One can almost feel the disappointment amongst Western media mavens that earthquake-stricken Haitians have not, in fact, degenerated into packs of feral animals tearing each other to pieces. Day after day, every single possible isolated incident of panic, anger, “looting” (as the removal of provisions from ruined stores by starving people is called) and vigilantism has been highlighted — and often headlined — by the most “respectable” news sources. [As you can imagine, Britain’s truly vile — but eminently “respectable” and politically pampered — Daily Mail is a leader in this odious field, with stories about “slum warlords” leading gangs of violent “pillagers.”]
And yet the prophesied riots never seem to materialize. Outlets such as the New York Times are moved to remark, with seeming wonder, “Amid Desperation, Mood Stays Calm,” as the paper noted in one sub-headline on its website on Monday. Astonishingly, the Haitians are acting almost like real human beings in any vast disaster: trying to stay alive, trying to care for loved ones, trying to help strangers, trying to get through the worst and reach a place where they can begin to rebuild their lives and communities. The media have sought strenuously to revive the bogus narrative that they foisted on the destruction of New Orleans: “Black Folk Gone Wild!” But thus far, they have been palpably disappointed.
Of course, there is anger among the stricken populace. Anger at the slowness of relief efforts, and anger at the utter collapse of the “government” which was installed by the American-backed coup in 2004. The “president” of this regime has been conspicuous by his absence in the crisis, neither speaking to the people by radio nor appearing among them. This may change now that sufficient American troops have arrived to bolster his confidence, but it has been a striking example of the vast disconnection between the implanted government and the people. The anger now submerged by the need for immediate relief and recovery may emerge with strong force later — especially if the American-led restoration efforts simply return the nation to the strangulation of the pre-quake status quo.
Barack Obama’s cynicism in placing George W. Bush, of all people, as a figurehead of America’s “abiding commitment” to Haiti is jaw-dropping. Not only did Bush preside over one of the most colossally inept and destructive responses to a natural disaster in modern times — while also inflicting the unnatural disaster of mass murder in Iraq — it was his administration that engineered the latest coup in Haiti, saddling it with an unpopular, powerless government that simply collapsed in the earthquake. Choosing Bush to spearhead relief for Haiti is like hiring Ted Bundy as a grief counselor for murder victims.
Bush’s co-figurehead, Bill Clinton, is hardly a better choice, of course. As we noted here earlier this week, it was Clinton who imposed a brutal economic and political stranglehold on Haiti as his “condition” for restoring the democratically elected government of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1996 — after Aristide had been ousted earlier in a coup engineered by the first President George Bush.
Both of these ex-presidents bear great responsibility for creating the conditions of dire poverty, ill health, corruption and political instability that have made the effects of this natural disaster so much worse. Yet these are the men whom Obama has made the public face of America’s humanitarian mission.
In the short run, I suppose it doesn’t matter. Obama was bound to pick some hidebound Establishment figure anyway, so why not these two? Maybe Bush and Clinton can squeeze a few extra relief dollars out of the bloated plutocrats they run with — and Clinton can also work the celebs who still like to bask in the afterglow of his former imperial power. If the prominence they have gained by immoral means can provide immediate relief to those whom they have so grievously afflicted, then so be it.
But in the long run, their selection as the symbols of America’s altruistic concern for Haiti’s wellbeing certainly does not augur well for any genuine reconfiguration of Haiti’s crippling political and economic arrangements. On the contrary; it signals pretty clearly that the imperial gaming of Haiti will go on.