MABE Orphanage -- Port au Prince, Haiti

MABE Orphanage -- Port au Prince, Haiti

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Securing Disaster in Haiti

U.S. soldiers help with the transfer of aid. Source: BBC

Peter Hallward, January 22, 2010

Americas Program Report, Center for International Policy


Nine days after the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti on January 12, 2010, it's now clear that the initial phase of the US-led relief operation has conformed to the three fundamental tendencies that have shaped the more general course of the island's recent history.
It has adopted military priorities and strategies. It has sidelined Haiti's own leaders and government, and ignored the needs of the majority of its people. And it has proceeded in ways that Reinforce the already harrowing gap between rich and poor.

All three tendencies aren't just connected, they are mutually reinforcing. These same tendencies will continue to govern the imminent reconstruction effort as well, unless determined political action is taken to COUNTERACT them.

I I

Haiti is not only one of the poorest countries in the world, it is also one of the most polarized and unequal in its disparities in wealth and access to political power. 1 A small clique of rich and well-connected families continues to dominate the country and its economy while more than half the population, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), survives on a household income of around 44 US pennies per day.2

Mass destitution has grown far more severe in recent decades. Starting in the 1970s, internationally imposed neo-liberal "adjustments" and austerity measures finally succeeded in doing what no Haitian government had managed to do since winning independence in 1804: in order to set the country on the road toward "economic development," they have driven large numbers of small farmers off their land and into densely crowded urban slums. A small minority of these internal refugees may be lucky enough to find sweatshop jobs that pay the lowest wages in the region. These wages currently average $2 or $3 a day; in real terms they are worth less than a quarter of their 1980 value.

Haiti's tiny elite owes its privileges to exclusion, exploitation, and violence, and it is only violence that allows it to retain them. For much of the last century, Haiti's military and paramilitary forces (with substantial amounts of US support) were able to preserve these privileges on their own. Over the course of the 1980s, however, it started to look as if local military repression might no longer be up to the job. A massive and courageous popular mobilization (known as Lavalas) culminated in 1990 with the landslide election of the liberation theologian Jean-Bertrand Aristide as president. Large numbers of ordinary people began to participate in the political system for the first time, and as political scientist Robert Fatton remembers, "Panic seized the dominant class. It dreaded living in close proximity to la populace and barricaded itself against Lavalas."3

Nine months later, the army dealt with this popular threat in the time-honored way—with a coup d'etat. Over the next three years, around 4,000 Aristide supporters were killed.

However, when the US government eventually allowed Aristide to return in October 1994, he took a surprising and unprecedented step: he abolished the army that had deposed him. As human rights lawyer Brian Concannon (director of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti) observed a few years later, "It is impossible to overestimate the impact of this accomplishment. It has been called the greatest human rights development in Haiti since emancipation, and is wildly popular."4 In 2000, the Haitian electorate gave Aristide a second overwhelming mandate when his party (Fanmi Lavalas) won more than 90% of the seats in parliament.

II

More than anything else, what has happened in Haiti since 1990 should be understood as the gradual clarification of this basic dichotomy-democracy or the army. Unadulterated democracy might one day allow the interests of the numerical majority to prevail, and thereby challenge the privileges of the elite. In 2000, such a challenge became a genuine possibility: the overwhelming victory of Fanmi Lavalas, at all levels of government, raised the prospect of genuine political change in a context in which there was no obvious extra-political mechanism―no army―to prevent it.

In order to avoid this outcome, the main strategy of Little Haiti's ruling class has been to redefine political issues in terms of "stability" and "security," and in particular the security of property and investments. Mere numbers may well win an election or sustain a popular movement to have everyone knows, only an army is equipped to deal with insecurity. The well-armed "friend of Haiti" that is the United States knows this better than anyone.

As soon as Aristide was re-elected, a systematic international campaign to bankrupt and destabilization his second government set the stage for a paramilitary insurgency and another coup d'etat. In 2004, thousands of U.S. troops invaded Haiti again (as they first did back in 1915) to "restore stability and security" to their "troubled island neighbor." An expensive and long-term UN stabilization mission, staffed by 9.000 heavily armed troops, soon took over the job of helping to pacify the population and the criminalization of resistance. By the end of 2006, thousands more Aristide supporters had been killed.

