Bahamas Blog International
The US Congress and the unemployed
Related to country: United States
The US Congress resumes its lame-duck session Monday with only one day remaining to take action before unemployment benefits begin expiring for two million jobless workers. It is more and more likely that nothing will be done, while congressmen and senators focus instead on negotiations about extending tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.
Federal extended unemployment benefits are set to expire November 30, when the latest temporary extension adopted by Congress earlier this year runs out. More than 800,000 workers currently receiving extended benefits will lose them immediately because their states automatically cut off extended benefits when full federal funding expires. Another 400,000 workers will exhaust their regular 26-week state benefits in December and will not have access to the federal plan. And a further 815,000 workers will lose extended federal benefits in the course of the month, based on other provisions in their state plans.
In every recession since the end of World War II, Congress has retained extended unemployment benefits at least until the jobless rate fell below 7.2 percent. Today that rate is 9.6 percent, and real unemployment is much higher. As so many of the jobless know already, there are simply no jobs available in many areas. The staggering official statistic is that there are nearly six jobless workers for every unfilled job.
According to the National Employment Law Project, unemployment benefits account for about half the basic living expenses of the average family receiving them: about $1,257 in monthly jobless benefits, out of a typical monthly budget of $2,577 (this comes to just over $30,000 a year, less than 60 percent of the average annual income, and not much above the official poverty line).
The group found that 410,000 jobless workers would face a cutoff in California alone, followed by New York, with 160,000 losing benefits; Pennsylvania, 133,000; Texas, 128,000; Illinois 128,000; Florida, 108,000; Michigan, 92,000; Georgia, 90,000; and Ohio, 89,000.
It might be thought that the plight of two million workers on the verge of destitution—with millions more in their immediate families, including many children—would be a major topic of public concern. But the American political establishment is virtually ignoring the issue.
In his Saturday radio and Internet speech, President Barack Obama said nothing about the impending expiration of benefits for the jobless. His remarks touched on the usual Thanksgiving bromides, including the obligatory salute to US soldiers deployed in overseas battlefields. He appealed for the cooperation of the Republican Party, which will control a majority in the incoming House of Representatives, in advance of a November 30 meeting at the White House. There is no indication that the topic of extended unemployment benefits will even be on the agenda of that meeting, which takes place as the deadline passes for a bill to fund an extension.
That topic was mentioned only in passing on the Sunday television talk shows. Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, the Senate Majority Whip, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that the negotiations over extending the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy could address extended unemployment benefits as well. His Republican counterpart, Minority Whip Jon Kyl, suggested that an extension of unemployment benefits together with the tax cuts would be a viable combination. “I think this is an opportunity for us to sit down and negotiate a compromise on this,” Kyl said.
Extension of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy would put another $70 billion a year into the pockets of the super-rich and the most privileged layers of the middle class. Extended unemployment benefits would cost the federal government an equivalent amount, divided among a much larger group, the long-term unemployed.
The juxtaposition of the two extensions—one for the financial elite, the other for the working class—has caused some uneasiness in liberal circles, reflected in the New York Times, which published a column Saturday by Bob Herbert and an editorial Sunday devoted to the subject. Both commentaries are revealing.
Herbert’s column carries the unusually direct headline, “Winning the Class War,” and he denounces the wealthy for unseemly profiteering during a time of deepening economic misery. “Recessions are for the little people, not for the corporate chiefs and the titans of Wall Street who are at the heart of the American aristocracy,” he writes. “They have waged economic warfare against everybody else and are winning big time. The ranks of the poor may be swelling and families forced out of their foreclosed homes may be enduring a nightmarish holiday season, but American companies have just experienced their most profitable quarter ever.”
While expressing concern over the growth of social distress, Herbert also warns that “extreme economic inequality is a recipe for social instability… Societal conflicts metastasize as resentments fester and scapegoats are sought. Demagogues inevitably emerge to feast on the poisonous stew of such an environment. The rich may think that the public won’t ever turn against them. But to hold that belief, you have to ignore the turbulent history of the 1930s.”
