Aid flights that have been turned away from Haiti by the American military include flights from:

CARICOM, the Caribbean Community, Médecins Sans Frontieres, Brazil, France, Italy, and even the U.S. Red Cross

photo: JUAN BARRETO/AFP/Getty Images. Port-au-Prince January 19, 2010. US troops descended by helicopter to take control of Haiti's ruined presidential palace Tuesday, as the military earthquake relief operation gathered pace. As Bag News Notes says: I would love to know how the US military thought this picture would play (in Haiti -- after the first rush; domestically; abroad) in landing American troops at the Haitian Presidential Palace. Was it all gung-ho, or was there an upside/downside consideration?

The United States, having stolen so much from Haiti, now dictates what and when foreign aid will reach the Haitian people. … President Obama’s response to the tragedy in Haiti has been robust in military deployment and puny in what the Haitians need most: food; first responders and their specialized equipment; doctors and medical facilities and equipment; and engineers, heavy equipment, and heavy movers.
Cynthia McKinney

Médecins Sans Frontieres writes, with video at the link:

Six Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) cargo planes loaded with vital medical material like antibiotics have been redirected to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. This will delay MSF staff’s ability to treat patients who urgently need it.

And earlier:

Port-au-Prince, January 19, 2010A Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) cargo plane carrying 12 tons of medical equipment, including drugs, surgical supplies and two dialysis machines, was turned away three times from Port-au-Prince airport since Sunday night despite repeated assurances of its ability to land there. This 12-ton cargo was part of the contents of an earlier plane carrying a total of 40 tons of supplies that was blocked from landing on Sunday morning. Since January 14, MSF has had five planes diverted from the original destination of Port-au-Prince to the Dominican Republic. These planes carried a total of 85 tons of medical and relief supplies.

“We have had five patients in Martissant health center die for lack of the medical supplies that this plane was carrying,” said Loris de Filippi, emergency coordinator for the MSF’s Choscal Hospital in Cite Soleil. “I have never seen anything like this. Any time I leave the operating theater I see lots of people desperately asking to be taken for surgery. Today, there are 12 people who need lifesaving amputations at Choscal Hospital. We were forced to buy a saw in the market to continue amputations. We are running against time here.”

“It is like working in a war situation,” said Rosa Crestani, MSF medical coordinator for Choscal Hospital. “We don’t have any more morphine to manage pain for our patients. We cannot accept that planes carrying lifesaving medical supplies and equipment continue to be turned away while our patients die. Priority must be given to medical supplies entering the country.”

Many of the patients have been pulled from the rubble of collapsed buildings are at grave risk of death from septicemia and the consequences of “crush syndrome,” a condition where damaged muscle tissue releases toxins into the bloodstream and can lead to death from kidney failure. Dialysis machines are vital to keeping patients alive with this condition.

People who might have lived are already dead and more are in danger. Those who are lucky enough to get surgery may have no morphine to relieve their pain.

While writing this I just saw a clip on Rachel Maddow’s show of US Lt. Gen. Keane being asked about quake survivors camped within 200 yards of the airport who say they have received no aid so far. The General started talking about bringing in troops from lots of countries and ITN reporter Bill Neely had the presence to say they need aid, not troops.

With Foreign Aid Still at a Trickle, Devastated Port-au-Prince General Hospital Struggles to Meet Overwhelming Need

AMY GOODMAN: There are now, I think it was announced, 12,000 US soldiers. The Venezuelan President Chavez called it an occupation now. What would you say?

DR. EVAN LYON: I think it has real potential to be an occupation. If there are 12,000 soldiers here, it is an occupation. I’ve not known of any violence at the hands of the American military. We’ve also just barely had the beginning of collaboration with them, literally within the last thirty minutes. General Keane, their operations person, finally showed up here after some time. And the military is helping us secure the grounds. But of course this is an occupation. It’s not a—this is a disaster area. Warm bodies help, but military is potentially very destructive in this environment.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you need? What would be constructive?