Over the course of 2009, a suitably stabilized Haitian government agreed to persevere with the privatization of the country's remaining public assets, 5 veto a proposal to increase minimum wages to $5 a day, and bar Fanmi Lavalas (and several other political parties) from participating in the next round of legislative elections.

When it comes to providing stability, today's UN troops are clearly a big improvement over the old national forces. If things get so unstable that even the ground begins to shake, however, there's still nothing that can beat the world's leading provider of security—the US Armed Forces.

III

In the immediate aftermath of the earthquake that struck on January 12, 2010, it might have seemed hard to counter arguments in favor of allowing the US military, with its "unrivalled logistical capability," to take de facto control of such a massive relief operation. Weary of bad press in Iraq and Afghanistan, US commanders also seemed glad of this unexpected opportunity to rebrand their armed forces as angels of mercy.

That was before US commanders actively began—the day after the earthquake struck—to divert aid away from the disaster zone.

As soon as the U.S. Air Force took control of Haitian airspace, on Wednesday, January 13, it explicitly prioritized military over humanitarian flights. Although most reports from Port-au-Prince emphasized remarkable levels of patience and solidarity on the streets, US commanders made fears of popular unrest and insecurity their number-one concern. Their first priority was to avoid what the US Air Force Special Command Public Affairs spokesman (Ty Foster) called another "Somalia effort" 6 —presumably, a situation in which a humiliated US Army might once again risk losing military control of a "humanitarian" mission.

As many observers predicted, the determination of US commanders to forestall this risk by privileging guns and soldiers over doctors and food has actually provoked some outbreaks of the very unrest they set out to contain. To amass a large number of soldiers and military equipment "on the ground," the U.S. Air Force plane after plane diverted packed with emergency supplies away from Port-au-Prince. Among many others, World Food Program flights were turned away by US commanders on Thursday and Friday, the New York Times reported, "so that the United States could land troops and equipment, and lift Americans and other foreigners to safety." 7

Many other aid flights met a similar fate, right through to the end of the week. Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) alone has so far had to watch at least five planeloads of its medical supplies be turned away. 8 On Saturday, Jan. 16, for instance, "Despite guarantees given by the United Nations and the U.S. Defense Department, an MSF cargo plane carrying an inflatable surgical hospital was blocked from landing in Port-au-Prince and re-routed to Samana, in Dominican Republic," delaying its arrival by an additional 24 hours. 9 Late on Monday, January 18, MSF complained that "One of its cargo planes carrying 12 tons of medical equipment had been turned away three times from Port-au-Prince airport since Sunday," despite receiving repeated assurances they could land. 18, MSF complained that "One of its cargo planes carrying 12 tons of medical equipment Had been turned away three times from Port-au-Prince airport since Sunday," Despite receiving repeated assurances they could land. By that stage, one group of MSF doctors in Port-au-Prince had been "forced to buy a saw in the market to continue the amputations" upon which the lives of their patients depended. 10

While US commanders set about restoring security by assembling a force of some 14,000 Marines and soldiers, residents in some less secure parts of Port-au-Prince soon started to run out of food and water. On Jan. On January 20, people sleeping in one of the largest and most easily accessed of the many temporary refugee camps in central Port-au-Prince (in Champs Mars) told writer Tim Schwartz, author of the 2008 book Travesty in Haiti , that "no relief has arrived; it is all being delivered on other side of town, by the US Embassy." 11

Telesur reporter Reed Lindsay confirmed on January 20—a full eight days after the quake—that the impoverished southwestern Port-au-Prince suburb closest to the earthquake's epicenter, Carrefour, still hadn't received any food, aid, or medical help. 12

The BBC's Mark Doyle found the same thing in an eastern (and less badly affected) suburb. "Their houses are destroyed, they have no running water, food prices have doubled, and they haven't seen a single government official or foreign aid worker since the earthquake struck." Overall, Doyle observed, "The international response has been quite pathetic. Some of the aid agencies are working very hard, but there are two ways of reporting this kind of thing. One is to hang around with the aid agencies and hang around with the American spokespeople at the airport, and you'll hear all sorts of stories about what's happening. Another way is to drive almost at random with ordinary people and go and see what's happening in ordinary places. In virtually every area I've driven to, ordinary people say that I was the first foreigner that they'd met." 13

It was only a full week after the earthquake that emergency food supplies began the slow journey from the heavily guarded airport to 14 "secure distribution points" in various parts of the city. 14 By that stage, tens of thousands of Port-au-Prince residents had finally come to the conclusion that no aid would be forthcoming, and began to abandon the capital for villages in the countryside.