The Times editorial is headlined, “The Unemployed Held Hostage, Again.” It is notable mainly because the editors seek, despite everything, to revive illusions in the Obama administration, after the debacle for the Democratic Party earlier this month. After outlining the transparently false arguments being advanced by the Republicans and many Democrats for showering tax breaks on the wealthy while cutting off jobless benefits for the unemployed, the Times denounces the proposed linkage of the two extensions.
They conclude: “President Obama should pound the table for a clean, yearlong extension of unemployment benefits, and should excoriate phony deficit hawks — in both parties — who say that jobless benefits are too costly, even as they pass vastly more expensive tax cuts for the rich.”
Who do they think they’re kidding? This president doesn’t pound on the table when it comes to the financial aristocracy: he is their servant, not their adversary. He doesn’t “excoriate” right-wing politicians of any stripe, but appeals for them to join him in enacting their program (that’s the real meaning of “bipartisanship”).
According to a recent poll, 73 percent of voters want Congress to keep the program for the jobless in place until the recession is over, agreeing overwhelmingly with the proposition that “it is too early to start cutting back benefits for workers who lost their jobs.” The poll showed far more public concern about the plight of the unemployed than about the federal budget deficit. Only 24 percent of those polled agreed that, “With the federal deficit over one trillion dollars, it is time for the government to start cutting back on unemployment benefits for the unemployed.” Large majorities of Democrats, Republicans and independents backed extended benefits.
Thus, it would actually be highly popular for Obama to take up the cudgel for extended unemployment benefits. His refusal to do so demonstrates the actual class forces that the Obama administration and both the Democratic and Republican parties represent. The entire official political structure defends the interests of “the corporate chiefs and titans of Wall Street who are at the heart of the American aristocracy,” to use Herbert’s language.
Far from taking measures to alleviate the impact of mass unemployment, let alone provide jobs for those who desperately want them, the Obama administration and the American corporate elite as a whole are using mass unemployment to impoverish the working class and drive down wages throughout the country.
At the same time, Obama is pushing for a bipartisan consensus to gut all government spending—including health care and Social Security—that does not directly benefit the wealthy. The deficit reduction commission selected by Obama is to file its recommendations this week on budget cuts and consumption taxes. The same liberal editorialists at the New York Times who urge Obama to “pound the table” on attacks on the unemployed are in full-throated support of his efforts to slash spending for the elderly, the sick and the poor.
Working people can defend their own class interests only by breaking free of the political straitjacket of the two-party system and pro-business politics, and building an independent mass political party of the working class, based on a socialist and anti-imperialist program.
29 November 2010
|November 29, 2010 | 7:29 AM
NATO, world gendarme
Reflections of Fidel
(Taken from CubaDebate)
Many people feel sickened on hearing the name of that organization.
On Friday, November 19, 2010 in Lisbon, Portugal, the 28 members of that bellicose institution engendered by the United States, decided to create what they cynically describe as "the new NATO."
The institution emerged after World War II as an instrument of the Cold War unleashed by imperialism on the Soviet Union, the country which paid for the victory over Nazism with tens of millions of lives and colossal destruction.
The United States mobilized against the USSR, together with a healthy part of the European population, the extreme right and the Nazi-fascist scum of Europe, full of hatred and prepared to squeeze every advantage out of the errors committed by the very leaders of the USSR after the death of Lenin.
The Soviet people, with great sacrifice, were able to maintain nuclear parity and support the national liberation struggles of many peoples against the efforts of European states to maintain the colonial system imposed by force throughout the centuries; states that were postwar allies of the yankee empire, which assumed command of the counterrevolution worldwide.
In just 10 days – less than two weeks – world opinion has received three great and unforgettable lessons: the G20, APEC and NATO in Seoul, Yokohama and Lisbon, in such a way that all upstanding people who can read and write, and whose minds have not been mutilated by the conditioned reflexes of imperialism’s media apparatus, can have a real idea of the problems currently affecting humanity.
