The Militarization of Emergency
Aid to Haiti: Is it a Humanitarian Operation or an Invasion?
by Michel Chossudovsky
Haiti has a longstanding history of US
military intervention and occupation going back to the beginning
of the 20th Century. US interventionism has contributed to the
destruction of Haiti's national economy and the impoverishment
of its population.
The devastating earthquake is presented
to World public opinion as the sole cause of the country's predicament.
A country has been destroyed, its infrastructure
demolished. Its people precipitated into abysmal poverty and despair.
Haiti's history, its colonial past have
The US military has come to the rescue
of an impoverished Nation. What is its Mandate?
Is it a Humanitarian Operation or an Invasion?
The main actors in America's "humanitarian
operation" are the Department of Defense, the State Department
and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). (See
USAID Speeches: On-The-Record Briefing on the Situation in Haiti,
01/13/10). USAID has also been entrusted in channelling food aid
to Haiti, which is distributed by the World Food Program. (See
USAID Press Release: USAID to Provide Emergency Food Aid for Haiti
Earthquake Victims, January 13, 2010)
The military component of the US mission,
however, tends to overshadow the civilian functions of rescuing
a desperate and impoverished population. The overall humanitarian
operation is not being led by civilian governmental agencies such
as FEMA or USAID, but by the Pentagon.
The dominant decision making role has
been entrusted to US Southern Command (SOUTHCOM).
A massive deployment of military hardware
and personnel is contemplated. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs
of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen has confirmed that the US will be
sending nine to ten thousand troops to Haiti, including 2000 marines.
(American Forces Press Service, January 14, 2010)
Aircraft carrier, USS Carl Vinson and
its complement of supporting ships has already arrived in Port
au Prince. (January 15, 2010). The 2,000-member Marine Amphibious
Unit as well as and soldiers from the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne
division "are trained in a wide variety of missions including
security and riot-control in addition to humanitarian tasks."
In contrast to rescue and relief teams
dispatched by various civilian organizations, the humanitarian
mandate of the US military is not clearly defined:
"Marines are definitely warriors
first, and that is what the world knows the Marines for,... [but]
we're equally as compassionate when we need to be, and this is
a role that we'd like to show -- that compassionate warrior, reaching
out with a helping hand for those who need it. We are very excited
about this." (Marines' Spokesman, Marines Embark on Haiti
Response Mission, Army Forces Press Services, January 14, 2010)
While presidents Obama and Préval
spoke on the phone, there were no reports of negotiations between
the two governments regarding the entry and deployment of US troops
on Haitian soil. The decision was taken and imposed unilaterally
by Washington. The total lack of a functioning government in Haiti
was used to legitimize, on humanitarian grounds, the sending in
of a powerful military force, which has de facto taken over several
Leading Role of US Southern Command
US Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) with headquarters
in Miami is the "lead agency" in Haiti. Its mandate
as a regional military command is to carry out modern warfare.
Its stated mission in Latin America and the Caribbean is "to
conduct military operations and promote security cooperation to
achieve U.S. strategic objectives." (Our Mission - U.S. Southern
Command (USSOUTHCOM) The commanding officers are trained to oversee
theater operations, military policing as well "counterinsurgency"
in Latin America and the Caribbean, including the recent establishment
of new US military bases in Colombia, within proximity of the
General Douglas Fraser, commander of U.S.
Southern Command has defined the Haiti emergency operation as
a Command, Control, Communications operation (C3). US Southern
Command is to oversee a massive deployment of military hardware,
including several warships, an aircraft carrier, airborne combat
"So we're focused on getting command
and control and communications there so that we can really get
a better understanding of what's going on. MINUSTAH [United Nations
Stabilization Mission in Haiti], as their headquarters partially
collapsed, lost a lot of their communication, and so we're looking
to robust that communication, also.
We're also sending in assessment teams
in conjunction with USAID, supporting their efforts, as well as
putting in some of our own to support their efforts.
We're moving various ships that we had
in the region -- they're small ships, Coast Guard cutters, destroyers
-- in that direction, to provide whatever immediate assistance
that we can on the ground.
