Sunday, January 24, 2010

The United States and Haiti

The US and Haiti

Copious reporting about the terrible suffering of earthquake ravaged Haiti never fails to mention that the effects of the major earthquake are magnified many times by the prevailing poverty and political chaos. 99% of the population are stunningly poor with most persons earning $1 a day, or less, most people living in slums without electricity, running water, or the most elementary sanitary facilities. Haiti has rarely achieved political stability. Its history is a series of political coups, political murders, and massacres.

While few observers say so in so many words, the implication is clear: The Haitian people have grossly mismanaged their country. They are, at least in part, to blame for their suffering. Other countries, above all the US, have for many years been most generous in their support for Haiti. But our generosity has not been able to overcome the self-destructive choices of the Haitians themselves.

It is time to set the facts straight. The myth of Haitian incompetence and self-destructiveness that won out over the generosity of the US and other Western nations conceals the fact that Haiti has been brought to its present tragic collapse by the deliberate interference of Western countries, above all the United States.

In the 18th century, Haiti was a French colony, home to large plantations, where slaves were literally being worked to death, but which thereby created a large portion of the wealth of France. A slave uprising in early 1800s created the free nation of Haiti--the first republic, the first country to abolish slavery, and the first Black nation on the American continent. France refused to recognize that nation until Haiti agreed to a very large restitution payment (which they did not finish paying until the 1870s)--the former slaves in Haiti had to pay France for their liberty which deprived the French of valuable possessions. The US, where Thomas Jefferson was then President, imposed a trade embargo on Haiti. The slave owner Jefferson was not about to recognize a republic founded by slaves who freed themselves. The US did not recognize the Republic of Haiti until 60 years later, after the Civil War.

Burdened by crushing debt, embargoed by the US and thus unable to sell the produce of its fertile farms, Haiti sank into poverty, not from its own ineptitude but the superior power of the Western nations.

In the years before World War I, German companies had considerable influence in Haiti. With the first World War approaching, the US government worried about German influence in a country so close to Florida. In addition a period of political instability threatened US commercial interests such as HASCO--the Haitian-American Sugar Company. Our response was to send in the Marines in 1915 and keep them there until 1934. The national bank of Haiti was taken over by National City Bank of New York, the country was run by us. U.S. Railroad interests soon followed, and it wasn’t too long before a host of American business interests, including W.R Grace Corp., lobbied President Woodrow Wilson to demand the revenue coming in from Haitian customs as repayment for the Haitian government’s debt: in effect, turning over the administration of Haiti’s independent government to the U.S. During that period, the US built roads and schools and thus contributed to progress in Haiti. The US also forced the Haitians to adopt a constitution which, unlike previous Haitian constitutions, allowed foreigners to own property in Haiti. Besides, it organized the Haitian military--the faithful servants and executioners of the Duvalier dictatorship (1932 - 1986) which we left in Haiti after quitting the country in 1934. The association between Haiti's military and ours continued into the present century when coups and repressions of democratic movements in Haiti were organized by the CIA and military officers who had been trained at the School of the Americas at Fort Benning, GA.

Under the heel of a murderous dictatorship of the Duvaliers from the early 1930s through the presidency of Ronald Reagan and the elder Bush, Haiti was a victim of the Cold War. The Duvaliers had the support of our government because they were staunchly anti-Communist, close to Communist Cuba and capitalist Florida. Their regime was as murderous as that of Saddam Hussein in Iraq and we sacrificed the liberties, the very lives of Haitians to what we considered our own interests in the Cold War.

Since the end of the Duvalier dictatorship, Haiti has had two democratically elected presidents, but their tenures have also been disrupted by coups, military take-overs and repressions. The detailed history of that period is full of controversy but a series of very unsavory American political operatives, several of them intimately involved in the secret and illegal Contra operations in the 1980s, weaves in and out of events in Haiti.

The Haitian people never have been and still are not independent masters of their country or their history. Our country bears a heavy responsibility for the suffering of the Haitian people.