Sunday, January 17, 2010

CNN's shameful, ahistorical condescension on Haiti: A colleague retorts

J-Friend Kathy McAfee wrote the following, trying to put the problems in government, organization and institutions in Haiti in context, contra mainstream bashing of Haiti and, tangentially, the UN. (The post she was specifically responding to is reprinted as well, after her piece.)

(It is worth noting that Haiti, the poorest country in our hemisphere, is one of the two prime examples of what might be called "The Monroe Doctrine Inverse Relationship Between US Intervention and Country Welfare", as Haiti is one of the places the US has had the most direct intervention. Another country with a long history of US intervention, Nicaragua, is the second poorest country in the hemisphere. While some treat this as an example of the determination of poor people to resist reform or the hopelessness of any aid model, I think it's rather damning evidence of the true wages and intentions of US intervention--both Nicaragua and Haiti have had democratically elected leaders effectively vetoed by the US; see my earlier posts that dealt with similar topics.)

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"Friends: An incensed listserve comment quoted CNN's knee-jerk bashing of the UN via the conjectures of network action-figure prototype Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

>>Port-au-Prince, Haiti (CNN) -- Earthquake victims, writhing in pain and grasping at life, watched doctors and nurses walk away from a field hospital Friday night after United Nations officials ordered a medical team to evacuate the area out of security concerns, CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Sanjay Gupta reported.... :<<
This is my response, trying to widen the perspective. Probably somebody with more recent and intimate knowledge of Haitian politics could write (and has done) something better. If you've written or seen something good, please forward.

Kathy McAfee
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Although Gupta admitted he wasn't sure why, by whom, or to where the medical staff were being relocated, it's possible that he was right in this case. But let's not take CNN coverage at face value.

Like most US media competing for ratings from this catastrophe, albeit with sympathy for the victims, CNN's version of reality is unencumbered by any knowledge of present or past Haitian reality. Intentionally or not, Cooper's portrayal of Gupta as US lone hero, his interview with US general Honoré, and the inference of his constant question, "Why are our (US-military) efforts to get aid where it's needed still blocked?" adds to the UN-bashing and US adulation that is standard CNN fare.

In contrast to other Roland Hedleys, Cooper takes a stab at context. For instance, his explanation of the landslide linked to deforestation cites tree-cutting for charcoal, which does occur, but his subtext is that Haitians at least partially brought their troubles upon themselves. There's no mention of two centuries' shipping of tropical hardwoods to Europe or of Haiti's huge post-colonial payments to compensate France for loss of slave plantations, or the long international embargo of the country as punishment for the first successful back independence struggle.

Like other networks and op ed pundits, CNN reporters refer to Haiti's extreme material poverty despite, they say, a history of US efforts to "help". None have any sense of whom was actually helped by the 1915-35 US occupation (US & French banks, agribusiness, and the small Haitian elite), US support of Duvalier and other dictators (same beneficiaries, plus sweat-shop owners), the US aid & trade policies that undermined staple food production and created dependence on US rice exports, or US-backed neoliberal "adjustment" loan conditions and deliberate, ongoing undermining of the imperfect but legitimate Aristide and Preval governments by the US government and the Clinton Foundation.

US media now depict Haiti as a non-society with a non-government. Cooper keeps glancing over his shoulder in fear of the mass panic he says he expects, Other networks have gone out of their way to find evidence or report rumors of "looting", fighting over supplies, price gouging, and violence, occasionally punctuated by tales of "miracle" rescues, usually involving somebody from the US. Bill O'Reilly, having described Haitian society as "lawless" and entirely "run by gangs", was frustrated when Fox's on-the ground reporters refused to follow his script, pointing instead to food being distributed by Haitians, their impressive efforts to dig people from the rubble, and the amazing dignity and calm the wounded, thirsty, and distraught masses filling the street and parks.

