Loose Cannon: Vultures drawn to death and disaster

Thursday, January 21, 2010

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  • Sadly, there are some who see the disaster in Haiti not as a crisis requiring a
cooperative response between nations, but as an

    Sadly, there are some who see the disaster in Haiti not as a crisis requiring a cooperative response between nations, but as an

Written by Greg Beneteau

The pictures and stories emerging from earthquake-ravaged Haiti are at times difficult to stomach. In Port-au-Prince and surrounding cities, most of the infrastructure – what little there was – has been completely destroyed. There are untold numbers of people trapped under collapsed buildings and no heavy equipment to dig them out. Law and order has all but broken down. Thousands roam the streets in fear and anguish, waiting for help that can’t come soon enough.

Sadly, there are some who see the disaster in Haiti not as a crisis requiring a cooperative response between nations, but as an opportunity to score cheap political points. Like vultures they wait for the opportunity to strike, picking through the wreckage for evidence that supports their agenda.

Some of the more outrageous statements made about the Haiti earthquake have been exposed and roundly criticized. Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, never one to let facts get in the way of a good monologue, claimed President Barack Obama wanted to exploit the disaster for political gain in the “light-skinned and dark-skinned black community,” – a reference to Senate majority leader Harry Reid’s alleged comments about Obama during the 2008 presidential election.

“This will play right into Obama's hands,” Limbaugh said. “He’s humanitarian, compassionate.  They’ll use this to burnish their, shall we say, ‘credibility’ with the black community - in the both light-skinned and dark-skinned black community in this country.  It's made-to-order for them.”

Responding to a caller on his show, Limbaugh also expressed scepticism that money donated to Haiti through the White House website would actually go to the relief efforts, and claimed Americans already donate to Haiti through their income taxes.

But even Limbaugh couldn’t upstage Christian televangelist Pat Robertson for the most insensitive comment of the week. During a broadcast of his show The 700 Club, the 76-year-old pastor gave viewers a questionable history lesson, claiming Haiti’s slave population made a “pact with the devil” to drive out their French colonial masters in 1804 and had suffered nothing but misfortune as a result.

Robertson is no stranger to controversy, fancying himself a seer who can see the future and divine God’s motivations for everything from 9/11 to Hurricane Katrina.  His latest verbal gaffe will no doubt play well with some evangelicals who believe the nonsense about Haitian voodoo and its ties to Satanism. The rest of us should probably shake our heads and move on.

On the left of the political spectrum, some have jumped at the chance to shame the West for historical wrongs. Echoing comments made by Venezuelan President and U.S. critic Hugo Chavez, some left-wing activists have claimed the military mission mounted by the U.S and Canada is actually an invasion disguised as relief, similar to America’s occupation of Haiti in 1915. Ironically, other critics faulted the U.S. and Canada for failing to mount a response quickly enough. It’s a case of damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

Throughout its 200-year history, Haiti has been exploited by Western powers to various ends, and we have much to account for. But like it or not, the military is trained and equipped to respond to emergencies when local services are absent or compromised. Units like Canada’s Disaster Assistance Relief Team (DART) are currently providing humanitarian relief in Jacmel, a coastal city decimated by the quake. American naval vessels stationed near the island have become floating supply depots and desalination factories supplying thousands of litres of fresh water.

There are also marines and paratroopers in the capital, but with scarce supplies and no local authorities around to keep order, it would be foolish to ignore the looming threat of violence that would put Haitians and aid workers at risk.

The devastation visited upon Haiti brings with it huge challenges. Yet listening to Naomi Klein, author of The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, one would think the most pressing crisis facing Haitians is the introduction of free market reform.

Speaking on radio program Democracy Now this week, Klein warned that the U.S. might use humanitarian assistance as a pretext to introduce globalization to the island nation.

“We have to be absolutely clear that this tragedy that is part natural, part unnatural, can under no circumstances be used to ... push through unpopular corporatist policies in the interests of our corporations,” Klein said.

It will take years of reconstruction and assistance from the international community repair earthquake-ravaged Haiti. The debate over how to do that will have its time. For the moment however, long-term recovery must take a backseat to the immediate needs of survivors: food, water, shelter, security and medical attention. Klein might want to wait until the dust has settled before pushing her theories (and her book) onto the public.

Greg Beneteau is Editor-in-Chief of thecannon. Loose Cannon publishes every Thursday in The Ontarion Student Newspaper at the University of Guelph.

The opinions posted on thecannon.ca reflect those of their author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Central Student Association and the Guelph Campus Co-op. We encourage all students to submit opinion pieces, including ones that run contrary to the opinion piece in question.

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  1. Posted by: christine de pizan on Jan 23, 2010 @ 4:09pm

    chavez and klein point to the serious issues of this natural and unnatural disaster. militarianism, globalization, racism, and the list goes on and on and on. why should we wait to see what happens after the rubble settles when the problems were there, even before the earthquake? now those critical problems are just going to get worse. and you think soldiers are actually doing relief work? they're patrolling with guns and making sure desperate, starving haitians aren't stealing from grocery stores. also, the "supplies" the haitian people have apparently been receiving, are mostly still at the main aeroport in port-au-prince. a truck load of water was sent to the u.s embassy, but workers on the ground at the aeroport have reported that most of the aid hasn't even reached the general public, and most areas of haiti haven't even been reached yet. the epicenter of the earthquake wasn't even in port-au-prince, so once the relief and supplies eventually make it out there, it will be too late (either due to being trapped, wounds, starvation, etc).

    ...and my heart is breaking for haiti because the world is letting this happen.

    thanks for yet another piece of your cunning intellect greg.

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