Securing Haiti

Soldiers vs Doctors in Post-earthquake Haiti

Within hours of Haiti’s devastating earthquake, Cuban doctors, Chinese search and rescue teams and Venezuelan medical professionals were on the ground. When the US military took control of Port-au-Prince Airport, however, they prioritized landing soldiers instead of humanitarian supplies, according to humanitarian organizations like Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) and Amnesty International. The militarization of disaster relief has led to harsh condemnation of what critics call an American-led occupation of Haiti.

Speaking to the heavy reliance on military troops, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez observed that “thousands of men are disembarking in Haiti as if it were a war.” Chavez’s sentiments echoed his counterparts in Bolivia, Nicaragua and Cuba.

Beleaguered with increasingly bad press about Iraq and Afghanistan, Western armed forces have an opportunity to highlight their humanitarian face in Haiti. But, some wonder, with what costs?

Military-led versus the civilian-oriented approach favoured by regional countries highlights a difference in approach to disaster relief. Fusing humanitarianism and the military, both the US and Canada say that order must come first to prevent the descent into chaos. Alternatively, Nicaragua told the UN General Assembly that “Haiti needs doctors, engineers, teachers, construction materials. It needs to strengthen its agricultural production; it doesn’t need soldiers.”

Venezuela is providing Haiti free fuel, delivered along with other aid shipments through the Dominican Republic.

Cuba and Venezuela have co-operated to deliver health services to Haiti, according to Al Jazeera’s Tom Fawthrop. Cuban doctors are specially trained for disaster relief and have proven themselves during the earthquakes in Pakistan and Indonesia in 2005 and 2006. Washington declined Havana’s aid during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

However, regional groups, states and humanitarian organizations have had difficulty accessing Haiti. As MSF’s Francoise Saulnier explained to Reuters, “Urgent and vital attention to the people has been delayed (for) military logistics.” As planes and supplies are delayed or re-routed, doctors have had to employ impromptu measures, such as hand-operated breathing devices and saws for amputations, according to media reports.

The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) was unable to secure US approval to land in Port-au-Prince in January, even though Haiti is a member state. Instead, they have had to form their base for disaster relief in Jamaica.

As the Responsibility to Protect doctrine was invoked in 2004 to justify Haiti’s military occupation, disaster relief justifies the current military intervention. Some 27,000 foreign soldiers are currently stationed in Haiti.

The Canadian Forces contingent consists of 2,046 military personnel, including the Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART), a Naval Task Group, six Griffon helicopters, an urban rescue and recovery team, a detachment of military police, a field hospital, and a sizable Land Force presence, including a light infantry battalion.

Yves Engler, co-author of Canada in Haiti: Waging War on the Poor Majority, describes the militarized response: “Canada sent 2,000 troops while disaster relief teams in Calgary, Toronto and other cities were told to stay at home.” Engler sees this response as a “dangerous sign for a continuation of long-standing policy.”

The policy Engler is referring to is the political interference in Haitian democracy emanating from the ousting of democratically elected president Jean Bertrand Aristide in 2004: a move planned by Washington, Ottawa and Paris. In his recently published Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy, Engler documents how Canadian elite JTF-2 forces secured the airport while 500 Canadian soldiers patrolled the streets and engaged in counterinsurgency operations against Aristide supporters.

In the post-earthquake context, the Canadian military is present in a different capacity. Engler explains that there is “no doubt that Canadian troops are fulfilling a humanitarian function, but troops are not the preferable option.” Engler says doctors and search and rescue teams should be on the ground, not soldiers.

There is growing fear from regional states that the US is establishing a large, permanent military base in Haiti with Canadian support. Recently on the A-Infos Radio Project, Anthony Fenton, co-author of Canada In Haiti, said that states such as Nicaragua and Venezuela have expressed concern that Haiti is becoming “a launching pad for destabilization and continuing Western military and economic hegemony for the entire hemisphere.” With a long-term American presence in Haiti, the US can further its strategic interest in the Caribbean/Latin American region, much like it’s doing in Iraq and Afghanistan.

