US vs Haiti - Imperial Blockade
Another American annexation?
Sunday, January 24th 2010
WHAT surprised me about my column last week was the number of people, mostly local, who knew little or nothing about Haiti"s history. But what should I have expected in a country and an education system in which history has been deemed irrelevant? Or when students study the subject, the focus is on lands and civilisations afar? Let"s face it: we know more about America and Europe than we do of Trinidad and Tobago and the Caribbean.
Teachers and students alike were emailing or telephoning me to seek wider knowledge of the devastated country, to explain why slaves who fought for and won their freedom were made to pay huge indemnities to their defeated French masters. I pointed them to an incisive article written by UWI pro-vice-chancellor Sir Hilary Beckles, to an in-depth analysis of Haiti by Noam Chomsky, and asked that they read Black Jacobins by our own CLR James. Of course many argued that "Black people cannot govern themselves", citing the many failed states in Africa that, coincidentally, have similar colonial histories to Haiti. One friend who is involved in a billion-dollar project, and whose business partners are all black, had the audacity to tell me: "Raf, you know black people can"t run business!" I almost asked him why, then, was he (of mixed race) involved in that particular project. But I held my tongue. But this column is not about black or white or brown people. It"s about a Caribbean country that has long borne the dubious title of the "poorest nation in the Western hemisphere". Last week I showed where, after 200-odd years of "freedom", with which went ostracism from the developed world and a death-dealing trade and recognition embargo, Haiti"s government was forced to sign an "IOU" to France for 90 million gold francs. That amounted to some 70 per cent of the value of its exports, and it took Haiti almost 125 years to clear that dubious debt! The money was paid in tranches to France. But the US was complicit in its capitulation-in-victory because the US"s revered "founding fathers", all slave owners, did not want the "bad example" set by Toussaint and Dessalines to spread to its territory. Indeed, in exchange for the revered Thomas Jefferson"s assistance in securing this humongous reparation, France sold two American states that it owned-New Orleans and Louisiana-to the newly independent US. That secured for the US all territories west of the Mississippi that Napoleon coveted.
According the Eduardo Galeano (author of Open Veins of Latin America), the first country to abolish African slavery became a "new country born with a rope wrapped tightly around its neck: the equivalent of US$21.7 billion in today"s dollars, or forty-four times Haiti"s current yearly budget." And whereas France licked its wounds and took its money, the last tranche paid in 1947, America also imposed its will and its might on the hapless nation, repeatedly invading it, raping it, stealing its wealth and up to this day imposing its leader-of-choice on the Haitian people.
Here I quote from Galeano again: "In 1915, the Marines landed in Haiti. They stayed nineteen years. The first thing they did was occupy the customs house and duty collection facilities. The occupying army suspended the salary of the Haitian president until he agreed to sign off on the liquidation of the Bank of the Nation, which became a branch of City Bank of New York. The president and other blacks were barred entry into the private hotels, restaurants, and clubs of the foreign occupying power. The occupiers didn"t dare re-establish slavery, but they did impose forced labour for the building of public works. And they killed a lot of people. It wasn"t easy to quell the fires of resistance." I have already stated that the US and its "agencies of death" (the World Bank and the IMF) must be made to share in reparations to Haiti, which, if we add interest and subtract what they have already loaned or given to that country, would amount to around US$40 billion-not the $20 billion that I mentioned last week. I heard Prime Minister Patrick Manning say it would take around US$2 billion a year to rebuild that broken country. Manning has to be joking. Little wonder Caricom has so little influence in one of its member-states where its delegation was disallowed landing rights-by the occupying Americans. I agree that only the US has the manpower and other resources to deal with the kind of catastrophe that has struck Haiti. But does that give them the right to deny entry to CARICOM leaders, to Cuban doctors, to disaster-trained medical personnel from Médecins Sans FrontiÃ¨res? We saw the mess the Americans made after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans. It took days for drinking water to reach victims, weeks for them to be fed and years later some victims still live in temporary shelters. Will Haitians fare any better with American troops instead of American humanitarian help? Already we see the additional pain that victims have borne. Amputations are done with rusted hacksaws. Field hospitals are few, medicines are in short supply and medical personnel even fewer.
