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WikiLeaks: Haiti Disaster Capitalism's Latest Electroshock Patient

Monday, 18 July 2011 04:46 By Michael Busch, Foreign Policy In Focus | Op-Ed
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Naomi Klein was asked today about what additional case studies she would add to future editions of her 2007 "Shock Doctrine". Klein's answer: Greece and Wisconsin.

Fair enough, but I was surprised that she did not also include Haiti which, if recently released Wikileaks documents are accurate, provides a textbook case of disaster capitalism. The embassy documents, obtained by "Haïti Liberté" and "The Nation", paint a disturbing if not unexpected picture of American coercion of the struggling Caribbean nation between 2004 and the month following the 2010 earthquake that flattened Port-au-Prince. 

Among other important revelations that emerged over the past six weeks or so, the cables reveal that the Barack Obama administration aggressively lobbied the Haitian government to resist calls to raise the national minimum wage from 24 to 61 cents an hour. "The Atlantic" notes that

The bump 37¢ bump seems small by American standards, but considering it would raise wages by 150 percent…the new rule stood to dramatically affect the lives of poor Haitians. However, it would also dramatically affect the bottom line of American companies, like Hanes and Levi Strauss who contracted labor in Haiti to sew their clothes. The companies insisted on capping the wage increase at 7¢ an hour, and the US ambassador pressured Préval into a $3 per day wage for textile workers, $2 less than the original $5 a day that Préval had wanted.

More shocking still—to my mind at least—was a cable dated just weeks after the 2010 earthquake. Written by US Ambassador Kenneth Merton, the cable doesn't mince words about the opportunity available to investors willing to capitalize on suffering. "THE GOLD RUSH IS ON!" Merton announces. 

As Haiti digs out from the earthquake, different companies are moving in to sell their concepts, products and services. President Preval met with Gen Wesley Clark Saturday and received a sales presentation on a hurricane/earthquake resistant foam core house designed for low income residents. AshBritt has been talking to various institutions about a national plan for rebuilding all government buildings. Other companies are proposing their housing solutions or their land use planning ideas, or other construction concepts. Each is vying for the ear of President in a veritable free-for-all. Presidential advisor Leslie Voltaire and Minister of Tourism Patrick Delatour, working with the NGO and the UN shelter "cluster" have a systematic approach, but the attention of the President is on impressive new (expensive) designs.

And this is only the beginning of the story. As "Haiti Liberte" reports:

One man who had the ear of President Préval, perhaps more than anyone else, was Lewis Lucke, Washington's "Unified Relief and Response Coordinator," heading up the entire US earthquake relief effort in Haiti. He met with Préval and Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive two weeks after the quake, and at least one more time after that, according to the cables. Lucke, a 27-year veteran of the US Agency for International Development, had overseen multi-billion contracts for Bechtel and other companies as USAID Mission Director in post-invasion Iraq.

Lucke didn't stick around very long, however, abandoning his post after just a few months of work only to be hired in a private capacity by AshBritt to lobby the Haitian government on their behalf. The relationship soured, it seems, as Lucke sued the multinational later that year for not paying "him enough for consulting services that included hooking the contractor up with powerful people and helping to navigate government bureaucracy." Lucke reportedly earned $30,000 a month for his services. And he was effective: the "Associated Press" reports that AshBritt was awarded $20 million in reconstruction contracts in Haiti.

You might think that Lucke would be reticent about discussing the situation in public. But then you'd be wrong. In fact, the former USAID officer has vomited up a number of statements tailor made for a sequel to "Shock Doctrine" should Klein ever endeavor to write it. In the immediate aftermath of the earthquake’s destruction, for example, Lucke told the "Austin-American Statesman" that

It became clear to us that if it was handled correctly, the earthquake represented as much an opportunity as it did a calamity... So much of the china was broken that it gives the chance to put it together hopefully in a better and different way.

And just recently, Lucke continued to spell out his perspective even more clearly for "Haiti Liberte". "It’s kind of the American way," he told a reporter for the paper. "Just because you're trying to do business doesn't mean you’re trying to be rapacious. There's nothing insidious about that... It wasn't worse than Iraq."

Oh! Well, I suppose if that's the benchmark…

Michael Busch

Michael Busch, a Foreign Policy In Focus contributor, teaches international relations at the City College of New York and serves as research associate at the Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies.


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