Slavery in the new decade

After the devastating earthquake that hit the city of Bam, an Iranian city whose architecture is as vulnerable as Port-au-Prince, the world unified their efforts to help bring foreign aid to the devastated region. During this time I attended a meeting put together by a charity who visited our university to help collect donations for Bam. After a long plea, the question of how we could be sure that our donations would reach those in need came up. The representative of the charity let us know that he couldn’t completely assure us that the money would be delivered. He then added that if we found that the money was embezzled to at least know that we did everything we could to help the people of Bam and that God will hold him, not us, accountable. At this point, my friend, an atheist, immediately stood up during the meeting and yelled: “I’m not giving this money so that I can sleep better at night! I want to give money so that the people of Bam will get help!” It was later revealed by various media that of some of the charities set up for Bam had embezzled the money.

The situation in Haiti is worse. Not just in terms of victim numbers but in terms of its vulnerability to foreign greed. And this time, the con is bigger, smarter, and carries a lot more political power. Now that the first few weeks of immediate relief aid for survivors is drawing to an end, we need to question what type of foreign aid we are supporting for Haiti’s future – if we truly want to “sleep better at night.”

Plenty of con-websites exist to steal donations -- so many, in fact, that sites like scambusters.org have propped up to expose them. Popular charities should also be held under scrutiny. Take, for example, their administration costs. Charities such as UNICEF take up to 22%. It uses 18% of its donation for administration costs, while other charities in Haiti have managed to lower such costs. When I phoned the Red Cross, their representative confirmed that they've minimized their administrative costs to about 10% and added “every charity has to have some kind of administrative cost.” Although it's important for charities to lower such costs, one has to also consider the amount of work being done under such administrative costs. For example, Doctors  Without Borders has a high administrative cost but they also have a pretty impressive body of work. One solution to this problem is to research other people’s experience with said charity. Even if it’s a trusted charity, I always call and request that the charity reveal what percentage goes towards administration. It’s not their place to be offended by my inquiry.

But that’s only one line of defense against the con-artist. As Canada's Finance Minister, Jim Flaherty, warned Canadians last week: “Reconstruction assistance provided to Haiti by institutions and international donors will need to be provided primarily in grant form to avoid mortgaging the country's future.” Flaherty advised against loans, as loans will only further Haiti's debt. In fact, Flaherty advised other countries to forgive Haiti's debt.

What Flaherty didn't refer to was the long history of North America’s extortion, exploitation, and colonization of Haiti. In fact, Chomsky said, “Haiti is the poorest country in the hemisphere. It's in miserable condition. It also happens to be the leading target of US intervention in the 20th century. Woodrow Wilson occupied it, restored slavery, overthrew the parliamentary system and basically turned it into a US plantation; ever since then the US has supported brutal dictators, a murderous national - all of whom never had an embargo on them no matter how many atrocities they were carrying out.”

Chomsky wasn’t referring to the recent events of Haiti; this was back in 2002. Still, class slavery still exists on the island, and there’s no reason to believe that exploitation will cease. Many countries send aid, but often with ulterior motives, such as The Heritage Foundation.

The Heritage Foundation had this statement posted on their website under a document tiltled Things to Remember While Helping Haiti: “In addition to providing immediate humanitarian assistance, the US response to the tragic earthquake in Haiti offers opportunities to re-shape Haiti’s long-dysfunctional government and economy as well as to improve the public image of the United States in the region.” Famed political activist Naomi Klein highlighted the statement for the public and criticized that the Heritage Foundation is “at it again, not even waiting one day to use the devastating earthquake in Haiti to push for their so-called reforms.” In response, the Heritage Foundation retracted the paragraph. Instead, they released the same statement but with more sensitive words like “fragile” and feel-good phrases such as “long held concern.” But the message behind the statement remains the same. They’re saying the US should reshape Haiti's government and economy to “demonstrate that the US’s involvement in the Caribbean remains a powerful force.”

Canada, if you are supporting these corporations or the politicians who support such corporations, then you are unwittingly supporting slavery of Haitians in a new decade. You might not hold a whip, but you are punishing them with your dollars. Am I using hyperbole? Then replace it with your own historical imagery of what happens when one nation takes advantage of another by forcing it to work for its own basic survival. Sure, Haitians will get water, crumbs, and a place to sleep but we’ll own the fruits of their labour for the rest of their lives.

To begin informing yourself on charities, visit charitynavigator.org.

//Alamir Novin

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© 2011 The Capilano Courier. phone: 604.984.4949 fax: 604.984.1787 email: editor@capilanocourier.com