In Lisbon, not one word was uttered that could convey hope to the billions of people enduring poverty, underdevelopment, insufficient food, housing, health, education and employment.
On the contrary, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the vain character who figures as secretary general of the NATO military mafia, declared in the tone of a little Nazi fuehrer, that the "new strategic concept" was in order "to act in any part of the world."
It was not for nothing that the government of Turkey was at the point of vetoing his appointment when, in April 2009, Fogh Rasmussen – a neoliberal Dane – in his position as prime minister of Denmark, and using the pretext of freedom of the press, defended the authors of serious offenses to the Prophet Mahoma, a figure respected by all Muslim believers.
More than a few people in the world can recall the close relations of cooperation between the Danish government and the Nazi "invaders" during World War II.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), a bird of prey hatched in the skirts of yankee imperialism, and moreover equipped with tactical nuclear weapons many times more destructive than the atom bomb that erased the city of Hiroshima, has been committed by the United States to the genocidal Afghanistan war, even more complex than the Kosovo adventure and the war on Serbia, where its forces massacred the city of Belgrade and were at the point of suffering a disaster if the government of that country had remained firm, instead of trusting in the institutions of European justice in the Hague.
In one of its points, the inglorious Lisbon Declaration affirms in a vague and abstract manner:
"In the strategically important Western Balkans region, democratic values, regional cooperation and good neighborly relations are important for lasting peace and stability."
"KFOR is moving towards a smaller, more flexible, deterrent presence."
Nor will Russia be able to forget it so easily: the real fact is that when Yeltsin dismembered the USSR, the United States advanced NATO’s borders and its nuclear attack bases to the heart of Russia from Europe and Asia.
Those new military installations also threatened the People’s Republic of China and other Asian countries.
When that took place in 1991, hundreds of SS-19s, SS-20s and other powerful Soviet weapons could reach U.S. and NATO bases in Europe in a matter of seconds. No NATO secretary general would have dared to talk with the arrogance of Rasmussen.
The first agreement on limiting nuclear weapons was signed as early as May 26, 1972, between President Richard Nixon of the United States and Leonid Brezhnev, general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, with the aim of limiting the number of anti-ballistic missiles (the ABM Treaty) and to defend certain points against nuclear missiles.
In Vienna in 1979, Brezhnev and Carter signed new agreements known as SALT II, but the U.S. Senate refused to ratify those agreements.
The new rearmament promoted by Reagan with the Strategic Defense Initiative put en end to the SALT agreements.
The Siberian gas pipeline had already been blown up by the CIA.
Instead, a new agreement was signed in 1991 between Bush Sr. and Gorbachev, five months before the collapse of the USSR. When that event took place, the socialist bloc no longer existed. The countries that the Red Army had liberated from Nazi occupation were not even capable of maintaining their independence. Right-wing governments that came to power moved into NATO with their arms and equipment and fell into the hands of the United States. The German Democratic Republic, which had made a great effort under the leadership of Erich Honecker, could not overcome the ideological and consumerist offensive launched from the capital itself, occupied by Western troops.
As the virtual master of the world, the United States increased its adventurist and warmongering policy.
Due to a well manipulated process, the USSR disintegrated. The coup de grace was dealt it by Boris Yeltsin on December 8, 1991 when, as president of the Russian Federation, he declared that the Soviet Union had ceased to exist. On the 25th of that month, the red hammer and sickle flag flying over the Kremlin was lowered.
A third agreement on strategic weapons was subsequently signed between George W. Bush and Boris Yeltsin on January 3, 1993, prohibiting the use of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM) with multiple warheads. It was ratified by the U.S. Senate on January 26, 1993, by a margin of 87 votes to 4.
Russia inherited the science and technology of the USSR – which in spite of the war and enormous sacrifice was capable of creating a military power on a level with that of the immense and rich yankee empire – the victory over fascism, the traditions, the culture and the glories of the Russian people.
The war on Serbia, a Slavic nation, sunk its teeth hard into the security of the Russian people, something that no government could afford itself the luxury of ignoring.
The Russian Duma – angered by the first Iraq war and that of Kosovo in which NATO massacred the Serb people – refused to ratify START II and did not sign that agreement until the year 2000 and, in that case, in an attempt to save the ABM treaty which, by that date, the yankees weren’t interested in maintaining.
The United States is trying to use its enormous media resources to maintain, deceive and confuse world public opinion.
The government of that country is going through a difficult stage as a consequence of its military adventures. All the NATO countries without exception are committed to the Afghanistan war, as are various others in the world, whose peoples find odious and repugnant the butchery in which rich and industrialized countries such as Japan and Australia, and other Third World nations are involved in to a greater or lesser degree.
What is the essence of the agreement approved in April of this year by the United States and Russia? Both parties have committed themselves to reducing the number of the strategic nuclear missiles to 1,550. Not one word is being said about the nuclear missiles of France, the United Kingdom and Israel, all of them capable of striking Russia. Not one word has been said either about tactical nuclear weapons, some of them with far more power than that which erased the city of Hiroshima. There is no mention of the destructive and lethal capacity of numerous conventional weapons, the radio-electric and other weapons systems into which the United States is channeling its growing military budget, superior to that of all the other nations of the world put together. Both governments know, as many others meeting there do, that a third world war would be the last.
What kind of illusions can the NATO members create? What is the peace for humanity derived from that meeting? What benefit can possibly be expected for the peoples of the Third World, and even for the international economy?
They cannot even offer the hope that the world economic crisis can be overcome, or how much longer any improvement would last. The total public debt of the United States, not only that of central government, but the rest of the country’s public and private institutions, has already risen to a figure that is equal to the world GDP of 2009, which amounted to $58 trillion. Did those meeting in Lisbon maybe think to ask themselves where those fabulous resources came from? Simply, from the economy of all the other nations in the world, to which the United States handed over pieces of paper converted into dollar bills which, for 40 years now, unilaterally ceased having their backing in gold, and now that the value of that metal is 40 times superior. That country still possesses its veto within the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Why wasn’t that discussed in Portugal?
The hope of extracting U.S. troops, those of NATO and their allies from Afghanistan, is an idyllic one. They will have to abandon that country before the defeated hand over power to the Afghan resistance. The United States’ own allies are beginning to acknowledge that dozens of years could go by before that war is over; is NATO prepared to remain there for all that time? Would the very citizens of each one of the governments meeting there allow that? Not to forget that a country with a very large population, Pakistan, shares a border of colonial origin with Afghanistan and a none-too insignificant percentage of its inhabitants.
I am not criticizing Medvedev, he is acting very well in trying to limit the number of nuclear missiles pointing at his country. Barack Obama cannot invent any justification whatsoever for that. It would be laughable to imagine that that colossal and costly deployment of the anti-missile nuclear shield is to protect Europe and Russia from Iranian missiles proceeding from a country which does not even possess a tactical nuclear weapon. Not even a children’s story book could affirm that.
Obama has already admitted that his promise to withdraw U.S. soldiers from Afghanistan could be delayed and that taxes from the wealthiest contributors are to be immediately suspended. After the Nobel Prize one would have to grant him the prize for the "greatest snake charmer "ever to have existed.
Taking into account the W. Bush autobiography, which has already become a bestseller, and which some intelligent editor drafted for him, why didn’t they do him the honor of inviting him to Lisbon? The extreme right, the "Tea Party" of Europe, would doubtless have been happy.