DR. EVAN LYON: What we need right now is electricity, water, nurses, surgeons and materials. We have on site right now—we have seven operating rooms up and running. We need about fifteen or twenty within the next twenty-four hours. We have materials to keep the operating rooms going for maybe another twelve hours. Once that runs out, then we’re stuck.

AMY GOODMAN: Soldiers haven’t brought you supplies?

DR. EVAN LYON: Not yet.

DR. EVAN LYON: 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—to bring in machinery, but they’ve been listening to this idea that things are insecure, and so we don’t have supplies.

I’m living here in the neighborhood with a friend. I’m staying with some of my Haitian doctor colleagues. We’ve been circulating on the roads to 1:00 and 2:00 in the morning, moving patients, moving supplies, trying to get our work done. There is no security. The UN is not out. The US is not out. The Haitian police are not able to be out. But there’s also 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 concern for militarization, the concern for occupation is very real. There is capacity that we don’t have that the military will help us with, and that is urgently needed, because we’re losing patients minute to minute. But the first that listeners need to understand is that there is no insecurity here. There has not been, and I expect there will not be. [h/t b real]

The obvious question is why the US might be interested in occupying Haiti. Cynthia McKinney fills us in on that as well:

Ms. Laurent reminds us of Haiti’s offshore oil and other mineral riches and recent revival of an old idea to use Haiti and an oil refinery to be built there as a transshipment terminal for U.S. supertankers. Ms. Laurent, also known as Ezili Danto of the Haitian Lawyers Leadership Network (HLLN), writes:

“There is evidence that the United States found oil in Haiti decades ago and due to the geopolitical circumstances and big business interests of that era made the decision to keep Haitian oil in reserve for when Middle Eastern oil had dried up. This is detailed by Dr. Georges Michel in an article dated March 27, 2004 outlining the history of oil explorations and oil reserves in Haiti and in the research of Dr. Ginette and Daniel Mathurin.

“The U.S. plans to use Haiti’s deep water ports either for oil refineries or to develop oil tank farm sites.”

“There is also good evidence that these very same big US oil companies and their inter-related monopolies of engineering and defense contractors made plans, decades ago, to use Haiti’s deep water ports either for oil refineries or to develop oil tank farm sites or depots where crude oil could be stored and later transferred to small tankers to serve U.S. and Caribbean ports. This is detailed in a paperabout the Dunn Plantation at Fort Liberte in Haiti.

“Ezili’s HLLN underlines these two papers on Haiti’s oil resources and the works of Dr. Ginette and Daniel Mathurin in order to provide a view one will not find in the mainstream media nor anywhere else as to the economic and strategic reasons the US has constructed its fifth largest embassy in the world – fifth only besides the US embassy in China, Iraq, Iran and Germany – in tiny Haiti, post the 2004 Haiti Bush regime change.”

McKinney also writes:

For those of us who have been following events in Haiti before the tragic earthquake, it is worth noting that several items have caused deep concern:

1. the continued exile of Haiti’s democratically-elected and well-loved, yet twice-removed former priest, President Jean-Bertrand Aristide;

2. the unexplained continued occupation of the country by United Nations troops who have killed innocent Haitians and are hardly there for “security” (I’ve personally seen them on the roads that only lead to Haiti’s sparsely-populated areas teeming with beautiful beaches);

3. U.S. construction of its fifth-largest embassy in the world in Port-au-Prince, Haiti;

4. mining and port licenses and contracts, including the privatization of Haiti’s deep water ports, because certain off-shore oil and transshipment arrangements would not be possible inside the U.S. for environmental and other considerations; and

5. extensive foreign NGO presence in Haiti that could be rendered unnecessary if, instead, appropriate U.S. and other government policy allowed the Haitian people some modicum of political and economic self-determination.

