Back to Haiti

I’ve been reading a lot about Haiti lately, largely inspired by what I learnt a year or so ago, about the slaves who fought for and won their freedom from arrogant French landlords supported by French warships. Yes, the slaves were actually able to defeat Napoleon’s forces (20,000 soldiers and as many sailors) and to declare Haiti a sovereign Republic in 1804. That is a remarkable achievement.

[I]n August 1791 the first slave armies were established in northern Haiti under the leadership of Toussaint Louverture. …

Ultimately more than 50,000 French troops died in an attempt to retake the colony, including 18 generals. The French managed to capture Louverture, transporting him to France for trial. He was imprisoned at Fort de Joux, where he died in 1803 of exposure and possibly tuberculosis.

Wikipedia as at 31.01.2024

Napoleon is said to have explained in the midst of the war in Haiti: “My decision to destroy the authority of the Blacks in Saint Domingue (Haiti) is not so much based on considerations of commerce and money…as on the need to block forever the forward march of Blacks in the world.”

We can well imagine US slave owners’ horror at the success of the slave rebellion. So Thomas Jefferson refused to recognise Haiti. Other nations, too, imposed diplomatic and economic sanctions on the newly formed Republic. These embargoes froze Haiti out of the global economic market, and denied the burgeoning nation diplomatic participation in the international political scene. I’ll repeat two words here: “economic sanctions”. What would the goal of those sanctions have been, I wonder, if not the same as that of current sanctions: to punish, to starve and to cause suffering to the population. Back then when they had no internet, an additional aim will have been to reduce access to science and literature and hence to perpetuate ignorance.

What was new to me a year or two ago was not the slave rebellion as such, but that the French demanded that the slaves who had won their freedom in battle, pay compensation for their freedom! I assume the former slaves accepted these terms, partly to avoid being regularly revisited by the French army, and partly because payment for liberation was still the norm at the time. When the Russian serfs were liberated more than 50 years later, in 1861, the landlords had to be compensated, while the former serfs were left without roofs over their heads.

So Haiti was saddled from the start with colossal debts and had to take bank loans at exorbitant interest rates. Not until 1947 were they able to pay off the slave debt. Take a look at that sentence. Former slaves were paying for their freedom until 1947! From 1915 on, they were not even paying France, but the USA that had purchased the debt.

Yes, from the 20th century on, Haiti’s biggest problem (apart from earthquakes) has been its proximity to the USA. The USA has pretended that it is “helping” Haiti get back on its feet. Alas! To quote Kenan Malik’s very brief but wonderfully succinct article “Plundered and corrupted for 200 years, Haiti was doomed to end in anarchy :

“I helped make Haiti… a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues,” Maj Gen Smedley Butler, a leader of the American forces in Haiti, wrote in 1935.

I need to stop here and stress that I strongly recommend Kenan Malik’s article, because Haiti’s woes have been, throughout, so overwhelming, that most of us, give up trying to get our head around them. Malik’s article summarises things very neatly. But even Wikipedia admits that:

[t]he [US] invasion and subsequent occupation [1915-1934] was promoted by growing American business interests in Haiti, especially the National City Bank of New York, which had withheld funds from Haiti and paid rebels to destabilise the nation through the Bank of the Republic of Haiti with an aim at inducing American intervention.

Wikipedia as at 31/03/24 (my emphasis)

What soon followed was almost 29 years (1959 to 1986) of dynastic Duvalier dictatorship (Papa and Baby Doc) and death squads, which the U.S. unconditionally supported by providing economic and military assistance. Graham Greene explores this ghastly period in his depressing novel “the Comedians.”

Finally, Jean-Bertrand Aristide became the first democratically (and jubilantly) elected president in 1990 (with 92 % of the votes). But the US orchestrated no less than two coups d’etat against him and finally trucked him off to central Africa.

What has happened since is fairly chaotic, it is true. The key, however, is summed up by Kenan Malik in the above cited article:

The suppression of democratic movements became the constant thread of the nation’s history.

Of course, Haiti is not alone in this respect, but the country’s class differences have been exacerbated by the involvement of foreign governments, particularly the USA and more recently Canada. The US still runs Haiti one way or another, nominally through the so-called “core group” of ambassadors, and with the aid of its creation RNDDH, aka Orange DDH, a so-called human rights group (in reality a typical NED scam).

What is also clear is that the mission of Haiti’s police and military is to protect the comprador bourgeoisie and the elite,not the overwhelming majority.

Mainstream media is absolutely useless with regard to Haiti. What they describe, apart from effects of the earthquakes, is “gang violence”. Gang violence sounds bad, of course, but what do the gangs represent?

  • Are the gangs paid? If so by whom/why?
  • Are the gangs politically motivated? If so, how/why?
  • Who are the beneficiaries of the violence?
  • How have the funds disbursed by the USA and other countries been used? Is there any accountability?
  • Why is most of the population so desperately poor and uneducated despite considerable “aid” from the USA and allies?

No, mainstream media is mostly pretty useless. So do please visit Responsible Statecraft’s fresh article US should let Haiti reclaim its democracy which goes a long way in answering the above questions, and more. (Notice, for instance, President Biden’s attempt to persuade Kenyans to do the killing, and Kenya’s reluctance to do so.) Notice, finally, the article’s conclusion that the USA has to finally leave Haiti alone.

I think Haiti has served as a template for the very concept “failed state”. Let’s hope that Biden’s fear of loosing the looming US presidential election will dissuade him from enforcing another reign of terror on the island country.

Copy link