Pat Robertson's claim that Haitian's are being punished for the "deal with Satan" that enabled them to overthrow their French masters doesn't deserve comment. But even Fox couldn't outdo David Brooks, conservative "dean of DC columnists", who reminded NY Times readers that poverty such as Haiti's cannot be cured and is no way caused, lessened, or worsened by any US or other policies. Brooks wrote, citing Samuel Huntington, that the real problem is Haitians themselves: Haiti's "progress-resistant" culture, with its "voodoo religion", "social mistrust", failure to internalize responsibility, and neglectful "child-rearing practices, is the underlying cause of Haiti's tragedy.

Meanwhile, thousands of brave and generous Haitian and internationalists are doing what needs to be done, and we can help. For now, Partners in Health/ Zanmi Lasante, largely Haitian-run, seems to be one of the best-positioned, experienced, and trustworthy sources of emergency aid, so that's where my too-small donation has gone. Later, we can return to solidarity support for the indigenous Haitian organizations that have determinedly been building social strength from below and fighting the legacy of isolation and exploitation from abroad.

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To: Retort
Via: BT

16.i.10

Port-au-Prince, Haiti (CNN) -- Earthquake victims, writhing in pain and grasping at life, watched doctors and nurses walk away from a field hospital Friday night after United Nations officials ordered a medical team to evacuate the area out of security concerns, CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Sanjay Gupta reported....

U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said Saturday that the world body's mission in Haiti did not order any medical team to leave the Port-au-Prince field hospital. If the team left, it was at the request of their own organizations, he told CNN.

Gupta assessed the needs of the 25 patients, but there was little he could do without supplies. And more people, some in critical condition, were trickling in. Gupta monitored patients' vital signs, administered painkillers and continued intravenous drips. He stabilized three new patients in critical condition.

"I've never been in a situation like this. This is quite ridiculous," Gupta said.

He reported that the doctors and nurses began returning Saturday morning.

Search and rescue must trump security. ...They need to man up and get back in there.

With a dearth of medical facilities in Haiti's capital, ambulances had no where else to take patients, some who had suffered severe trauma -- amputations and head injuries -- under the rubble. Others had suffered a great deal of blood loss, but there were no blood supplies left at the clinic.

Gupta feared that some would not survive the night.

He and his television crew stayed with the injured all night, long after the medical team had left, long after the generators gave out and the tents turned pitch black.

At 3:45 a.m., he posted a message on Twitter: "pulling all nighter at haiti field hosp. lots of work, but all patients stable. turned my crew into a crack med team tonight."

There have been scattered reports of violence throughout the capital. Gupta said the Belgian doctors did not want to leave their patients behind but were ordered out by the United Nations, which sent buses to transport them.

"There is concern about riots not far from here -- and this is part of the problem," Gupta said.

"What is striking to me as a physician is that patients who just had surgery, patients who are critically ill are essentially being left here, nobody to care for them," Gupta said.

Sandra Pierre, a Haitian who has been helping at the makeshift hospital, said the medical staff took most of the supplies with them.

"All the doctors, all the nurses are gone," she said. "They are expected to be back tomorrow. They had no plan on leaving tonight. It was an order that came suddenly."

She told Gupta, "It's just you."

Gupta sent out another tweet before dawn:
"5a update. we lost all generator power. sun will come up in about 30 minutes. now confident we will get all these patients through the night"

Haiti, the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere, lacked adequate medical resources even before the disaster and has been struggling this week to tend to huge numbers of injured. The U.N. clinic, set up under several tents, was a godsend to the few who were lucky to have been brought there.

Retired Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré, who led relief efforts for Hurricane Katrina in 2005, said the evacuation of the clinic's medical staff was unforgivable.

"We can't be leaning so much toward security that we allow people to die," he said Saturday.

"Search and rescue must trump security," Honoré said Friday night. "I've never seen anything like this before in my life. They need to man up and get back in there."

Honoré drew parallels between the tragedy in New Orleans and in Port-au-Prince. But even in the chaos of Katrina, he said, he had never seen medical staff walk away.

"I find this astonishing these doctors left," he said. "People are scared of the poor."

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Kathleen McAfee
International Relations
San Francisco State University