The "Shock Doctrine"
by by Ashley Smith, Socialist
February 8, 2010
One month after the devastating earthquake,
Haiti continues to suffer under apocalyptic conditions.
The quake killed more than 200,000 people,
injured 250,000 and has left over 3 million dependent on assistance
for food, water and housing. Contrary to the puff pieces in the
media, the relief operation has been a miserable failure. The
United Nations admitted at the end of January that had only been
able to feed 1 million people, leaving many more without access
to food. Whole sections of Port-au-Prince and surrounding towns
never even saw relief convoys.
Amid this catastrophe, imperial powers
and corporate vultures are circling, eyeing the profits to be
made from reconstruction.
The Street, an investment Web site, published
an article, misleadingly titled "An Opportunity to Heal Haiti,"
that lays out how U.S. corporations can cash in on the catastrophe.
"Here are some companies," they write, "that could
potentially benefit: General Electric, Caterpillar, Deere, Fluor,
Other commentators--like James Dobbins,
a former U.S. special envoy to Haiti under President Bill Clinton--likewise
see an opportunity to remake Haiti along free market lines. As
he wrote in the New York Times, "This disaster is an opportunity
to accelerate oft-delayed reforms." As director of the International
Security and Defense Policy Center at the Rand Corporation, the
reforms he advocates are not designed to meet people's needs,
but to pad corporate profits through mechanisms like privatization.
New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristoff
attempted to pass off the exploitation of cheap labor as a humanitarian
[T]he best strategy for Haiti: building
garment factories. The idea (sweatshops!) may sound horrific to
Americans. But it's a strategy that has worked for other countries,
such as Bangladesh, and Haitians in the slums would tell you that
their most fervent wish is for jobs. A few dozen major shirt factories
could be transformational for Haiti.
All of this reads like a sick parody of
Naomi Klein's arguments in her book The Shock Doctrine. There,
she documents how the U.s. and other imperial powers take advantage
of natural and economic disasters to impose free-market plans
for the benefit of the elites and their corporations, and to the
detriment of the victims. She writes:
Disaster capitalists have no interests
in repairing what was. In Iraq, Sri Lanka and New Orleans, the
process deceptively called "reconstruction" began with
finishing the job of the original disaster by erasing what was
left of the public sphere and rooted communities, then quickly
moving to replace them with a kind of corporate New Jerusalem--all
before the victims of war or natural disaster were able to regroups
and stake their claims to what was theirs.
The U.S. actually had a Shock Doctrine
for Haiti on hand--the same one that it has imposed for decades.
During the 1970s and 1980s, the U.S. used
the dictatorship of Baby Doc Duvalier to impose what the International
Monetary Fund calls a "structural adjustment program."
Haitians called it "the plan of death."
Duvalier opened up the Haitian economy
to heavily subsidized U.S. agricultural exports, especially rice,
which undermined the ability of Haitian peasants to compete on
the market. Dislocated peasants flooded into Port-au-Prince, swelling
the population from 760,000 in the early 1980s to close to 3 million
before the earthquake.
The U.S. set up export processing zones
in the capital city to take advantage of the new cheap labor.
But with only about 80,000 jobs, the sweatshops could not meet
the demand for employment. As a result, hundreds of thousands
were reduced to desperate poverty in the sprawling shantytowns.
They maintained a desperate existence based on irregular employment
and remittances from relatives who fled abroad to the U.S., Canada
The U.S. and its multinationals also cut
deals with Baby Doc to set up several resorts along the coast
to cater to U.S. tourists and the Haitian elite. Club Med opened
a swank facility in 1975, and it was joined by dozens of others,
mainly around Port-au-Prince and in the country's north, especially
around the famous Labadee beach. Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton
joined the party for their honeymoon in 1975 and have professed
their love of the island's potential riches for decades.
To finance the neoliberal plan, Baby Doc
racked up enormous debts to international financial institutions.
To Haitian workers, the urban poor and the peasantry, it was a
But out of the poverty, the Haitian masses
built a mass movement, Lavalas, that drove Baby Doc from power
in 1986. In 1990, in the country's first free and democratic elections,
one of the leaders of Lavalas, Jean Bertrand Aristide, won two-thirds
of the vote on a program to reverse the plan of death.
