News stories about Haiti are full of tales of looters. There’s less talk of a bigger scale plunder to come. In Naomi Klein’s ‘The Shock Doctrine‘ she maps the rise of “disaster capitalism”. She describes how, over 40 years, The International Monetary Fund (IMF), Pentagon, and various mega-corporations have increasingly used (or created) disasters as an excuse to push through unpopular right wing economic policies, and asset strip vulnerable economies.
I was just finishing this book on Thursday as the scale of Haiti’s earthquake was becoming clear. My immediate fear was an obvious one. So I did what all young lefties do in a time of crisis. I set up a Facebook group: “No Shock Doctrine for Haiti”.
It turns out the vultures were already circling. Almost immediately, a friend joined the group and posted a link to The Heritage Foundation – a highly influential conservative American think-tank. They argued (in a paper which has since been removed) for the approach described in Klein’s book. See a description of it here.
Worse still, if this article in The Nation is to be believed, the IMF were way ahead of us. As I was setting up the group, they were haggling with Haiti. They agreed to an emergency loan of $100 million. But, allegedly, they forced the Haitian government to agree to freeze public sector pay, and raise fuel costs in exchange.
This is standard fair for the IMF. I won’t detail them here, but Klein gives examples in her book of how disasters or major shocks have been used by the Fund and others as a chance to force through unpopular, radically pro-corporate policies, which have led ultimately to massive inequality. These case studies range from Russia to Chile, and South Africa to Poland.
Debt is also familiar to Haiti. Jubilee USA provide a useful briefing in which they explain how France’s demands for reparations for the lost labour from Haiti’s freed slaves forced the country into massive debts from which it never recovered.
Despite allowing corrupt dictators to remain in power for decades, when the people of Haiti elected a leader promising to do something about poverty, we either backed, or allowed, two coups against him.
The US has also pushed privatisation – of more benefit to their companies than the poor of Haiti. According to Haiti Progrès, for example, in 1996, the United States Agency for International Development (the government’s aid wing) signed an $800,000 contract with a Canadian Public relations firm to hype privatisation in Haiti.
The economic guru of the radical right, Milton Friedman, explained to his students how their neo-liberal ideas would take over the world:
“Only a crisis—actual or perceived—produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes politically inevitable.”
The poverty which made this earthquake so devastating is no accident. It is the result of two centuries of oppression of the world’s first black republic. It is the result of enforced neo-liberal policies that have prevented Haiti developing the only way any country has – through investing in infrastructure and people. Friedman’s ideas are so popular with the mega-rich because they have only ever succeeded in doing one thing – making them richer.
If you want to do something, you can donate to ActionAid or one of these charities. The Shock Doctrine works by pushing policies through while people are distracted and grieving. So we must also be their eyes and ears, and keep the vultures at bay until they can come together to decide how they want their country to be re-built. As I write, more than 4,000 people have joined the Facebook group, and are helping act as those eyes and ears.
Our guest writer is Adam Ramsay who will jointly launch a new blog brightgreenscotland.org on Wednesday.