Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore

As Haiti crumbles, the US sends in troops -- get ready for a long occupation!

Filed By Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore | January 21, 2010 1:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Media, Politics, Politics
Tags: Amy Goodman, Bill Quigley, Center for Constitutional Rights, consumerism, Democracy Now, Haiti, Haiti emergency relief fund, Little America, prison industrial complex, René Preval, US occupation

I'm standing in line at Walgreens and some white guy is yelling at one of the cashiers, a Latina woman, about Haiti, spouting racist corporate media lies about how Haitians are corrupt, they steal from their own people, they can't be relied on to manage aid, and the cashier is trying not to say anything in response. She probably doesn't want to lose her job.

It turns out this guy is screaming because Walgreens is now asking for donations to the Red Cross -- if only he was screaming because he thought the Red Cross was bureaucratic, bloated, corrupt, and ineffectual, and he wanted to make sure that his donation went to a responsible community-based organization like the Haiti Emergency Relief Fund. I wish he was using his energy to yell about the fact that this corporate drugstore is asking for donations instead of sending a stockpile of desperately-needed bandaids, medical gauze, peroxide, bottled water, and anything else required for basic needs. [Update: perhaps I'm factually wrong in this area -- a Walgreens press release does say that they donated six semi-trailers of this exact type of goods, although with $63 billion in sales last year, perhaps they could keep it going.]

But no -- this guy's just regurgitating Fox News. I think of yelling back at him that the corruption in Haiti comes from a century of US occupations, both covert and overt, not to mention the ire of the entire colonial world since Haiti became the first black republic when former slaves ousted the French in 1804.

This guy probably already knows that -- we're in San Francisco, and his ignorance is almost surely a conscious choice.

Back at home, I receive an email for a Haiti benefit, but who exactly is the benefit for? The United Nations World Food Programme. The United Nations has occupied Haiti since the US/Canada-engineered coup of 2004, and is an active participant in brutal violence against Haitian activists. It was the United Nations that gunned down unarmed civilians in Cité Soleil, one of Port-au-Prince's poorest neighborhoods, as collective punishment for the popular demand for the return of democratically elected President Aristide (victim of not one but two US coups). In recent years, the UN is perhaps as responsible as the US, Canada, France and other colonial powers for the obliteration and dismantling of the public sector in Haiti (not to mention locally-owned industry), making the country permanently dependent on foreign aid organizations.

As the US government sends in 12,000 troops to occupy the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere again, the Aristide Foundation, a non-governmental organization that operates a medical center just one mile from the heavily fortified airport, is unable to obtain basic supplies to treat the wounds of the thousands of people gathered there for shelter. The US allows citizen children to fly into the US, but bars their Haitian mothers from joining them -- and, makes sure that Haitians know that if they try to enter the US illegally, they will be jailed.

As Hillary Clinton met with René Préval, the supposed president of Haiti (who has still made no official governmental statement about the earthquake), in a tent at the airport, relief planes were sent back to insure Clinton's security. How's that for priorities? Supposedly there's a security crisis in Haiti, and the US cannot allow aid convoys into certain areas until they are "safe," but Democracy Now producer Amy Goodman made her way through the epicenter of the quake in Léogâne to talk to survivors, with no threats of violence. According to lawyer Bill Quigley, legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, there are no reported incidents of attacks on relief workers. None.

Now US soldiers with machine guns patrol the airport, the main hospital, and even the collapsed presidential palace, yelling at desperate people who have lost their homes, families, livelihoods, children, mothers, brothers, lovers -- yelling at starving people in English to move back, move back, causing the insecurity and panic they are supposedly there to alleviate. Thousands, literally thousands of people are dying every day because they lack adequate medical treatment, food, sanitation, water. According to Kevin Pina on Flashpoints, people are drinking their own urine so they don't die of dehydration. And the US is sending in more troops. While right-wing demagogues like Rush Limbaugh and Pat Robertson throw down the slave-master's best English, it's the Obama administration that will surely do more damage.

