(United Fruit Company in downtown New Orleans - photo by Mac McKinney)
President Obama's response to the tragedy in Haiti has been robust in military deployment and puny in what the Haitians need most: food; first responders and their specialized equipment; doctors and medical facilities and equipment; and engineers, heavy equipment, and heavy movers. Sadly, President Obama is dispatching Presidents Bush and Clinton, and thousands of Marines and U.S. soldiers. By contrast, Cuba has over 400 doctors on the ground and is sending in more; Cubans, Argentinians, Icelanders, Nicaraguans, Venezuelans, and many others are already on the ground working--saving lives and treating the injured. Senegal has offered land to Haitians willing to relocate to Africa.
The United States, on the day after the tragedy struck, confirmed that an entire Marine Expeditionary Force was being considered "to help restore order," when the "disorder" had been caused by an earthquake striking Haiti; not since 1751, 1770, 1842, 1860, and 1887 had Haiti experienced an earthquake. But, I remember the bogus reports of chaos and violence the led to the deployment of military assets, including Blackwater, in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. One Katrina survivor noted that the people needed food and shelter and the U.S. government sent men with guns. Much to my disquiet, it seems, here we go again. From the very beginning, U.S. assistance to Haiti has looked to me more like an invasion than a humanitarian relief operation.
On Day Two of the tragedy, a C-130 plane with a military assessment team landed in Haiti, with the rest of the team expected to land soon thereafter. The stated purpose of this team was to determine what military resources were needed.
An Air Force special operations team was also expected to land to provide air traffic control. Now, the reports are that the U.S. is not allowing assistance in, shades of Hurricane Katrina, all over again.
On President Obama's orders military aircraft "flew over the island, mapping the destruction." So, the first U.S. contribution to the humanitarian relief needed in Haiti were reconnaissance drones whose staffing are more accustomed to looking for hidden weapon sites and surface-to-air missile batteries than wrecked infrastructure. The scope of the U.S. response soon became clear: aircraft carrer, Marine transport ship, four C-140 airlifts, and evacuations to Guantanamo. By the end of Day Two, according to the Washington Post report, the United States had evacuated to Guantanamo Bay about eight  severely injured patients, in addition to U.S. Embassy staffers, who had been "designated as priorities by the U.S. Ambassador and his staff."
On Day Three we learned that other U.S. ships, including destroyers, were moving toward Haiti. Interestingly, the Washington Post reported that the standing task force that coordinates the U.S. response to mass migration events from Cuba or Haiti was monitoring events, but had not yet ramped up its operations. That tidbit was interesting in and of itself, that those two countries are attended to by a standing task force, but the treatment of their nationals is vastly different, with Cubans being awarded immediate acceptance from the U.S. government, and by contrast, internment for Haitian nationals.
U.S. Coast Guard Rear Admiral James Watson IV reassured Americans, "Our focus right now is to prevent that, and we are going to work with the Defense Department, the State Department, FEMA and all the agencies of the federal government to minimize the risk of Haitians who want to flee their country," Watson said. "We want to provide them those releif supplies so they can live in Haiti."
By the end of Day Four, the U.S. reportedly had evacuated over 800 U.S. nationals.
For those of us who have been following events in Haiti before the tragic earthquake, it is worth noting that several items have caused deep concern:
1. the continued exile of Haiti's democratically-elected and well-loved, yet twice-removed former priest, President Jean-Bertrand Aristide;