Beyond the Catastrophe: How Imperialism Undermined Haiti
Posted by raleighfist on January 14, 2010
A grave tragedy has befallen the people of Haiti. Fight Imperialism Stand Together extends its solidarity to the island nation, its people and the peoples’ movements.
The 7.3 earthquake that struck near Port-au-Prince on Jan. 12 left many around the world waiting, shocked, hoping for the best but anticipating the worst. As night came and communications with the island remained tenuous, there was nothing left to do but wait for news of the damage and the toll of human suffering.
A 7.3 earthquake is a major catastrophe anywhere, but in a nation like Haiti — the poorest country in the western hemisphere, with little infrastructure capable of withstanding such an occurrence — it was bound to lead to major loss of life. It is expected that tens of thousands have been killed. The conditions of Haiti, where there are few hospitals, little medical personnel, barely passable national highways and no emergency response teams, will lead to the needless deaths of thousands more.
Haiti is a highly-exploited, poor nation. Eighty percent of the population lives on less than $2 a day and more than 50 percent on less than $1 a day. Unemployment exceeds 70 percent. Many people survive by subsistence farming, and within the last couple of years poverty and hunger has increased because of four consecutive tropical cyclones–Fay, Gustav, Hanna, and Ike–in August and September.
Natural occurrences have indeed caused a great harm, but they are not the chief cause of the misery that faces Haitian people.
Haiti has to be put in a context that best illuminates why the small nation is in a precarious situation.
Haiti was the western hemisphere’s first Black republic. It was the only slave colony to win freedom through armed struggle when the Haitian people defeated a military power that was the scourge of Europe — the military of Napoleon Bonaparte.
George Washington and Thomas Jefferson gave the first foreign aid from the United States to the French slave owners, for fear that a successful revolution would lead to uprisings of enslaved Africans in North America.
At the time of the Haitian revolution, Saint Domingue, as Haiti was then known, was one the richest colony of the French, known as the “pearl of the Antilles.”
Because of the overthrow of the colonial slave masters, France sent an armada of 14 ships to extort 150 million francs from the country in payment for the loss of property (the people of Haiti, their free labor and the fruits of their labor).
That 1825 extortion began a series of western world attempts to assert its will on the free people of Haiti.
The U.S. occupation of 1915-1934 destroyed the Haitian constitution and established the armed forces that would later be dismantled by the first democratically elected president of Haiti in 1990, President Aristide, because of its ties to the Haitian ruling elite. The ruling elite, for most of Haiti’s history, has been mainly white or light-skinned due to the long legacy of colonialism.
Thousands were massacred by the invading U.S. forces.
The U.S. supported the brutal regimes of Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier and his son Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier. Tens of thousands were killed under the twin repressive regimes, mostly by the paramilitary Tonton Macoutes.
When the people of Haiti were able to force out Baby Doc through a mass struggle, another repressive military regime took over from 1987 until the election, by two-thirds of the electorate, of preacher and mass leader Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
Aristide was overthrown in September 1991, seven months after having been sworn in, by military and police officers.
Though Aristide returned in 1994, he was forced into accepting neoliberal austerity measures. The country was forced to import staples and rely more heavily on loans from the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, turning it from a nation that was in some respects able to produce its own food to one that now relies on the importation of more than 50 percent of its food.
Aristide was elected again in 2000 with 92 percent of the vote. He was kidnapped in 2004 by private security forces and the U.S. military and flown out of the country. Some of the same military leaders who started the coup were also leaders of the Tonton Macoutes death squad.
The U.S., France and Canada all occupied Haiti until a U.N. mission, named MINUSTAH, took over. MINUSTAH has been accused of carrying out massacres against the popular movement to restore President Aristide, leading to the killing of peoples’ leader Dred Wilme.
The peculiar history of slavery and genocide, colonization and support of brutal dictatorships by the U.S. and France has led to Haiti being in the condition it is in today.
Not only is there a meager infrastructure, but the country has been deforested. The deforestation leads to floods during the rainy season, mudslides and more severe hurricanes.
The U.S. has mobilized the Coast Guard to intercept Haitians trying to make it to the U.S. and the administration is deploying 2,000 Marines. Haiti does not need more occupying troops.
Already 9,000 U.N. troops are on the ground, have been there for more than five years and have not contributed to developing the country but in containing the people’s struggle and assuring a government that has denied the largest party, Fanmi Lavalas, from running in this year’s elections.
FIST calls for: the removal of all U.N. combat troops; reparations to be paid to the Haitian people for the years of slavery by the French, the U.S. occupations and support for rightist regimes; removal of all deportation orders that currently hang over the heads of the more than 30,000 Haitians in the U.S.; amnesty for any Haitians attempting to make it to U.S. shores; all bonuses from executives of financial institutions that received bailout money to be donated to Haiti; the creation of work brigades of U.S. workers and students to go to Haiti and help rebuild the country at U.S. union-scale wages; and cancellation of all of Haiti’s debt.
If the U.S were even remotely serious about assisting Haiti and acknowledging its part in the systemic underdevelopment and destabilization of Haiti, the government could easily call for the implementation of all the above measures.
Return President Aristide! Reparations Now for the Haitian People!
Fight Imperialism Stand Together
Jan. 14, 2010