Haitian Intervention Fatigue

Haitian Intervention Fatigue

Originally published in The Leveller: November 23, 2016.
Modified version republished in the Victoria Standard: January 16, 2017. (The Threat of Competent Leadership)

Contrary to the official history, the only thing Haitians ever wanted was international recognition of their self-determination and control over their natural resources. This article presents an account of Haitian history that features the destructive role of France and the United States, with Canada playing a supporting role. Rather than requiring aid, Haiti is in fact owed massive financial reparations from France and the U.S. for two centuries of violence and theft. Instead, the people hear of “Haiti fatigue,” an expression that refers to international frustration with the political dysfunction that derails relief efforts following Haiti’s frequent natural disasters.

The election of Jean Bertrand Aristide in 1990 symbolized the desire of poor Haitians for modest prosperity and a secure future free from foreign domination. This immensely popular leader implemented wage hikes and workplace safety regulations that irked absentee U.S. and French factory and plantation owners. Aristide served a second term as president during 1993–1996 and was re-elected in 2000.

President Aristide was visited in early March 2004 by U.S. consular officials and a team of heavily-armed Marines. American ambassador Foley convinced Aristide and his wife to accept an armed escort to the Port-au-Prince airport where a private jet flew them to the Central African Republic; a nation in the French sphere of influence. During a March 8, 2004 interview with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now, Aristide stated, “They [the U.S. government] forced me to leave Haiti… It was a kidnapping under cover of a coup d’état.”

Before continuing on this theme, a brief history of Haitian democracy is necessary, as this nation was never destined to be poor or ill-governed. Throughout the 18th century colonial France turned Haiti into the most prosperous colony on the planet; after gradually destroying Haiti’s Indigenous inhabitants and importing African slaves. The colony became a source of vast wealth for the French elite. However, resentment simmered among the slaves and exploded into armed rebellion under the leadership of Toussaint Louverture. The independent republic of Haiti was declared on January 1, 1804 after thirteen years of bloody struggle with U.S.-backed French forces. Had their statehood been recognized internationally at this point in history, Haitian democracy may well have persevered, ensuring modest prosperity and peaceful independence.

Instead, in 1825, France threatened another invasion and the restoration of slavery, Paul Farmer reports that at this time “Haitian officials signed what was to prove the beginning of the end of any hope of autonomy. King Charles X agreed to recognize Haiti’s independence only if the new republic agreed to pay an indemnity of 150 million gold francs,” an amount worth about “half a billion U.S. dollars in the most conservative estimate, without attempting to calculate 175 years of interest and inflation.” This unjust debt continued to be paid in installments until shortly after World War Two, entrenching and exacerbating Haiti’s national impoverishment.

Eventually, the U.S. dominated Haiti which presented an immense source of wealth for those controlling the vast plantations of sugarcane and other tropical produce. Commenting in 1896 on democratic Haiti’s relevance to the U.S. military occupation of Cuba, Winston Churchill wrote in the Saturday Review of the “…grave danger…of another black republic.” In 1915, U.S. Marines invaded Haiti to counter European influence in the Caribbean and the nation suffered a 19 year U.S. occupation, whose low point, according to Noam Chomsky, was the summary disbandment of the Haitian parliament to facilitate, “…a 1918 law granting U.S. corporations the right to turn the country into a U.S. plantation.”

From 1934 until 1957, Haiti was governed by thugs like the voodooist Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier and his son Jean Claude or “Baby Doc,” who were both assisted by the murderous Tonton Macoutes secret police. An unsuccessful democratic movement occurred in 1987, following Jean Claude Duvalier’s exit to luxurious exile in France. At that time future Haitian president and Catholic priest Jean Bertrand Aristide was a dedicated opponent of the post-Duvalier dictatorship and an advocate of liberation theology.

This emancipatory philosophy, active throughout Latin America and to a lesser extent, the Caribbean, was strongly opposed by powerful individuals like the Pope and U.S. President Ronald Reagan whose advisors, according to Farmer, considered the anti-poverty movement “less Christian than Communist” and urged the President to “counter” supports of liberation theology. This stance had a hand in inspiring the “anti-communist” programs of the 1980s that brutalized El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. The military and paramilitary forces of these nations were trained in counter-insurgency and torture both in-country by U.S. Special Forces and at Fort Bragg’s infamous School of the Americas.

Aristide won the presidential election on Dec. 16, 1990 only to be driven from office in September 1991 by Brigadier-General Raoul Cedras. According to American author and historian William Blum, “no evidence of direct US complicity in the coup has arisen, though, as we shall see, the CIA was financing and training all the important elements of the new military regime, and a Haitian official who supported the coup has reported that US intelligence officers were present” at military headquarters as the coup was taking place. According to Chomsky, “Washington was appalled at the election of a populist candidate with a grass-roots constituency just as it had been appalled by the prospect of the hemisphere’s first free country on its doorstep two centuries before.”

When Aristide was finally able to return to office in 1994, the U.S. government joined forces with the European Union and international banks to force Haiti to repay the “odious debt” accumulated by the Duvaliers and their predecessors in spite of international law excusing such repayment. Instead, Aristide informed the French government in 2004 that they owed Haiti over $20 billion for past resource thefts and human rights abuses. According to Chomsky, Paul Farmer and Amy Goodman, while U.S. and French politicians scoffed publicly, “…lawyers saw the case as not without legal merit.”

The post-Aristide years have featured leaders like Michel Martelly, a former musician committed to advancing foreign business interests and the privilege of compliant local elites. According to Yves Engler, “a supporter of the 1991 and 2004 coups against Aristide, Martelly was a teenaged member of the Duvalier dictatorship’s Tonton Macoutes death squads. As president, he surrounded himself with Duvalierists and death squad leaders.” Martelly resigned in February 2016 and will be succeeded by the victor of the Nov. 20 presidential elections. While Aristide has reappeared to support candidate Maryse Narcisse of the Fanmi Lavalas party, his own political future is uncertain.