Thursday, January 21, 2010

Palestine, Haiti, and the Culture of Life


Since the 7.0 magnitude earthquake rocked Haiti on January 12th, 2010, dozens, hundreds, and thousands of articles and think pieces have been written. In the face of one of the greatest disasters in human history, what else can one really write about? Although the international community, and solidarity workers, activists, and reporters for the most part have demonstrated and carried out tremendous support for the devastated masses of Haiti, the United-States has declared itself the leader in heading the 'humanitarian' effort and has taken control of the Port-Au-Prince airport, but has demonstrated leadership only in its disregard for human life.

As of January 21st, 80,000 people have been confirmed dead, the number climbs daily and will rise most likely to as high 200,000, maybe even 300,000, but with extremely scarce resources and logistical capacity, and with mass graves being the only possible solution, the true number of dead will never be known.

The Medical relief group Partners in Health released a statement saying some 20,000 people are dying each day due to a lack of medical equipment and supplies who could be saved by surgery.

The World Food Program as of january 21st said it had distributed about one million food rations to 200,000 people, only about one fifteenth of the estimated 3 million who are in need and awaiting food. The agency says it needs to hand out 100 million food rations in the next month, but is on pace to have only 16 million available, which means, clearly, that the death toll will continue to climb steadily to monumental proportions.

A French plane of massive support with huge amounts of supplies and food was diverted to Santo Domingo for three straight days, and supplies continue to pile up and stagnate at the airport with very minimal mobilization and distribution to the suffering people, while U.S. soldiers and military capacity continue to unload and set up shop. Humanity knows that Haiti needs water, bread, and medical supplies, not marines and fully-automatics.

U.S. soldiers and marines are now occupying Haiti, over 12,000 of them in the first week alone.

The U.N. security council has authorized the deployment of an additional 3,500 troops to Haiti, on top of the already 7,000 strong presence of the MINUSTAH, the U.N. military mission to Haiti. MINUSTAH is nothing more than an occupation force which controls and punishes the devastated poor working class neighborhoods of Cite Soleil and others in Port-Au-Prince, to maintain the structure of impotence, and to enforce the agenda of privatizations. On top of that, the international force numbers some 3,500 troops. The U.S. troop presence in Haiti is now 15,000, increasing total foreign military presence to close to 30,000 in just a few days. Why, the people of Haiti, and the people of the world wonder, is such massive combat capacity and fire power necessary to deal with a suffering population who are barely alive, and with no existing security threats.

Doctors, activists, and aid and solidarity workers on the ground in Haiti have said repeatedly that there are no security issues in Port-Au-Prince, that they have been traveling around the city moving equipment and patients till 2 and 3 in the morning, and that there is absolutely nothing to worry about. The corrupt Haitian government and the U.S. have used as a pretext for security concerns that the Port-Au-Prince jail collapsed during the earthquake releasing all of its prisoners, those who survived, but human rights activists and lawyers estimate that 60 to 80 % of the prison population are either political prisoners and/or have never even been charged, let alone convicted. So it seems what the U.S. is really worried about is the potential "threat" of political organizing, and a pretext to occupy the country.

In the U.S, over 11,000, almost 12,000 nurses from the National Nurses Union volunteered about a week after the earthquake struck to go to Haiti to contribute to the massive need for health professionals, to fill the gigantic lack of nurses in the country. This offer was made directly to the Obama administration from the executive director of the NNU, was ignored for a few days, then was directed to some low level department with no authority to make decisions, and that was that. Over 11,000 nurses literally awaiting transportation to Haiti, when the U.S is allegedly "spearheading" the humanitarian effort, and their offer doesn't even get a response.

Cuba and ALBA's Response and Presence in Haiti

Meanwhile Cuba, the world's greatest evil, as the U.S would have it, is once again leading the way, leading the humanitarian effort by example in crisis zones, as it always does. As of January 25th, it is reported that 657 Cuban trained healthcare professionals currently working in Haiti, including 417 Cubans and 240 Haitians. In Port-au-Prince, they are working in three hospitals: La Paz, La Renaissance and Ofatma. According to Dr. Carlos Alberto Garcia, head of the Cuban health mission in Haiti, Cuban doctors have performed more than 1,700 surgeries, 800 of which were complicated. All together the Cuban doctors have attended more than 18,000 patients in Haiti.

On January 26, the Yahoo! news group Cuba News, headed by Walter Lippmann reported that "Through January 22, 20,095 patients had been treated and 1,954 surgeries performed.

Cuban doctors are working in 21 care points organized into 3 levels:

- City of Port au Prince: The Renaissence Hospital, Hospital La Paz, Ofatma Hospital and Primary Care Traveling Brigade.

- Capital and Periphery: Leoganne Field Hospital, Arcahaie Island Lagonave, Carrefour, Integral Diagnostic Centers Grand Goave, Petit Goave and Thomasa.

- Other departments: Jacmel Field Hospital, Comprehensive Diagnostic Centers Mirebalais, Anse-a-Veau, Raboteau and Aquin, Les Cayes, Cap Haitien, Port de Paix, Grand Anse and Nippes

Cuba has put into operation in Haiti 14 operating rooms with 16 surgical teams.

