SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


Haiti, a Lesson for All of Us
By Michael Spence


January 28, 2010
Thursday PM

For a few brief moments, the American people had their attention diverted to the utter chaos and suffering in Haiti following a devastating earthquake. Before the earthquake, Haiti was the poorest nation in the western hemisphere. Now it is even poorer. Most scholars agree that the problems with delivering aid to Haiti, and the slim chance of a healthy recovery from this latest disaster, can be blamed on bad governance . In the case of Haiti, bad governance is a simplified term, generalizing its long history of dictatorships, corrupt politicians, and oligarchic control of the nation that concentrates fifty percent of its wealth to one percent of its population.

In his epic 1966 novel "The Comedians", author Graham Greene detailed the strategies of the dictator "Papa Doc" Duvalier to maintain total control over Haiti's people and its economy. While this book is fiction, it could be likened to a textbook for the modern systemic use of terror to exert control over nations. In the book, Duvalier's secret police, the TonTon Macoute operated as henchmen and criminals by night, and then would don their uniforms and protect the frightened population during the day. Not surprisingly, Graham Greene's novel was villified and forbidden by the Haitian dictator.

Haiti is just one example of many poor nations that owe their poverty to the wealth hoarding habits of oligarchic government. While the wealthy people of Haiti are not necessarily rich by American standards, in their own nation they are at the top of the food chain. They cannot stand the notion of allowing access to commerce or opportunity to newcomers. Innovation is stifled, trade is restricted, and the rich stash their money in tax free offshore bank accounts, and the poor; well, you get the picture.

Taking this example into historical context, Haiti's world didn't start with a oligarchic dictatorship.
Centuries earlier, it was a thriving agricultural economy that supported its population in relative comfort. So it is with many other nations that somehow have fallen into the abyss of bad governance .

As we contemplate the disaster in Haiti in the relative comfort of our own land of abundance, we might also consider the similarities that have evolved in our own system of governance. In the past decade, a several-fold increase in wealth has concentrated in a tiny few individuals, while a larger and larger portion of our population is either unemployed, or without a pension, or without health care. The rise of corporatism has allowed a few corporate entities, or more precisely, a few wealthy individuals, to own public policy. Their modus operandi is by campaign contributions, employment of politicians and lobbyists, and no-bid government contract awards. A trillion dollars was spent on the war on terror alone, much of it going to companies with political connections like Halliburton Inc.

Thanks to corporatism in our government, the Federal Trade Commission stopped enforcing antitrust law, allowing companies like ATT and Microsoft and Blue Cross and Bank of America to get bigger and bully consumers and force out competitors like never before. The Securities and Exchange Commission stopped enforcing insider trading laws, which allowed people like Abraham Madoff and countless others to defraud millions of Americans of their pension funds. While our public debt escalated to a level never seen by any nation in history, a few executives running companies that a few months ago were rescued for bankruptcy by taxpayers are now collecting billions of dollars each in bonuses. The recent 5 to 4 decision by the corporatist-leaning Supreme Court to strike down the McCain-Feingold Act will further our decline down this path. According to this bare- majority decision, the constitution protects the rights of a few billionaires to corrupt our government and decimate the U.S economy for their own personal enrichment.

By any measure, our government and our economy is beset by corruption on a grander scale than ever imagined in Haiti or anywhere else. Adverse consequences most certainly will follow, and they will probably not be shared by the wealthy few American billionaires living off their Swiss bank accounts. The corporations they were entrusted with running will be jettisoned as mere nameplates while their former employees and future generations will somehow be held accountable to rescue a bankrupt federal treasury.

A natural disaster such as the Haiti earthquake can strike any of us at any time. Hopefully the Haitian government will someday rise in its consciousness to better protect its citizens in such a time of need.

In the meantime I hope all who are able will give generously to non-profit agencies to ease the suffering of the Haitian people.

Michael Spence
Ketchikan, AK

About: "Ketchikan resident who spent his childhood in several oligarchic countries in Latin America."

Received January 27, 2009 - Published January 28, 2010



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