Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Haiti - poster child for the American version of capitalism

I am neither capitalist nor socialist, neither liberal nor conservative. I believe a workable system has to balance elements from all of these. And I believe the balance has to change according to the conditions. American capitalism has gone far beyond sense of balance. There is no better example of what it now does than the wretched nation of Haiti.

A thousand have died of cholera, and many thousands more will die. The earthquake is only a part of the cause. The streets of Haitian slums (most of the housing) have been running with raw sewage for a century. There has been no sanitation. The earthquake worsened things, but only a little worse than they were before it when Haiti was the most poverty stricken land in this hemisphere. How does this show something wrong with American capitalism?

For almost a century, the US has run Haiti. It invaded in 1917 (pleading Germany might invade it!!!) It then ran the country for twenty years, in those twenty years, it gave capitalism a free run in Haiti -no regulations, no minimum wage, no safety requirements, no public schools, no taxes. As neo-conservatives are fond of telling us, capitalism is a great producer of wealth. At the end of twenty years of free run, capitalists had driven farmers off the land except as low wage labour on factory farms producing exotic produce for the tin can market. The people were desperately poor and living in some of the vilest slums ever to exist.

But the US didn't quite leave Haiti, not ever. For generations, Haiti suffered even worse from brual dictators imposed and paid off by the US. The Haitian army, equipped and paid by the US, was a gang of thugs to torture, rape and kill anybody who complained. And even those who didn't complain. Capitalism continued to flourish.

Then, at last, Haitians managed to elect a president, Aristide, who was going to build schools and sewer systems and livable housing. He also disbanded the army - since it was just a gang of thugs - and was able to keep the country quite peaceable with just the regular police.  But US capitalists were not pleased. Sanitation and housing would cost taxes; and taxes would cut into their profits. Worse, it might spread silly ideas to other poor countries.  So the ex-army thugs who had fled Haiti suddenly reappeared, heavily armed and well supplied with ammunition and money to blaze a trail of death into Haiti.

The US then sent troops to restore order. Strangely, though, they didn't bother the thugs. Instead, they arrested President Aristide and sent him into exile. Then they got the UN to send "peacekeepers", actually occupation troops. Not suprisingly, Haitians don't like the peacekeepers, and rioted against them. Capitalism was back in the saddle. Then came the earthquake.

Almost nothing has been done since the earthquake to rebuild Haiti. The US government even to this day has not delivered a cent of its promised aid.  There is no intention of rebuilding Haiti. There never was. The owners want Haitians to be poor and cheap. They have had their way. And the result is cholera.

There are elements of capitalism that are quite workable and desirable. But nothing that goes so far out of balance is either workable or desirable. We're watching the American version of capitalism descend into depths that reach beneath contempt.

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