On Sunday January 17, Al-Jazeera's correspondent summarized what many other journalists had been saying all week. "Most Haitians have seen little humanitarian aid so far. What they have seen is guns, and lots of them. Armored personnel carriers cruise the streets and inside the well-guarded perimeter [of the airport], the United States has taken control. It looks more like the Green Zone in Baghdad than a center for aid distribution." 15

Later on the same day, the World Food Program's air logistics officer Jarry Emmanuel confirmed that most of the 200 flights going in and out of the airport each day were still being reserved for the US military: "… their priorities are to secure the country. Ours are to feed." 16 By Monday, January 18, no matter how many US Embassy or military spokesman insisted that "we are here to help" rather than invade, governments as diverse as those of France and Venezuela had begun to accuse the US government of effectively "occupying" the country. 17

IV

The US decision to privilege military over humanitarian traffic at the airport sealed the fate of many thousands of people abandoned in the rubble of lower Port-au-Prince and Léogane. In countries all over the world, search and rescue teams were ready to leave for Haiti within 12 hours of the disaster. Only a few were able to arrive without fatal delays, mainly teams—like those from Venezuela, Iceland, and China—that managed to land while Haitian staff still retained control of their airport. Some subsequent arrivals, including a team from the UK, were Prevented from landing with their heavy equipment lending. Others, like Canada's several Heavy Urban Search Rescue Teams, were immediately readied but never sent; the teams were told to stand down, the Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon eventually explained, because "the government had opted to send Canadian Armed Forces instead." 18

USAID announced on January 19 that international search and rescue teams, over the course of the first week after the disaster, had managed to save a grand total of 70 people. 19 The majority of these people were rescued in specific locations and circumstances. "Search-and-rescue operations," observed the Washington Post on January 18, "have been intensely focused on buildings with international aid workers, such as the crushed UN headquarters, and on large hotels with international clientele." 20

Tim Schwartz spent much of the first post-quake week as a translator with rescue workers, and was struck by the fact that most of their work was confined to certain places—the UN's Hotel Christophe, the Montana Hotel, the Caribe supermarket—that were not only frequented by foreigners but that could be snugly enclosed within "secure perimeters." Elsewhere, he observed, UN "peacekeepers" seemed intent on convincing rescue workers to treat onlooking crowds as a source of potential danger, rather than assistance. 21

Until the residents of devastated places like Léogane and Carrefour are somehow able to reassure foreign troops that they can feel "secure" when visiting their neighborhoods, UN and US commanders clearly prefer to let them die on their own.

Exactly the same logic has yet condemned to death more people in and around Port-au-Prince's hospitals. In one of the most illuminating yet filed reports from the city, on January 20 Democracy Now 's Amy Goodman spoke with Dr. Evan Lyon of Partners in Health/Zamni Lasante from the General Hospital—the most important medical center in the country.

Lyon acknowledged there was a need for "crowd control, so that the patients are not kept from having access," but insisted that "there's no insecurity [...]. I don't know if you guys were out late last night, but you can hear a pin drop in this city. It's a peaceful place. There is no war. There is no crisis except the suffering that's ongoing [...]. The first thing that [your] listeners need to understand is that there is no insecurity here. There has not been, and I expect there will not be."

On the contrary, Lyon explained, "This question of security and the rumors of security and the racism behind the idea of security has been our major block to getting aid in. The US military has promised us for several days to bring in machinery, but they've been listening to this idea that things are insecure, and so we don't have supplies."

As of Jan. As of January 20, the hospital still hadn't received the supplies and medicines needed to treat many hundreds of dying patients.

"In terms of aid relief the response has been incredibly slow. There are teams of surgeons that have been sent to places that were, quote, 'more secure,' that have 10 or 20 doctors and 10 patients. We have a thousand people on this campus who are triaged and ready for surgery, but we only have four working operating rooms, without anesthesia and without pain medications." 22

In post-quake Haiti it seems that anyone or anything that cannot be enclosed in a "secure perimeter" isn't worth saving.

