Monday 25 January 2010

Americans In Haiti - A Cartoon Requiring An Understanding of Historical Context

This cartoon got published in some newspapers around Latin America nine days after the Haiti earthquake struck that country on the 12th of January, 2010

Translation: "Cuba, Venezuela, Spain, and other countries send in the medical brigades; the Yankees send in the troops."

"It must be so they won't go out of character."

(The cartoonist,
Alfredo Martirena Hernández, was born in 1965 in Santa Clara, Cuba, and it was first published by Rebelión on 21 January 2010.)


"We sent doctors, not soldiers!" - Fidel Castro (24 January, 2010)


(Some further explanatory comments - updated 7 March 2010)

Posting this cartoon has garnered some very interesting strong reactions - both negative and positive - sent to me by email. I expected that. For a good example, see the comment below, which (though is was posted anonymously) I actually received from my friend Joan - someone with whom I have ongoing dialogue and we subsequently talked about what she posted below. Her first impression, which may be like yours after reading the above, was that I'm a Castro sympathizer, which - for the record - I'm not. (This was actually the first time I can ever recall quoting Castro in anything I've ever written. And I know that Fidel is indeed a meddler, even now, in his brother Raul's more liberal reforms.)

Yesterday an anonymous Aussie person sent me this "interesting" comment I imagine he/she doubted I would post: "We don't need political hateful rat bags, such as Clair as citizens in Australia. Please don't foster him onto us!"

I suppose anyone who regularly reads my blog can make up their own mind as to whether I am a "political hateful rat bag" but I want to take this opportunity to make it crystal clear that I am appreciative of the massive relief efforts for Haiti that Americans and the rest of the world have been engaged in since that quake - and have always personally tried to support such efforts. (My friend Joan described the American response quite well in her comment below, which I left standing.)

One of the first things I did after the quake was post an ad on this blog for donations for Haiti - an ad that coordinated responses to various humanitarian groups and church-related agencies and was actually set up by the American government. I got the idea after seeing a copy on the White House website and I finally removed it about a week ago because its outdated - I no longer see it that ad anywhere else and other campaigns have apparently replaced it.

THE WHOLE POINT OF POSTING THAT CARTOON was to invite some serious REFLECTION on the initial stark contrast between the response of the American government and that which other governments around the world were offering right away, and the frustration and hindrances they were giving voice to over those first crucial ten days. But evidence of this global frustration was barely being heard in America.

It's important to realize that a bit of what Castro spoke about twelve days into the quake response in Haiti actually contains some kernel of truth and sheds a bit of light on what most Americans are either ignorant of or refuse to acknowledge. Now readers here don't have to take my word on it; you can also feel quite free to ignore whatever Castro says anytime you wish!

However, as I explained to another friend, Barry (who was questioning my sincerity as a conversation partner because I cited, above, the quote/article authored by Fidel Castro without comment) it is quite another thing though to ignore the assessments of well-known journalists like the following - who, by the way, are not Castro sympathizers - but who experienced and reported some of the same things FIRSTHAND, and which I took the time to read or listen to:

Here is an excerpt from the beginning of an very important and informative article by the prominent editorial page cartoonist and journalist Ted Rall, putting the situation in Haiti into historical context. (Mr. Rall's articles and cartoons now appear in more than 100 publications around the United States, including the Los Angeles Times, Tucson Weekly, Willamette Week, Newark Star-Ledger, Village Voice and New York Times.)

Here is a transcript of Amy Goodman interviews January 22 on the ground in Haiti with some people with a LOT of experience in relief and development work: Sister Mary Finnick from the Catholic Church in Haiti; Sasha Kramer and Orel Lisius, coordinators for SOIL: Sustainable Organic Integrated Livelihoods in Haiti; and Catherine Laine, the deputy director of the Appropriate Infrastructure Development Group in Haiti.)

It's quite difficult for thoughtful readers to ignore what the prominent Jamaican journalist, John Maxwell, wrote, as well.

And here's a fairly comprehensive historical perspective about American control of Haiti, written by Michel Chossudovsky.

