People Of The Dome
Questions Of Neglect Remain For Hurricane Katrina Victims

by Mitchel Cohen, Green Party of New York State

Attempting to starve civilians into leaving an area is a war crime under the Geneva Conventions.

As Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf States, many organizations kicked into high gear to send relief to local groups in Mississippi and Louisiana, with no help from the government or formal relief agencies. Tons of donated supplies were trucked to Jackson Missis sippi, where they were distributed through community-based efforts. But the story Greens in New Orleans, such as Malik Rahim and Les Evenchick, tell is shocking: U.S. and local government officials ordered the local drinking water turned off and refused to allow water or food relief into New Orleans. Hundreds of people died unnecessarily as a result.

There was no shortage of water or food being sent; it was just not allowed into the City! When Green Party activists tried to donate a large amount of water for the people in the Super Dome a few days after the levees broke, armed soldiers pointed rifles at them and prevented them from delivering supplies. Even three Wal-mart trucks loaded with drinking water were denied entry and turned away. No water was allowed into New Orleans. Evenchick said, “This was a brazen attempt to starve people out.”

There was no health reason to turn off the drinking water at the time, as the water is drawn into a separate system from the Mississippi River, not the polluted lake, and filtered through self-powered purification plants separate from the main electric grid. If necessary, people could have boiled their water. Strangely, the municipal natural gas used in stoves was still functioning properly as of Thursday night of that first week!

A commanding officer of a police squad complained that his 120 cops were provided with only 70 small bottles of water. Hospitals were supplied with nothing. Could the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Homeland Security and local officials have forgotten to store bottles of drinking water in the Superdome, Convention Center and hospitals?

The only FEMA official on the scene in the early stages, Marty Bahamonde, has testified to Congress that he begged FEMA director Michael Brown for water, food, toilet paper and oxygen, saying, “many will die within hours.” Brown’s press secretary, Sharon Worthy, responded that the FEMA director needed more time to eat dinner at a Baton Rouge restaurant that evening.

Green activist and former Black Panther Malik Rahim points out that the government could have and should have provided water and food to residents of New Orleans but did not do so intentionally, to force people to evacuate by starving them out. This is a crime of the gravest sort.

French Quarter resident Mike Howell adds that the capability had been there from the start to drive water and food right up to the convention center, as those roads were clear. “It’s how the National Guard drove into the city,” he said. The evidence is overwhelming that the government intentionally did not allow food or water into New Orleans.

Many disturbing unanswered questions remain surrounding this nightmare scenario:

Attempting to starve civilians into leaving an area is a war crime under the Geneva Conventions. Who gave the order to block water and food from entering New Orleans and to turn off the drinking water inside the city?

Why did the military “convince” the volunteer boat rescuers at gunpoint to “cease and desist” when desperate people had been welcoming them with open arms?

Two U.S. military helicopters spent a few days plucking 110 people from the roofs of their flooded houses. The commanding officers of the rescuers reprimanded them and removed them from helicopter duty for “violating orders.” Who gave the order not to rescue people?

For more than two weeks, hundreds of volunteer doctors and fire personnel — including a squad from New York City — were denied entry to New Orleans. Who gave the order not to allow rescue workers into New Orleans?

Mayor Ray Nagin complained vociferously that Louisiana National Guard Black hawk helicopters were being stopped from dropping sandbags to plug the levees soon after the breech. No repairs were allowed until long after the poor areas of New Orleans were totally flooded. Who gave the order not to allow National Guard helicopters to drop sandbags to plug the levees soon after the breech?

Venezuela’s president, Hugo Chavez and Cuba’s president, Fidel Castro offered millions of dollars and hundreds of doctors to help save lives in New Orleans. They were turned down. Who gave the order to turn down the aid offered from Venezuela and Cuba?

Millions of concerned citizens wanted to send assistance. FEMA recommended that they send contributions to “Operation Blessing,” a front group for rightwing evangelist Pat Robertson. Who gave the order to divert tens of millions of dollars in contributions sent to help the people of New Orleans by outraged American citizens, to rightwing Christian zealots?

From day one, huge war profiteering corporations such as Halliburton, Bechtel and other private contractors began descending on the region, their pockets stuffed with billions of dollars in government handouts. Thousands of poor homeowners and rental tenants have been evicted. The phony “reconstruction” of New Orleans began with the land grab and with Mayor Nagin proposing gambling casinos to “rescue” the city, while destroying the remaining wetlands. Many people are resisting this blatant confiscation of their lands and homes. As the resistance grows, New Orleans may soon become known as the first battle of the new American Revolution.
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Mitchel Cohen is co-editor of “G”, the newspaper of the NY State Greens, and the coordinator of the No Spray Coalition www.nospray.org. To read a much longer version of this article, write to Mitchel directly at mitchelcohen@mindspring.com.

If you’d like to donate funds for Hurricane Katrina relief go to: CommonGroundRelief.org