Alongside the Cuban personnel are working more than 100 specialists from several countries (Venezuela, Chile, Spain, Mexico, Colombia, Canada).

Cuban newspapers report that "Among the other activities being carried out in Haiti by the Cuban medical brigade is a health prevention and protection campaign that includes a tetanus vaccination campaign that has so far administered 400,000 vaccinations donated by Cuba. Cuba has also sent a team of specialist to fumigate and control outbreaks of disease, and a team of physiotherapists to aid in the recovery process of patients."

The Xinhua news agency reported on January 25 that the nine member countries of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA), which includes amongst others Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Ecuador, met last sunday to discuss a medium-term and long-term plan for the rebuilding of Haiti. The plan will focus of the rebuilding of schools, hospitals, waterworks, as well as projects to boost food production through fishing and agricultural self-sufficiency.


About a month ago, Palestinians, accompanied by friends, solidarity activists, and the spirit of humanity, marked one year since the latest of Israel's brutal military assaults on Gaza. Events, rallies, and vigils were held all over the world in a strong show of solidarity with Palestine, which along with Haiti, is one of the most battered, disrespected, mistreated, and exploited people of the world. A tiny strip of land stuffed with nearly two million people who have hardly any food, water, or medical supplies and capacity. Israel continues to lay a brutal siege on this small, resourceless, starving population, scarcely allowing any sort of aid or decency to be delivered to Gaza, while the superstrucutre of power continues to impede even the possibility of progress by blaming the Palestinians themselves. The bottom line is that the Gaza Strip is under apartheid and systematically colonized by Israel.

So the one year anniversary of yet another massacre perpetrated by Israeli apartheid, and the early 2010 devastation of Haiti really forces us, citizens of the west, to seriously rethink the meaning of a New Year's resolution. A resolution is something that can effectively change a life, or something that can be easily forgotten in a few weeks. I started thinking about this one night in December as I was having a cigarette outside, and came up with a revelation of sorts, that I really had to embrace the opportunity presented by the dawning of a new year. It presents the opportunity to create positive change, to better ourselves, to redeem ourselves despite the shortcomings of the previous year. Although what we should be striving for in the first place is consistency so as to not have to start anew, or try again at the beginning of each year, we are human, none perfect, and we do make mistakes by nature. Having said that, perhaps the human quality we need to hold on to the tightest, is resiliency, the human ability to dust off the cobwebs and the rust of yesterday, to move past our debilities and live up to our full potential once again, or for the first time.

We must not, and can not, think only of ourselves, individually, and of our immediate surroundings, but we must always think of the world, and of every living being within it, as a whole. We must realize that our undisciplined mass consumption and the Bizarro Buddhism of always ceding to our many urges is a very decadent, selfish, and destructive way of life. We must not allow ourselves to be drowned in the culture of sterility and lethargy, and secondly, once we have gained ourselves, we must not allow our culture to be consumed by the structure of impotence. Historically speaking, we are incorrect to think that we have earned the opulence and luxury in which we live, we do not deserve it, and we are mistaken if we feel more entitled than others to the shelter, abundant food and water, and good health that we take for granted on a daily basis. For example, who am I to smoke cigarettes, the drug of the empire, knowing that it keeps the profit coffers filled while being a detriment to my health. So my idea for an article, along with my resolution of simply getting back to living a healthy life, was Smoke Free for Palestine, and although I've changed the title partly because of Haiti and partly because I have not yet been able to fully declare myself an official non-smoker (on and off periods since Jan.1 even though I am now on a streak of consecutive smoke free days), what could be more beautiful than choosing good health and life in the face of death, for people who must struggle and fight every single day.

We have a debt to humanity, we owe it to humanity to lead healthy, happy, productive lives, and to constantly try to better ourselves mentally and spiritually, to always strive to dismantle the status-quo, and to rebuild an equitable, just, and sustainable world. The Culture of Life is to feel everything together and within you all at the same time; a baby being born in rural India, the struggle of the Palestinians and the Haitians and many more, the Guarani and Aymara indigenous in South America and the Buddhist Monks in Cambodia, a tract of Amazon jungle being destroyed by corporate exploitation and extraction, or saved by campesino activists and indigenous communities, the growth of yucca and corn in the Andes, waking up early in the morning, embracing the lakes, the trees, and the sunshine, achieving Universal Peace so that olive and date trees can thrive again undisturbed in the Middle-East, consuming meat only as a matter of survival and instead eating things that grow from the ground, quite simply not doing something when we know it is harmful to Mother Earth, respecting natural processes everywhere and allowing the cycle of life to regenerate itself.

Eduardo Galeano wrote, "You are told to love thy neighbor and at the same time you are forced to survive by devouring him." Lets deconstruct this malicious system, and start anew with the blocks which are already in place for us. Instead of stagnating in the culture of depletion, oblivion, consumption, indifference, and death, lets join hands to build our better world, and celebrate preservation, sustainability, life, and good health.

No comments: