Saturday, 23 January 2010
Shut your eyes, switch off your brain, here comes the big picture
Have we been conditioned to react to world disasters in a particular way? I ask because I keep talking to people who tell me how upset they are by the pictures of the Haiti earthquake aftermath, how delighted they are at the sight of a baby being rescued, how proud they are that people around the world and particularly in Ireland are so generous in their responses to appeals for help. “The poor Haitians!” is the heartfelt cry.
As with so much else, the broader context is ignored. The grinding poverty of the Haitian people is put down to a series of tyrants who presented themselves as saviours of the nation and, once elected, turned despot. There is little or no mention of the fact that Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the former priest and hugely-popular President of Haiti, was twice removed from office by the machinations of the US and now lives in exile. No mention at all of the fact that while Cuba has sent over 400 nurses, doctors and medical orderlies to the scene of the disaster, the US has been busy sending in the military. You think this is explained by the problems of ‘disorder’ that exist in the country now? The disorder is a product of the failure to provide sufficient material help - medicine, not military.
So why should the US be so interested in Haiti, so inclined to think in military terms? Why go to the bother of subverting Aristide, who attempted to address the massive imbalance of wealth in his country? Why undertake construction in Haiti of what will be the US’s fifth-biggest consulate in the world? Yep, you guessed it. Haiti has considerable off-shore oil wealth. Now you know why the US wants to keep this small, proud country in a state of impotence and poverty, and reacts to its immediate needs by sending in the guns.
It might be worth factoring those elements into your response, next time you feel a lump coming in your throat as you watch Haitians scrabbling for food or lamenting the loss of a family member.