Fidel Castro Ruz
November 21, 2010
Translated by Granma International
|November 25, 2010 | 5:00 PM
Time to change the Jamaica Constitution
Related to country: Jamaica
By Franklin W Knight
In Morte d'Arthur by Lord Tennyson, the solitary knight, Sir Bedivere, approached the dying king and bemoaned the frightfulness of his new condition as a lonely knight in a hostile world. King Arthur consoled the wavering knight by telling him that his comfort zone existed no longer for change was inevitable. He should simply pull himself together and adjust to the new reality. Arthur's admonition has relevance today. All things are transient. The world advances and in time outgrows even those laws that in our father's days were best. History is change.
Written constitutions are relatively new in governmental structures. The constitution of the United States, conventionally regarded as the oldest still in use, was originally a short document that set up the structure of government. That was sufficient to get it ratified in 1787, but immediately thereafter the citizens of the newly established state realised that the original document had many shortcomings. In 1789 they proposed 10 amendments to the original constitution that became the Bill of Rights two years later.
The United States amended its constitution 27 times since the days of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and John Adams. From the beginning, opinion was sharply divided about the constitution. Indeed, the US constitution did not enjoy the widespread support and unanimity that some of its zealous supporters advocate today. Only three states, Delaware, New Jersey and Georgia, unanimously supported the constitution in its most euphoric days.
The vote for ratification was very close in Rhode Island, New York, New Hampshire, Virginia, and Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and North Carolina. Although the manner of ratification varied from state to state, 545 of the 1616 voters decided against the constitution. This was not an indication that the constitution was flawed. It remains a brilliant and highly original document that has largely stood the test of time. But no constitution can be static while society is dynamic. The amendments to the US constitution illustrate this.
So it is with the Jamaica constitution. It was written for the 1950s with little imagination and less consciousness of change. It has seldom been amended. Today, like Sir Bedivere, it is time to make a new evaluation of the constitution in light of the changed reality of Jamaican politics and society. The constitution is not serving Jamaica very well, and like any old motor it needs urgent major overhaul.
Yet suggesting that the constitution needs drastic overhaul does not indicate that it is unsuitable for Jamaica in its entirety. The key is to make it relevant for the present conditions of Jamaica and bring it in line with reality. For this it might be time to appoint a constitutional committee drawn, not as in 1962 from a joint bipartisan committee of the legislature but rather from a representative cross-section of society. No organised group should be excluded from the deliberations and its mandate should be simple: keep what works and reform what does not.
One area that clearly needs re-examination concerns chapter four of the original constitution regarding the appointment and role of the governor general. The governor general represents the Queen of England and is endowed with extraordinary powers, although there is a provision that he - and the constitution stipulates that the person is masculine - acts "in most cases in accordance with the advice of the Prime Minister, in some cases also after consultation with the Leader of the Opposition, and in other cases in the recommendation of such authorities as the Services Commission and the Privy Council".
A governor general in modern Jamaica is an expensive anachronism. The present governor general is not even a member of the Queen's religious denomination. Normally, this would not be a major consideration except that in England the role of head of the church is very important. But the more serious question is to what degree the governor general represents the Queen of England, and whether that role is still relevant in an independent Jamaica.
Symbols are very important in the fomenting of a nation and retaining the political icon of British sovereignty compromises and retards the development of a healthy Jamaican self-consciousness. If Jamaica wants to be truly independent, the symbol of the queen as the titular head of state must go. She has her rightful and honoured place as head of the Commonwealth of Nations but not as head of a new Jamaica.
The present constitution enshrines a two-party system and provides no contingencies for the simultaneous failure of both parties. There is nothing inherently wrong with a two-party monopoly of the political process. Yet efficacy in a democracy means the greatest good for the greatest number, and if the two parties fail to represent the majority of the people or the common good, then it is time to revise the system. In any case, few of the world's leading democracies today operate with only two major parties.
