For a fuller understanding I'd highly recommend reading up on the IMF/World Bank system and how rolling Third World debt essentially transferred wealth equivalent to six Marshall Plans from the poor countries to the richer ones. Great places to start would be the books of Graham Hancock and Susan George.
Remember to check out the post immediately below to donate a little something to the Haitian relief effort. Obama pledged $100 million over an unspecified period to some sort of relief effort from the US, but I imagine most of those funds are going to be spent in federal contracts for American businesses and consultants; that should in no way be accounted as a $100M transfer of wealth from here to there. Keep in mind also that we're spending 7400 times that on next fiscal year's wars. As is always the case when these things happen, individual American donations will dwarf official aid. In this case it'll just take 10 million people giving $10 each. In fact Angelina Jolie just pledged $1 million bucks all by herself.
"The media coverage of the earthquake is marked by an almost complete divorce of the disaster from the social and political history of Haiti," Canadian Haiti Solidarity Activist Yves Engler said in an interview. "They repeatedly state that the government was completely unprepared to deal with the crisis. This is true. But they left out why."
Why were 60 percent of the buildings in Port-au-Prince shoddily constructed and unsafe in normal circumstances, according to the city's mayor? Why are there no building regulations in a city that sits on a fault line? Why has Port-au-Prince swelled from a small town of 50,000 in the 1950s to a population of 2 million desperately poor people today? Why was the state completely overwhelmed by the disaster?
To understand these facts, we have to look at a second fault line--U.S. imperial policy toward Haiti. The U.S. government, the UN, and other powers have aided the Haitian elite in subjecting the country to neoliberal economic plans that have impoverished the masses, deforested the land, wrecked the infrastructure and incapacitated the government.
The fault line of U.S. imperialism interacted with the geological one to turn the natural disaster into a social catastrophe.
During the Cold War, the U.S. supported the dictatorships of Papa Doc Duvalier and then Baby Doc Duvalier - which ruled the country from 1957 to 1986 - as an anti-communist counter-weight to Castro's Cuba nearby.
Under guidance from Washington, Baby Doc Duvalier opened the Haitian economy up to U.S. capital in the 1970s and 1980s. Floods of U.S. agricultural imports destroyed peasant agriculture. As a result, hundred of thousands of people flocked to the teeming slums of Port-au-Prince to labor for pitifully low wages in sweatshops located in U.S. export processing zones.
In the 1980s, masses of Haitians rose up to drive the Duvaliers from power--later, they elected reformer Jean-Bertrand Aristide to be president on a platform of land reform, aid to peasants, reforestation, investment in infrastructure for the people, and increased wages and union rights for sweatshop workers.
The U.S. in turn backed a coup that drove Aristide from power in 1991. Eventually, the elected president was restored to power in 1994 when Bill Clinton sent U.S. troops to the island--but on the condition that he implement the U.S. neoliberal plan--which Haitians called the "plan of death."
Aristide resisted parts of the U.S. program for Haiti, but implemented other provisions, undermining his hoped-for reforms. Eventually, though, the U.S. grew impatient with Aristide's failure to obey completely, especially when he demanded $21 billion in reparations during his final year in office. The U.S. imposed an economic embargo that strangled the country, driving peasants and workers even deeper into poverty.
In 2004, Washington collaborated with Haiti's ruling elite to back death squads that toppled the government, kidnapped and deported Aristide. The United Nations sent troops to occupy the country, and the puppet government of Gérard Latortue was installed to continue Washingotn's neoliberal plans.
Latortue's brief regime was utterly corrupt--he and his cronies pocketed large portions of the $4 billion poured into the country by the U.S. and other powers when they ended their embargo. The regime dismantled the mild reforms Aristide had managed to implement. Thus, the pattern of impoverishment and degradation of the country's infrastructure accelerated.
In 2006 elections, the Haitian masses voted in longtime Aristide ally René Préval as president. But Préval has been a weak figure who collaborated with U.S. plans for the country and failed to address the growing social crisis.
In fact, the U.S., UN and other imperial powers effectively bypassed the Préval government and instead poured money into NGOs. "Haiti now has the highest per capita presence of NGOs in the world," says Yves Engler. The Préval government has become a political fig leaf, behind which the real decisions are made by the imperial powers, and implemented through their chosen international NGOs.
The real state power isn't the Préval government, but the U.S.-backed United Nations occupation. Under Brazilian leadership, UN forces have protected the rich and collaborated with - or turned a blind eye to -right-wing death squads who terrorize supporters of Aristide and his Lavalas Party.
The occupiers have done nothing to address the poverty, wrecked infrastructure and massive deforestation that have exacerbated the effects of a series of natural disasters - severe hurricanes in 2004 and 2008, and now the Port-au-Prince earthquake.