Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Socialism, Imperialsm, and “Natural” Disasters: Cuba and Haiti in 2008

by Enver Harbans (Basics #11 - November 2008)

2008’s Atlantic hurricane season has been one of the most devastating in recorded history especially for Haiti and Cuba. However, how a political system braces itself for such natural occurrences proves decisive in how the people are affected by them.

With wind gusts reaching speeds of 340km/h, Hurricane Gustav battered the island of Cuba in late August 2008. However, Cuba’s fast-acting hurricane plan and evacuation methods spared 2.9 million lives in the eastern side of the country. There was only a handful of deaths in Cuba resulting from the hurricane. Even facing sanctions and embargos, cutting off Cuba from foreign trade with much of the world, Cuba has proven that it can defend the people when it comes to natural disasters.

However, the story of Cuba, a socialist country, is by no means the norm when it comes to hurricane preparedness. The case of Hurricane Katrina is a case we’re all familiar with, where the U.S. government, although fully capable, proved unwilling to aid the thousands who died and the hundreds of thousands of people who were left homeless.

Likewise in Haiti, just a few hundred kilometers away from Cuba, the vast devastation of the hurricanes was not simply a natural occurrence. In 2004 Haiti became an occupied nation when Canada, US and France invaded and kidpapped at gunpoint Haiti’s popular and democratically-elected president, Jean Baptiste Aristide. Since then the conditions of Haitians have become far more miserable, and the people have been violently repressed for expressing dissent to the occupation forces.

When the hurricanes struck in the summer of 2008, there was no state or infrastructure willing or able to help the people. The hurricanes in Haiti have accounted for deaths and missing persons in the thousands; tens of thousands have been made homeless, and hundreds of thousands are desperately in need of food and water.

What was Canada’s response to the crisis, a country that has sent more “foreign aid” to Haiti per capita than any other country in the world? Canada send a contingent of the Canadian Armed Forces, the Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART). Despite receiving more “foreign aid” than any country in the Caribbean, “international assistance” to Haiti has done little to assist the Haitians except those Haitians assisting the foreign occupation.

Contrast the situation in Haiti with what happens when news of a coming hurricane hits Cuba: centralized planning is deployed and thousands of people are immediately mobilized to ensure that the effect on human life is minimized. This is the benefit of a socialist society.

In a wealthy capitalist country like America, however, or in a country under foreign imperialist occupation like Haiti, the people are left to fend for themselves (and are often attacked by the state when they try to do so).

The case of Haiti in 2008, just as much of New Orleans In 2005, shows that capitalism and imperialism is what makes for natural occurrences become disasters of the greatest proportions.

Actor Matt Damon, Haitian-American musician Wyclef Jean, and Frank McKenna (former Canadian ambassador to U.S. and now T.D. Bank’s Deputy Chairman) are escorted through Gonaïves, Haiti by the gun-toting U.N. occupation forces (Sep 2008).