Sunday, April 25, 2010

Hallucinating Riots

On Ran Prieur's website, there is a link to an online article from the May 2010 issue of Reason Magazine, titled, “Disaster Utopianism.” It is, among other things, a critique of CNN's coverage of the aftermath of the January earthquake in Haiti, where “news” correspondents talked of “chaotic crowds,” “chaotic scrambles,” and the need for “crowd control of...thousands of desperate people.” But the images of calm, orderly people recorded by the CNN cameras contradicted the attempts by CNN correspondents to portray Haiti as out of control.

This contradiction was noticed by a number of people, and not just those employed by Reason Magazine. Sasha Kramer, director of the Haitian nonprofit SOIL, described the calm, orderly solidarity of ordinary black Haitians after the quake. And in her post titled, “"The Quake"– Haiti Through The Distorted Lenses of PBS' Frontline,” blogger Chantal Laurent also noted that there are many discrepancies between the official American version of the story of Haiti and the reality on the ground – discrepancies whose effect is to present a magnified portrait of the United States as some kind of savior to a poor, backward, unstable nation. The American mainstream media portrayal of Haiti can best be summed up in this sarcastic statement from Reason Magazine: “Send cops to contain this peaceful crowd!”

So far that portrayal has worked – not many people have questioned the reasons for sending over 10,000 armed U.S. troops to Haiti to “restore order.” This is unlike Iraq, which the U.S. invaded because the Iraqi government “had ties to Al-Qaeda,” and “was building weapons of mass destruction.” When those statements were proven false, there was a brief period of much “hand-wringing” on the part of everyone in power, both in the mainstream media (except for Rupert Murdoch and Fox “News”) and in the Federal Government as they “wondered” how they could have made such a huge “mistake.” In the case of Haiti, where a major magazine has questioned how coverage of the situation could have been so inaccurate, the reasons cited have been rather vague. Reason Magazine blames the error on “cultural truisms” and ingrained prejudices that prevent affluent Anglo news reporters from seeing the reality right in front of their eyes.

Those reasons are certainly valid and operative in mainstream American media, where blond, blue-eyed survivors of disasters are described as “foraging for supplies” and “digging out from under the rubble,” but dark-skinned survivors performing the same actions are described as “looting” and “breaking and entering.” But I want to suggest another reason for this breakdown in perception, a reason which has been explored only by a handful of analysts.

Upton Sinclair once said that “it is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.” A corollary statement could go like this: “It is easy to get a man to see the world a certain way if his salary depends on it.” It is instructive to ask why the American mainstream media see Haiti the way they do, and why the American media are working to make the rest of us see Haiti the way they do. My short answer is this: “Follow the money.” To those who want a more accurate understanding of the world, I'd like to suggest that it is time for us to make a natural resource map of Haiti, along with a map or database of foreign companies operating there – especially companies involved in mining and other resource extraction, or in industrial factory farming for export. It is time for us to study the conditions under which these companies operate, as well as the flows of money and capital from company to company and between the companies and outside governments such as the United States and the other member nations of the U.N Security Council.

As we try to construct such a database, we notice certain companies right off the bat, companies such as Eurasian Minerals, which has had a strong interest in Haiti for over three years (and possibly much longer), as noted in an article originally published in the South China Morning Post and republished on the and “Preval Haiti” websites. That article featured an interview with a Mr. Keith Laskowski, a geologist for Eurasian, who was beside himself with excitement at the possibilities of exploiting Haiti's potential for gold mining. Eurasian Minerals' interest in Haitian gold is also described in articles published in 2009, such as “Eurasian Minerals: The Early Bird Once Again Gets the Worm” and “Eurasian Minerals Discovers Two New High-Grade Copper-Silver-Gold Prospects at Treuil Property, Haiti.” Eurasian Minerals is by no means the only company interested in Haiti's mineral wealth; there are also several Canadian mining firms operating in that country.

Now that the earthquake has occurred, Eurasian Minerals and investors such as IFC and the World Bank have cast their gold-lust in a softer, more humanitarian light, as noted in articles like this: “IFC invests in Eurasian Minerals to support Haiti recovery.” This article states that “...this investment reaffirms IFC's commitment to social and economic growth in Haiti. It also comes at a critical time for supporting the country's recovery through private sector participation.”

The earthquake seems to have benefited others interested in extracting Haiti's natural resources, people such as oil prospectors, as revealed in these articles: “Haiti quake may have revealed oil reserves,” and “Haiti: Bonanza for Foreign Mining Companies.” Indeed, the earthquake and subsequent American occupation seem to have benefited everyone except the ordinary resident Haitians, and the promises of foreign companies and governments to use Haiti's resources to rebuild Haiti sound as hollow as American promises to use Iraqi oil to rebuild Iraq after the American invasion.

Eurasian Minerals, gold and oil are three dots that can be connected to form an accurate picture of the real reasons for American (and First World) interest and involvement in Haiti. There are other “dots” to connect, for those who have the time. Many of those “dots” can be found on the blog The Haitian Blogger, and in the Black Agenda Report. But even if you only do your own digging, I suspect that you'll find lots of verifiable, multiply-corroborated “dots” to connect, and that the resource “dots” can be connected with geopolitical and governmental “dots” to form some eye-catching combinations. How about it? Anyone over at Energy Bulletin or The Oil Drum interested in playing a game of connect-the-dots?

So what does this have to do with American neighborhoods? Well, if you live in a poor or working-class or minority neighborhood, everything. Beware of the media. Especially in the aftermath of a disaster. Especially if you have things that rich outsiders might want.

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