Dr Paul Farmer on Haiti

Paul Farmer has worked in rural Haiti for more than twenty years. He is a doctor and anthropologist and has written several books on health inequalities. Known as Dokte Paul throughout Haiti, he has improved rural health by teaching basic health practices as the best preventive medicine. He has also worked in Russia, Chiapas and various other desperate places and has even had a book written about him: Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World by Tracy Kidder.

I personally don’t know much about Haiti, what I do know has come from reading Dr. Paul Farmer’s book Pathologies of Power: Health, Human Rights, and the New War on the Poor. Dr. Farmer knows the people of Haiti, he has worked with them and listened to them for years, healing them as best he can. The current situation in Haiti could have been avoided to some degree if more people had listened to Dr. Farmer years ago. This book, Pathologies of Power was written in 2004 and gives clear insight into the various levels of abuse that the people of Haiti have been subjected to for years from the international community, most specifically the US of A. There is not much I can do for the people of Haiti from where I sit except to share these insightful words. We are directly responsible for the terrible ongoing situation in Haiti.

The rest of this post is excerpts taken from the preface to the book Pathologies of Power:

Anyone interested in pathologies of power would be able to predict the impact of an aid embargo on Haiti’s fragile, cash-strapped government. In any case, the aid through official channels had never been very substantial. Counted per capita, before the embargo the United States was giving Haiti one-tenth of what it had distributing to Kosovo. But claims heard since the overthrow from the mouths of former ambassadors and the Bush administration–that hundreds of millions of dollars flowed to Haiti–are correct, though misleading. Aid did flow, just not to the elected government. Most of it went to non-governmental organizations, and some of it went to the anti-Aristide opposition. U.S. organizations like the International Republican Institute and the National Endowment for Democracy funnelled hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of dollars to the opposition.

The cuts in bilateral aid and the diversion of monies to the opposition meant that little effort could be made, in a country as poor as Haiti, to rebuild schools, health care infrastructures, roads, ports, telecommunications, or airports. But this entire affair was not considered newsworthy until after Aristide’s overthrow at the end of February 2004, a coup effected by armed rebels now sporting U.S. army surplus uniforms and carrying weapons, it would seem to this untutored eye, of U.S. manufacture. It was not until March 7 that one could read, in the U.S. daily press, about the ties between the coup and the practices of the “international community,” as it’s called. In its one and only investigative piece about the three-year aid embargo, the Boston Globe finally stumbled upon the facts:

For three years, the US government, the European Union, and international banks have blocked $500 million in aid to Haiti’s government, ravaging the economy of a nation already twice as poor as any in the Western Hemisphere.

The cutoff, intended to pressure the government to adopt political reforms, left Haiti struggling to meet even basic needs and weakened the authority of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who went into exile one week ago.

Today, Haiti’s government, which serves 8 million people, has an annual budget of about $300 million–less than that of Cambridge [Massachusetts], a city of just over 100,000. And as Haitians attempt to form a new government, many say its success will largely depend on how much and how soon aid will flow to the country.

Many of Aristide’s supporters, in Haiti and abroad, angrily contend that the international community, particularly the United States, abandoned the fledgling democracy when it most needed aid. Many believe that Aristide himself was the target of the de facto economic sanctions, just as Haiti was beginning to put its finances back in order.

It’s hard not to argue that the conventional human rights groups missed the boat on the entire story. Illegally blocking humanitarian assistance to one of the world’s poorest countries surely ranks among the most vicious abuses of power in the modern toolkit. Yet the aid embargo didn’t even register on the radar of most human rights groups. Many of these groups are now back in Haiti on “fact-finding missions,” long after what observers of structural violence would recognize as the decisive facts. One such mission concluded that “international human rights organizations, especially Human Rights Watch and Journalists Without Borders, and to a lesser extent Amnesty International, have taken the NCHR [National Coalition for Haitian Rights] reports uncritically and failed to develop other impartial human rights contacts in Haiti.” That is, the international community–the funders, in must be noted–were relying overmuch on local and overseas partisan groups with overt political agendas but little in the way of expertise in or commitment to documenting rights abuses.

From rural Haiti, both violence and disease have always appeared as pathologies of power. Structural violence was at the heart of Haiti’s creation, and this former slave colony is as good a reminder as any of the intimate ties between those who are victims of violence and those who are shielded from it. More guns and more repression may well be the time-honored prescription for policing poverty, but violence and chaos will not go away if the hunger, illness, and racism that are the lot of so many are not addressed in a meaningful and durable fashion.

Central Haiti
March 22, 2004

(From the Preface to the 2005 Edition of Pathologies of Power by Paul Farmer)

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