Solidarity and Support for Haiti

Since the devastation Haiti suffered in the earthquake of January 12, 2010, and the aftershocks, the country has been much in the U.S. public’s eye. For a few months following the disaster, “Haiti” was on the tongues, (and the front pages) of many Americans. One of the most common questions: What can we do to help? But I ask, quite differently, what does it mean for the United States to help Haitians in this aftermath?
The Martin E. Segal Theatre Center’s event Contemporary Haitian Playwrights: an Evening of Solidarity and Support, promises much. What does United States’ solidarity with Haiti look like? To begin to answer this question we need to examine the recent history of U.S. interactions with Haiti. Why were the consequences of this earthquake so devastating?
As in many other countries south of the U.S., Haitian citizens have borne the burden of the U.S.’s Cold War economic meddling. Although the relationship between the United States and two successive Duvalier dictators in Haiti was at times rocky, the U.S. offered a significant amount of economic and military support for these dictators in attempts to resist the rise of communism in Cuba. Additionally, U.S.-supported industrial expansion caused a mass of displaced agricultural workers to flood the cities (especially Port-au-Prince) seeking industrial jobs. There were far more workers than jobs, leading to massive unemployment and cheap, substandard housing. When we note that, on top of this, Haiti’s entrance into an international economic market that was accompanied by a “dumping” of cheap products from the U.S. to support the U.S. economy, and it is clear that our nation’s prosperity, once again, rests on the backs of other people. In capitalism, there are winners and losers, and Haiti has not been winning our game.
Like the U.S.’s handling of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, in Haiti a wide variety of U.S.-based aid resources are being expended on military control of the populace. New Orleans, after the hurricane, was painted as a hot bed of crime and anarchy, but statistics later revealed that no more crime happened after the hurricane than in any other average week in that city. But mass media continued to pump out images of the survivors of New Orleans as terrifying, out-of-control animals, and these images were almost entirely of black people. These images drew up our nation’s racist history, bring to the surface old fears of criminal blackness that have been buried under waves of political correctness and satiated by systematic legal imprisonment. The response: a surprising lack of on-the-ground volunteers prevented supplies from getting out efficiently, and a call from the governor of Louisiana to start shooting looters. In light of this history, it should come as no surprise that the U.S.’s major role in Haitian aid has been militaristic regulation. Do you know what your aid dollars were spent on?
So how do we U.S. citizens, responsible for a large part of this mess (which is NOT over), really show solidarity with Haiti? I say we have a responsibility to fight for Haiti’s true economic and political self-determination; reconcile with Haiti over our shared (and exploitative) past, perhaps with the assistance of a UN Truth and Reconciliation Committee; and deconstruct the U.S.’s role in systems of racial and economic domination throughout the world. And we need to continue to show support for Haitians who are already at work on these goals, who have, throughout an oppressive history, struggled for self-determination: activists, politicians, and artists like those I look forward to seeing on Wednesday night.

If you go:
The Martin E. Segal Theatre Center is located at 365 Fifth Avenue.
Contemporary Haitian Playwrights: an Evening of Solidarity and Support begins at 6:30 pm on Wednesday, March 31st, and is FREE AND OPEN TO THE PUBLIC.

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