Dressed to Kill

February 2, 2011

Joegodson and Paul

While walking past Megamart yesterday in Delmas 31, an image of the future of Haiti struck Joegodson such that he needed to pause to digest it. He was surrounded by business as usual. But the usual is weird. The normal, if you mull it over, is bizarre.

His compatriots, without the money to buy food and shelter, walked the dirty streets as usual, sidestepping the now permanent debris. It’s increasingly difficult to keep up appearances.

But the stores of Megamart were awash in foreign soldiers: two here, several over there, some on their own. They dallied in the shops. Each had a rifle in his arm or slung over his shoulder.

Joegodson’s first thought was, “Are we at war?”

But what kind of a war is this? Haiti, as everyone knows, has no army.

He wanted to ask them whatever they were doing in Haiti, dressed to kill like that.

They mingle together in the shops that Haitians can’t afford to enter. They discuss their purchases. They come from the four corners of the earth to kill some time in Haiti. When they aren’t pinning medals on each other, they have nothing to do. So they stroll around and shop. One would imagine that they’re picking up some good deals to take home. They are in no hurry, like vacationers perusing the shops in any tourist destination.

They’re tourists. It’s a kind of forced tourism. The reconstruction planners had promised tourists. Here they are. Honestly, what’s the difference? Their fatigues are the new vacation wear, their rifles the latest accessories.

Joegodson met some Argentinean soldier/tourists. He used to get along well with tourists from Latin America; it would allow him a chance to practice his Spanish. But now the tourist/soldiers are all inoculated against friendliness before they leave their home countries. They take arrogance pills to protect them from any inclination to communicate honestly with the lowly Haitians. Who would want to enter into conversation with someone who has decided definitively that you are hopeless? But this attitude is universal among them.

Joegodson stopped for a while to consider what he was seeing: all of these soldiers, from all over the world, all in Haiti. In the past, they have been used to kill Haitians that defend their right to control their lives. We have written about it from a number of angles. They will be deployed similarly again, when the word comes down the chain of command. Will they respond? Is the non-fraternity policy the basis of assuring that the MINUSTAH troops have no qualms about shooting the Haitians, if the powerful interests so desire? In other words, what we are witnessing is a structural antagonism, an imposed hostility, a regulated unfriendliness.

On the other hand, maybe Haiti is a tipping point for the world. They all think that Haiti is small and unimportant. However, until a couple of weeks ago, everyone thought the same thing about Tunisia. And then one young man who couldn’t stand the indignity any longer set himself on fire. And a great majority of his compatriots understood him. That desperate, disillusioned man – useless in his own eyes, perhaps – was the spark that set ablaze the entire Arab world.

What are arms for? What is the point of the military hardware that the United States and its allies use to threaten and to humiliate, to blackmail and to bribe? In the face of the defiance of the people that they are trying to exploit and control, arms are revealed to be as decorative as those that show off the latest fatigues of the tourist/soldiers at Megamart. In Egypt, the soldiers of the army are the wild card. At the moment of writing, they identify with their families, friends, and neighbours protesting the dictatorship. What happens when the soldiers are mercenaries, as in Haiti? How will their disinterest in the country’s history and future play out in the face of Haitian determination?

Nuclear arms are a very bad foundation upon which to base a relationship. Not only is it dangerous. You can’t threaten someone into friendship. You can’t bribe a person into solidarity.

On the other hand, mutual respect across borders and cultures might be a less costly and ultimately more productive alternative. Unless you were intent on harming people, you wouldn’t really need to bring your guns on vacation.

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