And from a Black Agenda Radio commentary by Glen Ford

It is understandable that many African Americans are making comparisons between the militarized character of the U.S. intervention in Haiti’s earthquake disaster and the federal government’s largely military response to the Katrina catastrophe in New Orleans, four and a half years ago. It is quite reasonable to conclude that the U.S. government is more concerned about law and order issues than in attending to the immediate needs of desperate disaster victims – especially when the victims are Black. History tells us that U.S. governments regard masses of Black people, first, as potential threats to security, and only second as fellow human beings deserving of assistance. Nevertheless, the heavy-handed militarization of U.S. disaster aid to Haiti should be seen in a larger context. As a matter of established American policy, the military has been assigned prime responsibility for U.S. foreign disaster relief, worldwide.

It’s not just disaster relief that has been militarized. The U.S. military command in Africa, AFRICOM, has assumed responsibility for much of the day-to-day duties once performed by the State Department and other civilian agencies. More often than not, the uniformed military is the dispenser of a wide range of U.S. foreign aid in Africa, as part of a general militarization of U.S. relations with the rest of the planet.

And Ford offers another reason why the US has built:

… the fifth largest U.S. embassy in the world sits in Haiti, one of the planet’s most economically unimportant nations. What purpose could it possibly serve, other than as a U.S. military and and dirty tricks base for the U.S. Southern Command – which now decides what gets in and out of Haiti. For all practical purposes, the U.S. Southern Command is the occupying power in Haiti. What we are observing is imperialism in action, under cover of disaster.

I would like to add this picture, both as a tribute to the human spirit, and as a rebuke to CNN in particular, and the media coverage in general.

Youths play with empty boxes as they collect them after food was distributed by the World Food Program in Port-au-Prince, Saturday, Jan. 16, 2010. Relief groups and officials are focused on moving the aid flowing into Haiti to the survivors of the powerful earthquake that hit the country on Tuesday. (photo: Ariana Cubillos/AP)

From Bag News Notes:

We’ve been closely observing the schizophrenia in the Haiti media coverage over the past twelve hours, with some outlets describing a situation of widespread violence and looting … with others showing scenes of grateful Haitian citizens receiving their first food and water in days.

More background:

As one commenter wrote over at dKos about how this scene played out Saturday on CNN:

It was interesting – though unwelcome – to watch the narrative in the making. The anchor (somebody Lemon) broke away from another story to go to the reporter at a food distribution center, who was reporting unrest. By the time they got to the reporter he had determined that what he thought might be violence breaking out because all the food was gone – was in reality children who had discovered a field full of empty boxes and had started an impromptu game of throwing them up in the air and kicking them and doing whatever it is they do that has kids everywhere so fascinated with empty boxes.

The adults were standing around, calm as could be and the reporter was smiling a bit at these children who had been through so much, lost so much finding a bit of lightness and fun in a field full of boxes. The newsreader, however, might as well have not heard a word of this explanation, as he went on being so understanding of desperate people doing desperate things – while a loop of the children throwing boxes went on in the background. He went back to this narrative and loop a couple more times during the show. Then Wolf Blitzer starts his show and continues to promote the same narrative using the same footage of the same children who CNN are trying to make the face of desperate riot and mayhem in Haiti… all because they found some boxes in a field and decided to play.

Finally, something you don’t often see: here’s a clip of a CNN reporter on the scene actually correcting the impression.

Raj Patel posts how lethal are requests that infant formula be sent to Haiti. Where there is no reliable clean water, infant formula is a death sentence, and another predation of disaster capitalists. He points out:

It’s already bitterly ironic that Bill Clinton is the United Nation’s special envoy to Haiti, after the economic policy he imposed there to transform it into the Caribbean’s sweatshop. Now, President Obama has asked George Bush to lead fundraising efforts for relief in Haiti. After Bush took part in an international coup to overthrow Aristide. It’s like sending in the horsemen of the apocalypse to negotiate peace.

