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Rather than demonizing US imperialism as the source of all our woes, we should distinguish between the American government, corporations and people. American voters first turned Bush into a lame-duck president and then elected Obama. While all this was happening, the world sat enthralled on the edge of their seats.

It will not do to place our trust for democratic renewal exclusively on small-scale initiatives in Latin America. The new combinations of money, machines and people emerging today must be addressed squarely. The world society that has developed in the last half-century has some features never seen before and many that are perennial.

We are in the middle of an economic disaster, alright.


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So far many of the politicians, bankers and CEOs who got us into this mess seem to be surviving, even prospering. How did we let them get away with it? As an ideal type drawn from the contemporary world, it sheds some light on a brutal phase of capitalist imperialism that is mainly, but not exclusively American. It is true that poor black people have been sacrificed in New Orleans after Katrina or in Sri Lanka and Aceh after the tsunami and that many more of them are likely to suffer a similar fate in Haiti. It is equally true that Milton Friedman once authorized a particularly rapacious version of economics and that right-wing pressure groups like the Heritage Foundation exist.

And the Pentagon, which is now running the show in Haiti, is the biggest socialist collective on the planet, a place where no-bid contracts are normal and competitive markets are anathema. It is anachronistic to point simultaneously to the Katrina model of exploitation and to two centuries of US intervention in Haiti, as Stephen Lendman does.

Disaster capitalism · MTR

But it is the immediate context for any discussion of what to do next. Private contractors making hay from disaster are real enough and deserve to be exposed; but they are not central to the current struggle the United States is waging against Asian, European, Middle Eastern and Latin American competitors for world domination.

The anthropologists of course immediately jump in to promote our case. We are the regional specialists and we have a proven method for reaching the people living with them. We know the history although we rarely teach it in our classes or write about it. Well, it has a history of oppression, slavery and colonialism. But so does Barbados, and Barbados is doing pretty well. Haiti has endured ruthless dictators, corruption and foreign invasions.

But so has the Dominican Republic, and the D. Haiti and the Dominican Republic share the same island and the same basic environment, yet the border between the two societies offers one of the starkest contrasts on earth — with trees and progress on one side, and deforestation and poverty and early death on the other. But it is doubly insidious in that Brooks deploys a logic and method that have dominated anthropology for the last century, static cross-cultural comparison. The twentieth century saw two world revolutions in this sense: the Russian revolution and the anti-colonial revolution that overthrew European empire after the Second World War.

Haiti combines elements of both these twentieth-century revolutions with results that are as tragic as in the East Congo, but for much longer. My point is that social or cultural anthropology is just as impotent as right-wing American journalism when searching for answers to the questions posed by this history, without even the excuse of trying to justify the status quo. This is because fieldwork-based ethnography threw out world history a century ago.

Until we combine the two systematically, we will be powerless in the face of the Haitian disaster and could be said to be partly responsible for maintaining public ignorance of its causes. Her attitude feels right to people who probably entered the discipline because they were already alienated from capitalism as a system. Above all, her analysis does not articulate an intellectual or political program that would compel them to change their established ways.

Haiti: disaster relief or disaster capitalism?

Tweet This Post. I think this is an amazing article, partly because it is timely but most importantly because you make the effort and give us a chance to learn that by seeing this differently — and less ideologically — there is actually hope for a better world. You ought to be read by all those people who care about what happens in Haiti.

I too was becoming pretty desperate in recent days with the news of the US agenda playing out in Haiti. I never thought about what the influence would be on US foreign policy of the international community descending on Haiti. The planes who circle around the Port-au-Prince airport, failing to get permission to land from the US military, are actually a metaphor.

Thanks for opening my eyes again and reminding us of the project for a more equal and more democratic world. Coming from you, Steven, or indeed from anyone, I take this as a high compliment. Thank you. Thanks for the compliment.

Haiti: Third World Disaster Capitalism

Confused because virtually nobody is giving an alternative account. It ranges from the importance of the dog for the rise of agriculture to the potential personal money has to reshape our societies. But why am I working by myself and what can I hope to achieve by myself?

