Haiti: A History of Oppression and Resistance

Article by Ashley Fent, Co-Chair of CAGJ’s AGRA Watch Campaign. The first part of this article, including ways you can take action, was published in CAGJ’s February 2010 newsletter, and is re-printed below the list of citations.

Pou w konprann sa k pase joudi a, fók ou konnen sa ka pase anvan, “To understand today we must know the past”

Although known today as “the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere,” Haiti’s history tells the story of an enduring—and costly—resistance to some of the world’s most powerful forces. Following Columbus’s bumping into the island of Hispaniola, the Taino people forcefully resisted their enslavement and extermination by the Spanish conquistadors. Their queen Anacaona was martyred in this opposition and remains a legendary Haitian heroine today (6).

The French created of Saint-Domingue their most lucrative colonial possession, the “Pearl of the Antilles (7),” whose sugar and coffee plantations were the envy of aspiring colonial powers and whose profits were made through the unpaid labor of African peoples shipped across the Atlantic. The marrons—escaped slaves who formed communities in the mountains—resisted by attacking and often killing their former masters. Inspired by the French and American revolutions but dissatisfied with their hypocrisies, the charismatic Toussaint L’Ouverture led the Haitian people from slavery to individual freedom. In 1804, under the leadership of Jean-Jacques Dessalines, Haiti became the first post-colonial Black nation (8).

But Haiti has long terrified the United States. The Founding Fathers were entirely aware that an ostensibly free nation could not depend on slavery, and that, in Jefferson’s words, they were holding a “wolf by the ears, and we can neither hold him nor safely let him go (9).” Out of fear that the successful and violent slave rebellion would galvanize insurrections on their own plantations, they refused to recognize Haiti (10). Independent Haiti persisted, through many decades of French and American embargoes (11). The Haitian people dared to celebrate their independence, even when their ostracization forced them to pay an egregious cost that would cripple their economy for generations.

That cost was a debt of 150 million francs to France, for the loss of its colony, commodities, and human capital. Until the last payment was made in 1922, Haiti held up its end of the bargain, using 70 percent of foreign exchange earnings and taking out loans from American and French banks to service the odious debt it owed to its former colonizer (12). The current value of the money Haiti repaid to French and American banks totals over $20 billion (13).

In 1915, the Wilson Administration sent US Marines to occupy Haiti. For nineteen years, the US controlled customs, collected taxes, ran governmental institutions, and rewrote than Haitian Constitution to open land to foreigners and secure American access to resources (14). For nineteen years, Haitians revolted against their occupiers, and were massacred in response.

As part of its Cold War mission to “contain” the spread of Communism, the United States bolstered the regime of Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier, even as he terrorized his people and extorted large sums of money. Over 40 percent of Haiti’s $1.3 billion debt was accrued by Papa Doc and his son Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, who succeeded his father in 1971 (15). Meanwhile, priests like Jean-Bertrand Aristide used liberation theology to challenge the Duvalier regime. As a result of the Haitian people’s struggle for democracy, in 1986 Baby Doc was forced into exile in France.

Through the structural adjustment and trade liberalization policies foisted on Haiti by US, IMF and World Bank in 1995 (16), Haiti was transformed from a country self-sufficient in rice production to one that imports nearly all of its rice—from the sugar capital of the Caribbean into an importer of sugar (17). Earlier, in the 1980s, Haitians had been forced to slaughter the Creole pigs upon which 85 percent of rural households depended for subsistence—international agencies insisted that the pigs were sick and promised new and better pigs from Iowa (18). The new pigs required highly selective feed and habitat, and their meat didn’t taste as good. This “development” program cost Haitian peasants as estimated $600 million dollars, not to mention high social, health and environmental costs (19).
The US has continually destabilized the progressive governments of Haiti, as it has done throughout the world. When the US-backed candidate in the 1990 election, a former World Bank official, overwhelming lost to Aristide (20), the US shifted its strategy to destabilizing Aristide’s government—although after three years of tyranny led by the Duvalier’s paramilitary Tontons Macoutes, Clinton did send troops in 1994 to reinstate Aristide for the completion of his term. so long as he implemented structural adjustment programs, known in Haiti as the “plan of death (21).”  Aristide’s pursuit of “poverty with dignity” and his attempts at progressive reform were continually quashed by the United States, until he was taken out of the country under questionable circumstances in 2004. Yet even now he is considered too pro-poor, too progressive, and too “political” to have any role in Haiti’s future (22). President René Préval—considered in the eyes of the US a reliable and level-headed leader because of his adherence to neoliberal policies and his characterization as a pragmatic technocrat, spent the first few days after the crisis drafting agreements with foreign officials rather than addressing his people (23).
In the meantime, as explained by the right-wing Heritage Foundation, the US can win the “hearts and minds” of the Haitian people such that they consent to being denied their right to self-determination. The ultimate goal, of course, is to extract corporate profits from Haiti, and to counter the “Castro-Chavez camp (24).” Among the assets to be gleaned through disaster capitalism include mining contracts and the privatization of Haiti’s deep water ports (25). As well, Bill Clinton, the UN Special Envoy to Haiti who is now responsible for reconstruction, has long put faith in garment manufacturing and tourism to “develop” Haiti (26). Bill Gates too has called for long-term investment: “Haiti was the poorest country in the region before this… There’s a lot to be done there. I hope this is not just a one-time thing (27).” Haiti needs long-term investment in justice and in equality… not in sweatshops and tourist resorts.

