Haiti And US Imperialism
A Saga of Blood, Tears, Malice and Indifference
I was listening to a local talk show on Trinidadian radio when I heard the well-known host, who is a self-professed Christian, blatantly state that the reason that Haiti is in so much turmoil is because of spiritual problems. He went on to describe the traditional practices of Haitians as a bunch of hocus-pocus. The malicious arrogance of Christianity/Western Civilization and the resultant demonization of any African expression is at the heart of the turbulent ride that Haitians have experienced since they won freedom from their colonial rulers. To properly understand the Haitian situation, an understanding of certain aspects of the history is important. Above all the Haiti situation emphasizes the importance of History, not the Eurocentric version that is popular in the mainstream, but rather the history written by Caribbean historians who are not overly contaminated by the myths, lies and distortions that have often passed as history.
Haiti, formerly San Domingo, a French colony, was considered the richest colony in the new world, supplying two thirds of the overseas trade of France and the greatest individual market for the European slave trade. In August 1791, partly inspired by the Jacobin Revolution is France, the enslaved Africans revolted, in a struggle that last for twelve years during which, led by Toussaint L’Overture, they defeated in turn, the local whites, French soldiers, a Spanish invasion, a 60,000-strong British expedition and Napoleon's army of a similar size. The French tricked the great leader of the Revolution, Toussaint L’Overture, on board a ship and arrested him. Toussaint proclaimed to the captain, “ In overthrowing me, you have cut down in San Domingo only the trunk of the tree of liberty. It will spring up again by the roots for they are numerous and deep.” He and his family were carted off to France bound and shackled, and dealt as much indignity as possible. It was against this backdrop of European treachery and Black resistance that the black state of Haiti was established in 1803.
CLR James in his epic book ‘ The Black Jacobins’ wrote, “The revolt is the only successful slave revolt in history, and the odds it had to overcome is evidence of the magnitude of the interests involved. The transformation of slaves, trembling in hundreds before a single wide man, into a people able to organize themselves and defeat the most powerful European nations of their day is one of the great epics of revolutionary struggle and achievement.”
Now, it must be understood that at that time, the rest of the New World was undergoing the brutality of slavery and colonialism. Such an achievement by Africans, who were considered less than human, was an inspiration to those Africans still enslaved and colonized and by extension, a massive threat to slavery, the slave trade and colonialism. The rulers of other colonies were almost paralyzed with fear at the thought of their slaves being inspired by Haiti to revolt. Thus from the year 1804, and for the past 200 years, European powers have gone to great lengths to make life as difficult as possible for this revolutionary Black Republic. France for example demanded payment of 150 million francs for Haiti to be 'recognized,' and this strained the resources of the young Republic, which was shunned by everyone in the world, thus strangling Haiti's ability to trade and build a modern economy. By the end of the 19th century, 80% of Haiti's national budget was going to pay off France, and the country has been trapped in the realm of debt ever since. The lack of resources crippled the country's ability to properly manage itself. In later years the dictatorships of both 'Papa' and 'Baby Doc ' Duvalier mercilessly pillaged the country and ran up Haiti’s foreign debt further exacerbated the situation.
Fast-forwarding now to the year 2004, the US literally kidnapped and removed Aristide from office after sponsoring and inciting resistance against his rule. This devious underhanded removal of a democratically elected President sets a dangerous precedent and has implications for sovereign states, who have the right to expect that they can conduct their affairs without outside interference. But the terrorism of the US is not surprising considering their past misconduct in Africa, Venezuela, Panama, Chile, Grenada, Iraq, Afghanistan, Cuba, and Nicaragua. After the Iraq fiasco it is painfully clear that the UN cannot uphold the principles of international law and protect the sovereignty of weaker states against US aggression. Their role in unduly influenced by the US who for example vetoes any motion that dares to criticize the US or Israel for their actions (read terrorism and crimes against humanity).
Aristide is termed to be corrupt and incompetent by many who in ignorance say that his removal is justified. However, this opinion is blind to important factors that need to be considered. It is hard for any Haitian President to accomplish much, because of the sheer neglect, malice, hostility and the injustice meted out by the international community. Haiti was forced by the World Bank and the IMF to implement policies that are detrimental to the welfare of the country and its people. For example, the 'liberalization' of Haiti's markets forced by the IMF and the World Bank has spelled destruction to the local producers, especially of rice. The economic stranglehold has severely contributed to the underdevelopment and poverty of Haiti. In the year 2000, Aristide won in an election, which the US said was marred by 'irregularities' though none so great as the one that got Bush elected. This was enough for Washington to withhold more than 500 million dollars of foreign aid. And France is never far behind, partnering with the US to create chaos and remove Aristide, who has been increasingly vociferous in demanding that France pay reparations. The real problem is, of course, that popular democracy is the last thing they want to see in Haiti.
Not much is needed to incite a people who are needy, starving and with few opportunities (because of the international community’s policies) to revolt. If the people decide that Aristide is not fit to rule, then through the electoral process they should vote him out when elections come around, without the dirty interference of the US. The ability of the USA to create turmoil in Haiti should not be underestimated.
Just as in the struggle more than 200 hundred years ago, Haiti is facing almost insurmountable odds, having again to battle the most powerful countries in the world. On the bicentennial of their revolution, the Haitian people, who have suffered immensely because of their desire for freedom and dignity, must not be forgotten. The debt that the Caribbean owes to Haiti for being a beacon of hope must not be forgotten if justice is to be served. The US forces need to leave Haiti, and Aristide needs to be reinstalled, with Caribbean troops being used to restore law and order. If there was a time when CARICOM needs to assert itself, the time is now.
Toussaint’s tree of liberty is being uprooted by 200 years of malice and indifference. How much more blood, sweat and tears must soak the ground before the dignity of the African people in Haiti and elsewhere is recognized?
It would seem that the only safeguard against the caprice of America is nuclear capability.
Further reading: The Black Jacobins by CLR James