In their occasional forays outside such Perimeters, meanwhile, some Western journalists seemed able to find plenty of reasons for retreating behind them. Lurid stories of looting and gangs soon began to lend "security experts" like the London-based Stuart Page 23 an aura of apparent authority, when he explained to the BBC's gullible "security correspondent" Frank Gardner that "all the security gains made in Haiti in the last few years could now be reversed [...]. The criminal gangs, totaling some 3,000, are going to exploit the current humanitarian crisis, to the maximum degree." 24

Another seasoned BBC match, Matt Frei, had a similar story to tell on January 18, when he found a few scavengers sifting through the remains of a central shopping district. "Looting is now the only industry here. Anything will do as a weapon. Everything is now run by rival armed groups of thugs." If Haiti is to avoid anarchy, Frei concluded, "What may be needed is a full scale military occupation." 25

Not even former U.S. President (and former occupier Haiti) Bill Clinton was prepared to go that far. "Actually," Clinton told Frei, "when you think about people who have lost everything except what they're carrying on their backs, who not only haven't eaten but probably haven't slept in four days, and when the sun goes down it's totally dark and they spend all night long tripping over bodies living and dead, well, I think they've behaved quite well [...]. They are astonishing people. How can they be so calm in the face of such enormous loss of life and loved ones, and all the physical damage?" 26

Reporters able to tell the difference between occasional and highly localized incidents of foraging, and a full-scale "descent into anarchy" made much the same point all week, as did dozens of indignant Haitian correspondents. On Jan. On January 17, for instance, Ciné Institute Director David Belle tried to counter international misrepresentation. "I have been told that much US media coverage paints Haiti as a tinderbox ready to explode. I'm told that lead stories in major media are of looting, violence, and chaos. There could be nothing further from the truth. I have travelled the entire city daily since my arrival. The extent of the damage is absolutely staggering [but...] NOT ONCE have we witnessed a single act of aggression or violence [...]. A crippled city of two million awaits help, medicine, food, and water. Most haven't received any. Haiti can be proud of its survivors. Their dignity and decency in the face of this tragedy is itself staggering." 27

But it seems that to some, dignity and decency are no substitute for security. No amount of weapons will ever suffice to reassure those "fortunate few," whose fortunes isolate them from the people they exploit. As far as the vast majority of people are concerned, "security is not the issue," explains Haiti Liberté 's Kim Ives.

"We see throughout Haiti the population organizing themselves into popular committees to clean up, to pull out the bodies from the rubble, to build refugee camps, to set up their security for the refugee camps. This is a population that is self-sufficient, and it has been self-sufficient for many years." 28

While the people who have lost what little Had they have done their best to cope and regroup, the soldiers sent to "restore order" treat them as potential combatants. "It's just the same way they reacted after Katrina," concludes Ives. "The victims are what's scary. They're black people who, you know, had the only successful slave revolution in history. What could be more threatening?"

"According to everyone I spoke with in the center of the city," Schwarz wrote on January 21, "the violence and gang stuff is pure BS."

The relentless obsession with security, agrees Andy Kershaw, is clear proof of the fact that most foreign soldiers and NGO workers "haven't a clue about the country and its people." 29 True to form, within hours of the earthquake most of the panicked staff in the US Embassy had already been evacuated, and at least one prominent foreign contractor in the garment sector (the Canadian firm Gildan Activewear) announced that it would be shifting production to alternative sewing facilities in neighboring countries. 30

The price to be paid for such priorities will not be evenly distributed. Up in the higher, wealthier, and mostly undamaged parts of Pétionville everyone already knows that it's the local residents "who through their government connections, trading companies, and interconnected family businesses" will once again pocket the lion's share of international aid and reconstruction money. 31

To help keep less well-connected families where they belong, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has taken "unprecedented" emergency measures to secure the homeland this past weekend. Operation "Vigilant Sentry" will make use of the large naval flotilla the US government has assembled around Port-au-Prince.

"As well as providing emergency supplies and medical aid," notes The Daily Telegraph , "the USS Carl Vinson, along with a ring of other Navy and Coast Guard vessels, is acting as a deterrent to Haitians who might be driven to make the 681-mile sea crossing to Miami."

While Senegal's President Abdoulaye Wade offered "voluntary repatriation to any Haitian that wants to return to [the land of] their origin," American officials confirmed that they would continue to apply their long-standing (and illegal) policy with respect to all Haitian refugees and asylum seekers—to intercept and repatriate them automatically, regardless of the circumstances. 32

Ever since the quake struck, the U.S. Air Force has taken the additional precaution of flying a radio-transmitting cargo plane for five hours a day over large parts of the country, so as to broadcast a recorded message from Haiti's ambassador in Washington. "Do not rush on boats to leave the country," the message says. "If you think you will reach the United States and all the doors will be wide open to you, that's not at all the case. They will intercept you right on the water and send you back home where you came from."

