Tuesday, January 19, 2010

"Occupation" of Haiti? You Bet

The Haitian National Palace, Place L'Ouverture, Port-au-Prince, Haiti, heavily damaged after the earthquake of 12 January 2010. The building was originally a two-story structure; the second story has completely collapsed. Compare with picture from 2006, here. (Photograph: United Nations Development Program, via Wikipedia, original here).
A French cabinet official, Monsieur Alain Joyandet, who bears the somewhat ridiculous title of “Secrétaire d’Etat chargé de la Coopération et de la Francophonie” (Secretary of State for Cooperation and Francophony) has accused the United States of “occupying” Haiti. M. Joyandet dropped the o-word after having what the Daily Telegraph described as a “scuffle” with a US commander in the airport’s control tower over the flight plan for a French relief aircraft.
Well, so what if there’s an occupation? Haiti is effectively without government. Its airports, ports, highways and means of communication are in ruins, the government (such as it is even in the best of times) is dispersed and unable to communicate, there are 200,000 bodies all over the place, and no food or drinkable water for millions of people.

Naturally there’s an occupation. There must be people to re-open airports, land, unload and refuel aircraft; people to put the seaports back in operation, secure places to store food, water and medicines; engineers and construction troops to put the roads and bridges in working order; people to distribute the aid and soldiers to protect the aid workers, doctors, media people and do-gooders such as my lord Joyandet from destitute and desperate Haitians. The food, water and medicines are mostly coming from the US, aboard US planes and ships; mostly paid for by the US; and mostly distributed by Americans. There is absolutely a US occupation of Haiti. In fact, the best thing that could possibly happen to Haiti and the Haitians would be a prolonged US occupation of several years duration.

If whatever passes for a Haitian government has a problem with a US “occupation” it can be resolved simply by a meeting between whatever Haitian officials that can be drummed-up, the US ambassador and the US military commanders. Perhaps in flag quarters on USS Carl Vinson? The whole thing wouldn’t take thirty minutes: fifteen minutes for the Haitians to enjoy their first shower in a week and have the use of the admiral’s head; ten minutes talk by the Haitian bigwigs about the grand history of Haiti; thirty seconds for the Flag Secretary to print the two page agreement, a minute for everybody to sign; two minutes for a photo-op, a minute and thirty seconds for everybody to grab coffee and a cookie.
No sensible nation would want to occupy Haiti – the country has always been a basket case, and barring divine intervention will be so until the end of time. Americans, French and everybody else are in Haiti because people everywhere are compassionate and want to help. Location, size and relative wealth naturally means the American role is going to be significant.

From the narrowly American point of view, it is too bad that we cannot transport Haiti and its problems to some other hemisphere. . .perhaps to a point near, oh, France? Alternatively, maybe we should just throw up our hands and declare Haiti a French problem (after all, France is the former ruling colonial power). In fact, I nominate M. Joyandet to be the new “Secrétaire d’Etat chargé de la Coopération, de la Francophonie, et le Gouverneur de Haiti.” I’m sure the French military and the officials that plan its vast budget will absolutely dwell in transports of ecstasy over M. Joyandet's landing them the Haitian job.
Of course, the French don’t really want that responsibility. But their junior cabinet ministers do want their names in the papers, and to get France outsized credit for whatever it contributes, thus maintaining France’s big-brother role in the Francophone world, of which Haiti is a part; and ensuring that right-thinking people everywhere know the proper French officials have burnished their anti-imperialist credentials. All quite understandable, and business as usual. Too much to hope that they'll just let the adults get on with the job.


Texas Gator Girl said...

wow. talk about monsieur Alain "biting the hand that feeds ya" !

LFC said...

Haiti will be a "basket case...until the end of time"?
Not sure I would go that far. Things in Haiti were looking up in certain respects before the quake.