Please note that the first five sources listed are from an article posted in CAGJ’s newsletter, which is re-posted below these sources.

(1) Bell, Beverly. Walking on Fire: Haitian Women’s Stories of Survival and Resistance. 2001.
(2) http://edition.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/americas/01/21/haiti.reform/
(3) http://www.economist.com/opinion/displaystory.cfm?story_id=15330453
(4) http://globalgeopolitics.net/wordpress/2010/01/18/catastrophe-in-haiti-the-natural-and-not-so-natural-factors/,
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=122530936&ps=rs
(5) Aristide, Jean-Bertrand. Eyes of the Heart.2000.
(6) Bell, Beverly. Walking on Fire: Haitian Women’s Stories of Survival and Resistance. 2001.
(7) Ibid
(8) Waweru, Kimani. http://www.pambazuka.org/en/category/comment/55997
(9) Takaki, Ronald. A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America. 1993.
(10) Waweru, Kimani. http://www.pambazuka.org/en/category/comment/55997
(11) Ibid
(12) Beckles, Hilary. http://www.pambazuka.org/en/category/features/61811
Quigley, Bill. “Why the US Owes Haiti Billions – The Briefest History.” http://www.commondreams.org/view/2010/01/17-6
(13) Quigley, Bill. “Why the US Owes Haiti Billions – The Briefest History.” http://www.commondreams.org/view/2010/01/17-6
(14) Ibid
Toler, Deborah. “Harvest of Hunger: The United States in Haiti.” Food First Backgrounder. 1996.
(15) Quigley, Bill. “Why the US Owes Haiti Billions – The Briefest History.” http://www.commondreams.org/view/2010/01/17-6,
Waweru, Kimani. http://www.pambazuka.org/en/category/comment/55997
(16) Aristide, Jean-Bertrand. The Eyes of the Heart. 2000
(17) Quigley, Bill. “Why the US Owes Haiti Billions – The Briefest History.” http://www.commondreams.org/view/2010/01/17-6
(18) Aristide, Jean-Bertrand. The Eyes of the Heart. 2000.
(19) Ibid
(20) Waweru, Kimani. http://www.pambazuka.org/en/category/comment/55997
(21) http://globalgeopolitics.net/wordpress/2010/01/18/catastrophe-in-haiti-the-natural-and-not-so-natural-factors/
(22) http://www.nytimes.com/2006/02/20/international/americas/20haiti.html?_r=1&pagewanted=2,

(23) http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/01/17/AR2010011703370.html
(24) http://blog.heritage.org/2010/01/13/things-to-remember-while-helping-haiti/
(25) McKinney, Cynthia. http://www.pambazuka.org/en/category/features/61809
(26) http://globalgeopolitics.net/wordpress/2010/01/18/catastrophe-in-haiti-the-natural-and-not-so-natural-factors/,
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=122530936&ps=rs
(27) http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2010890341_billgates26.html

***

Posted in CAGJ’s February 2010 Newsletter:

Pou w konprann sa k pase joudi a, fók ou konnen sa ka pase anvan, “To understand today we must know the past” (1)

