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The U.S., Latin America and Haiti

Hugo and the Shockwave

by NIKOLAS KOZLOFF

When it comes to making perceptive statements of fact, Hugo Chávez doesn’t have a very good track record.  As of late the Venezuelan leader seems to have become mentally unhinged, remarking that former Ugandan dictator and genocidal murderer Idi Amin was a “patriot.”  And now Chávez has another zinger: the United States intentionally created the earthquake in Haiti through means of a secret weapon.

Chávez seemingly believes he’s in the middle of the Mel Gibson movie, Conspiracy Theory.  According to Spanish paper ABC Chávez has joined the ranks of the truly paranoid, declaring that the earthquake was the result of an insidious U.S. naval test.  Ultimately, Chávez believes, Haiti served as a test case for further U.S. machinations.  Later, the Venezuelan reportedly exclaimed, the U.S. would like to destroy Iran with a series of earthquakes which would overthrow the regime in Teheran.

Chávez is basing his over the top suppositions on a report prepared by the Russian North Fleet which has been monitoring the U.S. military in the Caribbean since 2008.   The wild claims have been echoed on state-run Venezuelan TV station Vive.  The network sent out a press release saying that the 7.0 earthquake was caused by an experimental shockwave system which could also create “weather anomalies to cause floods, droughts and hurricanes.”

I was a little disappointed to hear of Vive’s fall: when I was in Venezuela a few years ago the network seemed a cut above some of the other shrill pro-Chávez media outlets.  According to Fox News, Vive’s website issued a report claiming that “the U.S. government’s HAARP program, an atmospheric research facility in Alaska (and frequent subject of conspiracy theories), was also to blame for a Jan. 9 quake in Eureka, Calif., and may have been behind the 7.8-magnitude quake in China that killed nearly 90,000 people in 2008.  What’s more, the site says, the cataclysmic ruin in Haiti was only a test run for much bigger game: the coming showdown with Iran.”

Unfortunately, like Vive other Venezuelan media have given play to the accusations.  Radio Nacional de Venezuela for example conducted an interview with Vladimir Acosta, an international analyst and professor, who also remarked that the earthquake could be associated with project HAARP.

Not content to stop there, some leftist Latin leaders claim that the U.S. is actually using the tragedy in Haiti as a means to reoccupy the impoverished Caribbean island.  Indeed, if you compare U.S. and Latin American rhetoric regarding Haiti, you might think you were residing in two separate, parallel universes.

“The empire (the U.S.) is taking Haiti over the bodies and tears of its people,” Chávez remarked during a press conference.  While the Venezuelan supports ongoing humanitarian efforts, he has questioned the need for so many troops.  “I read that 3,000 soldiers are arriving, Marines armed as if they were going to war. They are occupying Haiti undercover,” he added.

Bolivia’s Evo Morales echoed Chávez, declaring that the U.S. relief effort was “unjust, inhuman and opportunistic.” In a further inflammatory retort to Washington, Morales even called for a United Nations action to counter supposed Yankee imperialism. Morales’s Vice President Álvaro García Linera has been no less confrontational.  U.S. efforts in Haiti, he said, formed parted of a larger strategy to occupy the continent militarily.  In Port-au-Prince, he added that what Haiti needed most fundamentally was food, medical and economic assistance and not more boots on the ground.

Like Bolivia, Nicaragua has warm diplomatic and political ties to Venezuela.  The United States, declared Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega, was “manipulating a drama in order to install troops in Haiti.”  “It would appear,” he added, “that the military bases which the U.S. already possesses are not sufficient and they want to take advantage of this tragedy…to install themselves in Haiti.”  Furthermore, Ortega stated, it was “worrying” that the U.S. army had taken control over the Port-au-Prince airport.

While Americans bask in a sea of self-congratulation, many Latin Americans perceive the Haitian humanitarian effort in quite a different light.  With Latin leaders escalating their rhetoric, U.S. officials have sought to blunt charges made by Chávez and others by declaring that the American military is in Haiti at the request of the local government.

But recent reports, which seldom make their way into mainstream TV coverage of Haiti relief efforts, raise concerns about what the U.S. is actually doing.  Doctors Without Borders has complained that the U.S. has diverted some of its planes from landing at the Port-au-Prince airport, thus forcing the organization to truck in supplies all the way from the Dominican Republic.

Francoise Saulnier, head of Doctors Without Borders’ legal department, said days had been lost because the Port-au-Prince airport had been blocked by military traffic.  “We lost three days,” she remarked.  “And these three days have created a massive problem with infection, with gangrene, with amputations that are needed now, while we could have really spared this to those people.”

If that was not perplexing enough, disturbing reports have circulated about the U.S. military’s handling of foreign journalists.  In my recent column, “Middle Eastern and Latin American Media: A Thorn in the Side of the U.S. Military in Haiti,” I raised the question of whether the U.S. military might be running out of patience with foreign media.

“One recent report by Cuba’s Prensa Latina,” I wrote, “is worth noting. According to the story, U.S. marines recently barred Venezolana de Televisión journalists from entering Haitian hospitals. At Haiti’s central hospital, Haitians seeking to help their loved ones inside were reportedly mistreated. Those who tried to bring water and food to their relatives were unable to enter the hospital, as the marines stopped them from entering the facilities.”

It now seems however that Venezolana de Televisión is just the tip of the iceberg.  According to Reuters, the U.S. army has ordered foreign journalists residing in camps alongside the Port-au-Prince airport to leave and look for other accommodation within the city.  The military did not provide any explanation for its decision.

As long as the United States military continues to behave in a brazen and draconian manner in Port-au-Prince, it will fuel the fears and concerns of many Latin Americans who are all too familiar with U.S. interventionism throughout the region.

NIKOLAS KOZLOFF is the author of the upcoming No Rain In the Amazon: How South America’s Climate Change Affects The Entire Planet (Palgrave Macmillan, April 2010). Visit his website, senorchichero.