Haiti was the first African colony of slaves in the New World to declare independence from its colonial (French) overlords in 1804. The United States refused to recognize this new expression of freedom.
Haiti was the first African colony of slaves in the New World to declare independence from its colonial (French) overlords in 1804. The United States refused to recognize this new expression of freedom (the US recognized Israel 11 minutes after it declared independence) in its own hemisphere for the next 60 years because it feared that legitimizing Haiti’s slave revolution by recognizing it as a bona fide country would encourage slave rebellion among its own enslaved African population. In fact, over the next 200 years, every US government did almost anything it could to break the will of the Haitian people (the facts about Haiti come from an article written by Bill Quigley, “Why the US owes Haiti billions”).
Adding injury to insult, before finally recognizing Haiti in 1863, the US and France collaborated in placing Haiti under an economic embargo (Iran has been punished for the last 31 years by the same parties for the same reasons). In return for recognition, the French forced the Haitians, under military threat, to pay 150 million francs in reparations for the freed slaves; by contrast the US purchased the entire Louisiana territory from France for 80 million francs. The French and the Americans struck a back-room deal to force Haiti to borrow from the US in order to pay off the French. These original reparation loans from the US finally expired in 1947 after Haiti had already paid $20 billion (to this day, the US and France have paid no reparations to their own African origin citizens or their ancestors).
In the interim, during the administration of US President Woodrow Wilson, Haiti was militarily invaded and occupied by the US in 1915; this occupation officially lasted until 1934 during which time the US controlled all governmental institutions, collected all tax revenues, and managed all imports and exports (sounds a lot like Iraq). Was any of the wealth stolen by the US during these 19 years used to pay off the bogus reparations loans? Of course not.
After a brief hiatus from meddling into Haiti’s affairs, while it was embroiled in WWII and its aftermath, the US returned in 1957 to install dictators “Papa Doc” and “Baby Doc Duvalier,” who both sequentially ruled the country on behalf of the US for the next 20 years. Under the cover of the Cold War, the US financed, coached, and enabled these “anti-communist” proxies to pave the way for the US corporate takeover of Haiti’s indigenous resources. Opposition to the US-backed Duvaliers’ policies was put down by internal terror campaigns, to the tune of over 10,000 dead during their two decade rule. After embezzling an amount reported to be in the tens of millions of dollars and sheltering it in anonymous off-shore accounts, the Duvaliers ran up a national debt of several hundred million dollars that the innocent Haitians still “owe.” However, his profligacy and brutal repression finally could no longer be borne by the people, who forced “Baby Doc” into exile in France, courtesy of the US Air Force.
Before the Duvaliers took over at the behest of the US, Haiti did not have to import rice or sugar, in fact it was the most prolific sugar producer of the Caribbean. Through the agency of the Duvaliers who basically killed or tortured any opposition, the World Bank and the IMF, as conditions for “development” loans, forced Haiti to privatize agriculture and open up its markets to foreign competition. The US used the opportunity to flood the Haitian market with cheap rice and sugar produced by agri-businesses in the US, thereby undercutting poor Haitian farmers and wrecking homegrown agriculture. After forcing local farmers out of business, US agri-business corporations came in to “buy” land that the locals could no longer afford to farm, with the result today that Haitians cannot even profit off their own land. Haiti is now an importer of rice and sugar. The destruction of their agriculture forced thousands of Haitians to move into the cities to work in sweatshops for less than $2/day, with the bulk of the profits from the manufactured goods going to US corporations and the US-backed Haitian rulers.
Finally, in 2004, the US unseated another representative government in Haiti when it backed a coup against the elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Bill Quigley, a human rights activist for Haiti sums it up this way, “The US has worked for centuries to break Haiti. The US has used Haiti like a plantation. The US helped bleed the country economically since it freed itself, repeatedly invaded the country militarily, supported dictators who abused the people, used the country as a dumping ground for our own economic advantage, ruined their roads and agriculture and toppled popularly elected officials. The US has even used Haiti like the old plantation owner and slipped over there repeatedly for sexual recreation.”
Given this tortured history with the exploitative power culture in the world, especially the big bully in North America, is there any wonder why Haiti does not have any mature civil institutions; why it does not have any infrastructure development with regard to roads, electricity, and telephone lines; why its education and health care systems are nonexistent; why its efforts at self-preservation are disorganized and ineffectual; and why its would-be representatives have not been able to engage in any constituency organization and development, thus forcing autocratic political mechanisms on the people.
How many hundreds of billions of dollars has the free world extorted and stolen from Haiti — wealth that could have been used to improve the condition of the people and relieve the unremitting cycles of poverty they have had to endure under US occupation and exploitation? To be sure, the Haitians have made a lot of bad decisions over the past 200 years; however, if Haiti would have been given the respect it deserved as a free country with a free will 200 years ago, if it could have operated freely without having to constantly counter the racist spectre to the north, today its people would have been able to deal effectively with hurricanes and earthquakes, minimizing human suffering, degradation, humiliation, and dependence.
And so it is not less than the greatest folly in the world for two past US presidents, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, to get on the airwaves and appeal for aid for the Haitian earthquake victims and their families. Are they trying to assuage a guilty conscience? Probably not, because these two and all the US administrations that preceded them did everything they could to turn Haiti into an 18th century plantation, complete with an endless supply of (African) slaves. But then again, this is the kind of hypocrisy and duplicity that racist Americanism and symbolic democracy for export are made of.