On January 12, 2010, an earthquake shook Port-au-Prince, with casualties in the hundreds of thousands of people. CAGJ sends our deepest condolences to the people of Haiti, and to the Haitian and Haitian-American people in the US who have lost loved ones. Without diminishing the devastation in Port-au-Prince following the earthquake, we also note that this tragedy is one piece of an ongoing catastrophe that implicates the United States, France and international financial institutions in under-developing and de-stabilizing Haiti. Rather than paying back the outstanding debt the Global North owes to Haiti, our government is taking advantage of the crisis to illegitimately extract even more money from Haiti. Former US envoy James Dobbins has stated that Haiti “has undergone shock. Some of the institutional and social obstacles to reform may now be more movable. The Haitian system itself may be more malleable (2).” Part of this “malleability” comes from the strong US military presence now in Haiti indefinitely. The Global North claims that because of a governmental vacuum—which it has helped create—the Northern countries themselves should administer Haiti’s reconstruction. An article in The Economist announced that “Haiti’s government cannot rebuild the country. A temporary authority needs to be set up to do it.” The Economist suggests that this coalition be led by Bill Clinton or Brazil’s Lula (3). Clinton, the UN Special Envoy to Haiti who is now responsible for reconstruction, has long put faith in garment manufacturing and tourism to “develop” Haiti (4). With the Haitian economy and infrastructure in “shock” following the earthquake, Haiti may finally become the acquiescent and well-behaved country the United States has always wanted it to be.
200,000 human lives and counting is too heavy a loss for any country to have to bear. When added to the casualties of slavery, colonialism, military occupation, tyrannical regimes, structural adjustment, and gross global inequality, the death toll is a catastrophe that should sit heavily on our collective conscience and inspire us to take action in solidarity with the long and enduring struggle of the Haitian people for dignity, equality, and justice. The words of Jean-Bertrand Aristide may guide us in this pursuit: “This is our challenge for the new century…Our faith makes us certain it will come to pass. This faith, this certainty, may be the most valuable export we can offer the world. I invite you to share in it. You and I together, fingers of the same hand, are called to build a more human world in this new century, to bring the thumb and the little finger closer together, so that the hand may be strong and whole. I am certain that we can and that we will (5).” May we show with our actions that we honor Haiti’s lesson to us: that humanity and hope can indeed prevail.
How you can act:
•    Donate to relief and health agencies who maintain long-term and community-based relationships in Haiti, including but not limited to: Partners in Health, Grassroots International, Doctors without Borders
•    Also donate to Haitian organizations that work within marginalized communities and should be empowered in the process of rebuilding infrastructure, communities, and hope. These include but are not limited to:
Konbit pou Ayiti: http://www.konpay.org/splash/
Via Campesina, in solidarity with Haiti: http://www.viacampesina.org/main_en/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=859&Itemid=31
Honor and Respect for Bel Air & Coordination Régionale des Organisations de Sud-Est (CROSE) vis a vis Avaaz: http://www.avaaz.org/en/stand_with_haiti/
•    Use your political voice to demand that the US government repay its debts to Haiti, that it shun disaster capitalism and transnational corporations’ reckless profiteering, and that it support instead political and social demands of Haiti’s poor.
•    Learn more:
Jean-Bertrand Aristide—The Eyes of the Heart
Beverly Bell—Walking on Fire
Paul Farmer—The Uses of Haiti, Pathologies of Power
CLR James—The Black Jacobins
Edwidge Danticat—Krik?Krak! (novel)
Aristide and the Endless Revolution (film)

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2 Comments

  1. Does the author have any evidence that the last installment of Haiti’s independence debt to France was paid in 1922?
    “(That cost was a debt of 150 million francs to France, for the loss of its colony, commodities, and human capital. Until the last payment was made in 1922, …)”
    In Re: (12) the writer cites: “When the Americans invaded the country in the early 20th century, one of the reasons offered (by whom?) was to assist the French in collecting its reparations. ” How convenient is it to have readers swallow that opinion, regardless of the geopolitics of the time (WWI+the Monroe’s doctrine of 1823). By August 1914, France was invaded by Germany and the war continued until the treaty of Versailles of 1918. .S. entered WWI until 1917. In what ground some responsibilities fall on those who live in the island for the past 5 centuries? or Spain? mankind of the time? What about the principle of “Causation & effects”?

    in Re:(13) “The US continued to refuse recognition to Haiti for 60 more years. Why? Because the US continued to enslave millions of its own citizens and feared recognizing Haiti would encourage slave revolution in the US.” The writer sees the events of the 19th. century with a mind of the 21st century, for the least.

    In addition, using Randall Robinson, An Unbroken Agony, by Mr. Quigley’s article is no evidence. In my humble opinion The data is being twisted out side of reality at the time. Mr. Robinson’s work & aim is quite different. Not just on what he wrote but also in deeds. Was the people, living in the land we call Haiti from 1492 to present,treated fairly? We need to define fairness from one era to another. Otherwise, we can throw spaghetti to the wall, hoping some will stick.

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