November 11, 2019

BROWN | Spotlight on Hong Kong, Blackout on Haiti

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Students walking between Collegetown and the Engineering Quad in recent weeks have seen the pro-Hong Kong slogans on the footbridge over Cascadilla Gorge. The Sun has featured several articles this semester about the protests rocking the semi-autonomous region, including a recent story on vandalism of the bridge stickers and other pro-Hong Kong posters on campus. Not a single article, however, mentions the deadly anti-government protests less than 700 miles from Miami that have thrown impoverished Haiti to a political standstill for most of 2019. But The Sun is not alone: The corporate media in the Global North have tacitly concluded that Haiti, unlike Hong Kong, is undeserving of our attention and sympathies.

It is natural then to ask why Hong Kong gets so much attention from American politicians across the spectrum and every major news outlet despite much less violence against protestors. Haiti, despite dozens of fatalities and a video of a Haitian senator shooting at Associated Press journalists and protestors, gets marginal coverage at best.

Events unraveling in Hong Kong serve as an example of Chinese Communist Party repression, perhaps explaining the relative media blackout on Haiti. Haiti’s much more severe crisis, like many that have repeatedly wrecked the country since the post-Cold War political transition, are largely a result of several decades of predatory U.S. policy and the extraordinary corruption of U.S.-backed President Jovenel Moïse. The U.S., which had long enjoyed the support of an iron-fisted Haitian junta during the Cold War, quickly realized that it could not accept a democratic government in Haiti.

In fact, on two separate occasions in the past three decades, in 1991 and then again in 2004, the U.S. played an instrumental role in the ouster of the immensely popular priest turned-President Jean-Bertrand Arisitide. Aristide was eventually allowed to return to Haiti with U.S. military backing. The aftermath of both coups resulted in a reign of terror in which thousands were killed and policies favored by U.S. agribusiness and financial institutions were implemented. It is in this context that Haiti has become a country run by people like Jovenel Moïse: crooked businessmen and gangsters, all preferred by corporate power. In other words, protests in Hong Kong serve as a convenient contribution to the propaganda line, whereas Haiti’s misery is unserving to the ideology of self-righteous nationalism.

These facts highlight something profoundly immoral about the role of corporate and financial interests in foreign policy: The U.S. would subject a tiny impoverished nation, the poorest outside of Africa, to multiple episodes of state-sponsored terror for the crime of not voting for Washington and the International Monetary Fund’s preferred candidate. That the State Department would work with clothing manufacturers such as Fruit of the Loom, Levi’s, and Hanes to lobby against a minimum wage hike unanimously passed in the Haitian parliament in 2009, despite the fact that that the $3 per day minimum wage was estimated to be less than one-fourth of what was needed to achieve basic nutritional standards for a family of three. The attempted minimum wage hike was a response to the 2008 “clorox riots,” named for a hunger so painful that it feels like bleach in the stomach. What monstrous cruelty and insatiable greed it must require for ultra-wealthy corporate executives to undermine a modest step away from mass-starvation in a hapless country — all so that they can maximize their underwear profits.

Meanwhile, as Haiti stagnates in perpetual misery, our politicians and mainstream media outlets zoom in on protesters in Hong Kong who decry the evils of the Chinese communist totalitarianism. But it is our responsibility to look beyond these self-serving narratives on global affairs and shine light on the horrors of the world that are in large part the result of nefarious U.S. policy and corporate greed, consequently ignored by politicians and media in service to the privileged and powerful.

Jacob Brown is a Ph.D. candidate at Cornell University. He can be reached at jtb257@cornell.edu. Mapping Utopia runs every other Tuesday this semester.