We also have a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier,
the USS Carl Vinson, moving in that direction. It was at sea off
of Norfolk, and so it's going to take a couple of days for it
to get there. We need to also just resupply it and give it the
provisions it needs to support the effort as we look at Haiti.
And then we're looking across the international agencies to figure
out how we support their efforts as well as our efforts.
We also are looking at a large-deck amphibious
ship with an embarked Marine Expeditionary Unit on it that will
be a couple of days behind the USS Vinson.
And that gives us a broader range of capability
to move supplies around, to have lift capability to help support
the effort there also.
So bottom line to it is, we don't have
a clear assessment right now of what the situation on the ground
is, what the needs within Port-au-Prince are, how extensive the
We also, finally, have a team that's headed
in to the airport. From my understanding -- because my deputy
commander just happened to be in Haiti when this situation happened,
on a previously scheduled visit. He has been to the airport. He
says the runway is functional but the tower doesn't have communications
capability. The passenger terminal -- has structural damage to
it, so we don't know what the status of it is.
So we have a group going in to make sure
we can gain and secure the airfield and operate from it, because
that's one of those locations we think we're going to have a lot
of the immediate effort from an international basis going into.
And then we're out conducting all the
other assessments that you would consider appropriate as we go
in and work this effort.
We're also coordinating on the ground
with MINUSTAH, with the folks who are there. The commander for
MINUSTAH happened to be in Miami when this situation happened,
so he's right now traveling back through and should be arriving
in Port-au-Prince any time now. So that will help us coordinate
our efforts there also, because again, obviously the United Nations
suffered a significant loss there with the collapse -- at least
partial collapse of their headquarters.
So that's -- those are the initial efforts
that we have ongoing And as we get the assessments of what's coming
next, then we'll adjust as required.
The secretary of Defense, the president,
have all stipulated that this is a significant effort, and we're
corralling all the resources within the Department of Defense
to support this effort." (Defense.gov News Transcript: DOD
News Briefing with Gen. Fraser from the Pentagon, January 13,
A Heritage Foundation report summarizes
the substance of America's mission in Haiti: "The earthquake
has both humanitarian and U.S. national security implications
[requiring] a rapid response that is not only bold but decisive,
mobilizing U.S. military, governmental, and civilian capabilities
for both a short-term rescue and relief effort and a longer-term
recovery and reform program in Haiti." (James M. Roberts
and Ray Walser, American Leadership Necessary to Assist Haiti
After Devastating Earthquake, Heritage Foundation, January 14,
At the outset, the military mission will
be involved in first aid and emergency as well as public security
and police activities.
US Air Force Controls the Airport__The
US Air Force has taken over air traffic control functions as well
as the management of Port au Prince airport. In other words, the
US military regulates the flow of emergency aid and relief supplies
which are being brought into the country in civilian planes. The
US Air Force is not working under the instructions of Haitian
Airport officials. These officials have been displaced. The airport
is run by the US Military. (Interview with Haitian Ambassador
to the US R. Joseph, PBS News, January 15, 2010)
"The FAA's team is working with DOD
combat controllers to improve the flow of air traffic moving in
and out of the airport. The US Air Force reopened the airport
on 14 January, and on 15 January its contingency response group
was granted senior airfield authority ... Senior airfield authority
enables the Air Force to prioritise, schedule and control the
airspace at the airport, ..." (flightglobal.com, January
16, 2010, emphasis added) __The 1,000-bed U.S. Navy hospital ship,
USNS Comfort, which includes more than 1,000 medical and support
personnel has been sent to Haiti under the jurisdiction of Southern
Command. (See Navy hospital ship with 1,000 beds readies for
Haiti quake relief, Digital Journal, January 14, 2010). There
were, at the time of the Earthquake, some 7100 military personnel
and over 2000 police, namely a foreign force of over 9000. In
contrast, the international civilian personnel of MINUSTAH is
less than 500. MINUSTAH Facts and Figures - United Nations Stabilization
Mission in Haiti
Haiti has been under foreign military
occupation since the US instigated February 2004 Coup d'Etat.
