Haitians dying by the thousands as US escalates military intervention

Haitians dying by the thousands as US escalates military intervention

Bill Van Auken

WSWS, January 22, 2010

Thousands of Haitians are dying every day for lack of medical care and
supplies, according to a leading humanitarian aid group. Meanwhile, the
Pentagon has announced that it is expanding the US military presence in
the country, maintaining Washington’s priority of troops over
humanitarian aid.

The US-based medical aid group Partners in Health has warned that as
many as 20,000 Haitians may be dying daily due to infections such as
gangrene and sepsis that have set in, as the majority of the injured
receive no medical care or are treated in facilities that lack the most
basic supplies.

“Tens of thousands of earthquake victims need emergency surgical care
now!!!,” the organization said in a statement posted on its web site.
“The death toll and the incidence of gangrene and other deadly
infections will continue to rise unless a massive effort is made to
open and staff more operating rooms and to deliver essential equipment
and supplies.”

Partners in Health has worked in Haiti for more than 20 years. Its
co-founder, Dr. Paul Farmer, is the deputy United Nations envoy to
Haiti and a senior professor of public health at Harvard University.

While Haitian officials and other organizations have claimed the
Partners in Health figure is too high, it is indisputable that Haiti
confronts a disaster that could equal or even eclipse that of the quake
itself because of the delays in the provision of health care to
hundreds of thousands of sick and injured people.

The New York Times Thursday quoted Dr. Eduardo de Marchena, a
University of Miami cardiologist overseeing one field hospital in
Haiti, who provided a similarly grim prognosis. “There are still
thousands of patients with major fractures, major wounds, that have not
been treated yet,” he said. “There are people, many people, who are
going to die unless they’re treated.”

As the Times reported, “In the squatter camps now scattered across this
capital, there are still people writhing in pain, their injuries bound
up by relatives but not yet seen by a doctor eight days after the quake
struck. On top of that, the many bodies still in the wreckage increase
the risk of diseases spreading, especially, experts say, if there is

The Wall Street Journal reported that the Port-au-Prince General
Hospital is continuously besieged by more than 1,000 patients waiting
for surgery. “Armed guards in tanks kept out mobs,” the newspaper
reported. It added, “At any given moment, thousands of injured, some
grievously, wait outside virtually any hospital or clinic, pleading for

CNN’s Karl Penhaul reported from Port-au-Prince General Hospital, where
US paratroopers have taken up positions. He said that Haitians
questioned why so many US troops were pouring into the country. “They
say they need more food and water and fewer guys with guns,” he

He also indicated that American doctors at the hospital seemed
mystified by the military presence. “They say there has never been a
security problem here at the hospital, but there is a problem of
getting supplies in.” He added, “They can get nine helicopters of
troops in, but some of the doctors here say if they can do that, then
why can’t they also bring with them IV fluids and other much needed

The Spanish daily El País quoted one of these American doctors, Jim
Warsinguer: “We lack a lot of things, too many for so much time having
passed since the earthquake: betadine, bandages, gloves. And, above
all, morphine. We have to do amputations without anesthesia. You see
them suffer, and it is terrible. The Haitians are very brave, but they
are suffering a lot.”

The desperate conditions and lack of sanitation for the estimated 2
million Haitians left homeless by the earthquake threaten to trigger a
public health disaster. “The next health risk could include outbreaks
of diarrhea, respiratory tract infections and other diseases among
hundreds of thousands of Haitians living in overcrowded camps with poor
or non-existent sanitation,” said Doctors Without Borders deputy
operations manager Greg Elder.

While media reports claim that ever-growing amounts of material aid are
coming into the country, reporters on the ground have said that there
is still no sign that it is getting into the hands of the overwhelming
majority of those who need it.

The British Broadcasting Corporation reported Thursday, “Correspondents
say the aid that has thus far arrived at the port is being driven for
45 minutes across the city to the airport, where it is piling up and
not being distributed to those who need it.”

The BBC continued, “The US and UN World Food Programme insist the
distribution of food and water is well under way, but the BBC’s Adam
Mynott in Port-au-Prince says many people have still seen no
international relief at all.”

Aid organizations have charged that since establishing its unilateral
control over the Port-au-Prince airport and the city’s port facilities,
and assuming essential governmental powers in Haiti, the US military
has given the beefing up of its presence in the country priority over
the provision of aid. Doctors Without Borders, for example, has
protested that military air traffic controllers have since January 14
refused permission to land to five of its planes carrying 85 tons of
medical supplies.

With the Haitian catastrophe now in its 10th day, it is becoming
increasingly clear that the response of the Obama administration and
the Pentagon, which have made military occupation of the Caribbean
nation its first objective, has deepened the immense suffering of
millions of injured, homeless and hungry people.

The Pentagon has announced that it is sending 4,000 more troops to
Haiti, which will boost the US military occupation force to 16,000. For
the first time, a unit that had been slated for deployment by the US
Central Command, which oversees the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, is
being diverted to the Caribbean nation.

Meanwhile, a naval encirclement of Haiti’s coastline is growing. The
Miami Herald reported Thursday that the US military has also prepared a
detention camp at the Guantánamo Bay Navy Base in Cuba—site of the
infamous prison where detainees were tortured—to hold up to 1,000
Haitians should they manage to elude the US warships.

By using Guantánamo as a holding pen for refugees fleeing the horrific
conditions of Haiti, the US government will insist that they have no
legal rights and cannot appeal their deportation back to their
homeland. This same procedure was used in 1991, when thousands of
Haitians fled the country following a violent military coup.

The claim that this military “surge” into Haiti is an indispensable
prerequisite for delivering aid to the Haitian people is a lie. Relief
agencies operating in the country insist that they have not been
threatened by the Haitian people, but rather hindered by the attempt to
impose war zone-style security over their efforts.

The US media never so much as hints that there could be anything but
the sincerest humanitarian motives behind Washington’s assertion of
control over Haiti. It makes no reference to the country’s history,
which includes a two-decade US occupation at the beginning of the
twentieth century, the deployment of US troops twice in the last 20
years, and Washington’s orchestration of a 2004 coup that ousted and
exiled Haiti’s elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

In publications reflecting the views of the military-intelligence
apparatus, however, there are franker assessments of Washington’s
objectives and the real mission. The American Enterprise Institute’s
Center for Defense Studies issued a “crisis update” on Haiti, warning:
“Conducting a ‘humanitarian relief’ mission in a poor country stricken
by a natural disaster can quickly embroil the United States in local
politics. And desperate people can easily become violent people.”

The statement continued by affirming, “Beyond delivering relief, US
soldiers and Marines will inevitably find themselves securing the
peace.” Part of this mission, it added, would be “to ensure that
Haiti’s gangs—particularly those loyal to ousted President
Jean-Bertrand Aristide—are suppressed.”

Similarly, William Kristol and Thomas Donnelly, writing in the Weekly
Standard, argued that beyond the humanitarian pretext for intervening
in Haiti, “the strategic case is also compelling.”

“With a transition looming in Cuba and challenges in Central America
among others, there is a political reason to be—and to be seen to be—a
good and strong neighbor.”

In other words, Washington is exploiting the tragedy that has been
inflicted upon the people of Haiti to assert colonial-style control
over the country. Its aim is to reaffirm US imperialist hegemony in the
broader region and to suppress any social revolt by the Haitian masses.

It is only a matter of time before the horrendous death toll caused by
the January 12 earthquake will be augmented by victims shot to death by
US occupation forces.

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