The sight at the fallen Palace

I’ve been getting emails about the aftermath of the Earthquakes in Haiti via a list serve with some very unique commentary from the Haitian perspective. As we proceed with relief and peacekeeping efforts in this country that has been subject to occupation throughout its history, including an “often brutal” American occupation from 1915 to 1934 (NY Times), it’s important to recognize that certain acts of intervention may be perceived differently by Haitians and Americans.

Regarding the decision to land U.S. military helicopters on the National Palace lawn…

Photo via The Ledger*


From Ilio Durandis via Bob Corbett’s Haiti mailing list:

I know that many people would say this is not the time for questioning any moves by the United States of America. Many would say that we should be grateful that they are even considering helping the “poor” Haitians in distress. But oh boy, that sight of US helicopter landing in the yard of the National Palace does not give me any impression that those soldiers are there for humanitarian relief. As a matter of fact, it is a direct message that us, Haitians, are meaningless in those whole relief effort. Yeah, US airborne can take over the National Palace, and there ain’t nothing anyone can say or do about it.

Of all the places that the helicopters could land, why the yard of the National Palace? I am getting even sicker. Please can any American on this list tell me how they would feel if a foreign army were to land their soldiers in the yard of the White house, after any kind of disaster in the US. Come on now, help us with some dignity. We are still a sovereign and an independent country. Aren’t we? I will say it clearly here, I am opposed of any silent invasion of my country. We need humanitarian relief, not warriors in our country.

Bring relief, not M-16 and war tanks.

— Your Passionate Servant,

Ilio Durandis
Haiti 2015

Well, how would it seem if a foreign country landed a military helicopter in the White House lawn if such a tragic disaster occurred here?

Obviously the most important thing is saving lives and getting aid to injured and dying Haitians, and maybe using the Capital as a landing pad is the best way to do that. But moving forward, we must be sensitive to Haitian perceptions. If foreign intervention is carried out in a way that builds resentment among Haitians by making it seem like an occupancy rather than a humanitarian relief effort, will be much less able to succeed in helping those who desperately need it.

*Also interesting, that photo accompanied this article in The Ledger. Read the lead paragraphs and contrast that with the email you just read. It seems there is some doublespeak going on here…

9 thoughts on “The sight at the fallen Palace

  1. FrauTech

    I’d think the nearly collapsed building in the background is more distressing than the sight of a military helicopter.

    “Well, how would it seem if a foreign country landed a military helicopter in the White House lawn if such a tragic disaster occurred here?” If the White House had partially collapsed and we lacked the infrastructure to deal with the problem, I doubt an image like that would be a main consideration. Given only Americans or non-Americans with internet access (not Haitians) will be seeing this, I’m not sure it matters. Isn’t the point that aid get there quickly and efficiently? Yes we don’t want them to see us as an occupying force. I don’t think we’re anywhere near crossing that line. Given that the US is the ONLY world force that would step in and save hundreds of thousands of people from starving to death we probably don’t need to jump the gun on imperialism accusations. The US has enough problems with that historically, and I’m not saying people should shut up and be thankful, but definitely consider the priorities here or what would be the alternative. Sending troops to Haiti in this instance makes more sense to me than sending troops to Iraq did. I hope the military can help build up some infrastructure so that we leave Haiti a better place and that some good can come out of our being there besides food aid. And thanks for your continued postings on this, it is needed.

  2. Arikia Post author

    Thank you kindly for your thoughtful comment, FrauTech.

    A few points:

    1) Haitians are not completely in the dark. Several Haitians do have Internet access, as well as open lines of phone communication and will see what the U.S. military is doing. Even if they didn’t I don’t think that’s justification to like, sneak around and do whatever there.

    Additionally, Haitians IN HAITI will see what is happening with their own eyes.

    2) The military vehicles that are landing at the national palace are NOT providing humanitarian relief. They are there to attempt to control the chaos that is erupting. IMO – this should be secondary. If a fraction of that money and effort was spent on getting Haitians food, water, medical attention and supplies, the desperation that fuels violence would be lessened and there would be no need for military force.

    3) It is fallacious to assert that the US is the only world force willing to intervene in Haiti. Currently, several countries that have come to Haiti to deliver aid have been TURNED AWAY because the U.S. military has taken control of the PAP airport and the ports, and is giving priority to military units OVER humanitarian relief groups.