The U.S., however, would not tolerate
any kind of reform. So it backed two coups, one in 1991 and another
in 2004 to stop even modest changes to the plan of death. Each
coup regime, backed up by the U.S., other governments and the
United Nations, attacked the Lavalas movement, killing thousands.
The UN has occupied the country since 2004. Since 2006, a former
ally of Aristide, René Préval, now the president,
has overseen the reimplementation of the American neoliberal plan.
The earthquake has exposed its social
consequences. As David Wilson wrote at MRZine, "The results
were predictable: a decimated rural economy, a virtually nonexistent
infrastructure, and an impoverished, overpopulated urban center
so badly constructed that tens of thousands of people, at least,
were certain to die when a magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck."
The U.S. has taken advantage of this natural
disaster. It has deployed 20,000 troops to Haiti to buttress the
UN occupation of 12,500 soldiers. Now secretary of state, Hillary
Clinton convinced Préval to declare emergency powers, which
have been largely delegated to the U.S.. From its position of
power, the US has pushed for implementing a new version of the
same old plan.
The U.S., a few other imperial powers,
some lesser countries and the UN convened a meeting on January
26 in Montreal to profess their concern and promise to aid Haiti.
The 14 so-called "friends of Haiti"
at the conference made sure to include Haitian Prime Minister
Jean-Max Bellerive to at least give the illusion of respect for
the country's sovereignty. But outside, a protest organized by
Haiti Action Montreal challenged the meeting with signs demanding
"Medical relief not guns," "Grants not loans"
and "Reconstruction for people not profit."
Guardian columnist Gary Younge criticized
the summit for failing to produce any solutions:
Even as corpses remained under the earthquake's
rubble, and the government operated out of a police station, the
assembled "friends" would not commit to canceling Haiti's
$1 billion debt. Instead, they agreed to a 10-year plan with no
details and a commitment to meet again--when the bodies have been
buried along with coverage of the country--sometime in the future.
By contrast, Venezuela's Hugo Chávez
and his Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas grouping of Latin
American and Caribbean nations opposed to U.S. neoliberal plans
has called for relief not troops and cancellation of Haiti's debt.
On his weekly television show, Chávez declared that thousands
of "soldiers are arriving, Marines armed as if they were
going to war. There is not a shortage of guns there, my God. Doctors,
medicine, fuel, field hospitals--that's what the United States
should send. They are occupying Haiti undercover."
While the Montreal summit offered few
clues about what the U.S. aimed to do, Hillary Clinton spilled
the beans before the meeting when she said, "We have a plan.
It was a legitimate plan, it was done in conjunction with other
international donors, with the United Nations."
The author of the plan is Oxford University
professor Paul Collier. Collier wrote The Bottom Billion, a book
widely read in development circles. In it, he advocates a neocolonial
strategy for crisis-torn societies. He argues that to be effective,
great powers and international bodies like the UN must intervene
militarily and occupy failed states. After setting up shop, they
then can impose development plans to reconstruct their economies.
In Jean Bricmont's apt phrase, Paul Collier
is a "useful idiot for imperialism," providing intellectual
justification for conquest and exploitation.
Before the earthquake, Bill Clinton, named
by Barack Obama to be a special envoy to Haiti, was already pushing
for the implementation of Collier's plan as he outlined it in
a paper titled "Haiti: From Natural Catastrophe to Economic
Collier and Clinton call for--surprise,
surprise--investment in the tourist industry, re-development of
the sweatshop industry in cities, export-oriented mango plantations
in the countryside and construction of infrastructure to service
this development. Each of these projects serves the interests
of multinational corporations and the Haitian elite at the expense
of the workers and peasants.
The tourist industry is especially infamous
in the Caribbean. As Polly Patullo documents in her book, Last
Resorts: The Cost of Tourism in the Caribbean, the industry is
completely controlled by multinational corporations, mainly from
the U.S. Patullo quotes one critic of the tourist industry, who
When a Third World economy uses tourism
as a development strategy, it becomes enmeshed in a global system
over which it has little control. The international tourism industry
is a product of metropolitan capitalist enterprise. The superior
entrepreneurial skills, resources and commercial power of metropolitan
companies enable them to dominate many third world tourist destinations.