England has three major parties and the present government is a coalition of two parties. Canada has four major national parties which, except for the New Conservative Party, do not necessarily synchronise with provincial parties bearing the same name. Germany has four major parties represented in Parliament and any party getting more than five per cent of the national vote is entitled to parliamentary representation. Across Latin America, political party structure is even more fragmented. Chile has eight viable national parties. Costa Rica has four major parties. Brazil has 21 parties in the Congress with four dominant ones. Neither in Chile nor in Brazil can any single party attract enough support to control the government. Coalitions therefore represent a normal part of political negotiations. At present Chile, Costa Rica and Brazil rank among the better administered and economically advanced countries of Latin America. Plurality of parties does not presuppose political instability or retarded economic development.
A new Jamaica constitution should expand political access, reduce the permanence of political service and revise the compensation structure of public officials. That would be a good start.
November 24, 2010
|November 24, 2010 | 8:45 AM
Authoritarianism in Trinidad and Guyana
By Dr David Hinds
Two news items have caught my attention recently. The first relates to the wire-tapping of several citizens, including the president, in Trinidad and Tobago under the previous People’s National Movement (PNM) government. The other pertains to workers who, while cleaning a canal in Guyana, by-passed the section in front of the home of a well-known anti-government columnist.
The revelation that the PNM government or the prime minister authorized the wire- tapping of several prominent and not so prominent citizens is shocking, even for one who is cynical about governance in the Caribbean. The fact of the matter is that such extreme government action is an embarrassment for a region that often boasts of its sterling record regarding the rule of law. Some PNM leaders seem to be defending the action as part of the country’s fight against crime. But how could the fight against crime have been enhanced by tapping the phones of the president, the PNM’s own de facto deputy leader and the relatives of opposition politicians?
There may be several explanations for Mr Manning’s behavior. But the one that best explains it to my mind lies in the culture of maximum leader-authoritarian rule that has long taken root in the region. The enormous unchecked formal and informal powers of the heads of government and ruling parties have been a drag on the rule of law and democratic governance in the region. Many governments, including those in Trinidad and Tobago, were not fingered over the years because attention has been focused on the more extreme forms of despotic rule in Forbes Burnham’s Guyana, Eric Gairy’s Grenada and Patrick John’s Dominica. In fact, it is being suggested that the previous United National Congress (UNC) government, led by Basdeo Panday and the current prime minister, may have engaged in similar action.
The truth is that all Caribbean post independence governments have been authoritarian -- some more than others. Although the era of authoritarianism seemed to have subsided by the 1990s the general governance framework and culture it spawned has remained intact, as evidenced by the revelations in Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana. Governments by their very nature will always be tempted to over-reach. Their functions, including the maintenance of law and order, give them a ready-made authoritarian framework. Hence it is incumbent on the citizenry and their organizations, which are today loosely called civil society, to keep government in check. But our Caribbean has developed a political tribalism that has paralyzed government oversight. Extreme behaviors of governments are tolerated out of tribal loyalty and the attendant fear of facilitating the rise to power of the other political tribe. And in Trinidad and Guyana, where race and ethnicity are major factors, this tribalism takes on a cultural outlook.
In Guyana, the government of one ethnic group governed for twenty eight years, most of which represented perhaps the most extreme form of authoritarianism in the region. The fall of that government in 1992 heralded the re-introduction of a “democratic” government dominated by the opposite ethnic group. But after eighteen years of “democratic” rule that government is anything but democratic. The recent incident of workers neglecting to clean the section of the canal in front of the residence of Freddie Kissoon, the most vocal anti-government columnist, is the latest in a long line of abuses by the government. One of the daily newspapers published the picture on its front page for all to see. The incident reflected a form of political pettiness that under normal circumstances might be overlooked. But this is the latest in a long line of similar actions by the government. Often these acts of political spitefulness afford a window into the more insidious form of authoritarian rule. In Guyana, the authoritarian government of the pre-1992 era is gone but the authoritarian framework it spawned has been jealously nurtured, protected and enhanced by the current government.
