Peter Hallward, professor of Modern European Philosophy at Middlesex University and author of Damming the Flood: Haiti, Aristide, and the Politics of Containment and Out of this World: Deleuze and the Philosophy of Creation, contributes to the Guardian’s Comment is free on the international response to, and responsibility for, the devastation Haiti suffers following the 7.0 magnitude earthquake on Tuesday:
Any large city in the world would have suffered extensive damage from an earthquake on the scale of the one that ravaged Haiti’s capital city on Tuesday afternoon, but it’s no accident that so much of Port-au-Prince now looks like a war zone. Much of the devastation wreaked by this latest and most calamitous disaster to befall Haiti is best understood as another thoroughly manmade outcome of a long and ugly historical sequence…
What is already all too clear, however, is the fact that this impact will be the result of an even longer-term history of deliberate impoverishment and disempowerment. Haiti is routinely described as the “poorest country in the western hemisphere“. This poverty is the direct legacy of perhaps the most brutal system of colonial exploitation in world history, compounded by decades of systematic postcolonial oppression.
The noble “international community” which is currently scrambling to send its “humanitarian aid” to Haiti is largely responsible for the extent of the suffering it now aims to reduce. Ever since the US invaded and occupied the country in 1915, every serious political attempt to allow Haiti’s people to move (in former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s phrase) “from absolute misery to a dignified poverty” has been violently and deliberately blocked by the US government and some of its allies…
Decades of neoliberal “adjustment” and neo-imperial intervention have robbed its government of any significant capacity to invest in its people or to regulate its economy. Punitive international trade and financial arrangements ensure that such destitution and impotence will remain a structural fact of Haitian life for the foreseeable future…
As Brian Concannon, the director of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, points out: “Those people got there because they or their parents were intentionally pushed out of the countryside by aid and trade policies specifically designed to create a large captive and therefore exploitable labour force in the cities; by definition they are people who would not be able to afford to build earthquake resistant houses.””
Read the full article here.
Peter Hallward, Susan Buck-Morss, Kim Ives, Bruno Bosteels, Deborah Jenson, Patrick Elie, Chris Bongie, Alberto Moreiras, Charles Forsdick, and Nick Nesbitt are confirmed speakers at the Haiti and the Politics of the Universal: Conference at The Centre for Modern Thought at the University of Aberdeen Friday and Saturday, March 12-13, 2010
Read Peter Hallward’s New Left Review article Option Zero in Haiti and Slavoj Žižek’s review of Damming the Flood: Haiti, Aristide, and the Politics of Containment for the New Statesman.
Peter Hallward has also interviewed Jean-Bertrand Aristide for the London Review of Books:
…PH: Did you pay too high a price for American support? They forced you to make all kinds of compromise, to accept many of the things you’d always opposed – a severe structural adjustment plan, neoliberal economic policies, the privatisation of state enterprises etc. The Haitian people suffered a great deal under these constraints. It must have been very difficult to swallow these things, during the negotiations of 1993.
JBA: In 1993, the Americans were perfectly happy to agree to a negotiated economic plan. When they insisted, via the IMF and other international financial institutions, on the privatisation of state enterprises, I was prepared to agree in principle – but I refused simply to sell them off, unconditionally, to private investors. That there was corruption in the state sector was undeniable, but there were several different ways of engaging with it. Rather than untrammelled privatisation, I was prepared to agree to a democratisation of these enterprises, so that some of the profits of a factory or firm should go to the people who worked for it, be invested in nearby schools or health clinics, so that the workers’ children could derive some benefit. The Americans said fine, no problem.
But when I was back in office, they went back on our agreement, and then relied on a disinformation campaign to make it look as if I had broken my word. It’s not true. The accords we signed are there, people can judge for themselves. Unfortunately we didn’t have the means to win the public relations fight…
Read the full interview: ‘One Step at a Time: An Interview with Jean-Bertrand Aristide.