Haitian Lessons to Warn Nepalese: Beware Disaster Capitalists in Humanitarian Clothes

[As the horrifying death toll continues to fise to many thousands, amid the collapse of much of the home, business, and cultural structures in Nepal — the result of milleniums of colonial domination, oppression, and plunder — the enormous need for international rescue and reconstruction is a plaintive appeal to the good intentions of people everywhere.  But the aid will come with many conditions by the powers who bear gifts.  It is instructive to study the experience of the “aid” and “recovery” of Haiti from the devastating earthquake of 2010.  The US turned Haitian earthquake aid into neo-colonial, militarized occupation.  The struggles of people to control their own recovery has been an ongoing fight in Haiti, and now in Nepal.  The following except from a chapter in the important new book Good Intentions: Norms and Practices of Humanitarian Imperialism makes this Haitian experience hauntingly present in the streets of Kathmandu today.  —  Frontlines ed.]

US Imperialism and Disaster Capitalism in Haiti 

Keir Forgie, from Maximilian Forte’s new book: Good Intentions: Norms and Practices of Humanitarian Imperialism
 At 4:53 PM, on Monday, January 12, 2010, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake shocked Port-au-Prince, Haiti. It was the most devastating earthquake the country had experienced in over 200 years, with estimated infrastructure damage between $8 and $14 billion (Donlon, 2012, p. vii; Farmer, 2011, p. 54). This is particularly astounding considering that Haiti is recognized as the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, with 70% of individuals surviving on less than $2 US per day (Farmer, 2011, p. 60). The quake’s epicentre was located 15 miles southwest of Port-au-Prince, which is the most heavily populated area in all of Haiti (Donlon, 2012, p. vii). Approximately three million Haitians, one third of the country’s population, live in Port-au-Prince and every single individual was affected by the disaster: the Haitian government reported 230,000 deaths, 300,600 injured persons, and between 1.2 to 2 million displaced people (Donlon, 2012, p. vii). The country presented a “blank slate,” with all manner of political, economic, and social services in absolute ruin—an ideal circumstance to exercise the arms of the new (US) imperialism: notably, NGOs, the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), the militarization of humanitarian aid, and disaster capitalism.
US hegemonic globalization is the current world order—it is the new imperialism. The breadth of US influence across the globe in terms of politics, economics, and military are unparalleled across history, affording the nation the means to orchestrate geopolitics in its favor through coercion, masked by rhetorical altruism (Moselle, 2008, pp. 1, 8). However, the US is currently challenged by a state of economic decline and shifting international relations. In an effort to maintain its dominant position, the US must implement a number of novel strategies. As such, the “new imperialism” is distinguished by certain contemporary characteristics: notably, war in the pursuit of dwindling natural resources, the militarization of the social sciences, war corporatism, the romanticization of imperialism, and as a central focus to this paper, the framing of military interventions as “humanitarian,” legitimized through rhetoric of freedom, democracy, and the right to intervene. In truth, the militarization of humanitarian aid serves to facilitate the imposition of neoliberal economic policies through the exploitation of weakened states—a
strategy known as “disaster capitalism”.

Continue reading