No Shock Doctrine for Haiti

A new facebook group has been set up to stock The Shock Doctrine in Haiti. But the IMF have only agreed an emergency £100m loan with conditions attached.

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 on Wednesday.

41 Responses to “No Shock Doctrine for Haiti”

  1. Chris Lawrence

    Haiti’s history is a sad and depressing one. It is a tale full of genocide, slavery, extortion, invasion and occupation, resource theft, and severe repression. It is a cruel joke that a country that has endured so much, and has so little ability to deal with catastrophe, must endure even more suffering.

  2. uberVU - social comments

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    This post was mentioned on Twitter by leftfootfwd: No “Shock Doctrine” for Haiti. Join the facebook group to show your solidarity

  3. Helping Haiti « Moments of Clarity

    […] of Haiti’s debt. Indeed, it is hard not to share the concerns expressed by Adam Ramsey on Left Foot Forward that Haiti is about to suffer from its own version of Naomi Klein’s ‘Shock […]

  4. a change of personnel

    thanks for highlighting this it looks well worth a read, Naomi Klein certainly doesn’t pull any punches.

  5. Charles Barry

    In Defence of the IMF

    Look Adam, you may be blind to the other side of the coin as a result of your political prejudices, but I am appealing to your sense of an independent mind here.

    The phrase “disaster capitalism” is just a stupid soundbite phrase that some invented to describe policy decisions they don’t agree with. Fine. But the reasons those decisions were made were on the basis of sound economics.

    Of course the IMF should be offering $100m to Haiti. But it shouldn’t be offering a blank cheque, and it should ensure that if Haiti takes the money, it should accept some reasonable restraint. If Haiti doesn’t like those conditions, then fine, it doesn’t have to have the money. There’s no need for Haiti to accept the money, although more likely than not it will take it.

    The point about restraining public pay and raising fuel costs is more likely than not to be about ensuring Haiti will be able to pay off its debts, by attempting to balance the budget. And be clear – Haiti’s corrupt government should not be given hundreds of millions of other people’s dollars with no strings attached.

    If the US government spend 1 million dollars on PR for privatisation, so what? Privatisation has been shown to be (when properly handled) the best way forward. The Haitian government should privatise in a way that the shares pass to the people and not “oligarchs”, raise tariffs to ensure its companies can compete on the world stage and ensure that the rule of anti-monopoly law and general order can prevail.

    There’s a lot of tragedy and a lot of opportunity to rebuild Haiti as a better country, with the possibility of raising thousands out of poverty. I also think Obama is unlikely to let it become a corporate oligopoly playground. So let’s take a look at all the available options, and not resort to sensationalist stereotypes.

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