Haiti’s misery: good news for big business
There has been much ink spilled in the corporate press about the number of dollars and soldiers being committed to Haiti by “the international community”, but as a January 20 US ABC News headline bluntly put it: “In rebuilding Haiti, opportunity knocks and companies profit.”
More than 200,000 Haitians may already be dead as a consequence of the January earthquake, but that hasn’t stopped corporate hyenas looking for a profit — both in rebuilding Haiti’s infrastructure and the long-term exploitation of the country.
In a January 16 New York Times op-ed, James Dobbins, a former special envoy to Haiti under President Bill Clinton, spied an “opportunity to accelerate oft-delayed reforms”. Examples of reforms, Dobbins wrote, include linking money for repairing the country’s telecommunications system “to breaking up or at least reorganizing the government-controlled telephone monopoly”.
“The same goes with the Education Ministry, the electric company, the Health Ministry and the courts. Repair or replace the buildings, by all means, but also insist on fundamental reforms in their management.”
The purpose of these steps is laid bare in Haiti: From Natural Catastrophe to Economic Security, a report prepared for the UN by Oxford University economist Paul Collier: “From the important perspective of market access Haiti is now the world’s safest production location for garments.
“Of course, market access is not enough: costs of production must be globally competitive. But here again the fundamentals are propitious. In garments the largest single component of costs is labour.
Due to its poverty and relatively unregulated labour market, Haiti has labour costs that are fully competitive with China, which is the global benchmark. Haitian labour is not only cheap it is of good quality.
“Indeed, because the garments industry used to be much larger than it is currently, there is a substantial pool of experienced labour.”
Nicholas Kristof wrote in a January 20 New York Times article: “That idea (sweatshops!),may sound horrific to Americans. But it’s a strategy that has worked for other countries, such as Bangladesh, and Haitians in the slums would tell you that their most fervent wish is for jobs. A few dozen major shirt factories could be transformational for Haiti.”
In her 2007 book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, Naomi Klein reports on the process of corporate profiteering and neoliberal restructuring in the wake of “natural” disasters — “while people were reeling from natural disasters, wars and economic upheavals, savvy politicians and industry leaders nefariously
implemented policies that wouldn’t have passed during less muddled times”.
Haiti was already subject to unpopular neoliberal policies, but with local infrastructure and economy all but completely wiped out, these will be deepened thanks to the reliance on foreign aid and funding from First World nations. The Nation’s Richard Kim reported that conditions attached to an IMF loan to Haiti included “raising prices for electricity, refusing pay increases … and keeping minimum wage low”. Disaster capitalism, and the US doctrine for post-quake Haiti, is in full swing.
Restructuring will take place under the supervision of foreign troops, including a large contingent of soldiers dispatched by Washington. (In a small inter-imperialist spat French minister Alain Joyandet even accused the US of occupying Haiti.)
Already, private security companies (read: corporate mercenaries) are advertising their services. The International Peace Operations Association (IPOA) is spruiking the services of its member corporations, some of which have worked in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The IPOA, which includes “security” companies as well as transport, logistics and
construction firms, aims to promote “high operational and ethical standards of firms active in the peace and stability operations industry” and “engage in a constructive dialogue and advocacy with policy-makers about the growing and positive contribution of these firms to the enhancement of international peace, development and human
A January 19 article by Jeremy Scahill in The Nation cited Florida-based company All Pro Legal Investigations as an example of the “security” corporations descending on Haiti. The company’s new website, Haiti-Security.com, offers “professional security against any threat to prosperity in Haiti”.
The company boasts that it has run “thousands of successful missions in Iraq and Afghanistan”, Scahill said. “Among the services offered are: ‘High Threat terminations,’ dealing with ‘worker unrest,’ armed guards and ‘armed Cargo Escorts.’”
While the US, IMF and assorted neoliberal talking heads see Haiti’s misery as a chance for profiteering, a dramatic contrast to this is the role of members of ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas), particularly Cuba and Venezuela. On February 9 the Prensa Latina press service reported on Cuban Vice-President Esteban Lazo’s visit to Haiti, where he went to one of the five Cuban-run field hospitals and was received by Haitian Prime Minister Max Bellerive.
Bellerive said of the Cuban participation in the relief effort: “I have to thank you for the help provided by Cuba since long before the earthquake. It is fantastic, free, unconditional, and it is in the heart of every Haitian man and woman.”