The contingent of US forces under SOUTHCOM combined with those
of MINUSTAH brings foreign military presence in Haiti to close
to 20,000 in a country of 9 million people. In comparison in
Afghanistan, prior to Obama's military surge, combined US and
NATO forces were of the order of 70,000 for a population of 28
million. In other words, on a per capita basis there will be more
troops in Haiti than in Afghanistan.
Recent US Military Interventions in Haiti__There
have been several US sponsored military interventions in recent
history. In 1994, following three years of military rule, a force
of 20,000 occupation troops and "peace-keepers" was
sent to Haiti. The 1994 US military intervention "was not
intended to restore democracy. Quite the contrary: it was carried
out to prevent a popular insurrection against the military Junta
and its neoliberal cohorts." (Michel Chossudovsky, The Destabilization
of Haiti, Global Research, February 28, 2004)
US and allied troops remained in the country
until 1999. The Haitian armed forces were disbanded and the US
State Department hired a mercenary company DynCorp to provide
"technical advice" in restructuring the Haitian National
Police (HNP). (Ibid).
The February 2004 Coup d'État
In the months leading up to the 2004 Coup
d'Etat, US special forces and the CIA were training death squadrons
composed of the former tonton macoute of the Duvalier era. The
Rebel paramilitary army crossed the border from the Dominican
Republic in early February 2004. "It was a well armed, trained
and equipped paramilitary unit integrated by former members of
Le Front pour l'avancement et le progrès d'Haiti (FRAPH),
the "plain clothes" death squadrons, involved in mass
killings of civilians and political assassinations during the
CIA sponsored 1991 military coup, which led to the overthrow of
the democratically elected government of President Jean Bertrand
Aristide." (see Michel Chossudovsky, The Destabilization
of Haiti: Global Research. February 28, 2004)
Foreign troops were sent into Haiti. MINUSTAH
was set up in the wake of the US sponsored coup d'Etat in February
2004 and the kidnapping and deportation of the democratically
elected president Jean Bertrand Aristide. The coup was instigated
by the US with the support of France and Canada.
The FRAPH units subsequently integrated
the country's police force, which was under the supervision of
MINUSTAH. In the political and social disarray triggered by the
earthquake, the former armed militia and Ton Ton macoute will
be playing a new role.
The unspoken mission of US Southern Command
(SOUTHCOM) with headquarters in Miami and US military installations
throughout Latin America is to ensure the maintenance of subservient
national regimes, namely US proxy governments, committed to the
Washington Consensus and the neoliberal policy agenda. While US
military personnel will at the outset be actively involved in
emergency and disaster relief, this renewed US military presence
in Haiti will be used to establish a foothold in the country
as well pursue America's strategic and geopolitical objectives
in the Caribbean basin, which are largely directed against Cuba
The objective is not to work towards the
rehabilitation of the national government, the presidency, the
parliament, all of which has been decimated by the earthquake.
Since the fall of the Duvalier dictatorship, America's design
has been to gradually dismantle the Haitian State, restore colonial
patterns and obstruct the functioning of a democratic government.
In the present context, the objective is not only to do away with
the government but also to revamp the mandate of the United Nations
Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), of which the headquarters
have been destroyed.
"The role of heading the relief effort
and managing the crisis quickly fell to the United States, for
lack -- in the short term, at least -- of any other capable entity."
( US Takes Charge in Haiti _ With Troops, Rescue Aid - NYTimes.com,
January 14, 2009)
Prior to the earthquake, there were, according
to US military sources, some 60 US military personnel in Haiti.
From one day to the next, an outright military surge has occurred:
10,000 troops, marines, special forces, intelligence operatives,
etc., not to mention private mercenary forces on contract to the
In all likelihood the humanitarian operation
will be used as a pretext and justification to establish a more
permanent US military presence in Haiti.
