Just How Much “Shock” Can Haiti Take?

Last week I finished reading Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. Klein highlights with meticulously researched precision how the demagogues of extreme free market ideology use catastrophes, be them natural or manmade, to reform a nation’s economy. Such economic advisers use the destruction of political, economic and physical infrastructure to institute harsh, free market “shocks” that create a blank slate for a perfect laissez fair economy through which all will prosper. Of course, such actions are never popular with the people of said nations as they lose access to all entitlements held in the public trust in exchange for inequitable access to a privatized and selective marketplace.

In every instance noted by Klein such free market engineering resulted in vast economic inequities between the haves and the have-nots, social instability and the use of intensive and intrusive state violence and surveillance to enforce the Chicago School austerity measures. The US, in the interests of Friedmanite economic experimentation, has been accomplice to horrifying examples of tyranny and oppression in the name of these not so free markets.

Klein also weaves an intricate metaphor/description of torture to illustrate her case. On one hand she employs an allegory between the methods used to torture individuals with the technologies utilized to torture a nation into a privatized utopia for globalized corporate interests. On the other hand she describes the very real and vivid torture of individuals who stand opposed to such economic imperialism.

No sooner did I turn the last page of this gut wrenching expose than I heard news of the catastrophic earthquake outside of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. My heart fell double: first for the unimaginable saga of human suffering that such an event vouches; secondly for the awareness that this earthquake is quite possibly the worst case scenario example of Klein’s shock doctrine. Here we have a devastating event that destroys not only the infrastructure of this already devastated nation, but the very seat of government. The capital city lay in ruins under its own rubble and the detritus of a history of foreign imposed ruination. This tortured country is softened perfectly for an invasion of free market radicalism.

But just how much shock and torture can one nation take? Klein’s torture metaphor only goes so far. The reality is that in torturing a man there is a only so much one can take before the victim dies. As for a society…at what point does the torture become too much? Haiti has, in a very real sense, been tortured for hundreds of years. As a slave colony under the French, Haiti’s people and culture were twisted under the whip. Two hundred years ago Haiti won its independence, and there the economic torture began as the new nation was forced to pay reparations to dispossessed French slave owners! In the last two hundred years Haiti has been the whipping boy of American international politics, including invasion and the support of tyrants like Papa and Baby Doc Duvalier.

Free market torture has been a mainstay for Haiti as its economy has been stretched and twisted under IMF austerity plans. Vast resources were shifted to foreign corporations. Haiti’s thriving rice trade was destroyed by international fiat that virtually erased the nation’s import tariffs on the product. IMF loans were given to help this struggling economy; in exchange, however, Haiti was expected to derail its public domain and open its economy to privatization. Leaders like Jean Bertrand Aristide, who opposed such austerity measures, were removed.

Then my heart sunk even more. The International Monetary Fund, under whose thumb the Haitian economy has struggled for the last fifteen years, announced that it would expand its loan agreement with Haiti by $100 million. Great news! That is if you didn’t read between the lines. One article headline state “IMF to Give Haiti $100 million.” Give? Unlikely. Then I read further the article stated, “the IMF will make available $100 million…” Make available? Why don’t we call it what it is? It’s a loan! In fact it’s an expansion of a loan that is already instrumental in the crippling of this nation’s economy.

Nowhere is it mentioned that the IMF will forgive its loan agreement that Haiti was paralyzed by even before the earthquake! After all, the IMF loan was part of a gross economic experiment that not only failed, but had catastrophic consequences for the people of this nation. If Haiti was expected to make reparations for winning its own freedom in 1804 should the IMF be expected to make reparations for the economic enslavement of this rich culture? I don’t see it happening.

There are certain constants when a tragedy such as this happens, regardless of who is affected. First, the outpouring of human sympathy and charity for the suffering of others; second, the soulless drive of the wealthy to exploit tragedy for personal gain.

Charity and giving is wonderful and must continue for the relief of suffering in this tortured land. Of equal if not greater importance is political activism to end destructive economic oppression of all peoples.


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