(Thanks to Democracy Now and Flashpoints for the brilliant reporting that fuels this analysis.)

Mattilda also blogs at

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"I wish he was using his energy to yell about the fact that this corporate drugstore is asking for donations instead of sending a stockpile of desperately-needed bandaids, medical gauze, peroxide, bottled water, and anything else required for basic needs."

You might want to consider doing a little research before spouting off knee-jerk, big-evil-corporation cliches.

From a Walgreens press release:

"Walgreens donated $100,000 to the American Red Cross in response to the quake, and employee donations of $50,000 were also matched by the company.

"Along with monetary assistance, Walgreens has donated six semi-trailers worth of bottled water, medical supplies, hygiene products and non-perishable foods through the University of Miami Global Institute for Community Health and Development. In addition, Walgreens contributed 20,000 bottles of water to United Airlines’ first flight to Haiti with relief workers and supplies."


The first rule of fact-checking: Company press releases should not be treated as news, and the above source is a Walgreens press release, not a news report. They're not called press releases because they're generated *by* the press, they're called that because they're aimed *at* the press, in order to generate publicity.

Glad you took on the issue of Haiti, Mattilda.

Great analysis around the UN benefit. I'm glad you raised the issue of children, which has come up in the news so often recently. Laurie Essig wrote this interesting piece about a related issue, the idea that Americans should now begin to adopt Haitian children as proof of their desire to help, and is quite critical of the way adoptions are being discussed in the current context:

(It's unfortunate that she plugs the UN, but there it is...)

Company press releases should not be treated as news, and the above source is a Walgreens press release, not a news report. They're not called press releases because they're generated *by* the press, they're called that because they're aimed *at* the press, in order to generate publicity.

No duh, Yasmin. I know what a press release is.

Mattilda stated a falsehood as fact, namely that Walgreens was only soliciting donations on behalf of the Red Cross rather than donating supplies directly.

I understand how the mob mentality of the "queers" on this site leads you to defend each other's remarks no matter how outrageous they are (especially if they're outrageous), but Mattilda made a blatant factual error. Sorry if the truth offends your far-left sensibilities.

Calm down, Alaric.

Facts put out on press releases still need to be verified; they're not verifiable unless checked out. I deal with press releases nearly every day - and I never, ever assume that they actually present anything but a rosy version of the truth. Or that they even present the truth. I've seen more than a couple that are blatant... how shall I put this delicately? ... lies. That doesn't have to mean that Walgreens is lying (although we might remember that it is a corporation...), but why note a press release?

I was in my local Walgreens and saw what I assume is a similar, if not the exact same sign, that Mattilda saw and wrote about (let's remember that Walgreens is a corporation that looks exactly the same everywhere). If I came home and researched the corporation's donations to the Red Cross, I would find exactly the same press release; I would not take it as truth and I would continue with my point. Not taking B (a press release which nobody should take at face value) as truth does not make A (the original critique) a "falsehood." This is a blog and Mattilda is not Judith Miller. Nothing so dramatic as truth and lies here. Just saying.

Mattilda can do what she wants with what you've presented, and she may or may not have a response to this attempt at a thread-jack, but I'll leave it there. I'm sure you'll find a way to continue.

Yours swimmingly - or is that swarmingly?


Yasmin, Mattilda made no indication that she saw the press release. She simply recalled a personal experience of some asshole in line at Walgreens yelling at the clerk for no good reason and assumed that the Red Cross jar was all the company was doing. I also deal with press releases every day -- corporate ones, no less -- and likewise wouldn't assume that Walgreens was presenting anything more than a rosy version of the truth, but I also wouldn't lean toward the assumption that it's fudging those numbers or lying just because it's a corporation.

"She simply recalled a personal experience of some asshole in line at Walgreens yelling at the clerk for no good reason and assumed that the Red Cross jar was all the company was doing."

I know, it's terrible. She dared to BLOG about an experience. On a BLOG. The nerve.

