23 January 2010

What Aid?

Today read another angle to the Haiti tragedy..Ben Ehrenreich in the Slate on why did the US aid focus on troops rather than on supplies of food and medicines.


The U.S. military did what the U.S. military does. Like a slow-witted, fearful giant, it built a wall around itself, commandeering the Port-au-Prince airport and constructing a mini-Green Zone. As thousands of tons of desperately needed food, water, and medical supplies piled up behind the airport fences—and thousands of corpses piled up outside them—Defense Secretary Robert Gates ruled out the possibility of using American aircraft to airdrop supplies: "An airdrop is simply going to lead to riots," he said. The military's first priority was to build a "structure for distribution" and "to provide security." (Four days and many deaths later, the United States began airdropping aid.)
....
The guiding assumption, though, was that Haitian society was on the very edge of dissolving into savagery. Suffering from "progress-resistant cultural influences" (that's David Brooks finding a polite way to call black people primitive), Haitians were expected to devour one another and, like wounded dogs, to snap at the hands that fed them. As much as any logistical bottleneck, the mania for security slowed the distribution of aid.
...
This leaves the more disturbing question of why the Obama administration chose to respond as if they were there to confront an insurgency, rather than to clear rubble and distribute antibiotics and MREs. The beginning of an answer can be found in what Rebecca Solnit, author of A Paradise Built in Hell, calls "elite panic"—the conviction of the powerful that their own Hobbesian corporate ethic is innate in all of us, that in the absence of centralized authority, only cannibalism can reign.
But the danger of hunger-crazed mobs never came up after the 2004 Pacific tsunami, and no one mentions security when tornados and floods wipe out swaths of the American Midwest. This suggests two possibilities, neither of them flattering. The first is that the administration had strategic reasons for sending 10,000 troops that had little to do with disaster relief. This is the explanation favored by the Latin American left and, given the United States' history of invasion and occupation in Haiti (and in the Dominican Republic and Cuba and Nicaragua and Grenada and Panama), it is difficult to dismiss. Only time will tell what "reconstruction" means.
Another answer lies closer to home. New Orleans and Port-au-Prince have one obvious thing in common: The majority of both cities' residents are black and poor. White people who are not poor have been known, when confronted with black people who are, to start locking their car doors and muttering about their security. It doesn't matter what color our president is. Even when it is ostensibly doing good, the U.S. government can be racist, and, in an entirely civil and bureaucratic fashion, savagely cruel.



When I did the post on culture, this aspect did not cross my mind at all. Security is just as important as getting supplies to the people, true. Which of Ben's possibilities is correct? Even if we go for the politically palatable first option, all it means is this is just one more example adding to the many the world over that point to the connections between geo-politics and development/growth/aid....The second would tell us that 'culture' can mean so many more things than Brooks talked about.

1 comment:

  1. @RJS, thanks for reading the blog and posting a commment. As the language in your comment is rather personal, I am putting here a moderated version of what you have written, keeping the gist the same..
    'None of Ben's ideas are correct. He is from the left-wing' - RJS

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