Not even life-threatening injuries are enough to entitlement to a welcome Haitians in the United States. When the dean of medicine at the University of Miami arrived to help set up a field hospital by the airport in Port-au-Prince, he was outraged to find that most seriously injured people in the city were being denied visas to be transferred to Florida for surgery and treatment. As of January 19, the State Department had authorized a total of 23 exceptions to its restrictive immigrant and refugee policies.

"It's beyond insane," O'Neill complained. "It's bureaucracy at its worst." 33

V

This is the fourth time the United States has invaded Haiti since 1915. Although each invasion has taken a different form and responded to a different pretext, all four have been expressly designed to restore "stability" and "security" to the island. In the wake of the earthquake, thousands more foreign security personnel are already on their way, to guard the teams of foreign reconstruction and privatization consultants who in the coming months are likely to usurp what remains of Haitian sovereignty.

Perhaps some of these guards and consultants will help their elite customers Achieve another long-cherished dream: the restoration of the Haitian Army. And perhaps then, for a short while at least, the inexhaustible source of "instability" in Haiti—the ever-nagging threat of popular political participation and empowerment—may be securely buried in the rubble of its history.

End Notes available here.

Peter Hallward is a Canadian political philosopher. He is currently a professor of Modern European Philosophy at Middlesex University ( http://www.web.mdx.ac.uk/crmep/STAFF/PeterHallward.htm ). He is the author of Damning the Flood.

Haiti Quake More Destructive Than 2004 Tsunami: Study

A Haitian doctor vaccinates a Haitian boy at a camp set up for people displaced from their homes in Jacmel on February 10. The World Health Organization on Wednesday urged medical aid agencies to stay in Haiti as long as possible while health care is rebuilt following last month's devastating earthquake.(AFP/Ariel Marinkovic)




Published on Thursday, February 18, 2010 by Agence France-Presse

Haiti Quake More Destructive Than 2004 Tsunami: Study

PORT-AU-PRINCE - The scale of devastation in Haiti is far worse than in Asia after the 2004 tsunami, a study has said, estimating the cost of last month's earthquake at up to 14 billion dollars.

The report released yesterday from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) raised the possibility that the quake could be the most destructive disaster in modern history.

Its stark assessment comes with Port-au-Prince still lying in ruins more than one month on, while the bodies of more than 200,000 dead pile up in mass graves outside the capital.

The study's release coincided with what would normally be Haiti's annual carnival, an explosion of pulsing music and colorful parades. But this year, the events have been cancelled as no one is in the mood to party.

The preliminary IDB report estimated the damage at between eight and 14 billion dollars in what was already the poorest country in the Americas before the catastrophe.

Factoring in Haiti's population and economic output, the upper estimate would make it the most destructive natural disaster in modern history, the bank said.

"Indeed, in this respect the Haiti earthquake was vastly more destructive than the Indonesian tsunami of 2004 and the cyclone that hit Myanmar in 2008," an IDB statement said.

"It caused five times more deaths per million inhabitants than the second-ranking natural killer, the 1972 earthquake in Nicaragua."

Haiti officials say more than 217,000 people were killed in the quake, or about 2.4 percent of the country's population of nine million.

The 14-billion-dollar figure is the Washington-based bank's upper estimate for the cost of reconstructing homes, schools, streets and other infrastructure in Haiti following the January 12 quake.

The IDB said a more detailed accounting of the situation would come in the following months but that its preliminary study showed that the reconstruction cost was likely to be far higher than anticipated.

Meanwhile, Haiti's carnival celebrations, usually the culmination of weeks of parties, were replaced by mourning.

"Everybody's sad," said Nanotte Verly, a 48-year-old mother of nine who lost her home in the quake and sells jewelry and wooden plaques praising Jesus on a roadside. "All the buildings are still collapsed on the ground."

More than a million Haitians are still homeless following the earthquake, living in squalid camps in and around the capital.

The traditional center of carnival celebrations, the Champ de Mars park across from the collapsed National Palace, is now a sprawling homeless camp housing some 16,000 people in a maze of tents made of scrap wood and sheets.

