Friday, April 23, 2010

Haiti / Genocide and Structural Violence

Unshakable Truth in Haiti: Reflections on Genocide
by Jesse Hagopian, April 23, 2010
"Since my family and I survived the te tromble -- Creole for the 7.0 earthquake that devastated Haiti -- I have returned home with unshakable thoughts of life and death. ... While this is the first time I have personally witnessed death, it is not the first time I have reflected on how mass death has played a role in shaping who I am. My family story -- on both sides -- is one of survival from some of history's most merciless chapters.  My mother's side of the family, on her father's side, came from Armenia.  Her grandfather, Ardash Hagopian, was out of the country on April 24th, 1915 when Turkey commenced its killing of 1.5 million Armenians. However, my great-grandfather’s first wife and kids were in Armenia at the time and did not survive what Armenians call 'The Great Calamity' -- a genocide widely recognized by scholars and nations alike, with the notable exceptions of the Turkish and U.S. governments. My father is African American and we trace our roots back to slaves on plantations in New Orleans, Louisiana and Natchez, Mississippi. My ancestors, then, at some unrecorded point in history, survived the middle passage between Africa and America -- a journey that inflicted the deaths of millions Africans. The natural disaster I lived though in Haiti was, of course, different than these willful acts of mass extermination my ancestors endured so many years ago.  The wreckage we saw was not the result of mortar shells.  The hundreds of thousands who perished were not beaten to death, thrown overboard, marched to their death, or rounded up for the firing squad. And yet I cannot help but appreciate the analogy between the slaughter that my forebearers survived and the bloodshed of the Haitian people. ...
The only help we saw from any government came in the form of cadaver removal as bulldozers scooped scores of decaying bodies and hoisted them into the back of Mack trucks. It is hard to bring myself to estimate how many could have been saved if those who were marooned under slabs of fractured concrete, yet still alive, had received water on that critical third day after the quake. We have heard multiple excuses for why the UN and the U.S., a mere ninety minu[te]s away by plane, could not get the aid to the Haitian people in a timely manner. We were told the collapse of UN headquarters, and the death of the top two officials, made it difficult to launch an immediate relief effort.  While there can be no doubt that the UN personnel were dealing with loses of their own, this alone cannot explain the failure to act quickly to save Haitians['] lives. ... Regrettably, the most prevalent explanation in the media for the sluggish delivery of aid was that authorities anticipated rioting by the violence-prone Haitian people. This well-worn racist narrative attempted to transform Haitians from victims of an earthquake to perpetrators of a security threat. However, my wife and I didn't see a single instance of rioting or violence in the week we were there. ... I should disclose that I am not a scholar of genocide studies, I do not hold an international law degree, and I do not have the qualifications to make a precise determination whether the mass death in Haiti qualifies under the technical definition of genocide.  My speculation on the topic is informed only by my eyewitness of neglect, my understanding of my ancestors' history, and my reading of the UN's definition ratified at the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide. ... To my untrained eye, what I saw in the streets of Port-au-Prince -- prioritization of nonexistent security considerations resulting in the deliberate withholding of life saving water and food -- seems to qualify under Article II, Section C. This was punctuated upon my evacuation from Haiti on Sunday, January 17th, when I saw a virtual cornucopia of food, water, and medical equipment piled up on the tarmac and not being transported out of the airport to the people in need. [...]"

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