by our Central American correspondent
THOUSANDS of American troops are pouring into Haiti following the devastating earthquake that destroyed much of the capital, Port-au-Prince, last week. Twelve US military helicopters landed on the front lawn of the presidential palace on Tuesday, while the 82nd Airborne Division parachuted in at least 50 troops to take control of various installations in the Haitian capital.
Over 200,000 people are feared to have died in the quake and a further 300,000 are now homeless. Cuban, Venezuelan, Chinese and Russian rescue teams have been battling to rescue survivors from the rubble and aid is also coming from different parts of the world via the neighbouring Dominican Republic, where there are better roads and airports.
But the Americans, who have dominated the Caribbean republic since they deposed President Jean Bertrand Aristide in 2004, have taken control of the international airport and the presidential palace and appear more concerned in protecting private property and preventing the return of Aristide rather than providing any real assistance to the starving people. In fact the US military intervention has hindered the flow in the distribution of aid, rather than accelerated it provoking angry complaints from France and Brazil.
Aristide, a former Catholic priest from a parish in one of the poorest parts of Port-au-Prince, led a popular movement, following the collapse of the Duvalier dictatorship in 1986, that swept him to power in 1990, only to be overthrown in a coup eight months later. He was re-elected president in 1994 but was bundled out of the country in an American plane after he refused to privatise Haiti’s power and telecom industries.
The exiled Haitian leader, who now lives in South Africa, says he’s ready to return to help rebuild the country. “As far as we are concerned, we are ready to leave today, tomorrow, at any time to join the people of Haiti, to share in their suffering, help rebuild the country,” he told the media last week.
“Friends from around the world have confirmed their willingness to organise an airplane carrying medical supplies, emergency needs and ourselves,” he said, standing alongside his wife.
In Port-au-Prince there’s no fuel, no electricity and no running water. Thousands of people needing hospital treatment are wandering around or being carted round the streets in makeshift ambulances while corpses piled randomly on the streets are beginning to decompose. “It’s beyond description. The disaster, the damage, is just so overwhelming,” said Karel Zelenka, a Catholic Relief Services representative in Haiti. “Everyone has a scarf or something, because the smell is unbearable ... you literally have bodies all over the place”.
People are scrabbling over the ruins searching for food but UN sources say reports of looting are grossly exaggerated. Others who turned up at the airport looking for work were beaten back by UN “peace-keeping” troops and US soldiers. Hoping to be able to help unload cargo planes filled with humanitarian supplies for earthquake victims and offering their assistance, those supposedly sent to help them turned their batons and tear-gas on the crowd of jobseekers.
Cuban Foreign Affairs Minister Bruno Rodriguez said helping Haiti after the devastating earthquake was a top priority. The Cuban minister said the Cuban doctors, nurses and health technicians have already set up two field hospitals, where more than 800 patients have already been treated and some of them have even undergone surgery. More than 400 Cuban doctors, reinforced with Haitian professionals who graduated in Cuba are working round-the-clock with extraordinary discipline and dedication. According to one of the Cuban doctors, they are only overwhelmed by the tragedy of not being able to do more.
Venezuela rushed 19 doctors and 10 fire-fighters who specialise in search and rescue along with 20 other experts and material aid. The Bolivarian government of Venezuela has always recognised South America’s debt to Haiti, which in the 1820s helped Simón Bolívar in his struggle to end Spanish colonialism in south America.
Meanwhile a 60-strong Chinese rescue force has been combing the debris for traces of life in Port-au-Prince. The team was also the first foreign relief team to set up a clinic in the capital.
.Last Saturday the first Chinese cargo plane carrying 90 tons of emergency humanitarian aid for Haiti took off from Beijing. The relief supplies included tents, stretchers, food, medicine, clothing and water purifying equipment. They were the first batch of a $4.41-million relief package announced by the Chinese government.
Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the world, crippled by immense bogus debts to American and French imperialism. While the immediate task is to relieve the suffering of the Haitian people, communists must support the demand for the unconditional return of Aristide and the right of the Haitian people to chose their own leaders without outside interference.