Lemaire Sicard, 37, lives at the site and spoke of how the Champ de Mars would be filled with revelers and partying in years past.

"But now there's nothing," he said. "It's not possible. There are people from this area who were hurt -- deaths also."

While aid workers rush to distribute tarpaulins before the rainy season starts, the United Nations says only about 272,000 people have been provided with shelter materials so far.

On his second day in Haiti to give a boost to the relief effort, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper visited Canadian troops in Leogane, a town largely wiped out by the quake where the soldiers are helping set up a hospital.

Harper had earlier said Canada would set up a semi-permanent, 11-million-dollar headquarters for the Haitian government, which currently operates out of a police building because the palace and many government ministries were destroyed in the quake.

In a positive sign for the quake-torn country, American Airlines said it would resume the first commercial flights to Haiti on Friday.

© 2010 Agence France-Presse

Monday, February 15, 2010

Cuba's Aid Ignored by the Media?


After the quake struck, Haiti's first medical aid came from Cuba

Monday, February 15, 2010
Al Jazeera English - FOCUS

Cuba's aid ignored by the media?
By Tom Fawthrop in Havana

Among the many donor nations helping Haiti, Cuba and its medical teams have played a major role in treating earthquake victims.

Public health experts say the Cubans were the first to set up medical facilities among the debris and to revamp hospitals immediately after the earthquake struck.

However, their pivotal work in the health sector has received scant media coverage.

"It is striking that there has been virtually no mention in the media of the fact that Cuba had several hundred health personnel on the ground before any other country," said David Sanders, a professor of public health from Western Cape University in South Africa.

The Cuban team coordinator in Haiti, Dr Carlos Alberto Garcia, says the Cuban doctors, nurses and other health personnel have been working non-stop, day and night, with operating rooms open 18 hours a day.

During a visit to La Paz hospital in the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince, Dr Mirta Roses, the director of the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) which is in charge of medical coordination between the Cuban doctors, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and a host of health sector NGOs, described the aid provided by Cuban doctors as "excellent and marvellous".

La Paz is one of five hospitals in Haiti that is largely staffed by health professionals from Havana.

History of cooperation

Haiti and Cuba signed a medical cooperation agreement in 1998.

Before the earthquake struck, 344 Cuban health professionals were already present in Haiti, providing primary care and obstetrical services as well as operating to restore the sight of Haitians blinded by eye diseases.

More doctors were flown in shortly after the earthquake, as part of the rapid response Henry Reeve Medical Brigade of disaster specialists. The brigade has extensive experience in dealing with the aftermath of earthquakes, having responded to such disasters in China, Indonesia and Pakistan.

"In the case of Cuban doctors, they are rapid responders to disasters, because disaster management is an integral part of their training," explains Maria a Hamlin Zúniga, a public health specialist from Nicaragua.

"They are fully aware of the need to reduce risks by having people prepared to act in any disaster situation."

Cuban doctors have been organising medical facilities in three revamped and five field hospitals, five diagnostic centres, with a total of 22 different care posts aided by financial support from Venezuela. They are also operating nine rehabilitation centres staffed by nearly 70 Cuban physical therapists and rehab specialists, in addition to the Haitian medical personnel.

The Cuban team has been assisted by 100 specialists from Venezuela, Chile, Spain, Mexico, Colombia and Canada and 17 nuns.

Havana has also sent 400,000 tetanus vaccines for the wounded.

Eduardo Nuñez Valdes, a Cuban epidemiologist who is currently in Port-au-Prince, has stressed that the current unsanitary conditions could lead to an epidemic of parasitic and infectious diseases if not acted upon quickly.

Media silence

However, in reporting on the international aid effort, Western media have generally not ranked Cuba high on the list of donor nations.

One major international news agency's list of donor nations credited Cuba with sending over 30 doctors to Haiti, whereas the real figure stands at more than 350, including 280 young Haitian doctors who graduated from Cuba. The final figure accounts for a combined total of 930 health professionals in all Cuban medical teams making it the largest medical contingent on the ground.

Another batch if 200 Cuban-trained doctors from 24 countries in Africa and Latin American, and a dozen American doctors who graduated from Havana are currently en route to Haiti and will provide reinforcement to existing Cuban medical teams.

