Above photo: Earthquake victims arrive at the airport in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Aug. 14, 2021. Joseph Odelyn/AP.
Eleven years after that fateful January 12, 2010, Haiti once again suffered, last Saturday, August 14, 2021, the tremendous blows of an earthquake that has already claimed the lives of at least 1,400 people, according to the preliminary report released yesterday by the Haitian authorities.
The terrible news spread in real time throughout the world. The call for international solidarity with the Haitian people was not long in coming.
However, in the midst of the pain that the Haitian people are suffering, it is necessary to ask some questions about the actions and responses that are being given and will continue to be given to this difficult situation, from now on. We need to be vigilant, in particular, with the so-called humanitarian actions.
For example, based on the experience of the 2010 earthquake, it is worth asking ourselves about the borderline between good faith aid in the face of a humanitarian emergency and the scavenger feeding of “disaster capitalism”, as it profits from the corpses and the pain of others.
To reflect on this, we will identify what we call here some “invisibilities” that often accompany the “spectacularization” of natural disasters and, above all, the complex processes of humanitarian intervention and reconstruction in which it is so difficult to draw a distinct line.
Invisibility of solidarity from below
On Saturday, around 8:30 a.m., panic broke out in Haiti. It was no wonder. The earth shook again, after the deadly earthquake that hit this Caribbean country on January 12, 2010, killing nearly 300,000 people, particularly in the capital Port-au-Prince and its surroundings.
The earthquake the day before yesterday was “spectacularized” as it was captured in videos and shocking images that, in real time, traveled through social networks and the Internet, going around the world. Collapsed houses, survivors emerging from the rubble, victims’ families crying, the dead covered by sheets, entire towns asking for help, hospitals and clinics overwhelmed. In short, the scene was and continues to be overwhelming.
The earthquake had an even greater magnitude -of the order of 7.2 on the Richter scale- than the previous one, which had a magnitude of only 7.0. However, the big difference was that this time the epicenter was in medium-sized cities in the south of the country, such as Les Cayes, Jérémie, Nippes, and not in the overcrowded and chaotic capital Port-au-Prince.
Even so, in its communication published on August 15 on Twitter, the General Directorate of Civil Protection, the Haitian institution in charge of assessing the impact of damage caused by natural disasters in the country, noted that the earthquake had already claimed the lives of 1,297 people (1054 in the South, 122 in les Nippes, 119 in Grand’Anse and 2 in the Northeast), and left hundreds injured and missing, not to mention the significant material losses and in terms of physical infrastructures. We will have to wait for subsequent reports from this official Haitian entity to have a more accurate and complete picture of all the losses.
Before the arrival of medical and humanitarian aid from all over the world, the Haitians themselves and also the doctors of the Cuban medical brigades, stationed here, have been attending to and saving the victims and the wounded. This solidarity from below will be made invisible by the mainstream media that loves to spectacularize the great humanitarian assistance deployments of first world countries, such as those of Europe, Canada and the United States.
Invisibility of the other disaster
This catastrophe comes at a bad time, as Haiti is in a delicate political transition, led by a de facto Prime Minister, Ariel Henry, who has no legitimacy other than that of having been appointed by a de facto President Jovenel Moïse – a few days before his assassination – and anointed by the Core Group.
The Core Group is an international entity that has been practically directing Haiti in recent years; it is composed of ambassadors from Germany, Brazil, Canada, Spain, the United States of America, France, the European Union, the special representative of the Organization of American States and the special representative of the Secretary General of the United Nations.
In this political disorder, the legal framework of the current Haitian Constitution is deliberately disregarded and the previous de facto regime continues to reign with international complicity. Consequently, there is a dangerous intertwining between political crisis and humanitarian crisis on the one hand, and between political interference and humanitarian intervention on the other.
It is worth remembering that even though Haiti is a poor country, it has been the object of a constant struggle between different interfering countries, anxious to impose their respective political agendas and interests on this small Caribbean nation, in particular to obtain for their multinational companies and national “experts” important sources of employment and juicy contracts for infrastructure works and development projects.
Unfortunately, the visible disaster is that of nature and not the one created by the so-called “disaster capitalism”, interested in doing business even to the detriment of human pain.
As happened with the last earthquake, it will never be known how much money is spent to address the humanitarian emergency and to carry out the supposed reconstruction of the country, or how these funds are used, since the State of Haiti does not have sufficient authority and legitimacy to demand accountability from these international organizations and agencies.
Invisibility of subjective wounds
The subjective wounds caused by the so-called “natural disasters”, which are as serious and painful as the physical injuries, are also invisible.
These are fear, uncertainty, anxiety, turbulent emotional and psychological states and even complex psychopathological conditions that, for example, have caused and continue to cause the earthquake the day before yesterday and its multiple aftershocks from south to north of the country in tens of thousands of families who had already lost their loved ones as a result of the earthquake of January 12, 2010.
The day before yesterday was a traumatic day for these Haitian families who had been trying, for more than a decade, to overcome their grief and to walk again and step on the ground with some confidence; from one moment to the next they were literally forced to face their old ghosts.
If these psychologically damaged families are not taken care of in a timely manner, we will see many “madmen” in Haitian cities, who are often mistreated in a country where part of the population associates mental illness with witchcraft.
Invisibility of the Divine
The world, thanks to the mainstream media, turned its attention to a country that had become sadly famous for being the scene of both the cruel assassination, in the early morning of July 7, 2021, of its de facto president Jovenel Moïse, and the deployment of the increasingly transnationalized mercenarism on our continent.
People sensitive to the difficult future of Haiti (the big brother who taught the countries of Latin America the path of freedom and helped them concretely in this struggle for independence was the decisive and unconditional support of the liberator Simon Bolivar), cried again for a country that has not ceased to suffer the ravages of nature and bad governance co-opted by a corrupt political class and an irresponsible elite, friend of the “international community”.
Haiti once again came to light to tell us that what it has lived through is not a curse. As Ignatius of Loyola said in his book Spiritual Exercises, “the Divinity hides itself” so that it is humanity that appears, in this case, our Latin American and Caribbean humanity.
Invisibility of our word as a region
We can take this opportunity to say that Haiti, like all the countries of our region, needs not the leadership of the first world, but brotherhood and friendship; not colonialism, but the beginning of a new relationship of interdependence; not scavenger business under the pretext of humanitarian aid or reconstruction plans, but actions of solidarity aimed at helping this country to give its citizens the possibility of enjoying their fundamental human rights.
Haiti is giving us the opportunity to say our own word, a word that we have not articulated, jointly and in unison, as a sovereign region. We finally have the chance to say our word, which must be very critical of the current neocolonial and neoliberal world order, and to speak out in favor of an “other relationship” that is symmetrical, horizontal, democratic and respectful among all peoples, states, nations and regions of the earth. Haiti definitely invites us to rewrite our history and that of our world.