The Clinton and Collier plan for sweatshops
is even less appealing. Collier practically celebrates the poverty
wages that corporations can get away with in Haiti. "Due
to its poverty and relatively unregulated labor market,"
Collier writes, "Haiti has labor costs that are fully competitive
with China, which is the global benchmark. Haitian labor is not
only cheap, it is of good quality. Indeed, because the garments
industry used to be much larger than it is currently, there is
a substantial pool of experienced labor."
Given the abolition of tariffs on many
Haitian exports to the U.S., Haiti is primed, according to Collier,
for a new sweatshop boom.
But this is no sustainable development
plan for Haitian workers. At best, Collier promises 150,000 or
so jobs. As anthropologist Mark Schulman argues, "Subcontracted,
low-wage factory work does not contribute much to the economy
besides jobs. Being exempt from taxes, it does not contribute
to the financing of Haiti's social services." The jobs themselves
don't even pay enough to support life--they pay for transport
and lunch at about $1.60 a day.
The U.S. will want to keep wages low,
since that is the profitable basis for investment. Already last
year, the U.S. pressured Préval to prevent an increase
in the Haitian minimum wage.
For the peasant majority in Haiti, Clinton
and Collier advocate construction of vast new mango plantations.
According to them, such new plantations will both create an export
crop and aid the reforestation of the country. While it may create
jobs for poor peasants, such plantations won't rebuild the agricultural
infrastructure of the country so that it can return to the self-sufficient
food system it had before the 1980s. Such self-sufficiency goes
against the grain of U.S. policy to control the international
food market with its subsidized crops.
Finally, Collier argues for investment
in infrastructure--airports, seaports and roads--not so much to
meet people's needs as to service the new investments in tourism,
sweatshops and plantations.
As a result, Collier's plan will actually
increase infrastructural inequities. Businesses will get what
they need to export their products, while the needs of the Haitian
masses--for navigable roads, for example--will be left unaddressed.
Even worse, Collier advocates increased privatization of Haiti's
infrastructure, especially the port and the electrical system.
In reality, this "new plan"
is the same old plan--"the plan of death" that Haitians
rose up against in the 1980s. Nevertheless, in the wake of the
disaster, Bill Clinton is pressing ahead.
At a joint press conference with Bill
Clinton, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon declared, "We have
three priorities. First, continuing to provide the humanitarian
assistance with effective mechanisms to deliver all these relief
items to the people who need it. Second, provide security and
stability for people. Thirdly, the reconstruction of the Haitian
The U.S. and UN have failed largely in
their relief operation, but have succeeded in establishing military
control of the country--effectively seizing control of the country
and bypassing the Haitian state.
Beyond this, the Economist magazine argues
for the U.S. to set up "a temporary development authority
with wide powers to act. Given the local vacuum of power, this
is the best idea around. The authority should be set up under
the auspices of the UN or of an ad hoc group (the United States,
Canada, the European Union and Brazil, for example). It should
be led by a suitable outsider (Bill Clinton who is the UN's special
envoy for Haiti, would be ideal, perhaps followed by Brazil's
Lula after steps down as president in a year's time) and a prominent
Haitian, such as the prime minister."
With its intervention in Haiti, the U.S.
is sending a signal to the rest of Latin America and the Caribbean--where
masses of people have rejected neoliberalism and elected reform
socialist leaders like Hugo Chávez, who aim to tame the
excesses of capitalism and pass reforms to address social needs.
The U.S. already toppled Aristide in 2004.
The U.S.-backed coup in Honduras last year is another step down
the same road. Washington has expanded its network of military
bases in Latin America--especially in Colombia, where it has opened
seven new bases. "Barack Obama's administration," writes
Greg Grandin in The Nation, has disappointed "potential regional
allies by continuing to promote a volatile mix of militarism and
free-trade orthodoxy in a corridor running from Mexico to Colombia."
The U.S. intervention in Haiti shows that
the US wants to reverse its setbacks of the last decade, reassert
its geopolitical dominance and re-impose its economic program--the
"plan of death"--throughout the region.