By comparison the internationally-renowned Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF or Doctors without Borders) has approximately 269 health professionals working in Haiti. MSF is much better funded and has far more extensive medical supplies than the Cuban team.

Left out

But while representatives from MSF and the ICRC are frequently in front of television cameras discussing health priorities and medical needs, the Cuban medical teams are missing in the media coverage.

Richard Gott, the Guardian newspaper's former foreign editor and a Latin America specialist, explains: "Western media are programmed to be indifferent to aid that comes from unexpected places. In the Haitian case, the media have ignored not just the Cuban contribution, but also the efforts made by other Latin American countries."

Brazil is providing $70mn in funding for 10 urgent care units, 50 mobile units for emergency care, a laboratory and a hospital, among other health services.

Venezuela has cancelled all Haiti debt and has promised to supply oil free of charge until the country has recovered from the disaster.

Western NGOs employ media officers to ensure that the world knows what they are doing.

According to Gott, the Western media has grown accustomed to dealing with such NGOs, enabling a relationship of mutual assistance to develop.

Cuban medical teams, however, are outside this predominantly Western humanitarian-media loop and are therefore only likely to receive attention from Latin American media and Spanish language broadcasters and print media.

There have, however, been notable exceptions to this reporting syndrome. On January 19, a CNN reporter broke the silence on the Cuban role in Haiti with a report on Cuban doctors at La Paz hospital.

Cuba/US cooperation

When the US requested that their military plans be allowed to fly through Cuban airspace for the purpose of evacuating Haitians to hospitals in Florida, Cuba immediately agreed despite almost 50 years of animosity between the two countries.



Cuban doctors received global praise for their humanitarian aid in Indonesia [Tom Fawthrop]
Josefina Vidal, the director of the Cuban foreign ministry's North America department, issued a statement declaring that: "Cuba is ready to cooperate with all the nations on the ground, including the US, to help the Haitian people and save more lives."

This deal cut the flight time of medical evacuation flights from the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay on Cuba's southern tip to Miami by 90 minutes.

According to Darby Holladay, the US state department's spokesperson, the US has also communicated its readiness to make medical relief supplies available to Cuban doctors in Haiti.

"Potential US-Cuban cooperation could go a long way toward meeting Haiti's needs," says Dr Julie Feinsilver, the author of Healing the Masses - a book about Cuban health diplomacy, who argues that maximum cooperation is urgently needed.

Rich in human resources

Although Cuba is a poor developing country, their wealth of human resources - doctors, engineers and disaster management experts - has enabled this small Caribbean nation to play a global role in health care and humanitarian aid alongside the far richer nations of the west.

Cuban medical teams played a key role in the wake of the Indian Ocean Tsunami and provided the largest contingent of doctors after the 2005 Pakistan earthquake. They also stayed the longest among international medical teams treating the victims of the 2006 Indonesian earthquake.

In the Pakistan relief operation the US and Europe dispatched medical teams. Each had a base camp with most doctors deployed for a month. The Cubans, however, deployed seven major base camps, operated 32 field hospitals and stayed for six months.

Bruno Rodriguez, who is now Cuba's foreign minister, headed the mission - living in the mountains of Pakistan for more than six months.

Just after the Indonesian earthquake a year later, I met with Indonesia's then regional health co-coordinator, Dr Ronny Rockito.

Cuba had sent 135 health workers and two field hospitals. Rockito said that while the medical teams from other countries departed after just one month, he asked the Cuban medical team to extend their stay.

"I appreciate the Cuban medical team. Their style is very friendly. Their medical standard is very high," he told me.

"The Cuban [field] hospitals are fully complete and it's free, with no financial support from our government."

Rockito says he never expected to see Cuban doctors coming to his country's rescue.

"We felt very surprised about doctors coming from a poor country, a country so far away that we know little about.

"We can learn from the Cuban health system. They are very fast to handle injuries and fractures. They x-ray, then they operate straight away."

A 'new dawn'?

The Montreal summit, the first gathering of 20 donor nations, agreed to hold a major conference on Haiti's future at the United Nations in March.

Some analysts see Haiti's rehabilitation as a potential opportunity for the US and Cuba to bypass their ideological differences and combine their resources - the US has the logistics while Cuba has the human resources - to help Haiti.

Feinsilver is convinced that "Cuba should be given a seat at the table with all other nations and multilateral organisations and agencies in any and all meetings to discuss, plan and coordinate aid efforts for Haiti's reconstruction".

