Haiti...Haiti...Haiti...Friday, September 24, 2021
“Colonies do not cease to be colonies because they are independent.”– Benjamin Disraeli
Last week, I received a video from an acquaintance who works for an international organisation. It showed a number of white men on horses, whips in hand, rounding up some desperate-looking black people with “scandal” bags in their hands. This was eerily reminiscent of workers rounding up cows on my father's property when I was a child. But there was more. Children were screaming, terrified at the sight of horses charging towards them. Everyone, including heavily pregnant women, was herded back into a body of water, waist deep, to just stand.
A wider view showed thousands of people sheltering under a bridge. I was told that the smell of human faeces was evident long before approaching the area and that, some, including the pregnant ones, were visibly ill.
Recently, a brief, more pleasant-to-look-at portion of the video appeared on various television stations.
These people, I was told, were Haitians fleeing the devastation in their country, where there exists only rubble, frequent flooding, rampaging criminal gangs, and rotting corpses, but no water, electricity, food, or health services. Some countries, like the US, uneasy with the world staring at them in expectation, had made token gestures but these could only serve a few people for a few days.
My position is that the US had more than a moral obligation to be hospitable to these suffering Haitians, but I like to test the response of others. The consensus was sympathy for the Haitians but, “It's thousands of them, where would America find accommodation for all of them ?”
Firstly, the United States is larger than China. But it has less than a quarter of China's population — only 36 people per sq km to China's 156. So, if there is a problem, it has nothing to do with space. And why would I suggest that America owes these Haitians anything?
When discussions of impoverished nations and failed states take place, Haiti immediately comes to mind. It is the poorest country in the Western hemisphere. But this was not always the case. It was once the wealthiest, most profitable colony in the world, and France's most prized possession. It produced 60 per cent of the world's coffee and 40 per cent of the world's sugar — a plantation economy based on slave labour.
In 1791, the slaves rebelled, demanding freedom and equal rights for themselves. They were successful and Haiti became the first colony to gain independence. Not only was France hurting economically from the loss, but it was severely humiliated. This band of barefooted slaves had defeated the greatest army in Europe, led by Europe's greatest general, Napoleon.
However, the fledgling nation began to experience problems immediately. Thomas Jefferson, president of the US, one of Haiti's closest neighbours, immediately theorised that a successful slave revolt was not good news for US slave owners. What if their slaves heard? He, therefore, took all the necessary steps to ensure that the Haitian “experiment” did not have a good outcome. He suspended aid to Haiti and worked tirelessly to ensure international isolation of the new nation.
Largely as a result of America's efforts, Haiti was unable to establish diplomatic and trade relations with other nations. There was no local or foreign investment. The country moved from plantation agriculture to subsistence farming which, obviously, had no international appeal.
Finally, France demanded reparations, which amounted to US$21 billion in today's money. This left the country deeply indebted with almost nothing to attend to the needs of its people. It took Haiti 127 years to repay this debt.
In 1915, there was a presidential assassination in Haiti. US soldiers were dispatched to Haiti to “stabilise” the country.
Haitian rebels, who opposed the US invasion, were subjected to brutal repression. Credible reports exist of one rebel leader — Charlemagne Peralte — being lynched. His half-naked body was bound to a door frame by the Americans and draped with a Haitian flag. In another case, a group of marines were seen kicking around a man's decapitated head in an effort to teach local rebels a lesson. Violence and racism were rampant among US forces.
Reports are that Haitians carrying guns were shot on sight, and machine guns were turned on crowds of unarmed natives by marines, who never attempted to check how many were killed. During the two-decade occupation, US forces executed political dissidents and implemented a system of forced labour that ravaged Haiti's peasant population. Thousands died.
This period shaped Haiti's future in dangerous ways. Successive Haitian leaders continued to use the systems developed by the US to exploit rural farmers and silence dissidents. Significant parcels of land and assets were sold to US companies for chump change. These included the North Haytian Sugar Company and the Haytian Pineapple Company.
The occupation seemed to have been just a grab for Haiti's wealth under the guise of maintaining political stability. And, while all this was ongoing, Washington had been pressuring other nations to keep Haiti diplomatically isolated.
Over the years, with the help of wealthy mulatto Haitians and corrupt leaders, US interests milked Haiti of its natural resources and starved it of diplomatic ties and developmental funds, leaving it to face a modern world with an illiterate, unhealthy population. All this has been exacerbated by more than it's fair share of natural disasters, made worse by cheaply constructed buildings and huts for homes.
The greatest assistance offered to this debt-ridden nation was from Hugo Chavez in Venezuela — America's enemy. Through PetroCaribe, he cancelled 25 per cent of Haiti's debt. That is approximately US$275 million.
America's current solution to the Haitian crisis is to bundle these hungry, broken souls into planes to dump them back into Haiti. Most of them were wandering through Central America from the earthquake of 2010. They have absolutely nothing left in Haiti. And the hypocritical US officials, stuffing them hastily into planes to discard them in Haiti, know this.
The deportation decision prompted the US special envoy to Haiti to resign. His resignation letter stated, in part: “...With deep disappointment and apologies to those seeking crucial changes, I resign from my position immediately. I will not be associated with the United States inhumane, counterproductive decision to deport thousands of Haitian refugees to Haiti, a country where American officials are confined to secure compounds because of the danger posed by armed gangs in control of daily life. Our policy approach to Haiti remains deeply flawed, and my recommendations have been ignored and dismissed, when not edited to project a narrative different from my own.
“The people of Haiti, mired in poverty, hostage to terror, kidnappings, robberies, and massacres by armed gangs and suffering under a corrupt Government with gang alliances, simply cannot support the forced infusion of thousands of returned migrants lacking food, shelter, and money without additional, avoidable human tragedy...”
What will happen after they are dumped on the tarmac in Haiti? All they have is in those two scandal bags.
Glenn Tucker is an educator and a sociologist. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or glenntucker2011@ gmail.com