Haiti: Canada's New Imperialism?

On Monday, the world's political and financial powerhouses met in Montreal, Canada to deliberate the future of Haiti. It was a six hour meeting between the United States (Haiti's most recent military intervener), France (Haiti's colonial ruler), and the IMF and World Bank (Haiti's financial creditors/despots). The United Nations, which is now the official security force, was also in the room, to referee the proceedings, while Canada played the role of a cordial and humanitarian host (that couldn't happen directly in the U.S.). Meanwhile... Venezuela, Bolivia, and Nicaragua boycotted the meeting along with Fidel Castro, who condemned it and accused the United States of turning the humanitarian effort into a military invasion of Haiti by the United States.

So begins the politics of recovery and reconstruction of Haiti. While the dust clears, in the midst of prayers, and while the dead are still being buried, 'recovery' plans are being made and lines drawn. As much as our hearts are drawn to the devastation and victims of the disaster, our bodies, minds and souls have to get in motion and fight for the integrity of Haiti and its people. We must lay the foundation for a people centered, justice focused, prosperous, and sustainable agenda for the beleaguered nation. We must bring our voices together, learn lessons from disasters and invasions past and fight new battles for the sake of and in solidarity with the people of Haiti.

We don't need to know the details of the Monday meeting to know the basic design of recovery. The blueprint for 'recovery' was conceived of, tested, and refined in the aftermath of the Tsunami, Hurricane Katrina as well as in the destruction of recent wars. It is a well-worn design that revolves around tourism, cheap labor and the exploitation of natural resources. The chief features give tax breaks to multi-national corporations and puts them in the center of the rebuilding effort. It invites them to invest and control basic national infrastructure including communications, health care, housing and quite often the police and military.

This is a depressing vision, but what else is possible? If we want to support an alternative that is centered around the Haitian people and their rights, then let's articulate a broad set of principles and specific rules of engagement which the world, and particularly our own government, must abide by. We begin with the following six preliminary ideas:

1. Debt free aid - There will be a need for massive capital investment to build infrastructure; roads, housing, communications, the airport etc. This investment cannot become a noose on the Haitian people by the world's banks and governments. All aid should be in the form of direct grants not loans and existing debt must be canceled immediately.

2. Assets controlled by Haitians - The development of infrastructure to support people's basic needs and functioning including housing, telecommunications, health care, government buildings, roads, and ports, must stay in the hands of the Haitian people not foreign multi-nationals or governments. Ownership stays with Haiti.

3. Strict controls on foreign military - Humanitarian aid efforts cannot operate as a foreign invasion. It is disrespectful and criminalizes the victims of the earthquake. All military operating on the island, including and particularly UN and United States troops, must operate under strict rules of engagement especially in the use of force and display of arms. They must be subject to civil laws and respect the sovereignty of Haiti. Haitians must be treated with utmost respect not as looters, criminals or combatants.

4. Open Borders-Freedom of Movement for Haitians - The island nation cannot operate as one large, contained, controlled refugee camp. Half of the buildings in Port-au-Prince are destroyed and the countryside, which is in serious environmental ruin cannot sustain the flooding of people. The rebuilding effort will take years to complete, and Haiti has no alternative locations to house, educate, care for and provide basic human rights for internally displaced peoples. The borders must be opened for all classes of Haitians to freely leave Haiti during the reconstruction process. Aid and full rights to work must be afforded to these people in places where they relocate. The world community must provide enough support to host countries to ensure that they are able to graciously host Haitians and provide basic human rights to housing, education and work. Remittances from Haitians back to the island will be a key building block of the recovery.

5. Support grassroots movement and democratic rights in Haiti- The most important source to ensure all the rights above would be a vibrant and organized grassroots movement in Haiti. We must resource organizations on the ground to monitor and hold accountable humanitarian aid dollars, processes and institutions. And we must support autonomous grassroots organizing of workers, the dispossessed, peasants, and small business owners in Haiti. The tragedy cannot be an excuse to further suspend constitutional and human rights to assemble, organize, and hold both governing bodies and foreign forces accountable.

6. International accord on the terms of recovery- The principles above and others must be recognized and agreed to by all governments, financial institutions, and corporations participating in the recovery effort. Without a set of operating rules, Haiti will quickly be eaten alive. We cannot allow humanitarian aid to turn into corporate domination. Haiti's brave and battered people must not become voiceless refugees.

The moral and political battle for the future of Haiti will play out every step of the way. This battle has already started in the United States. The religious right mobilized early to demonize the Haitian people on racial, cultural, and religious grounds. In the midst of this insane and disgusting rhetoric, a range of organizations and media outlets were able to call for immediate Temporary Protective Status for Haitians. This will allow up to 30,000 Haitians in the U.S. to stay here, work, and send money home. It is a hugely important victory in advancing a justice driven agenda, but again, it is just the start and not nearly enough.

I join many others in calling for a just recovery, one that finally does right by Haiti. I put forward the ideas above toward a developing set of principles, some of which have already been articulated by other organizations. I, and the Miami Workers Center, look forward to joining a broad set of people of good faith, solid conscious and human caring to call for Justice, Respect and Honor for Haiti and Haitian people.