Haiti, Katrina, and Why I Won't Give To Haiti Through the Red Cross

by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon

At Katrina, the Red Cross used funds generously donated by millions of Americans to disperse tens of thousands of black New Orleans residents to the four corners of the continental US, knowing it was very unlkely they would ever be allowed to return.  If the Red Cross didn't respect the persons, the families, the communities of black US citizens, do we really imagine it will respect Haitians?  And why should we believe Wyclef Jean about much of anything?

Haiti, Katrina, and Why I Won't Give To Haiti Through the Red Cross

by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon

What's charitably given isn't always charitably distributed. In 21st century American and its empire, our corporate and military elite wield immense power. Corporate philanthropy serves corporate interests, not human interests, and corporate control over government, culture and media ensure that even funds donated by ordinary citizens can be directed and harvested for elite purposes too.

In the wake of the man-made disaster of Katrina, Americans freely gave tens of millions to the American Red Cross, which used a great deal of it to effectively disperse the population of black New Orleans to the four corners of the continental U.S. Millions more were diverted to their administrative overhead or other projects. But the local Louisiana elites who benefited from the exile of hundreds of thousands of black New Orleans residents were able to use Red Cross funds and personnel to work their will.

I know. I was there. In the days immediately after Katrina in 2005 I made it down to Baton Rouge, where thousands of the evacuees pulled out of the water and scooped off rooftops and overpasses were huddled in shelters at the city's convention center and Southern University. The shelters were hard to miss, because there was a mile long line of buses crawling toward each one. The busiest person in each shelter was the transportation coordinator.

If an evacuee had a high status job, proof of ID and checkable references, I saw them put plane tickets for the whole family in that person's hand, line up a job in Detroit or Los Angeles, and call them a cab to the airport. But for everybody else without a car, they had one solution. Get on the bus. There would be no way back, and no plans to help you go back. There's a bus for you, going to Dallas or Houston or somewhere.  Get on it.

Singly and in groups I interviewed just under a hundred evacuees in a day and a half, many still disoriented. They wanted to be reunited with their families. They wondered if they'd be able to go back, or if there would be anything to go back to. But all the Red Cross told them, I heard again and again, was that the shelter is closing in a couple of days, you can't stay here in Baton Rouge, you have to get on a bus to Houston, Dallas, Atlanta or somewhere. Now. Even those who had businesses before the flood --- I talked to the owner of a bakery and a car repair shop who stayed to protect their investment and to look after relatives --- even they were told there's nothing here for you but a bus going out of state.

I talked to some of the Red Cross people who ran the shelter too, especially at Southern University. I asked how they knew evacuees had nothing in New Orleans to go back to. They were white, of course and most of the sheltered evacuees were black. “Look at them,” was the stock answer from several. “What could they possibly have worth going back to? They are better off starting new lives somewhere else,” they rationalized.

The places they came from were cesspools anyway, some of the good white Red Cross folks helpfully told me, citing news stories in wide circulation about New Orleans residents firing on helicopters and boats that were rescuing people.  Had I ever actually been to some of those neighborhoods, they asked?  Of course the crap about shooting at copters and rescue boats turned out to be false, and I told them it was likely nonsense.  But they seemed to need to believe the madness, and did.

I recall pointing out that if they were dispersed far out of state many would have no way back.  This too had little effect on them.  One or two seemed to struggle a bit with what I told them, saying they hoped it was not true, but said they were just doing their jobs.

My point here is that in a society controlled by an elite with often questionable motives, the charities this corporate elite and their media promote have to be questioned too. I won't give a nickel through the Red Cross because they are no more likely to recognize the viability and full humanity of Haitians and their communities than did on the Gulf Coast. The Red Cross isn't alone in this.

The US government, as Glen Ford points out, has thoroughly militarized US aid to Haiti, and the same US corporate media that painted New Orleans as a cesspool of violence and despair are bringing us images and impressions of Haiti that match their twisted vision. Food and water cannot be distributed until “order” is restored.

Corporate media manufacture “celebrities” all the time, people who are famous for being well known.  We know more about the lives, tatoos and and personal business of celebrities than we know about the public affairs in our own cities and towns and school boards. Haitian musician Wyclef Jean used his celebrity, and the earthquake, to raise millions for his own Haitian charity.

We make no judgment on the allegations that its bookkeeping may be irregular. But it's worth noting that Wyclef Jean has family ties to the group of gangsters and thugs that the Clinton-era CIA installed in office when it removed Haiti's elected president, Jean-Betrand Aristide from office in the 1990s. Wyclef Jean has repeated the contemptible lie all over black radio that Aristide skipped the country with $900 million stolen from Haitians. We understand where this comes from. Wyclef's uncle was the Washington DC representative of the short-lived 1990s un-elected gangster government of Haiti. He runs a right wing rag of a Haitian newspaper dedicated to spreading outrageous and self-serving falsehoods against Lavalas, the only Haitian party capable of winning free elections in that unhappy country.  If Wyclef will lie about that, we wonder what else he'd lie about, and why we should trust him with our money.

Wyclef's problems aside, one way to ensure your donations are deployed and used in a manner faithful to your intent, and respectful of the Haitian rights to community, humanity and agency, is to send them to efforts managed in whole or in part by responsible Haitians, and members of the Haitian diaspora.

Here are a few of the places to donate that we recommend, people whom we and those close to us can vouch for personally. Give generously, as we understand aftershocks are continuing to occur. There are many others. But not the Red Cross. Probably not anybody whose name you see on CNN. Or on BET. Our apologies to the great people we haven't mentioned. Use the comments to add more recommendations of authentic, grassroots, responsible places for people to donate. Our comments are moderated, of course.

Scattering Resouces – Online donations via PayPal

Scattering Resources is working in cooperation with Fondation Avenir in on-the-ground relief efforts in Haiti. Members of Scattering Resources help comprise a team that delivering supplies and assessing the situation in local communities inside Port-au-Prince and Jacmel.

Haitian Lawyers Leadership Network

HLLN is connected with networks of Haitian doctors and others abroad, and with care providers on the ground in Haiti.

And of course the National Nurses Organization will let you volunteer (if you're an RN) to go yourself, or donate to sponsor an RN. Check them out at http://www.sendanurse.org