    The fact that we are even comparing what’s going on here to the shit show that happened, and continues to happen, in Iraq is absolutely nauseating.

    Please continue to comment, this is dialogue that needs to happen.

    1. FrauTech

      1) I grant you that. I did not know this was representative of where they are frequently landing versus just a one time deal.

      2) I think this is part of US paranoia of not turning the situation into one that gets out of control; like the Somalia “humanitarian” mission, or the early days in Iraq when troops failed to keep order and were roundly criticized for it.

      3) I did not know that countries were turned away, I’d like to know who. And as far as I can tell (from media reports) there’s a stronger UN presence and Red Cross presence there now than there was before. Maybe the US is hogging airports and preventing any other military from coming in, but I doubt they’d turn down food or money from anyone else.

      I heard on the radio this morning that troops in the capital city had gotten the system to where they were provided 50 food packs a minute. Not to mention I believe the Red Cross (or possibly the UN) had within a few days been able to provide emergency food aid to 95,000 people. So it sounds like several organizations are able to work in tandem successfully here.

      I bring up the morass in Iraq because it’s part of lessons learned in US military operations. And because if there are inevitable comparisons to US imperialism, surely what’s happened in Iraq is relevant. Again I ask, what is the alternative? The danger you know versus the danger you don’t. Let American troops in with an understanding the country has a history of imperialism or take a shot that the UN and “other countries” would be as effective in responding as quickly. I mean, the US has the USS Comfort sitting in the water as a fully operational Navy Hospital. I just can’t see anyone else being as effective. And I think criticizing what I see as small things (the “appearance” of disrespect to Haitian sovereignty) is jumping the gun. Since, well, we totally screwed up aid in our own country after Katrina so I’m sure we’ll make plenty of mistakes soon enough, just not sure if we’ve gotten there yet.

  3. klein

    So the personal feelings of a random person on a listserv render the words of two AP reporters “doublespeak”? That seems unfair. I empathize with the notion that the visual of troops landing in palace’s front yard is not necessarily I good one. But what about context? I’m talking literal context. Every photo of Haiti I’ve seen has yet to include a large enough swath of flat and level ground to land a huge helicopter on. The palace easily could have been the only viable landing spot in the area. As for the troops themselves, I find it hard to not classify chaos-containment as humanitarian work.

    The phrases “silent invasion” “sneaking around” are particularly unhelpful, since they smack of conspiracy theory at a time when none are needed. Yes, water and supplies mitigate unrest, but by now the relief effort is not so much a question of manpower and material as it is infrastructure and organization and getting the supplies they do have to the right people. Sending troops in there to protect existing aid workers and keep unrest at a minimum seems like an automatic response in a situation like this.

  4. Anthony

    I think the feeling of helplessness in the face of the U.S. military is one that almost anyone would feel. I do see it as a harm, but I don’t know that it has any duty to avoid that harm. The vast, vast, VAST majority of social groups, territorially defined or otherwise, are powerless against the very, very few organized national militaries. I can see the feelings of those the interact with being a consideration in their thought processes, but I also suspect they are a relatively minor one. I don’t really know what the point of this is, except that its probably not a universal enough principal to warrant enough of a moral condemnation for it to actually affect behavior of the relevant people (military decision makers).

  5. Arikia Post author

    Oh Klein… how nice of you to stop by :)

    We are not talking about one person on a listserve here. This was just one well-articulated essay that represents a much larger body of thought on the matter, albeit not one that anyone is likely to hear about through mainstream media sources. I agree with you that credibility is very important here, but what is equally important is to not disregard voices because they do not have ACCESS to the channels of information we are used to accessing. Likewise, it is necessary to recognize that reporters in Haiti DO NOT HAVE ACCESS to information that Haitians do. If you will notice, all relief, military, and journalistic efforts are concentrated at the airport. Guess how akin the airport is to REAL Haitian civilizations — not very.

    FWIW, I have been to the National Palace and there is a big park right across the street, as well as a LARGE concrete area that would have served as a fine landing pad if they could clear people out of the area.

    Like I said in my post, the goal is to provide relief. Maybe this was the best way to do it, maybe it’s not. The point is, we can’t just sit back from our luxurious homes in the US thinking, “Oh good, we’re helping” when in fact the actions that we are taking might not be the best way to proceed, and could be detrimental in the long-run. If indeed the U.S. military is turning away shipments with relief materials because they have co-opted the ports and airport, which recent reports indicate, people, at the very least, need to know about it.