First, as poet activist Shailja Patel has posted, there’s a progressive action plan for Haiti:

Haiti: 10-point action plan
1) Grants, not loans.
2) Keep corporations and corporatist policies OUT. Stop disaster capitalism in its tracks.
3) Cancel ALL Haiti’s debt to the Inter-American Development Bank.
4) Let Aristide return to Haiti.
5) Lift the ban on Aristide’s Fanmi Lavalas political party.
6) Rip up the neoliberal pre-earthquake Clinton-Obama program for Haiti: tourism, sweatshops, privatization, deregulation.
7) Do not allow US military or UN “peacekeepers” to point guns at desperate Haitians.
8 ) Allow all Haitians in the US to work, and remit money home.
9) Release all 30,000 Haitians held in US jails for deportation, and grant them Temporary Protected Status.
10) Demand that France start repaying the $21 billion it extorted from Haiti in 1825, to “compensate” France for loss of Haiti as a slave colony.”


h/t Bag News Notes for the photo at the top

For background on the Haitian economy, see:
An open letter to Ban Ki-Moon: Why Haiti can’t forget its past
Haiti – the first free Black republic in the Caribbean
Haiti’s Creole Pig and the Other Swine Flu Epidemic


AFRICOM & SOUTHCOM: Reliquaria from an Earlier Era – PDF by David Passage in the February 2009 issue of Foreign Service Journal contains advice that is right on target as budget policy and as foreign policy. He says it is time to rethink the US military command structure, which is bloated and out of date. When big budget cuts are necessary, the only practical way to make them is by cutting whole programs, not by making percentage across the board cuts that reduce functionality and efficiency everywhere. The US should delete AFRICOM and SOUTHCOM, eliminating those two programs from the federal budget.

President Obama faces a large number of very hard choices for the country. The US is involved in two expensive wars, the one in Iraq should never have been started. And these are not necessarily the most difficult or expensive problems he faces. Regarding the military:

And no pruning he might do can even begin to provide the resources needed to re-equip our armed forces with the hundreds of billions of dollars of materiel and munitions that have been expended in those current wars. Vehicles of all types are worn out; we are flying the wings off our aircraft and the rotors off our helicopters; and we are using much of our military equipment to within inches of its programmed life. And we have yet to calculate the ultimate costs of restoring the necessary capacity for other contingencies.

With respect to the Department of Defense, one of our biggest-ticket items, Pres. Obama could easily achieve significant savings by taking a hard look at restructuring our present geographic military command structure, with the explicit purpose of eliminating two major components: the U.S. Southern Command (responsible for Latin America and the Caribbean) and the newly established Africa Command.

The point of departure should not be a review of whether these two commands can be justified —for that simply invites proponents to make the best case for keeping them. Rather, the question should be how to handle residual functions the U.S. might wish to retain (and there shouldn’t be many) within a realigned geographic command structure that would consist of the European Command, Pacific Command, Central Command and a new Western Hemisphere Command. … WESTCOM.  …  EUCOM, PACOM and CENTCOM have clear, well-defined and unquestioned warfighting missions, as well as robust force structures to support them. AFRICOM and SOUTHCOM do not and should not.

AFRICOM is a particularly unfortunate creation.

Does Washington really want to project a military face toward a continent that already suffers from a surfeit of them? Do we Americans believe economic development and internal security structures (e.g., civilian and civilian-led police forces) should be built along military lines by armed forces? And is that what we want Africans to think we believe? If so, shame on us! We do not permit our military to train our own police and law enforcement personnel and do economic development work in the U.S. Why do we believe this should be done by our military in Africa?

Passage summarizes the history of SOUTHCOM, which should be a warning for the creators and proponents of AFRICOM.

If one wants to see what AFRICOM could become, one has only to look atwhat SOUTHCOM has been. Mercifully, a lot of lessons have been drawn from that experience, which, one hopes, is therefore unlikely to be repeated.

During the first four decades of its existence, SOUTHCOM supported our national interest in preventing Soviet-sponsored takeovers in the Western Hemisphere, such as occurred in Eastern Europe following the defeat of Hitler’s Germany. To be sure, the threat was real; we received a serious wake-up call in May 1948 when Sovietbacked insurgents briefly seized control in Colombia. The coup was undone within days, but fueled the conviction that Washington needed to strengthen Latin American militaries. “And the rest is history,” as the saying goes.

Over the next three decades, U.S.supported military regimes toppled elected civilian governments in virtually every country in Latin America —Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Paraguay, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Panama, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala —excepting only Mexico and Costa Rica.