"This would be in recognition of Cuba's long-standing policy and practise of medical diplomacy, as well as its general development aid to Haiti," she says.

But, will Haiti offer the US administration, which has Cuba on its list of nations that allegedly "support terrorism", a "new dawn" in its relations with Cuba?

In late January, Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, thanked Cuba for its efforts in Haiti and welcomed further assistance and co-operation.

In Haiti's grand reconstruction plan, Feinsilver argues, "there can be no imposition of systems from any country, agency or institution. The Haitian people themselves, through what remains of their government and NGOs, must provide the policy direction, and Cuba has been and should continue to be a key player in the health sector in Haiti".

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Leisa's Haiti Journal #7 -- "Tylenol Baby"

2010 Haiti Journal #7 -- February 3, 2010 Tylenol Baby

We leave for Haiti tomorrow, so folks have been busy dropping off donations.

After class last night, I got a call from a dear friend trying to catch me and we met up at Sac State campus.

“I wish it could have been more,” she explained as she handed me four bottles of Tylenol. “I have a state job now, but I was out of work for six months.”

Two of the bottles were infant Tylenol drops…so I thought she had heard the story about our three day old Tylenol baby in Haiti last week. She looked blankly at me when I mentioned it, and I realized I left out this story from my journals, so here it is:

We were in the Cite Soleil clinic last month, “The Lamp for Haiti” and had unloaded, sorted and stocked several duffle bags of medicines for the “Lamp”. We could finally catch our breath. One of the pleasant things about my work is that there are usually babies around. Sure enough, a young girl holding what I thought was her tiny baby came through the room. I bent over and kissed the three day old.

His head was burning up. Mimi, the office manager handed the infant to Dr. Jim as he was, wrapped in an old towel. Jim pulled back the towel. Little Natamayel Pierre’s pale heaving chest told the doctor all he needed to know. Natamayel’s sister peeked into the pink nylon panties that served as his diaper while we waited to know what to do.

“We can’t take care of him here,” Dr. Jim said, “he has to go to the hospital.” How was that going to happen? Streets are torn up, the doctor’s car broken down, traffic a nightmare…

Natamayel lay apart from the discussion. Not crying, and barely moving.

I suddenly remembered that stashed among our supplies, someone – some very inspired someone had donated two little bottles of infant Tylenol drops. I pulled one out and handed it to Jim. He looked like I had handed him gold. This might just buy Natamayel the time he needed to survive the hour’s drive to the hospital.

AARP magazine had hired Paul Taggart to photograph our little trip, and he offered his car. We were off.

The hot bumpy ride seemed to go on forever. Each gulp of air the baby took, I checked to see if another would follow.

Inside the hospital gates, we had to beg our way past the many triage tents that were still too few to shade the hundreds of patients waiting. Our little guy couldn’t wait.

A few hours later, Natamayel Pierre rested comfortably, IV in place, oxygen mask on, and his sister at his side…10 days later, they emerged, well and relieved that someone thought to donate a tiny bottle of Tylenol. We are taking more this time.

I hope the person who thought to buy just two little bottles of infant Tylenol for us to hand carry into Haiti right after the earthquake somehow finds out what a difference that purchase made. I always tell people every little bit helps, this time, as Dr. Jim Morgan put it, it truly was a “save”.

Peace, all ways and always, Leisa

P.S. Great news: The IRS told us this week that all donations to Children’s Hope are tax deductible. Our 501(c)(3) Non-profit EIN number is: 20-2863867. Please click on the "Donate" button on this page if you would like to contribute to our Earthquake Relief Efforts.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Earthquake Relief Update

Tuesday, February 2, 2010 -- Our first Earthquake Relief trip just a few days after the devastating January 12 quake was incredibly sad, as one would expect... but also inspiring. We saw up close that the Haitian people are responding with a determination, a resiliency, and a generosity of spirit that is uplifting. We're leaving for our second relief trip this Thursday, February 4. This time we are bringing in a team of 11 volunteers and a larger quantity of urgently needed medical and other supllies. If you would like to contribute to our Earthquake Relief Fund, please click on the button below or send a check to our mailing address, which is also listed below. Thank you so much for your concern and solidarity... many hands make the burden lighter. -- Paul B

The photos below are from our first Earthquake Relief trip, January 15-20, 2010.