We are dealing with a massive deployment,
a "surge" of military personnel assigned to emergency
The first mission of SOUTHCOM will be
to take control of what remains of the country's communications,
transport and energy infrastructure. Already, the airport is under
de facto US control. In all likelihood, the activities of MINUSTAH
which from the outset in 2004 have served US foreign policy interests,
will be coordinated with those of SOUTHCOM, namely the UN mission
will be put under de facto control of the US military.
The Militarization of Civil Society Relief
The US military in Haiti seeks to oversee
the activities of approved humanitarian organizations. It also
purports to encroach upon the humanitarian activities of Venezuela
"The government under President René
Préval is weak and literally now in shambles. Cuba and
Venezuela, already intent on minimizing U.S. influence in the
region, are likely to seize this opportunity to raise their profile
and influence..." (James M. Roberts and Ray Walser, American
Leadership Necessary to Assist Haiti After Devastating Earthquake,
Heritage Foundation, January 14, 2010).
In the US, the militarization of emergency
relief operations was instigated during the Katrina crisis, when
the US military was called in to play a lead role.
The model of emergency intervention for
SOUTHCOM is patterned on the role of NORTHCOM, which was granted
a mandate as "the lead agency" in US domestic emergency
procedures. __During Hurricane Rita in 2005, the detailed groundwork
for the "militarization of emergency relief" involving
a leading role for NORTHCOM was established. In this regard, Bush
had hinted to the central role of the military in emergency relief:
"Is there a natural disaster--of a certain size--that would
then enable the Defense Department to become the lead agency in
coordinating and leading the response effort? That's going to
be a very important consideration for Congress to think about."
(Statement of President Bush at a press conference, Bush Urges
Shift in Relief Responsibilities - washingtonpost.com, September
"The response to the national disaster
is not being coordinated by the civilian government out of Texas,
but from a remote location and in accordance with military criteria.
US Northern Command Headquarters will directly control the movement
of military personnel and hardware in the Gulf of Mexico. As in
the case of Katrina, it will override the actions of civilian
bodies. Yet in this case, the entire operation is under the jurisdiction
of the military rather than under that of FEMA." (Michel
Chossudovsky, US Northern Command and Hurricane Rita, Global Research,
September 24, 2005)
Haiti is a country under military occupation
since the US instigated Coup d'Etat of February 2004. __The entry
of ten thousand heavily armed US troops, coupled with the activities
of local militia could potentially precipitate the country into
social chaos. __These foreign forces have entered the country
to reinforce MINUSTAH "peacekeepers" and Haitian police
forces (integrated by former Tonton Macoute), which since 2004,
have been responsible for war crimes directed against the Haitian
people, including the indiscriminate killing of civilians. __These
troups reinforce the existing occupation forces under UN mandate.
__Twenty thousand foreign troops under SOUTHCOM and MINUSTAH commands
will be present in the country. In all likelihood, there will
be an integration or coordination of the command structures of
SOUTHCOM and MINUSTAH.
The Haitian people have exhibited a high
degree of solidarity, courage and social commitment. __Helping
one another and acting with consciousness: under very difficult
conditions, in the immediate wake of the disaster, citizens' rescue
teams were set up spontaneously.
The militarization of relief operations
will weaken the organizational capabilities of Haitians to rebuild
and reinstate the institutions of civilian government which have
been destroyed. It will also encroach upon the efforts of the
international medical teams and civilian relief organisations.
It is absolutely essential that the Haitian
people continue to forcefully oppose the presence of foreign troops
in their country, particularly in public security operations.
__It is essential that Americans across the land forcefully oppose
the decision of the Obama adminstration to send US combat troops
There can be no real reconstruction or
development under foreign military occupation.
Michel Chossudovsky is Professor of Economics
(Emeritus) at the University of Ottawa and Director of the Centre
for Research on Globalization (CRG) (Montreal), which hosts the
award-winning website: www.globalresearch.ca. He is the author
of the international best-seller The Globalisation of Poverty
and The New World Order and contributor to the Encyclopaedia Britannica.
He is member of the Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Commission and recipient
of the Human Rights Prize of the Society for the Protection of
Civil Rights and Human Dignity (GBM), Berlin, Germany. His writings
have been published into more than twenty languages.