Attempts by some in the PNM and government spokespersons in Guyana to explain away these two incidents are clumsy at best. In the first place, explanations are forthcoming only because the evidence is overwhelming. The tendency to hide behind the rhetoric of democracy is a staple in the Caribbean, particularly in Guyana. But democratic governance has to be measured not just by democratic forms such as free elections but more importantly by the practice of the governments. If elections are free but government discrimination, spitefulness, disrespect for the rule of law and other forms of government over-reach are rife, then such governments cannot and should not be allowed to lay claim to the mantle of democracy.
November 22, 2010
|November 22, 2010 | 4:58 PM
Anti-UN protests spread as Haitians die without aid
Related to country: Haiti
By Bill Van Auken
Protests against United Nations troops spread to the capital of Port-au-Prince Thursday as growing numbers of Haitians were dying of cholera in the absence of significant aid from the UN or other relief agencies.
The latest report from the Haitian government has put the number of deaths from cholera at 1,180 and the number of people who have sought treatment at some 20,000. The figures, which do not include the increasing number of people dying in the streets and in their homes without ever receiving treatment, considerably underestimate the real toll.
Large numbers of protesters took to the streets of the capital on Thursday in demonstrations demanding the withdrawal of the UN occupation force, known as MINUSTAH (United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti), which many Haitians blame for bringing cholera into the country.
There were several clashes between the protesters and the UN troops, including one in which a patrol was attacked with a barrage of stones. Police and protesters faced off near the National Palace, Radio Metropole reported, with the police using tear gas to disperse the demonstration. Instances in which vehicles operated by foreign aid workers were attacked with rocks were also reported.
In several parts of the city, demonstrators erected barricades made of burning tires and tore down campaign posters for the Unity party of President René Preval and his hand-picked successor, Jude Celestin. Elections are scheduled for November 28.
The unrest in the capital followed three days of rioting in the northern port city of Cap Haitien, in which at least two people were killed, one shot in the back by UN troops, and a number of others wounded.
The immediate trigger for the upheavals is the growing conviction that cholera was introduced into Haiti by a battalion of UN troops brought from Nepal shortly before the first cases were reported. The Nepalese troops were based on the Artibonite River, whose contaminated waters have been determined as the source of the outbreak. It was also revealed that faulty sanitary facilities at the base were dumping sewage into the river.
Scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the US have determined that the strain of cholera—a disease that had not been reported in Haiti for nearly a century—originated in south Asia. Nepal has been struck with its own epidemic of the disease.
UN officials have dismissed accusations that the Nepalese unit brought the disease into the country, claiming that none of the troops tested positive for cholera.
On Thursday, however, Nigel Fisher, the United Nations coordinator of humanitarian affairs in Haiti, revealed to Canada’s CBC news that a French epidemiologist had conducted a study that directly tied the cholera strain in Haiti to Nepal.
Whatever the precise source of the cholera bacteria, the reality is that millions of Haitians have been left defenseless in the face of the disease because of a long legacy of economic exploitation and political oppression linked to the Caribbean nation’s domination by US capitalism.
The vast majority of the population lacked access to clean water and adequate sanitation even before the devastating earthquake last January that killed a quarter of a million people and left a million and a half more people homeless, creating ideal conditions for the disease’s spread.
UN officials have denounced the protests, charging that they have been orchestrated by “enemies of stability and democracy” for the purpose of destabilizing the country in advance of next week’s election.
Large sections of the Haitian population are hostile to both the UN troops and the elections. The so-called “peace-keepers” are widely seen as an occupying army whose purpose is to suppress popular unrest and defend the interests of Haiti’s ruling elite and foreign capital. The UN force was brought into the country in 2004 to relieve US Marines who invaded Haiti after a US-orchestrated coup that ended in the overthrow and exile of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
Fanmi Lavalas, the party that backs Aristide and the only political organization in the country with a genuine popular base of support, is barred from running in the current election, as it has been in every vote since the US-backed coup.
UN officials and aid groups have warned that the growing popular upheavals are making it more difficult to provide treatment and prevention against cholera.
