The Haitian people have endured a collective test of faith and will of biblical proportions ever since 16th century slave traders kidnapped them and sent them from Africa to the New World. From the start, the story of the Haitians has been one of resistance and suffering, beginning with the first successful slave revolt in the Western hemisphere, when, led by Toussaint L’Ouverture, the slaves overthrew French colonial rule. It was not long, however, before the French returned to bleed their former colony with more than a hundred years of heavy “reparations.”
Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Haitians bore the afflictions of foreign exploitation, deforestation, and their own corrupt leaders. Even as President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed his non-intervention doctrine, U.S. troops were occupying Haiti. For decades – under the Good Neighbour and then Cold War policies – U.S.-backed dictators Papa and Baby Doc Duvalier looted the Haitian people with the aid of the murderous Tonton Macoutes.
When Haitians finally overthrew the despised dictators and voted for the reformist priest Jean Bertrand Aristide, on a platform of development and social justice, foreign investors and wealthy Haitians staged a coup backed by Washington and led by a former CIA agent. The 2004 coup was actually a U.S., French, and Canadian joint venture. While U.S. marines occupied the National Palace on February 29, Canadian forces secured the airport from whence Aristide was flown out of the country and into forced exile. The coup had no popular support and so the U.S. engineered the stationing of a United Nations “peacekeeping” force there. In the days after the kidnapping of Aristide, the Haitian National Police carried out illegal mass detentions, numerous disappearances, and summary executions of Aristide supporters.
Canada pursued its nefarious role in Haiti by providing financing as well as diplomatic and “security” support to the installed government of Gérard Latortue (who had been flown in from Florida to head up the government). A combination of the reconstituted Haitian National Police (HNP), associated paramilitaries, and foreign police and military forces (now operating under the aegis of the United Nations) acted to suppress movements demanding the restoration of democratic rule.
This was the shape that Canadian “aid” took in the period leading up to the earthquake, with media joining officials in whitewashing our intervention as a charitable mission. And in the past five years, the same countries now scrambling to send emergency assistance have consistently voted against any extension of the UN mission’s mandate beyond its immediate military purpose.
It should come as no surprise, then, that the Haitian government was so ill-prepared to deal with the calamitous January 12 earthquake. Under the de facto rule of a foreign military force and hamstrung by imposed neoliberal economic policy, the government has been unable to invest in its people or regulate its economy in any way as to mitigate the prevailing destitution. According to the best available estimates, about three-quarters of the population lives on less than $2 per day, and more than fifty-six percent on less than $1 per day. It is this poverty and powerlessness that account for the magnitude of the horror in Port-au-Prince today.
And what of assistance to the devastated nation? U.S. intervention immediately created a series of delays reminiscent of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Instead of distributing food and water to the needy or rescuing the people in the poorest neighbourhoods, U.S., Canadian, European, and UN missions worried about making those areas “secure,” while U.S. troops fed and watered white foreigners and rich Haitians. As a result, untold numbers of people have died needlessly in the rubble of Port-au-Prince.
We join with the Canada Haiti Action Network in calling for the renewal of Haitian sovereignty in determining collective priorities and decisions. Foreign troops must go. Haiti’s remaining foreign debt must be immediately forgiven. International aid – in the form of grants not loans – must now be directed away from neo-liberal adjustment, sweatshop exploitation, and non-governmental charity, and towards systematic investment in Haiti’s own people and government.
This article appeared in the March/April 2010 issue of Canadian Dimension (Indian Country).