No one knows for sure how many people have died in Haiti after the hurricane made landfall Oct. 4, probably more than 1,000. According to the U.N., over 1.4 million people need assistance and 120,000 homes were destroyed.
A week after the storm, many towns still had not received any aid, health centers are short of basic supplies and workers and farmers are dying from easily curable diseases.
These blows come on top of the deep capitalist social and economic crisis.
Before the hurricane more than three-quarters of Haiti’s population lived on less than $2 a day, half on less than $1. Nearly 75 percent of Haitians are subsistence farmers and more than 70 percent of the population has no access to electricity. They rely on kerosene, candles and batteries for light and wood and charcoal for cooking.
To cook or supplement their meager incomes, Haitian toilers have cut down millions of trees. Today only 3 percent of the land is forested, down from 60 percent in 1923. The Dominican Republic, which shares the island Hispaniola with Haiti, is 23 percent forested.
The deforestation magnified the impact of the hurricane: mudslides and rivers that overflowed their banks washed away homes and crops.
During the dictatorships of Francois Duvalier and his son Jean-Claude — who enriched themselves and their U.S. backers at the expense of Haitian workers through their reign of terror from 1957 to 1986 — Haitians produced 80 percent of the country’s food and exported rice.
Tariff cuts push peasants off land
In the 1990s, President Bill Clinton pressured the government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide to slash tariffs on rice and chicken. The influx of cheaper U.S. food lined the bank accounts of local capitalist middlemen and U.S. agribusiness and drove thousands of peasants off the land. Clinton later admitted the move had been “good for some of my farmers in Arkansas,” his home state, but had undermined farming in Haiti. Today at least half of Haiti’s food supply is imported, including 80 percent of rice.
The hurricane puts local food production in greater jeopardy. According to the Miami Herald, 80 percent of the banana crops in Arcahaie, Haiti’s biggest banana-growing region, were wiped out. In the Grand-Anse region, nearly all crops and 50 percent of livestock were destroyed. “Every house has lost its roof. All the plantations have been destroyed,” Pilus Enor, mayor of the town of Camp Perrin, told Reuters.
Cholera, which killed more than 10,000 following the 2010 earthquake, is rising after the storm. It was first introduced to Haiti by U.N.’s so-called peacekeeping troops, who didn’t take the most elementary sanitary precautions.
‘Aid’ deepens imperialist domination
The first aid planes from the United States did not arrive in Port-au-Prince until Oct. 9, five days after Matthew ravaged the country’s southwestern provinces, and then had to be loaded on trucks and helicopters.
The U.N. says that $120 million is needed immediately, but as of Oct. 15 it had received promises of less than $15 million from member governments. U.N. troops fired tear gas at residents in Les Cayes who, frustrated by the slow response, threw rocks at an aid convoy passing through their area.
The U.S. government has so far promised a piddling $14 million to aid Haiti, Jamaica and the Bahamas in the wake of Hurricane Matthew.
While immediate assistance is desperately needed, Haitian working people know from experience that the aid from capitalist governments, the U.N. and so-called nonprofit organizations will be used to further deepen the country’s domination by U.S. imperialism.
After the 2010 earthquake that killed more than 100,000 people, the U.S. Agency for International Development sent hundreds of millions of dollars in food assistance. Under U.S. rules, all food the agency distributes must be imported from the United States, turning the “aid” into another weapon against peasant farmers. And some of this food was resold on the market to fund U.S.-based charities, instead of being distributed to those most in need.
U.S. and Haitian capitalists made a killing on the aid programs, and nonprofit and nongovernmental agencies did quite well for themselves too.
A report on the American Red Cross by National Public Radio last year found that one-quarter of the $500 million the charity collected to “aid” Haiti was spent on its own internal expenses. The Red Cross claimed it had helped thousands of people to build homes, but NPR determined the total number of permanent homes the charity built was six.
Revolutionary Cuba responded rapidly to the escalating health crisis in Haiti following the storm, sending 38 doctors, nurses and specialists to join the 646 internationalist volunteers already there. Cuban volunteers — working closely with Haitians — helped contain the 2010-11 cholera epidemic.
The newest Cuban arrivals are already at work in the hardest hit areas like Anse d’Hainault. “The local population has welcomed us,” Dr. Emmanuel Vigil told Cubadebate.
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