Where do you get the idea that I'm suggesting there's something wrong with blogging about personal experiences? I said she jumped to a factually incorrect conclusion based on her personal experiences instead of doing basic research. You have a real knack for taking people's remarks out of context.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | January 22, 2010 7:28 AM

Alaric, I always find it amazing that people quote gross sales as though they are net profits when they make their expectations of what aid can be provided by a corporation. Sales before fixed and variable overheads? Mattilda would not know about such things. Also, a single contribution does not mean there will not be more when known additional needs are made clear.

There appears to be a competition between a lot of aid groups so the organization to this relief effort is lacking. No point in sending more of what there is already too much of in some cases. and sending "more" when the distribution on the ground is incomplete is also foolish. Walgreens is a good corporate citizen, (in fact a far better corporate citizen than most) but there are no good corporate citizens to some people. There are no good actions of our government (or any of it's representatives) to some people on both the fringe left and right.

I am sure a lot of areas of Haiti right now pray for the rumble of earth movers to make aid access possible to them. This is a natural disaster and it is not as though we have aircraft hangers filled with survival packages with parachutes attached to reach everywhere simultaneously.

But this posting is about much more than just Walgreens and our government. We are neocolonialists that have had it in for Haiti, of all places, since 1804. But it is only a blog, as Ms. Nair reports accurately, it does not have to be the truth to be thought provoking.

Yasmin, thanks, as always, for your skillful analysis!

And Alaric, you're absolutely right that I did not research that particular statement I made about Walgreens. It seems quite possible that I was incorrect (although they could certainly do much more, and my thoughts about the Red Cross are the same) -- thank you for the information -- if only you could deliver it without bile.

And THAT, Ladies and Gentlemen, is how it's done.

You try to fact check. But sometimes you screw up (well, I know I do).

Then, when someone does you the favour of correcting your screw up, you thank them.

"if only you could deliver it without bile."

You are one to talk, lady. Shit.

Lynn Miller | January 22, 2010 4:27 AM

Wow, its hard to believe that children in serious need of medical care would be flown to a foreign country without their parent(s), especially when the children are unlikely to speak the language of that country. But that is how the US has done it in the past, assigning foster parents to the children for the duration of the medical stay.

This is probably a false hope, but eased restrictions on this program were announced yesterday (Thurs 21st) and the details haven't been ironed out. I truly hope the parents of these children will be allowed to come. Haven't the families faced enough trauma without adding to their fears and concerns?

Lynn, you're right, this is yet another horrifying US policy -- and thanks for the links...

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | January 23, 2010 9:16 AM

How frighteningly horrible Lynn. To think that these wheelchair bound children are separated from their parents. How awful to consider the country, the hospital and doctors that helped them and the kind foster parents who give of themselves for the benefit of children they hope to restore to health to return to their homes and families. Gosh we are just awful to help three kids rather than one by bringing parents along. Grow up! The parents, even prior to the earthquake had jobs, homes and other children to care for too. They do not have all the wonderful options you take for granted.

Robert, I don't think Lynn was implying that there's anything wrong with offering help for injured children. You seem to be implying that there is a limit to the resources available in the US for this type of assistance. In reality, that limit is only a vicious US policy that punishes even those who are supposedly being helped. Never mind everyone else left to die while the US occupies another country and keeps the aid from leaving the airport.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | January 25, 2010 1:50 AM

She wants the parents brought along as well Mattilda. How much room on how many hospital equipped planes exist for the transport of what are called "mercy cases."

Even now we have an aircraft carrier off the coast of Haiti. Is it to threaten them or is it our hospital aboard, ability to freshen 50,000 gallons of seawater into drinkable water or our ability to prepare many thousands of meals per day?

The United States is not occupying Haiti. The biggest problem they have is from a horrible lack of coordination of aid among all of the various aid groups protecting their own turf ahead of getting necessary aid to people by working in a spirit of cooperation.