And although U.S. policy began changing during the 1970s under President Jimmy Carter, our economic development assistance for Latin America actually declined during the 1980s, 1990s and the first decade of the 21st century. Instead, our military assistance grew, first under the guise of countering growing narcotics trafficking from Andean Ridge countries, and then — particularly after the 9/11 attacks —countering terrorism throughout the hemisphere.

In light of this history, here is the crucial question for President Obama’s national security team: Is a military response the right way (let alone the best or most cost-efficient one) to counter the twin threats of terrorism and narcotrafficking in Latin America? For that is now the primary rationale for having a four-star military command with Latin America as its sole area of responsibility

A military command is not the right or best way to address this, because the core of the problem is civil and political. So a military command is not only not the best way, it will by its nature work against that which it claims to support:

A principal deficiency suffered by virtually all developing countries, but particularly those in Africa and Latin America, is weak civil law enforcement institutions –- both the police and judicial branches. Police forces are, by and large, ill trained, poorly equipped, incompetently led and badly paid. The same can be said for the majority of judges and other law enforcement authorities. This is a prescription for corruption and abuse, so it should come as absolutely no surprise that that has been the result.

Washington’s response, regrettably, has been to look for ways our military, acting through SOUTHCOM and now AFRICOM, can ameliorate or rectify these problems. But is that the right, let alone best, means to help our Latin American neighbors or African friends with these structural problems? To see what AFRICOM could become, look at what SOUTHCOM has been.

And all the military training and military partnering is effort spent advancing in this pernicious direction.

Although our armed forces boast terrific civil affairs personnel, that’s not the face we should be seeking to portray to our neighbors, either in this hemisphere or in Africa. … SOUTHCOM is a relic from an earlier era the U.S. should wish to put behind it, while AFRICOM is the result of a manufactured need and never should have been created at all. There is simply no need for a standalone four-star command in either Latin America or Africa to achieve U.S. national security goals.

AFRICOM is highly unpopular in Africa. Sam Makinda has written an article about how Europe has been doing a much better job than the US with Africa policy, EU shaping policies without antagonism:

How has the EU managed to present itself in a way that is not antagonising to African states?

The simple answer is that European countries, which had colonies in Africa until the 1960s and 1970s, have learnt how to exercise influence without rubbing Africans, including dictators, the wrong way.

As a result, the EU is able to shape some of Africa’s political, economic and security policies without appearing to be doing so. In contrast, the USA utilises approaches that antagonise Africans and thereby invites their resistance.

A good example is the way the EU and the USA have pursued security policies on the continent. Working quietly, the EU helped shape the AU Peace and Security Council (PSC) as well as the AU’s Common Defence and Security Policy (CDSP).

However, when the USA came up with the African Command (AFRICOM), it did so without consulting the AU and in violation of some of the principles that underpin the CDSP. The result is that many African states are opposed to AFRICOM, but they regard the CDSP and the PSC as their own products.

I do not think the European influence is necessarily benign. The EU has maintained a rapacious interest in African resources, and has been manipulative and exploitive. It has illegally fished out African waters, particularly in the Gulf of Guinea and off the Somali coast. Royal Dutch Shell has been the primary and longest termed polluter of the Niger Delta. And the EU has dumped toxic and nuclear waste in African waters. Even so, the EU has still managed Africa policy more effectively than the US. As Makinda points out in an earlier article:

Africans know that the militarization of political and economic space by African military leaders has been one of the factors that has held Africa back for decades. While African states are trying to put the culture of military rule behind them, the United States appears determined to demonstrate that most civilian activities in Africa should be undertaken by armed forces. To some African policy makers, this suggests that the U.S. Government lacks sympathy for what Africans so deeply want today, namely democratic systems in which the armed forces remain in the barracks.

David Passage’s suggestions make such good sense, I fear that no one will listen. I hope Obama’s team is capable of this historical understanding, and this kind of practical and strategic thinking. It would be very smart economic, military, and foreign policy to eliminate AFRICOM and SOUTHCOM.