The following article is taken, without cuts or modification of content, from THIS WEEK IN HAITI, Vol. 15, No. 26, September 17 - 23, 1997 See end of article for more information.
LA GONAVE FERRY DISASTER: WHO IS RESPONSIBLE?
The image is horrifying. A shiny new ferry, renovated in Miami, plunging through the murky ocean depths, clutching in its steel hull the ragged bodies of almost two hundred drowning souls.
On radio talk shows, Haitians are calling it an omen. That vessel is Haiti, they say, a country supposedly refurbished by millions of dollars in foreign aid which is now sinking like the ferry "Pride of La Gonave" with a desperate population trapped on board.
The parallel is true in many respects, although many Haitians certainly don't consider themselves helpless passengers. Haiti is becoming poorer and more miserable than ever before. Her "restored democracy" is in fact a foreign military occupation set in place to prevent the Haitian people from rising up against the unemployment, privatization, and belt-tightening being dictated by rich lending elites, concerned only with recouping the interest on their loans.
Nowhere is Haiti's deepening economic crisis better reflected than in the country's growing transportation death toll. The Sept. 8 ferry sinking is just more spectacular than the grisly bus accidents which occur every week on Haiti's crumbling roads. Just like the ferries, vehicles are overloaded and in a poor state of repair as they bob and weave over rocky pot-holed roads in an effort to squeeze out the maximum payloads in the minimum time. The result is always, eventually, the loss of life and limb.
During the coup, the military junta had a good excuse for such disasters, like the February 1993 sinking of "The Neptune," in which perhaps 1000 people perished. The country is embargoed, they said, so we are hard-pressed and tragedy results. But now, the coup is over, and millions have been poured into Haiti. For example, on Aug. 20, the Haitian government and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) signed an accord for a loan of about $12 million. But was this money for "international development"?
"This accord will allow us to finance the external debt of the government to the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and other financial institutions," said Planning Minister Eric Deryce on the occasion. "Thus we are going to pay the interest on the debts which have come due for fiscal year 1996-1997, and also those which were not paid in 1995-1996. That is the main goal of those funds."
Twelve million dollars could have built twelve wharfs for vessels coming into ports like Montrouis, where last week's tragedy occurred. The vessel capsized mainly because there was no wharf and the passengers all gathered on one side of the ferry to board row-boats which carry people to shore.
Twelve million dollars could also have financed new roads, buses, schools, hospitals, irrigation, or drainage.
Instead, it was handed to a poverty-racked country with one hand and immediately taken back with another to balance the books of opulent banks, increasing the Haitian people's debt by $12 million in the process. Millions more in debt has been loaded on the country to pay for fancy jeeps for ministers, for pointless junkets to far-off international symposiums, and for the handsome salaries and rum-punches of international experts, advisors, and observers who help keep the country on its knees. This debt is the weight which is carrying the country down.
Poverty and the suffering which escorts it are not naturally occurring phenomena. They are the direct result of theft, sometimes centuries of theft, which becomes more refined and deceptive with age and power.
Those who have grown rich and continue to grow rich off the plunder of Haiti -- both local and foreign bourgeoisies -- are to blame for the death of some two hundred La Gonave islanders. And they are to blame for the death toll every week which results from lack of roads, medicine, and food.
But, like a drop of water on a brimming cup, last week's ferry disaster has brought an outpouring of anger and disgust onto airwaves and street-corners throughout Haiti. That outpouring may well capsize the bright shiny U.S.-made lie which is Haiti's "occupation democracy."
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