By Peter Julian
President George Bush chose New Orleans for the 4th Leaders’ Summit on the so-called Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP) held last week. As part of the summit political hype, he declared in front of Stephen Harper and Felix Calderon that New Orleans is “open for business”. The reality is far different for many residents of New Orleans. Like the SPP itself, there is a huge difference between the political spin and the reality on the ground in New Orleans.
People in New Orleans respond immediately and spontaneously when asked about Katrina reconstruction. Taxi drivers, waiters and waitresses, kitchen staff, hotel staff; all have horror stories about the slow pace of any support for the victims of Katrina, and what many believe to be profiteering on the backs of the victims by corporate executives with links to the Bush Administration. Talking with real people you hear constant examples of the difference between spin and reality on Katrina reconstruction.
Canadians who were in New Orleans for the People’s Summit went to the Lower Ninth Ward “ground zero” for the devastation of the hurricane. Meeting with community organizers and residents there, the frustration and the sentiment of abandonment was palpable. The neighbourhood park still has wrecked cars and piles of other debris and incongruously, a rusted, wrecked sea-doo sitting in the middle of the park half a kilometre from water. The debris is still there, two and a half years after the catastrophe.
Most of the houses have been razed; the few that haven’t been razed entirely are gutted. Mostly, one sees a roof and studs remaining though many homes still have walls remaining. Most of the surviving homes still have large markings in crude spray paint from the disaster – largely incomprehensible markings from the police or National Guard. Sometimes, though, the markings are very clear – “2 dead dogs here” reads one of them.
We met with tired but determined ACORN community organizers near Washington Square. The square is where the three leaders ventured outside for a brief photo-op to plant a tree. The organizers, many of whom are the real heroes of the reconstruction that has occurred, tell us that 200,000 people have still not been able to go home, and that the loss of these mainly African American internal refugees who cannot vote here as long as they can’t come home has shifted the political balance of power back to wealthier white residents – who now hold their first majority on City Council in many years.
What has happened to New Orleans is an entirely appropriate metaphor for the SPP: The gutting of quality of life and the privatization agenda (most visible in the privatization of city schools)-the heroism of ordinary Americans, and the single-minded greed of the political and economic elites tied to the Bush administration is a perfectly apt metaphor for what these same elites would love to do under the SPP.
Though he may not understand why, George Bush made an entirely appropriate choice of venue for his secretive meetings on the SPP.
Peter Julian represents Burnaby-New Westminster in the Canadian Parliament, is the NDP international trade critic and a member of the standing committee on international trade.
A tour through the Ninth Ward with Peter Julian:
See also, NA legislatives: Time to renegotiate NAFTA, not expand it by Peter Julian, Marcy Kaptur, and Yeidckol Polevnsky.