Tag Archives: Disasters

Haiti and the violence of quasi-natural disasters

Hurricanes are destructive. Haitian misery, however, is not a natural disaster. It is the logical consequence of the quite man-made deprivations and vulnerabilities it has been subject to for the entirety of its existence… the slavery of multiple empires… over a century of extorted tribute payments to France after independence for the crime of abolishing slavery… multiple military interventions, coups, or occupations by the United States government designed to prop up brutal and corrupt dictators who proceeded to bleed the country dry… the destruction of its domestic agriculture and food security through neoliberal trade policies imposed through weaponized debt via the WTO and Washington policymakers… even hurricanes themselves are no longer free of the fingerprints of malignantly negligent human agency.

A more resilient Haiti that did not require repeated and ineffectual post hoc “aid” after the next quasi-natural disaster would be one whose open wounds were given the chance to heal. Healing will not occur simply by preventing further instances of direct violence. Healing would require ending existing structural economic violence, compensating for previous direct violence, and otherwise rectifying the cumulative subsidies of historical oppressions that many wealthier countries have received at Haiti’s expense. As Malcolm X said of racism toward Black Americans, “if you stick a knife in [their] back nine inches and pull it out 6 inches, that’s not progress. If you pull it all the way out, that’s not progress. The progress comes from healing the wound that the blow made. They haven’t even begun to pull the knife out. They won’t even admit the knife is there.”

Aid delivered after more visible disasters is never going to be sufficient. This is not only because it is little more than a bandage being applied to a sucking chest wound, but also because it takes the form of charity. Charity is an unequal act that, while redistributing resources, does nothing to address the sources of the initial inequity… it may even reinforce them by diminishing support for and imposing opportunity costs upon alternatives. Charitable aid is an offering from those with resources bestowed upon those without, to be framed as worthy of praise (because it is imagined as a voluntary kindness, rather than ethically obligatory compensation) and temporally excised from any history of culpability. While the charity and aid of many individuals working within Haiti may indeed be praiseworthy, the current practice of post-emergency aid by the world’s great powers in lieu of *reparations* is craven and reprehensible.

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Filed under Disasters, Haiti, Imperialism, Structural violence, Uncategorized, Violence