Activists, academics urge Congress to shift focus to relief aid, away from military

In a letter organized by the TransAfrica Forum and sent to members of Congress today, activists and academic leaders are urging the U.S. to de-emphasize the military's role in the response to the Jan. 12 earthquake and to shift focus to improving the relief efforts on the ground. The letter notes that "an over-emphasis on security has meant costly delays in distributing aid that have cost lives and led to otherwise unnecessary amputations in some cases."
The letter was signed by TransAfrica Forum's Harry Belafonte, actor Danny Glover, Jesse Jackson and BHR columnist Brian Concannon, Jr., who leads the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti — along with many other signatories from colleges and NGOs.
The full text of the letter follows:

January 27, 2010

Dear Members of Congress,

The outpouring of aid from U.S. citizens and their government to Haiti in the wake of this immense catastrophe has been important and welcome. However, it is also clear that there have been serious mistakes that have unnecessarily delayed the delivery of medical supplies, water, and other life-saving materials.

Currently, there are major shortages reported of food, tents, and water.

The most costly unnecessary delays had until recently been in the area of medical supplies.

A team of volunteer surgeons including the incoming president of the New York State Chapter of the American College of Surgeons, whose deployment was delayed for days by the U.S. military, reported that "untold numbers are dying of untreated, preventable infections ["

Doctors Without Borders (MSF), the world-renowned humanitarian group is one of the organizations who had tons of medical supplies re-routed because of decisions made by the U.S. government.

"We lost three days," Francoise Saulnier, the head of MSF's legal department told Reuters Television in an interview. "And these three days have created a massive problem with infection, with gangrene, with amputations that are needed now, while we could have really spared this to those people."

Jarry Emmanuel, air logistics officer for the UN's World Food Programme, noted on January 16 that "most flights are for the US military."

Perhaps the biggest mistake has been an overemphasis on security, and the deployment of 20,000 troops, to the detriment of delivery of life-saving supplies. This was especially true during the first 10-12 days after the earthquake hit.

Although the situation with regard to medical supplies has recently improved, there are now other shortages, including food, water, and tents.

To avoid more unnecessary loss of life in the coming weeks, we call upon the Administration to guarantee the following:

* A daily public accounting of the shipments of materials and personnel that pass through the Port-au-Prince airport or any other ports under control of the U.S. military

* A public commitment to prioritize the distribution of vital aid and supplies and personnel, including water, medical supplies, food, medical personnel, and shelter. This means that these supplies and personnel must be given priority over the deployment of any more military personnel or equipment.

* A public announcement as to what measures our government will take going forward to make sure that the mistakes of the first two weeks are not repeated.

* A public commitment to deliver, water, food, and other urgently needed supplies to rural areas and other population centers that have seen little, no, or greatly delayed aid

* A public commitment to ensuring that all survivors in Haiti receive the necessities: clean water, food, shelter, and medical care, and that all resources received will be immediately deployed for this purpose

* A public commitment to work with all governments and Civil Society Organizations that are delivering these needed goods and services

While security can help to ensure a better distribution of aid, the actual distribution of aid is most important. While it is true that there have been some supplies lost to looting, this is not nearly so terrible as the loss of life and limb that has occurred due to unnecessary delays. The over-emphasis on security has been costly, and must not be repeated - from now on the top priority must be the delivery and distribution of the basic survival needs of the population. The Administration must publicly reassure the world that this will indeed be the priority going forward.

Sincere regards,

Harry Belafonte, Board of Directors
Emeritus, TransAfrica Forum

Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr.
Founder and President, Rainbow/PUSH Coalition

Danny Glover
Chair of the Board, TransAfrica Forum

Brian Concannon Jr., Esq.
Director, Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti

Mark Weisbrot
Co-Director, Center for Economic and Policy Research

Rachelle Lyndaker Schlabach
Director, Mennonite Central Committee, U.S. Washington Office

Melinda Miles
Founder and Director, Konbit pou Ayiti (Haiti)

Fritz Gutwein
Co-Director and Haiti Reborn Coordinator
The Quixote Center

Sasha Kramer
Co-founder, Sustainable Organic Integrated Livelihoods (Haiti)

Veerle Opgenhaffen
Sr. Program Director
Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at NYU School of Law

Anne McConnell-Wisskirchen
Co-ordinator, Haiti Advocacy Platform-UK

Briggs Bomba, Michael Stulman and Gerald LeMelle
Africa Action

Larry Birns
Director, Council on Hemispheric Affairs

Mark C. Johnson,
Executive Director, Fellowship of Reconciliation

John Feffer
Co-Director, Foreign Policy In Focus
Institute for Policy Studies

Emira Woods
Co-Director, Foreign Policy in Focus
Institute for Policy Studies

Jane Hamsher

Kevin Martin
Executive Director, Peace Action

Blase Bonpane
Director, Office of the Americas

Chuck Kaufman
National Co-Coordinator, Alliance for Global Justice

Doug Henwood
Editor, Left Business Observer

James Jordan
National Coordinator, Campaign for Labor Rights

James G. Devine
Professor of Economics
Loyola Marymount University

Greg Grandin
Professor of History
New York University

Hope Lewis
Professor of Law
Northeastern University School of Law

Carl G. Estabrook
Professor Emeritus
University of Illinois

A. Belden Fields
Professor Emeritus, Political Science
University of Illinois

T. M. Scruggs
Professor of Anthropology
University of Iowa

Amy H. Gardner
Professor of Medical Anthropology
University of California, Berkeley