    Also, to call this talk of a conspiracy theory is totally unproductive and unfounded. I have done nothing but stick to the facts and then question those facts. If you and others want to refuse to accept facts such as 11,000 troops being deployed, the U.S. military turning away foreign aide, and not look at what is happening in the context of the U.S.’s history in Haiti, that’s your decision.

  6. Arikia Post author

    That said, perhaps doublespeak is a bit strong of a term… But to only report on the cheers of Haitian civilians welcoming the U.S. military and not on those who are disgusted… Maybe it’s a difference in perspective or can be attributed to the lack of access of journalists. Either way, it is not the whole picture.

    And it is starkly reminiscent of Iraq.

    1. klein

      OK, your first post’s sourcing has changed from one anecdote to many anecdotes. As for the AP article, I find it more than believable that there were cheers for the US as they landed (plenty of videos throughout the relief effort of Haitians chanting “USA”). I don’t want to go off topic too much here, but do you really think it’s the job of every single news article to talk about the bigger picture, with 20 different types of “on the other hand, some other people think think this thought…”? I don’t, and I think it’d be professionally immature for a journalist to proclaim any such sweeping analysis. Boots on the ground, just the facts ma’am, et al.

      Now about that helicopter. Let’s look at the article:

      Just four blocks from U.S. troop landing at the palace, hundreds of looters were rampaging through downtown.

      “That is how it is. There is nothing we can do,” said Haitian police officer Arina Bence, who was trying to keep civilians out of the looting zone for their own safety.

      Police Chief Mario Andersol said he can muster only 2,000 officers in the capital, down from 4,500 before the quake, and they “are not trained to deal with this kind of situation.”

      What is worse, the image of a US chopper landing in the destroyed palace’s front yard unloading troops or a couple of grainy YouTube videos of looters storming said palace and making off with whatever is salvageable? One of the worst events of the immediate Katrina aftermath was that of a looter shooting at a helicopter. This chopper probably quite literally had no where else to go, between the looters and the cheering crowd. “This kind of situation” is one where so many things are needed RIGHT NOW, it’s impossible to figure out what goes where. But basic safety and civic stability is just as crucial as texting $10 to the Red Cross for another case of water.

      There is no way even a well trained police force would be able to handle this kind of situation on its own. But military involvement is necessary not just because of the rioting and looting; each of those US soldiers is well versed in survival techniques and the, making them invaluable assets in the early stages as the utmost basic of needs are struggling to be met. “Silent invasion”? Really?

      Yeah, that sounds like “yeah America’s military is AWESOME.” I guess it is, though how it’s used is another story entirely. You say this is starkly reminiscent of Iraq, and I say you have your melodramatic metaphors mixed up.

      You wrote: “Like I said in my post, the goal is to provide relief. Maybe this was the best way to do it, maybe it’s not. The point is, we can’t just sit back from our luxurious homes in the US thinking, “Oh good, we’re helping” when in fact the actions that we are taking might not be the best way to proceed, and could be detrimental in the long-run.”

      Can you or anyone from your listserv point to a disaster relief effort that was universally applauded and recognized as “the right way to do it”? I don’t mean this pithily. What would the best response look like?

      1. Arikia Post author

        I can’t believe I have to scroll to respond to this fucking comment. Why don’t you just write your own post? ;p

        Re: My sourcing changing, it’s not. What I meant to convey is that this one essay is representative of a larger yet underrepresented line of thinking — the thinking of those concerned that the U.S. military will hinder the humanitarian effort by treating their stay as an occupation instead of a relief mission.

        As for the AP article, I’m not discounting that there was cheering. In fact, I am quite trustful of the AP’s ability to call it like they see it. But sometimes we only see what we are looking for. In addition to cheering Haitians who are grateful for U.S. and UN military intervention, there are others who are skeptical of several different aspects of their involvement.

        My purpose of this article wasn’t so much to criticize the news outlets, but to create a more complete picture of perspectives regarding this situation so that Americans do not become complacent.

        Regarding the “storming looters”, you would loot and storm too if you were starving and the resources that would save your life were being turned away so someone could point a gun at you.

        And about the “silent invasion”, I think you are either confused as to what this is referring, or you do not have all the information you need to understand the big picture. Don’t worry, I’m working on another post.

        Thanks greatly for your contributions. You should question me, as I will question everything.

        I would never say that military involvement isn’t necessary,

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