a few hours.

Nickel and dimed

Little or no mention was made of the EU's immediate pledge of more than €400m (compared to the US's €70m), the thousands of Canadian troops with their vehicles, helicopters and ships in Haiti, the Italian aircraft carrier sailing to the rescue, or . . . well, you get the idea.

Limbaugh was right that the US gives financial aid to the poorest nation in its hemisphere, although the amount Haiti receives is very small compared to what is received by Israel, Egypt or Afghanistan. In the most recent three years for which data is available, each American gave only about 80 cents to Haiti (while Canada contributed the equivalent of $12.13 per person and Norway $8.44).

With America's vastly larger population, the actual largesse that the country dispenses ends up being much more than that donated by
nations with comparatively tiny populations such as Canada and Norway. But why has such a wretchedly poor country on the US's doorstep as Haiti, which the UN ranks 149th in its poverty index of 186 nations, received so little US assistance?

The answer, contrary to what Obama insists, is that other wealthy western countries dispense aid largely based on their assessment of humanitarian need. The Canadians and Norwegians are generous to Haiti because, with an annual GDP of just $790 per capita, it desperately needs help. The US, certainly since it conceived the Marshall Plan in 1948 as a method of stabilising postwar Europe, uses financial aid primarily as an instrument of its foreign policy and strategic aims; Israel and Egypt are the recipients of US munificence not so much because of their impoverishment, but in order to prop up the US's Middle East policies.

Because US foreign policy rarely looks more than 24 hours ahead - consider how Washington used its aid budget to put Saddam Hussein in power so that Iraq would act as a US ally against Iran, or the consequences today of the US having funded the training of guerrillas for the mujahedin against the Soviet occupiers of Afghanistan. Limbaugh's precious US taxpayers' dollars are thus often unwisely allocated in the American foreign aid budget.

Poor Haiti, after centuries of exploitation by France, was invaded and then occupied by the US from 1915-34. The Americans were initially fearful that another country would use Haiti as a base from which to dominate the Caribbean and thwart US control of the Panama Canal; Haitian labour then served as a milch cow for the US for decades. Bill Clinton, who has toured the earthquake devastation (thus fulfilling his wife's private prediction that he would frequently overshadow her if she became secretary of state), has a genuine affection for the country and tried more valiantly than any modern US president to bring economic growth to Haiti. He failed hopelessly.


Obama's characteristically extravagant commitments to Haiti, if implemented, will mean that the US will once again take the country over. Within days of disaster striking, US troops were brandishing their M4 rifles and firing rubber bullets at stricken Haitians, with the result that foes of American imperialism, real or imagined, were quick to pounce.

“I read that 3,000 soldiers are arriving, marines armed as if they were going to war. There is not a shortage of guns there, my God," said that prime anti-American opportunist, Hugo Chávez. "Doctors, medicine, fuel, field hospitals, that's what the United States should send. They are occupying Haiti undercover."

Alain Joyandet, the minister in charge of France's humanitarian relief, was just as blunt. "This is about helping Haiti, not about occupying Haiti," he said, angrily, after scuffling with an American who was newly manning the control tower at Port-au-Prince airport.

Will that "pact to the devil" for ever consign the Haitians to "God's wrath"? It was made a long time ago when Haitians were "under the heel of the French, Napoleon III and whatever", explained Pat Robertson. I was baffled until I realised that he was referring to the successful uprising of African slaves against French colonial rule - and the imprimatur it gave to the Voodoo religion, which openly opposed "the white man's God". That was in 1791, 17 years before the future Napoleon II was born. But then, sadly, Americans have always been a little shaky when it comes to the details of matters overseas and beyond its borders.


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Andrew Stephen was appointed US Editor of the New Statesman in 2001, having been its Washington correspondent and weekly columnist since 1998. He is a regular contributor to BBC news programs and to The Sunday Times Magazine. He has also written for a variety of US newspapers including The New York Times Op-Ed pages. He came to the US in 1989 to be Washington Bureau Chief of The Observer and in 1992 was made Foreign Correspondent of the Year by the American Overseas Press Club for his coverage.

This article first appeared in the 25 January 2010 issue of the New Statesman, Afghanistan: Why we cannot win this war