Socialist ViewPoint and analysis for working people

September/October 2005 • Vol 5, No. 7 •

The Truth Unfolds:
More than a ‘Natural Disaster,’ Poor Were Not Allowed to Leave

By Bonnie Weinstein

The U.S. government, on behalf of the wealthy elite, is spending most of the resources of this wealthiest nation for war and tyranny the world over, and has left tens of thousands of U.S. Gulf state residents—mostly Black, all poor, now homeless and destitute—to fend for themselves. This is privatization run amok.

Most people think that the heavy taxes working people pay to the government should be used precisely for saving people’s lives and providing emergency aid in times of crisis such as the Katrina hurricane disaster. But, the country and the world as a whole have been shocked by the absolute refusal of the mightiest power on earth to save the lives of this hurricane’s victims left stranded in New Orleans and other Gulf of Mexico coastal cities and towns.

There have been thousands of needless deaths due to the late and inadequate national response. The U.S. government failed to mobilize first responders and resources in sufficient quantity to evacuate hundreds of thousands from the storm struck areas. Then, the national government failed to rescue thousands left without water, shelter, or food when, as everyone knows, they had the resources—the buses, trucks, planes, and trains to do so! As one irate stranded victim articulated to the national press, “It’s not rocket science. We need buses to get out of here.”

Many commentators have pointed to the fact that nearly half of National Guard troops of both Louisiana and Mississippi, who “normally” would be deployed in rescue operations in their own states, are over in Iraq fighting on behalf of the oil companies. While the administration is quick to discount this fact, the people stranded do not.

Almost all commentators have compared this crisis to situations in “Third World” countries. Never before in a disaster in the U.S. have people been forced to stay for several days on hot highway overpasses, or crowded into sports and convention stadiums, without basic necessities, with rotting uncollected corpses of loved ones. The comparison with Third World countries is all the more shocking because it did not have to be this way. It may soon become clear that the failure of the highest levels of government to act responsibly, and to act in time, caused more deaths and disease than the hurricane itself!

According to an article in the September 2, 2005 New York Times entitled, “New Orleans Mayor, in Tears, Blasts Washington’s Response” by Joseph B. Treaster and Terence Neilan, “…as soon as ‘positive control’ is instituted more people will be allowed to leave pockets of New Orleans to go to the Superdome and other shelters.” So, the poor, not only had no way to leave they were not allowed to leave until the “authorities” gained “positive control” of these “pockets of New Orleans!” And, as soon as the National Guard was deployed many became the “authority”—cops, not rescuers. Repeatedly, the mass media depicted identical scenes in two different ways. Every time they showed a white person coming out of an abandoned store with bags of items they said that they had “found” much needed food for their families. When they showed the identical scene, of Black people coming out of a store with food, water, diapers, etc., they call them looters.

In another article on the same day entitled, “From Margins of Society to Center of the Tragedy” by David Gonzalez, the author describes, “The scenes of floating corpses, scavengers fighting for food and desperate throngs seeking any way out of New Orleans have been tragic enough. But for many African-American leaders, there is a growing outrage that many of those still stuck at the center of this tragedy were people who for generations had been pushed to the margins of society.

“The victims, they note were largely black and poor, those who toiled in the background of the tourist havens, living in tumbledown neighborhoods that were long known to be vulnerable to disaster if the levees failed. Without so much as a car or bus fare to escape ahead of time, they found themselves left behind by a failure to plan for their rescue should the dreaded day ever arrive.”

Further in this article, in an interview with the Rev. Calvin O. Butts III, pastor of Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, Reverend says, “If you know that terror is approaching in terms of hurricanes, and you’ve already seen the damage they’ve done in Florida and elsewhere, what in God’s name were you thinking…I think a lot of it has to do with race and class. The people affected were largely poor people. Poor, black people.”

Perhaps President Bush should seek advise from the antiwar and civil rights movements. Both movements have managed to peacefully and gracefully move half a million people—including elderly and children—in and out of Washington D.C. on several occasions, in only one day without difficulty. The advance planning was not magic. Nearly ten thousand school buses, which otherwise stood idle on the weekends, did the job very well. A similar effort could have easily moved all the people necessary AND their precious possessions, several hundred miles inland to schools serving as temporary shelters. Three days were available for this—more than enough time. School had not started and so these actions would not have even caused inconvenience.

This incident, more than any other in modern history, points out the inability of the capitalist system to safeguard the lives of the people, let alone to advance human rights and dignity. Like a giant ball and chain around the necks of the working poor, capitalism has dragged them under the water to drown and left those who escape drowning to starve. Then they will decry what a terrible tragedy it all is, raise taxes on the poor, blame it on the “looting,” condemn them for trying to survive on their own when no help was given, thus justifying police state tactics of protecting property over people which will result in the killing of innocent people.

Capitalism has shown that the richest nation in the world under their exclusive control is incapable of choosing a humanitarian road. Profit is their business. The multitudes are just the tools used to create their wealth and at any expense.

How is it that a poor and tiny nation—Cuba—is able to come out of a similarly devastating hurricane, hurricane Dennis that hit in July of this year, with only 16 deaths? Because, according to an article by Marce Cameron, entitled, “CUBA: Hurricane Dennis Causes Severe Damage,” that appeared in the July 20, 2005 edition of the Green Left Weekly, Cuba’s military was deployed not to fight a war, but to carry out a massive evacuation of over 1.5 million people—well before the hurricane hit.

Cubans living in hurricane prone areas are well schooled in what to do and most already have evacuation plans. And, in order to insure the cooperation of everyone, measures are in effect by which the government helps people move their possessions to safety as well. In addition, greenhouses are dismantled and preserved, and livestock and pets are carried to safety. Not only was the Cuban government able to achieve this quickly, they also were the first country to send aid to Jamaica which was also hit hard by the same hurricane Dennis. Cuba was able to carry this out because their first concern is with the people and their well being not profit.

That’s the difference between capitalism and socialism.

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