Haitians hold onto life as help mounts

The task for millions today in Haiti is to try to stay alive until help arrives and to try to save those injured in the earthquake.

The first overseas aid came today when an Air China plane with a Chinese search-and-rescue team, medics and other emergency workers landed at Port-au-Prince airport. Cuba, which already had hundreds of doctors in Haiti, treated injured people in makeshift field hospitals.

The Red Cross said that 3 million people, a third of the Haitian population, are in need of disaster relief.

The United States and many other nations said they will send food, water and medical supplies to the Caribbean island nation, the poorest in the Western hemisphere. Haitian President Rene Preval issued an urgent call, “Parliament has collapsed. The tax office has collapsed. Schools have collapsed. Hospitals have collapsed.”

The U.S. labor movement has already jumped into the disaster relief effort on several fronts.

National Nurses United issued an urgent call last night through its nationwide disaster relief network to recruit nurse volunteers to assist the earthquake-devastated nation where many thousands are feared dead. “We are calling on nurses throughout the U.S. to join us in this critical effort,” said NNU Executive Director Rose Ann DeMoro.

More than 3,400 registered nurses from across the U.S. have responded in less than one day, so far and the union is asking the public to help pay for travel costs involved in the emergency nursing mission.

Those able to support the effort are asked to call 1-800-578-8225.

In New York, the Transport Workers Union has assigned Georges Exceus, its chief organizer, to coordinate union relief efforts through centralized collection points all over the east coast. The union has begun a massive effort to collect clothing, food and other essential supplies.

The Firefighters Union has dispatched search and rescue teams from Fairfax County, Va. And Los Angeles County, Calif., made up of members of two of its locals to Haiti and plans to send additional teams.

The aid group Doctors Without Borders treated wounded at two hospitals that withstood the quake and set up tent clinics elsewhere to replace its damaged facilities

President Obama said the U.S. humanitarian effort will include military and civilian emergency teams from across the country. The aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson is expected to arrive off the coast of Haiti today and the Navy said the amphibious assault ship USS Bataan has been ordered to sail for the country with 2,000 Marines. “We have to be there for them in their hour of need,” Obama said.

Secretary of State Clinton said today that the administration will provide long-term assistance to help Haiti recover. “This is going to be a long-term effort,” Clinton said on NBC’s Today Show. “We have the immediate crisis of trying to save those lives that can be saved, to deal with the injured, to try to provide food, water, medical supplies and some semblance of shelter.”

Labor and human rights organizations applauded the administration’s move to suspend deportations of Haitians currently in the United States, in view of the crisis.

Since January 2009, U.S. immigration judges have issued deportation orders to over 30,000 undocumented Haitians. Activists have been calling on the government to grant Temporary Protected Status to Haitians in recent years. TPS is granted by the United States to eligible nationals of countries that cannot safely return to their homelands because of armed conflict, environmental disaster, or other extraordinary or temporary conditions. Activists say Haiti clearly fit that description for a while and the official designation should be granted now.

The right wing in the United States is using the disaster to foment racism and hatred. The evangelical preacher Pat Robertson laid the blame for the earthquake on Haitians themselves, saying the country “swore a pact to the devil” by ending slavery and escaping French rule in the 18th century.

“Something happened a long time ago in Haiti, and people might not want to talk about it,” Robertson said yesterday on his Christian Broadcasting Network show, the 700 Club. Haitians were originally “under the heel of the French. You know, Napolean the third, or whatever. And they got together and swore a pact with the devil,” said the former presidential candidate.

“They said, ‘We will serve you if you will get us free from the French.’ True story. And so the devil said, ‘OK, it’s a deal.’ Ever since, they have been cursed by one thing or another.”

Historians say the Haitian uprising was one of the most important slave revolts in history, resulting in the creation of the first country in the Americas to be ruled by African descendants.

Stanford University professor and historian John Chester Miller notes in his book, “The Wolf By the Ears: Thomas Jefferson and Slavery,” that the Haitian slave revolt, rather than being a “pact with the devil,” was a key factor in helping stabilize and strengthen the newly formed United States of America.

Were it not for Haiti, Miller points out, the course of U.S. history would have been different with the country possibly never expanding much beyond the Appalachian Mountains.

The Haitian revolutionaries tied up and defeated a huge French Army slated, after “mopping up” the rebellion in Haiti, to re-establish, via New Orleans, a French empire in the United States. Fearing this, Alexander Hamilton, Miller notes, collaborated with leaders of the Haitian slave revolt.

Other historians note the U.S. role in recent times includes propping up the dictators “Papa Doc” and “Baby Doc” Duvalier, destabilizing the progressive-oriented Aristide governments, and even ordering armed intervention.

The AFL-CIO sent out the following information to help life-saving efforts in Haiti. Executive Vice President Arlene Holt Baker writes, “Haiti is a scene of unimaginable devastation and human tragedy today. Please do all you can to help Haitians survive Tuesday’s massive earthquake by donating to one of the service organizations listed here.

“I know this is a tough time for many of you. But we show our true character by helping those in greater need than ourselves even when it is hard.

“Union members and other working family activists are the most giving, selfless people I know. Can the people of Haiti count on you today?”

The following is the AFL-CIO list. Other suggestions can be found here.

Doctors Without Borders:


Partners in Health:


Red Cross International Response Fund:


RN Response Network


Solidarity Center Education Fund:

United Way Worldwide Disaster Fund:


For updates on union efforts, follow the AFL-CIO Now blog:


Photo: Matt Marek/American Red Cross/AP




John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward and a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee. In the 1970s and '80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.