Bottom feeders follow closely on the heels of disaster. After Hurricane Katrina, private security contractors landed in New Orleans, hired to guard against looters. After the Indian Ocean tsunami, governments in Thailand, Sri Lanka, India, Indonesia, and the Maldives pushed aside coastal villages to make way for resort developers. That kind of profiteering is standard fare. But is it organized? That's what author Naomi Klein says in her book The Shock Doctrine, arguing that "disaster capitalists" take advantage of post-crisis chaos to push through a set of free-market reforms that further their own interests, rather than those of the victims. Is that the case in Haiti right now, even as rescue operations are still underway? NEWSWEEK's Katie Paul chatted with Klein about what she—and the 20,000 people who have already joined the No Shock Doctrine for Haiti group on Facebook—are watching out for this time around. Excerpts:
As if disasters aren't bad enough on their own, they often precede an even more chilling aftermath, argues Canadian journalist Naomi Klein. In The Shock Doctrine, published in 2007, Klein contends that disasters leave populations vulnerable to carefully calculated policy changes that would never pass muster under normal democratic circumstances. The following is an excerpt from the conclusion of The Shock Doctrine, outlining steps other groups have taken to prevent "disaster capitalism" from prevailing post-crisis.
Aid agencies have been accused of "jostling for position" and putting their own interests above those of the victims in the Haiti earthquake.
In a caustic editorial today, the respected medical journal, the Lancet, attacked the way charities and other non-governmental organisations have clamoured for attention in the wake of the disaster.
"NGOs are rightly mobilising, but also jostling for position, each claiming that they are doing the most for earthquake survivors," it said.
The Lancet did not name any aid agencies, many of which lost staff members in the disaster, but it questioned the way several have claimed to be "spearheading" relief efforts.
"As we only too clearly see, the situation in Haiti is chaotic, devastating, and anything but co-ordinated," it said.
The editorial argued that the response to the earthquake has highlighted questions about the competitive ethos of large aid agencies. The issue has emerged in past emergencies, including the Asian tsunami in 2004.
Soon after almost every disaster the crimes begin: ruthless, selfish, indifferent to human suffering, and generating far more suffering. The perpetrators go unpunished and live to commit further crimes against humanity. They care less for human life than for property. They act without regard for consequences.
I'm talking, of course, about those members of the mass media whose misrepresentation of what goes on in disaster often abets and justifies a second wave of disaster. I'm talking about the treatment of sufferers as criminals, both on the ground and in the news, and the endorsement of a shift of resources from rescue to property patrol. They still have blood on their hands from Hurricane Katrina, and they are staining themselves anew in Haiti.
Last Friday I wrote about the IMF's new $100 million loan to Haiti. I cited debt relief activists who told me that the new loan would be an extension of the IMF's existing loan of $165 million. This information was confirmed by the IMF's press release, which stated that "emergency financing would be provided as an augmentation to the existing IMF-supported arrangement with Haiti under the Extended Credit Facility [ECF]." The IMF's announcement provided no further information about conditions that may or may not be attached to the loan and made no mention of future debt relief for Haiti.
"IMF Chief Calls for 'Marshall Plan' for Shattered Haiti"
January 20, 2010
There is no relief for the people of Haiti, it seems, even in their hour of promised salvation. More than a week after the earthquake that may have killed 200,000 people, most Haitians have seen nothing of the armada of aid they have been promised by the outside world. Instead, while the US military has commandeered Port-au-Prince's airport to pour thousands of soldiers into the stricken Caribbean state, wounded and hungry survivors of the catastrophe have carried on dying.
As the unprecedented humanitarian relief effort in Haiti struggles through logistical chaos, triaging shipments of food, medicine, and personnel, making sure help is distributed efficiently, one entity seems to consistently dominate the hierarchy of needs: the military.
And so thousands of troops continue to descend on Haiti in droves, while reports of humanitarian aid being impeded or turned away, sometimes forced to reroute critical shipments of medicine and supplies.
The Orwellian-named mercenary trade group, the International Peace Operations Association, didn’t waste much time in offering the “services” of its member companies to swoop down on Haiti for some old fashioned
humanitarian assistance disaster profiteering. Within hours of the massive earthquake in Haiti, the IPOA created a special web page for prospective clients, saying: “In the wake of the tragic events in Haiti, a number of IPOA’s member companies are available and prepared to provide a wide variety of critical relief services to the earthquake’s victims.”
One. Allow all Haitians in the US to work. The number one source of money for poor people in Haiti is the money sent from family and workers in the US back home. Haitians will continue to help themselves if given a chance. Haitians in the US will continue to help when the world community moves on to other problems.
Two. Do not allow US military in Haiti to point their guns at Haitians. Hungry Haitians are not the enemy. Decisions have already been made which will militarize the humanitarian relief - but do not allow the victims to be cast as criminals. Do not demonize the people.
Three. Give Haiti grants as help, not loans. Haiti does not need any more debt. Make sure that the relief given helps Haiti rebuild its public sector so the country can provide its own citizens with basic public services.
Four. Prioritize humanitarian aid to help women, children and the elderly. They are always moved to the back of the line. If they are moved to the back of the line, start at the back.
The devastation in Haiti is unrelenting, an avalanche of natural catastrophe exacerbated by man-made injustice. Perhaps 100,000 feared dead, homes shattered, people digging neighbors out of rubble without safe food, water or electricity. It’s hard to fathom just how much tragedy one tiny island country can bear, and Haiti seems to be testing the limits of a people’s resilience in the face of crisis.
Today, as the Obama administration mobilized aid resources, it also backed away from earlier plans to deport about 30,000 Haitian immigrants living in the United States, announcing that deportations would be suspended indefinitely. Anything less would be unconscionable, yet there has been no decisive action, on granting lasting immigration relief through Temporary Protected Status.