US influence in Latin America has declined in the past decade, explained in part by the strengthening of grassroots democratic governments in countries like Venezuela and Bolivia. Caracas and Havana’s leadership in establishing the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA) Trade Bloc based on social issues rather than trade-liberalization, for example, has been a direct challenge to the US-led attempts at establishing the Free Trade Area of the Americas. This movement, combined with the crisis in Haiti, has led analysts like Engler to believe there is “some concern [in the US] that the earthquake would [increase] Venezuelan and Cuban involvement in Haitian affairs.” Increased Haitian involvement with ALBA would strengthen this movement, which has already attracted eight states.

As Michel Chossudovsky, Editor for The Centre for Research on Globalization and visiting professor at the University of Ottawa, writes: “In all likelihood the humanitarian operation will be used as a pretext and justification to establish a more permanent US military presence in Haiti.”

  • First appeared in The Dominion.
  • Andrew Crosby is a writer, musician, and member of the Vancouver Media Coop. Ajay Parasram is a researcher and writer. Read other articles by Andrew Crosby and Ajay Parasram.

    5 comments on this article so far ...

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    1. MichaelKenny said on March 1st, 2010 at 10:54am #

      The same complaints were expressed by European leaders and NGOs just after the US took over the airport. It appears that what the US military did was to fly in soldiers and then fly out US citizens (while refusing to take citizens of any other country) on the back journey. The French were particularly annoyed, since their plan was to use their military aircraft based in Martinique and Guadaloupe to fly in relief personnel and supplies and fly out the most seriously injured to hospitals on the above islands. Foreigners could be flown out later to the same places and taken care of by their countries’ consular officials there. In fact, the ham-fisted US relief operation has been a PR disaster!
      On the other hand, talking about the US furthering its strategic interest “much like it’s doing in Iraq and Afghanistan” overlooks the fact that the US is not furthering its interests in those countries. It is bogged down in unwinnable wars in both places and those wars are destroying its economic, military and political power. Thus, any long-term US occupation of Haiti would have to be instead of Iraq and Afgahnistan, not in addition to them. That the military elite might be thinking in such terms so as to cover up the above defeats would not surprise me, but will the US have the economic resources even to do that?

    2. Josie Michel-Bruening said on March 1st, 2010 at 11:42am #

      Dear Andrew Crosby, I share the concerns you mentioned.
      Dear Michael Kenny, for some reasons I hope very much you are right with your objections.
      Otherwise, the US Empire will draw all people, inclusicely its own into destruction.

    3. Bob said on March 1st, 2010 at 1:33pm #

      I find the article and both comments made so far to be filled with disinformation and frankly paranoia. I can’t find one credible report of Cuban doctors on the scene establishing make shift hospitals, providing emergency surgery , etc. Response to a natural disaster such as this requires a very large logistical response. I am unfamiliar with any other organization that has the resources at hand, to be able to respond to a disaster like this. If I have missed it I sure would like to be informed.


    4. Danny Ray said on March 2nd, 2010 at 1:54pm #

      You people are right, as always, the world needs to tell the fucking Americans that they do not want anything from them or the murderous thugs they call an army. Letting the Amerikans in is letting the camels nose under the tent, soon the whole camel will be in the tent and you will be out in the cold. I demand a boycott of the United States and their worthless goods, right now. I am sure the rest of the world would take up the slack. I bet Castro and Chaves have given ten times more than the damn Yankees have, and only our socialist brothers can make the world a better place.

      I demand a boycott of the United States and their worthless goods, right now. Like any disease, we must quarantine the infected to stop the spread of the filth that is the United States. Build a wall around the place and let them go the way of the dinosaurs.

    5. brianct said on March 2nd, 2010 at 11:25pm #

      imagine if Venezuela or cuba sent in troops…how US and canada would howl. Thus sending in troops disguised as humanitarian aid is a clear fraud perpetrated by authorities with no credibility.

      ‘Yves Engler, co-author of Canada in Haiti: Waging War on the Poor Majority, describes the militarized response: “Canada sent 2,000 troops while disaster relief teams in Calgary, Toronto and other cities were told to stay at home.” Engler sees this response as a “dangerous sign for a continuation of long-standing policy.”’

      Engler explains that there is “no doubt that Canadian troops are fulfilling a humanitarian function’

      you mean a humanitarian cover.
      so given this why does Engler deny the obvious conclusion? Its such foolish people as Engler that allows this sort of fraud to go on.