The natural vulnerability of Haiti and its precarious position on the margins of global capitalism have exposed its population to yet another potential catastrophe this week as a cholera outbreak threatened the population.
Some 295 people have died as a result of the disease in the Caribbean country and 3,612 are infected, according to World Health Organization data released on Tuesday.
The United Nations still fears a much bigger death toll, possibly in the tens of thousands.
This comes only nine months after the devastating January earthquake, which rated seven on the Richter scale and killed over 300,000 Haitians.
Venezuela sends aid
On Tuesday, the Venezuelan government sent a team from its Ministry of Health along with 10,000 doses of medication, 4,500 intravenous drips and rehydration tablets to Haiti to help battle against the disease’s spread and relieve the symptoms of those at risk.
The team from the Health Ministry was planning to assess the situation on arrival with the goal of subsequently sending a specialist medical group to attend to victims.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez referred to the Haitian crisis on Monday, “Here is our air force, our revolutionary air force, and our government reaching out to our Haitian brothers and sisters and people in need, people exploited by savage capitalism and by imperialism”.
Venezuela’s contribution is part of a regional effort coordinated by the Union of South American Nations (Unasur), a political and diplomatic multilateral regional body.
The rotating president of the Unasur Health Council, Ecuadorean Health Minister David Chiriboga, announced, “each country has committed to send Ecuador a list of the resources and medical supplies to contribute to Haiti so that this could all be given to the Haitian Health Minister with the objective of prioritizing necessities”.
Dr Michel Thieren added, “the next news will be when geographically, new pockets of the epidemic emerge, in Port-au-Prince or elsewhere”.
Despite the positive regional response to the cholera outbreak, Dr Thiere said that cholera is likely to “settle” in Haiti over the coming months even if the death toll doesn’t increase significantly from the current figure.
This is the first time cholera has been seen in Latin America and the Caribbean since 1991, when an outbreak occurred in Peru.
Most cases have been found in the rural region of Artibonite, about 60 miles north of the capital Port-au-Prince.
Cholera spreads through contaminated water supplies, causes chronic diarreah and can kill within a matter of hours if not treated.
One of the biggest worries is that cholera might spread to the sprawling refugee camps located in and around Port-au-Prince, set up after the earthquake earlier this year.
The camps hold around 1.5 million people and the conditions are terrible.
There is little running water and massive overcrowding means that if the cholera reaches the camps, then it will be almost impossible to contain.
Fears increased last Sunday when five people were discovered infected in campsites, but the patients were quickly isolated and treated and the UN said that the cases did not mean the disease had reached the camps.
Around 75 percent of people with cholera don’t suffer from the symptoms at all but act as carriers, making its spread difficult to contain.
The cure is simple provided the disease is diagnosed quickly. Rehydration tablets or drinking purified water mixed with water and sugar are all that is needed in standard cases.
Mainstream media organizations have reported the serious dangers that the refugee camps pose for a spread of cholera, given the conditions there.
One question they don’t seem to ask is why the conditions are still terrible nine months after the earthquake occurred.
At the time, the disaster left bodies piled high in the streets. The United Nations described Port-au-Prince horrifyingly as a “tomb”, which was a lethal combination of decomposing bodies, with no water, electricity, sanitation or food supplies - a paradise for cholera to spread.
The presence of a long-term Cuban medical team of over 400 doctors that arrived long before the earthquake was accompanied by Venezuelans shortly afterwards, who provided relief alongside other teams and organizations from around the world.
Venezuela also cancelled Haiti’s debt immediately after the tragic earthquake.
The initial international response to the crisis in Janaury, led by the US, was militaristic and frightening.
The French government publicly attacked the US miltary, accusing it of turning away aid at the Port-au-Prince airport so that its military build up could continue.
Some $5.3 billion USD in aid was promised by countries across the globe in the wake of the disaster, but most of the funds have not come through.
On October 6, former US president Bill Clinton, who is now co-chairperson of the commission overseeing Haiti’s alleged reconstruction, had to acknowledge that only $732 million, or less than 14% of the funds, had reached Haitians.
The United States leads the world in its shortfall. Not one cent of its supposed $1.15 billion share has been paid to Haiti.
This will undoubtedly add to the devastation the cholera outbreak will cause if it spreads to the refugee camps around Port-au-Prince.
The so-called international development budgets from developed countries are being cut in the global economic crisis, so international help for Haiti is unlikely to move beyond the rhetorical to the material.
Haiti is a victim of its location on a geographical fault line that makes it vulnerable to earthquakes. Hispanola, the island Haiti shares with Dominican Republic, is also in the path of hurricanes, as are many other Caribbean islands.
But Haiti is also the poorest country in the western Hemisphere, according to the World Bank, and one of the poorest in the world.
The Caribbean nation also has a long history of colonialism and occupation.
Haiti was the first country of African people to free itself through an anti-colonial slave rebellion from French rule in 1804, led by Touissant l’Ouverture.