Rosario Aguilar-Pariente
Visiting Fellow, Center for US-Mexican Studies
University of California, San Diego

Hasan Johnson
Assistant Professor
California State University, Fresno

Peter Hallward
Professor of Modern European Philosophy
Middlesex University

Rosaura Sanchez
Professor, Latin American Literature and Chicano Literature
University of California, San Diego

Millie Thayer
Assistant Professor of Sociology
University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Kent Norsworthy
Content Director, Latin American Network Information Center
University of Texas, Austin

Sheila R. Tully
California State University, San Francisco

Chris Chiappari
Associate Professor
Saint Olaf College

Susanne Jonas
Lecturer, Latin American and Latino Studies
University of California, Santa Cruz

Laura Enriquez
Professor of Sociology
University of California, Berkeley

Edgar Ivan Gutierrez
History Instructor
Riverside City College

Dana Frank
Professor, Department of History
University of California, Santa Cruz

Vijay Prashad
George and Martha Kellner Chair in South Asian History and Professor of International Studies
Trinity College

Martin Luis Cabrera
Assistant Professor, Peninsular and Latin American Literature and Culture
University of California, San Diego

Steve Ellner
Professor of History
University of Oriente, Venezuela

Miguel Tinker Salas
Professor of Chicano and Latin American Studies
Pomona College

Sidney Lemelle
Professor of History
Pomona College

Victor Silverman
Associate Professor of History
Pomona College

Victor Rodríguez
Professor of sociology of race and ethnicity, Department of Chicano and Latino Studies
California State University, Long Beach

Susana Chavez Silverman
Professor of Romance Languages and Literature
Pomona College

Forrest Hylton
Universidad de los Andes

Sujatha Fernándes
Assistant Professor of Sociology
City University of New York

Jose Vadi
Professor Eeritus, Political Science
California State University, Pomona

Sonja Wolf
Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Mexico (UNAM)

Tanalis Padilla
Associate Professor of History
Dartmouth College

Gilbert Gonzalez
University of California, Irvine

Alma Martinez
Associate Professor of Theater Arts
Pomona College

Ronald Chilcote
Professor Emeritus
University of California, Riverside

Thomas W. Walker,
Professor Emeritus, Political Science, Ohio University

Eric Bindler
Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology
Indiana University

Dr. Clifford Andrew Welch
UNIFESP - Universidade Federal do Estado de São Paulo

Dr. Daniel Faber
Director, Northeastern Environmental Justice Research Collaborative

Jacob Rekedal
University of California, Riverside

Donald Bray
California State University, Los Angeles

Marjorie Bray
California State University, Los Angeles

Mayo C. Toruño
Professor of Economics
California State University, San Bernardino

Carol Hendrickson
Professor of Anthropology
Marlboro College

Michael Brun
Department of Economics
Illinois State University

Estevan Azcona
UH Center for Mexican American Studies (CMAS) Visiting Scholar
University of Houston

William I. Robinson
Professor of Sociology, University of California-Santa Barbara

Sydney Hutchinson, Ph.D.
Humboldt Fellow
Berlin Phonogram Archive
Ethnological Museum, Berlin

Royce Hutson, Ph.D
Associate Professor
School of Social Work
Wayne State University, Detroit, MI

Griselda Rodriguez,
Syracuse University

Gilbert Joseph, Ph.D
Farnam Professor of History & International Studies
Yale University

Marc Becker
Associate Professor of History
Truman State University

Linda Carty, Ph.D.
Director of Graduate Studies
Department of African American Studies
Syracuse University

Lynn Stephen
Distinguished Professor of Anthropology and Ethnic Studies
University of Oregon

Sylvia Tesh, Ph.D
University of Arizona

Alejandra Marchevsky
Associate Professor of Liberal Studies
Department of Liberal Studies
California State University, Los Angeles

Hector Perla
Assistant Professor
University of California, Santa Cruz

Gilberto M.A.Rodrigues, Ph.D,
Brazilian Professor Fulbright Visiting Scholar, Law School
University of Notre Dame

Ester Hernandez
Dept. of Chicano Studies
California State University, Los Angeles

Leisy Abrego, Ph.D
University of California President's Postdoctoral Fellow
University of California, Irvine
Lee Furey
Instructor of General Education
Art Institute of Atlanta

Nicole Weeks
Assistant Professor of Psychology
Pomona College

Lauren Derby
Associate Professor of History
University of California, Los Angeles

Jeanne M. Woods
Henry F. Bonura, Jr. Distinguished Professor of Law
Loyola University College of Law

Update Subscriptions: