By Margaret Kimberley
“The time has come for a new paradigm: No donation without agitation.” The United States has succeeded in plunging mainstream disaster “relief” into disrepute. “No donations to groups like the Red Cross, who sit on millions of dollars but do nothing but hand out blankets and move victims away from their homes in order to convenience the powerful.” And, especially, no donations to any group associated with George Bush or Bill Clinton.
A telethon hosted by celebrities succeeded in raising more than $57 million in funds for the relief of Haiti earthquake victims. Yet that sum and the many millions more donated by individuals around the world will do little to relieve Haiti’s plight.
Haitians are living in their latest hellish incarnation created by American meddling and the crushing of that nation’s democracy. As long as the United States directs Haiti’s affairs, and empowers a corrupt elite instead of the will of the masses, suffering will continue whether caused by natural or human-made disaster.
The scenes of devastation, death and injury move most human beings first to empathize and then to take some action in order to help. The sad stories tug at the heartstrings and the miraculous tales of survival lift the spirit. However, in the absence of an infrastructure built by Haitians to help Haitians, the images do nothing but create a kind of twisted voyeurism. Bringing change to Haiti should not be the equivalent of gawking at a crash on the side of the highway.
Haiti is still ruled by a clique of criminals put in place by the United States government. Lavalas, the party supported by a majority of citizens, is barred from participation in the electoral process that is now a sham. An illegitimate government whose very existence is opposed by the population is incapable of building new homes or treating the injured. Haitians have already begun to scatter throughout the country in search of food and shelter, despite the fact that hundreds of millions of dollars have been donated to help them.
The sad fact of the matter is that individuals cannot help Haiti or end human suffering anywhere on earth unless their assistance is combined with political action. The dollars must come with demands of non-interference in Haiti’s affairs and demands of accountability to charitable organizations. If the Red Cross doesn’t even spend all of its enormous contributions, as it shamelessly did after the 9/11 attacks, Hurricane Katrina, and the Asian tsunami, then donors must stop giving before the next disaster strikes.
If American aid to Haiti comes in the form of military occupation, then even reputable organizations are unable to do their jobs adequately. Doctors Without Borders has had a presence in Haiti for many years, but flights containing 85 tons of their medical supplies were diverted to the Dominican Republic. Precious time was lost in the process of retrieving life saving medicines and equipment from another country.
The much talked about airport “bottleneck” in Port au Prince was a direct result of the militarization of aid to Haiti.The United States army decided who would be permitted to land and who would not. While VIP flights were given priority and created the diversion of medical supplies, the environmental group Greenpeace gave Doctors Without Borders use of a ship to carry less urgent equipment, allowing the medical group to prioritize delivery of its most desperately needed cargo.
It seems cruel to advise against helping human beings in need, but we have seen this movie many times before and we know the ending. The time has come for a new paradigm: “No donation without agitation.” No donations to groups like the Red Cross, who sit on millions of dollars but do nothing but hand out blankets and move victims away from their homes in order to convenience the powerful. No donations must be made to any group headed by a Bush or a Clinton. The old presidents’ old boys club did nothing for the Gulf Coast victims of hurricane Katrina. It would be not only a waste but a terrible wrong to give them another opportunity to collect funds which never seem to be used for people who need it.
This earthquake should be the last instance of easy text message philanthropy. Instead of pressing a few buttons, concerned people should ask questions and make demands. Current and former American presidents should not be allowed to grandstand when their policies made life hell for Haitians in the first place. The first president Bush ousted president Aristide, Clinton restored him to power only after promises of “market reform” and Bush the younger kidnapped him and tossed him out of his country. Yet a Bush and a Clinton now have the nerve to pose for photos and behave as though they are interested in helping the very people they crushed.
There will always be hurricanes, tsunamis and earthquakes. They are the inevitable results of nature at work. Starvation, illness and displacement are inevitable only if the people who create those conditions are permitted to continue their actions without opposition. It can be a waste to send money, even if the cause is a righteous one. Let us make this the last time we take the easy and useless way out.
Margaret Kimberley’s Freedom Rider column appears weekly in BAR. Ms. Kimberley lives in New York City, and can be reached via e-Mail at Margaret.Kimberley(at)BlackAgandaReport.com.