Date: Feature Week of
SHOULD BLACKS BE CONCERNED ABOUT U.S. TYRANNY IN HAITI
America’s Role in Making Haiti the Poorest Country in the Western Hemisphere
"We should not forget that the freedom you and I enjoy today is largely due to the brave stand taken by the black sons of Haiti." - Frederick Douglass -1893
Based on their history, Haitian supporters of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide who’ve been marching on U.S. and French embassies in Port-Au-Prince should not be taken lightly. With pistols tucked in their belts and chanting “Down with George Bush,” these protestors illustrate Haitians’ 230 years of fighting for their freedom and economic empowerment.
Instead of joining a debate of the “legality” of Aristide’s 2000 election, African American should examine Haiti’s history with France and America. American officials have hampered Haiti’s soc-economic progress since its birth as an independent black nation. U.S. imperialism has played a major role in Haiti becoming “the poorest country in the Western hemisphere”.
From the start, Haitians have always fought back. Against impossible odds, revolutionaries led by Toussaint L’Ouverture, defeated the armies of France, Spain and Britain. January 4, 1804, Haiti became the world’s first independent black nation, but the European empires - as well as the newly independent United States - saw the new republic as a threat to their systems and refused to recognize its sovereignty. (The U.S. and France did everything in their power to undermine it - President Thomas Jefferson imposed sanctions that remained in place until 1862.)
American apologists will never admit it was racism; Haiti has been besieged from the beginning. Twenty-one years after Haiti’s independence, France sent troops to demand 150 million francs as compensation for their lost "property." Haitians had no choice but to pay, and were saddled with crippling debt. Haiti’s strategic territorial waters were repeatedly invaded by European powers throughout the 19th century. By the turn of the 20th century, America saw Haiti as a crucial part of its regional and global strategy for power. Using Haiti’s political instability as an alibi, the U.S. invaded in 1915 and maintained a brutal military occupation for 19 years.
The U.S. Marines’ first action was to blast into the Haitian national treasury, take all the gold and ship it to the First National City Bank in New York. They installed a puppet president and rewrote Haiti’s constitution to ensure foreigners the right to own property. U.S. companies then grabbed the most fertile valleys and set up agribusinesses growing sugar, rubber, sisal, and other crops. Haitians were again enslaved under a system of forced labor. At bayonet point, Haitian peasants were forced to build roads, railroads, buildings, and other infrastructure to service U.S. companies and their neo-colonial administration. A mass movement among blacks forced the U.S. withdrawal in 1934. Haiti by now had a highly centralized state and an extensive military trained by the U.S. in suppressing domestic resistance. American corporations dominated its economy, and the immense gap between the wealthy elite and the mass of impoverished peasants had grown even wider.
These conditions paved the way for the dictatorship of Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier in 1957. Duvalier proved useful to U.S. imperialism, championing corporations and serving as an "anti-communist" counterweight to Fidel Castro’s Cuba. Similarly, his son and successor Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier carried out Corporate America’s agenda of opening up the economy and offering up Haiti’s poor as a cheap, heavily repressed labor force for foreign corporations. In the 1980s, Haiti’s peasants and workers rose up again to topple the Duvalier regime and embark on a process of uprooting the entrenched power structure. In 1986 when Baby Doc was forced to flee, the U.S. government sent a military plane to collect him and take him - along with his money - to a safe refuge in France.
In a democratic election in 1990, Jean-Bertrand Aristide was elected by a massive majority on promises of social reform. Just months later, a military coup - funded by Haiti’s richest families and sponsored by the CIA - took down the democratically elected government. In 1994, the U.S. returned Aristide to power, on condition that he abandon planned reforms, give coup leaders a role in the new regime and accept World Bank and IMF conditions. Aristide’s acceptance of these terms signified his degeneration from a champion of the people to a manager of the same old corrupt and unequal system. In the years after the invasion, the U.S. government turned on Aristide, eventually putting an embargo on aid to Haiti when Washington’s handpicked successors were defeated by Aristide’s party.
Haiti’s 200-year struggle illustrates many lessons for us. One is that U.S. imperialism can claim we’re for democracy and freedom – as we violate sovereignty and install regimes that serve our interests. Another is that democratic change does not come from foreign powers, but from a nation, like Haiti’s oppressed which can and do rise up. Lastly, in order to assist those struggling in poor nations, we in the U.S. must do everything in our power to challenge the economic and military might exerted internationally by our own government.
© 2000-2003 William Reed - www.BlackPressInternational.com