EDITORIAL: The upside of Yankee imperialism in Haiti

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America’s critics are claiming that the United States is using the pretext of earthquake relief to take over Haiti. The Haitians should be so lucky.

The United States responded to the humanitarian crisis in Haiti with America’s usual generosity and has devoted substantial military and civilian resources. But the relief effort is proving the Washington maxim that no good deed goes unpunished.

Ten thousand U.S. troops were deployed to secure distribution centers, protect aid shipments and - most importantly - get the airport up and working. Some Haitians reportedly said the presence of U.S. troops made them “fear for their sovereignty,” but in one case where food aid was air-dropped, a mob-scene resulted and people were killed. Haitian sovereignty cannot be left to the care of machete-wielding gangs.

Tales of a U.S. “invasion” to seize Haiti began to spread as soon as American boots were on the ground. Bolivia’s socialist President Evo Morales called the U.S. relief effort “unjust, inhuman and opportunistic” and called for United Nations action to counter purported Yankee imperialism. Reports from Cuba, Ecuador, Guyana, Syria, Iran and elsewhere took an anti-American line. Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez went beyond the pale when he accused the United States of causing the Haitian earthquake with a secret weapon fired by Navy ships as a test for a future subterranean attack on Iran.

France’s minister for international cooperation, Alain Joyandet, was highly uncooperative when U.S. flight controllers at the makeshift Port-au-Prince airport diverted a French plane carrying medical supplies - one report indicating it was bumped to give a slot to a flight carrying Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. Monsieur Joyandet complained the relief effort “is about helping Haiti, not occupying Haiti.” He was quickly corrected by President Nicolas Sarkozy, who praised the U.S. effort. The humanitarian group Medecins sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) protested when some of its flights were diverted, but French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, who founded the group in 1971, downplayed the squawk, saying, “People always want it to be their plane … that lands.”

The Saudi-based Arab News editorialized that aid flowing through the airport has been “shamefully delayed,” but the petrol-rich kingdom characteristically has contributed little more to the relief effort than telegrams offering condolences. Some delays occurred because the United States was waiting for the Haitian government to show some leadership. Haitian President Rene Preval was the invisible man of the crisis and didn’t emerge from his improvised headquarters near the airport for almost a week. Many of the people being ferried out of the country under French passports were Haitian bureaucrats with dual citizenship seeking sanctuary in more pleasant surroundings rather than making the effort to reconstruct their country. Clearly, they think it’s far better to relax in Paris while others do the heavy lifting.

The United States is doing its best to alleviate suffering in Haiti and to begin the process of reconstruction, along with assistance from other countries and non-government organizations. America is donating hundreds of millions of dollars to the relief effort, money that may make its way to the people who need it, or may be siphoned off by Haiti’s durable culture of corruption or by opportunists who emerge to profit from human suffering. America brings resources to the effort that other countries simply cannot match, particularly airlift, sealift and communications capabilities. Many of our troops sent to Haiti had been enjoying time back with their families after being deployed to combat zones overseas, and many are facing another deployment within the year.

The United States deserves credit for this humanitarian effort, not blame for imagined invasions and secret earthquake weapons. The Obama administration could make a useful point by cutting foreign aid going to the countries that are criticizing America’s efforts and sending it to Haiti instead. Let’s see how well some of the ingrates can get by without getting their cut of “Gringo imperialism.”

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