It seems there is a real opportunity out there and a need for an alternative account. Can we make a narrative for our current moment in its historical context and the implications for the future? It is unfortunately true that they only hand out brains one at a time. Which is why most of the illuminating contributions to human thought have come from individuals. Some people say Homer was team, not a person. I doubt it. A camel is a horse designed by a committee, that sort of thing. I am currently involved in many collaborations, usually with one person each, since that is hard enough to pull off.

I believe that cooperation is indispensable to creativity. But in the end we are all stuck with what we can cook up between our own ears. I completely agree with you that anthropology is pretty powerless and voiceless when it comes to these issues. A special issue in a journal only reaches more anthropologists.

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Maybe I have a different view of anthropology—but I definitely do not think that world history has been chucked by the discipline although it has been in some circles. But then, Wolf is one of my favorites, so maybe I am a little too biased toward history. But I think you make a good point—if all we do is focus on contextual specifics, it becomes difficult to really make any larger scale arguments. I completely agree. But what they cannot do is stop the suffering that their profit system inevitably creates every single day.

Companies that have been profiting off of Haiti for decades have loosened up for a while. Western Union temporarily suspended the fees for sending money to Haiti. T-Mobile has allowed free calls to Haiti until the end of January. But how long will the profit hiatus last? The media images coming from Haiti are repetitive and awful: poor, injured Haitians receiving assistance from foreign aid workers and scrambling for relief supplies. None can help but appreciate the magnitude of the present catastrophe.

But at worst, the media coverage can amount to a kind of pornography of pain, and it fits into a conventional picture of Haiti as a prostrate nation, the archetypical case of third world poverty, and a helpless economic basketcase. Most Haitians would be proud to tell you that the country was not always this way.


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Haiti was founded following a long period of slave revolutions and civil wars that lasted from Unlike the innumerable slave conspiracies and rebellions that went down in defeat, the slave rebels of Haiti effectively abolished slavery and kicked out successive waves of European colonial authorities. Built on the ashes of the colonial plantation system, independent Haiti was surrounded by hostile powers and beset by continuing cycles of civil war and popular rebellion.

Independent Haiti was ruled by shaky despotic regimes that were vulnerable to threats and extortion by foreign powers. The most notable example was the French state who repeatedly threatened to reconquer Haiti and who forced the Haitian state to pay an indemnity of million Francs in But for more than years, from independence in through the beginning of the first U.

The international media have always been good at portraying how poor Haiti is. Few can forget how much press attention the country received in when financial speculators sent food prices skyrocketing and some Haitians were found selling mud cakes meant to hold off hunger. In , U. The U.

Disaster Capitalism in Action: haiti

Encouraged by increasingly profitable U. Whereas all 19th century Haitian constitutions forbade foreigners from owning land in Haiti, the constitution overturned this restriction. Former U. He considered investing there and he later claimed that he had personally written the Haitian constitution of For nearly the last years, the U. And it was most recently the United States who forcibly removed populist president Jean Bertrand Aristide in and orchestrated the creation of the U. But the Christian Right are not the only people with more or less racist assumptions about the situation in Haiti.

Rather than rob and pillage, millions of Haitians have struggled to rescue friends, family members, neighbors and strangers. Around the world, people have correctly criticized the militarized the nature of U. Thousands of marines were rushed in up front, while foreign relief supplies have taken weeks to reach some suffering quake survivors. The disaster has not erased the fact that Haiti is still seen as a neo-colonial zone of influence both by traditional imperial powers and recent upstarts.

Chinese rescue crews were quick to symbolically plant a flag upon their arrival. However, the recent reports and videos of summary police shootings are almost taken to be business as usual in a country that has long known extreme repression from paramilitary death squads, police, and foreign troops under U. For many decades, Haitians have been desperately compelled to leave their country. Apparently the U. Soon after the quake, the U.