August 29 sees the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the New Orleans flood and the war subsequently declared by the US bourgeoisie on its innocent victims. If this event had happened in an underdeveloped country it would have been shocking enough, but to occur in the richest country in the world indicates the bankruptcy of the capitalist system. This event did for the Bush administration and, more than anything else, necessitated, for the sake of American democracy, the Obama candidature and his election to the White House.
Five years on, and in New Orleans rents are up, hospitals and care facilities are still lacking, every one of 7500 public-school teachers and other school employees have been sacked, public housing has been slashed by 80%, new housing projects have been pulled, 31% of properties remain unoccupied, the Charity hospital has been closed and aid promised by Democrat politicians has still not arrived. Some reconstructed housing had poisonous Chinese-made plaster which had to be removed at a cost of $160,000 a throw, while trailers, costing $70,000 each, provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) from disaster funds, had so much formaldehyde in them that they were too toxic to sleep in. The US army corps of engineers has yet to provide a list of projects to protect the New Orleans and Louisiana coastlines from catastrophic hurricanes. The devastation from this ‘natural disaster' was mainly due to the badly maintained levees and the erosion of the protective wetlands due to speculative building. Louisiana is still losing 25 square kilometres of its wetlands each year and the Mississippi carries only half the land building sediment it did a hundred years ago - so problems in this area will get worse.
Investigations are continuing into a number of murders that took place. According to the New Orleans Police Department there were eight murders, but the actual number killed is still an open question, given the presence of Blackwater commandos (who talked of "securing neighbourhoods" and "confronting criminals"), various private security organisations, organised and unorganised vigilantes and an Israeli commando group called "Instinctive Shooting International". Over 46,000 National Guards arrived - in a town where around 30,000 people were stuck, mostly because they were too poor or too sick to get out - and some were still patrolling the town in 2007. The Army Times, 2/9/5 was headlined: "Troops begin combat operations in New Orleans".
The politically-correct mask of the bourgeoisie dropped and the media were overtly racist and contemptuous of the poor. Thousands of miles away, in the ‘liberal' Guardian (8/9/5), Timothy Garton Ash, regurgitating the ‘thin veneer of civilisation' claptrap, could describe the victims as "wild dogs" in "a war of all against all" and "most people revert[ed] to apes". But instead of the ‘social Darwinism' described by hacks like Ash, the main tendency among the poor and the victims was solidarity, mutual-aid and altruism. This included those from outside New Orleans and, in some notable cases, the police who worked with the gangs to provide assistance.
It wasn't a question of race but class. Black mayor Ray Nagin, who, with his cronies, holed up in a luxury hotel, lied that "hundreds of rapes and murders" were made by gangs and black police chief Eddie Compass told Oprah Winfrey, "We had babies in there (...) getting raped". ‘Looting' was played up (echoes of Haiti). Governor Kathleen Blanco called off search and rescue and said that troops had M16s "locked and loaded... and I expect they will [shoot to kill]". The warning given in 2004 about the lack of a credible evacuation plan was ignored by politicians of whatever hue and - again with echoes of Haiti - volunteers, truckloads of supplies and a floating hospital were turned away by FEMA. People were left in misery and filth and places like the Superdome and the Convention Centre were turned into prison camps surrounded by barbed wire, overlooked by snipers, while bridges and roads were manned by troops and police to prevent people escaping. War was declared on the poor of this great, pulsating city and New Orleans was turned into a toxic prison camp. This involved the terrorising of the victims of this disaster, a disaster that capitalism and its lackeys are responsible for.
Sources: A Paradise Built in Hell by Rebecca Solnit and The Observer Review 21/3/10.