I've had a couple of friends (well read, intelligent people) who took the time to digest at least one of these resources mentioned above, who have shared privately by email that they had hardly any understanding of this besmirched history of Haiti heretofore.

But U.N officials do, and admit as much. Recently the top U.N. official in Haiti, U.N. Assistant Secretary-General of Peacekeeping Operations Edmond Mulet, said: "For half a century, the international community has kept Haiti’s government weak and unable to deal with disaster by ignoring officials and working with outside organizations. We complain because the government is not able to (lead), but we are partly responsible for that." (Quoted from this article.)

A couple of weeks ago, Amy Goodman wrote this toward the end of some commentary she wrote at TruthDig regarding recent G7 decisions about Haiti. I couldn't agree more:

"It is critical now to cancel Haiti’s ongoing foreign debt, so that the country can devote its scant resources to rebuilding and not to repaying debt. The G-7 finance ministers met in Canada this week and announced the forgiveness of the bilateral debt between member states and Haiti. But the World Bank, IMF and IDB debts remain (the IMF controversially promised a $100 million loan after the earthquake, eliciting condemnation, and has since pledged to convert it to a grant).

Earthquakes alone do not create disasters of the scale now experienced in Haiti. The wealthy nations have for too long exploited Haiti, denying it the right to develop in a secure, sovereign, sustainable way. The global outpouring of support for Haitians must be matched by long-term, unrestricted grants of aid, and immediate forgiveness of all that country’s debt. Given their role in Haiti’s plight, the United States, France and other industrialized nations should be the ones seeking forgiveness."

Any further comments? (Feel free to post them below.)

-Clair Hochstetler


  1. Have you considered changing your citizenship to Australia since it is apparent that you despise the United States? Do you have any idea how much has been done by the United States and its people to help the Haitians? How abhorrent that of all the things you could post, you would choose this; a communist Cuban cartoonist. Your statement has come through loud and clear. Who helped clear the runways so that planes can land? Who helped clear the harbors so the ships could dock? Who sent heavy equipment, hospital ships and medical aid to help these victims? Every church, civic organization, business, professional sports team, and non profit organization in this country is engaged in fund raising efforts to assist these people. If you were here, you would realize that Americans across the board are completely taken by this tragedy. The airwaves, television stations, billboards, local restaurants, websites, virtually everywhere you look and go, is inundated with efforts to help. The response has been overwhelming. And you use your blog to inflame anti American sentiment in your own country!

  2. Of course the point is that all of your critics on this issue could have found the same info themselves; but simply did not want to do so. In fact i suspect that most will have the same reaction to sources sited above as they had to your comments. This ability to demonize others for the same faults which we so blatantly claim an exclusive rights to have, is a particularly dark feature of the US political posture right now. I say US and not American because America is an ideal that is larger than nationality. Unfortunately for too many US citizens being American is simply a matter of narrow nationalistic partisanship. The poet Langston Hughes said. "America never was America to me."

  3. The military are well-equipped and trained to be first responders in a a situation like this that calls for significant logistical capability. Just because a guy is in uniform does not mean he's not there to help.

    The idea that the Cubans send doctors and the Americans send soldiers would not be recognized in Congo or Angola, where the opposite has been the case. Che Guevara himself went to Congo in the 60s. He was there to kill, not to heal.

    About American willingness to deploy military personnel for disaster relief and peace-keeping: I recall the scathing indictment of President Clinton by David Corn (then editor of The Nation). Corn said that one of Clinton's most serious ethical lapses was *not* sending troops to Rwanda in April 1994, when both the UN and the OAS were eager for him to do so. Each one of the handful of armed UN soldiers who were there probably saved thousands of lives; for the want of the few thousand peacekeepers that the UN Commander said that he needed, hundreds of thousands of civilians were slaughtered by machete-wielding thugs who could easily have been deterred by those peacekeeping forces, if only they had been there. Pres. Clinton and Ambassador Albright, thinking like this cartoonist, would not allow them to be there.