“Despite the urgent appeals of the humanitarian community, roads, airports and bridges are still blocked, barricades were still erected in the area of Cap-Haitien, one of the regions most affected by the spread of cholera,” Edmond Mulet, special representative of the secretary general of the United Nations in Haiti, said in a statement Thursday. “If this situation continues, more and more desperate patients awaiting care are at risk of dying; more and more Haitians in desperate need of access to preventive care may fall victim to the epidemic.”
This message was echoed by the director of the Pan-American Health Organization, Mirta Roses. “The situation of violence and insecurity now threatens to severely limit our success,” she said. “We understand the frustration of many Haitians because of the tragic situation that has developed, but emergency medical personnel is equally important to save lives as the rescue teams were after the earthquake.”
Aid organizations and even elements of the UN itself, however, have increasingly denounced the failure of the UN and the major powers to provide anywhere near the aid that is needed to confront the combined calamities of the earthquake’s devastation and the cholera outbreak.
Imogen Wall, spokeswoman for the UN humanitarian agency OCHA, told the Reuters news agency that only $5 million of the $164 million for which the UN had issued an emergency appeal to fight the cholera epidemic has been forthcoming.
“The response is completely inadequate and in this situation where we are against the clock we urgently need support if we are going to save lives,” said Wall. “We don’t have what we need to do it. … Cholera is a race against time. If we can get to people, and if we have what we need, we should be saving lives.”
The OCHA spokeswoman said that the outbreak of cholera, coming on top of the crisis confronting some 1.3 million Haitians living under tents and tarps since the January earthquake, have stretched the agency to the breaking point.
“Basically, we are running two emergencies,” said Wall. “We cannot neglect the earthquake survivors because we have cholera.”
The aid group Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) issued a similar statement on Friday. “Critical shortfalls in the deployment of well established measures to contain cholera epidemics are undermining efforts to stem the ongoing cholera outbreak in Haiti,” warned the agency, which has set up more than 20 cholera treatment facilities throughout Port-au-Prince, in the Artibonite region, and in the north of Haiti.
“Despite the huge presence of international organizations in Haiti, the cholera response has to date been inadequate in meeting the needs of the population,” the organization said.
Stefano Zannini, MSF head of mission in Haiti, added, “More actors are needed to treat the sick and implement preventative actions, especially as cases increase dramatically across the country. There is no time left for meetings and debate—the time for action is now.”
MSF facilities have been increasingly overrun with Haitians seeking treatment for cholera. The number of people seeking treatment at centers run or supported by the aid group rose from 350 for the week ending November 7 to 2,250 cases for the week ending November 14.
The failure of the UN, Washington and the other major powers to provide adequate aid to halt the deadly spread of the cholera epidemic in Haiti compounds the criminal neglect of the country in the aftermath of January’s 7.0 earthquake.
Despite the outpouring of sympathy and donations from millions of ordinary people, more than 10 months after the quake, next to nothing has been done to rebuild Haiti and provide the kind of basic infrastructure that could have protected its people from cholera and other deadly diseases.
As of September, only 15 percent of the aid promised to Haiti in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake had reached the country. Washington, which bears the greatest historic responsibility for the dire conditions in Haiti, has yet to disburse one penny of the $1.5 billion that it pledged.
A survey conducted by several advocacy groups eight months after the earthquake found that virtually no one made homeless by the disaster has been moved to new, permanent housing. Among the atrocious conditions prevailing in the tent camps is a lack of access to clean water and adequate sanitation, creating conditions for cholera to claim many more victims.
The study found that “potable water was only available to residents who could pay for it.” As a result, “44 percent of families primarily drank untreated water.” It also found that only 69 percent of people in the camps had access to latrines or pit toilets, and that these were overcrowded, unsafe and unclean, posing a threat of infection.
Aid officials acknowledge that given these conditions, cholera will plague Haiti for a long time to come. “The epidemic is not going to go away,” said the UN humanitarian coordinator Nigel Fisher. “It is almost impossible to stop.”
20 November 2010
|November 21, 2010 | 2:30 PM
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