Dismal forecasts on Haiti's future
With U.S. dominance of relief efforts, a reporter who covered Haiti for 25 years, sees some ominous signs
By Linda Diebel National Affairs Writer
As Haitians fled the capital Jan. 22, 2010, an 84-year-old woman was pulled from the rubble 10 days after the devastating earthquake in Haiti.
Shortly after the earthquake, Haitian President Rene PrÃ©val told reporters at the darkened Port-au-Prince airport he had nowhere to go. The National Palace was badly damaged and his house unlivable. Anyone would feel sympathy for a president whose country was so ravaged, admiration even, as he pluckily set up what government he could on the grounds of the city's police academy. It's worth remembering, however, this is the man who, during an earlier incarnation as president in 1997, treated 140 Canadian soldiers on guard duty at the palace with contempt, ordering up helicopters for his pals on a whim and keeping the Canadians so in the dark they felt their own lives in jeopardy. PrÃ©val would go on two years later to airly dismiss the Haitian legislature and rule by executive decree, continuing the presidential custom of looking out for his friends as death squads, the revamped Tontons Macoute, kept opponents and grassroots movements in line.
Unfortunately, the experience of these soldiers serves to encapsulate Canada's role in Haiti over almost two decades. PrÃ©val was America's man, not Canada's, and the U.S. government (or rather its intelligence service) has always appeared to have the upper hand. It deals with a few elite Haitian families who, for the most part, parcel out aid monies to their own agencies, while Canada remains a lapdog.
Not surprisingly, the palace soldiers were removed from their posts for talking to a journalist, despite having been directed to do so by their superiors. Mustn't offend.
I've witnessed this sad spectacle over almost 25 years of reporting from Haiti, seeing first-hand the demoralizing effect on well-meaning Canadians and, more importantly, the crushing of democracy in Haiti.
It appears to be happening again. The U.S. has assumed the post-earthquake leadership role, choosing priorities and setting the timetable. Canada plays a bit part in this American drama, ignoring what should have been learned from the example of hundreds of Mounties and soldiers. If that is indeed true, then what of the ultimate effectiveness of millions of dollars donated by Canadians who grieve with Haiti? The U.S. military rapidly took over control at the Port-au-Prince airport, giving preference to its own military flights and turning away other rescue and food missions in early critical days, brushing off concerns of governments and aid agencies that food should be as important as guns. On Day 2, CNN reported security was the priority for the U.S. but that Marines would not land for at least a week. And before they arrived last Tuesday, no significant aid reached frantic Haitians. As it has before, the Pentagon moved quickly to set up a massive air, sea and land blockade â.. "Vigilant Sentry" â.. to ensure no desperate Haitians would make it a thousand kilometres to the U.S. As Noam Chomsky, U.S. policy critic and author, told the Star Thursday: "Unfortunately, the new blockade is not illegal since the refugees are not fleeing from persecution â.. just fleeing for survival which doesn't seem to be covered by international law. But it's grotesque."
He sees the "monstrosity" of the earthquake as a "class-based disaster and the result largely of driving the rural populaton into miserable urban slums" after a deliberate destruction of the farming system to suit foreign interests.
Meanwhile last week, Ottawa watched Dutch and American planes airlift orphans out of Haiti, while failing to offer similar flights for Canadian adoptive parents. Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said he needed approval from the Haitian government. But with the Haitian government virtually non-existant it appeared more likely Ottawa waited for clearance from the U.S. Meanwhile, it took precious days for Canada to get its marching orders to provide relief and support to the south, in Jacmel, and west in LÃ©ogÃ¢ne.
Haitian political scientist Gabriel Nicolas summed up the pattern a decade ago when he told me: "We know that when you want to know what the American ambassador is really thinking, you listen to the Canadian ambassador.
"It's about time Canada stepped up to play their own game and take advantage of the great affinity Haitians have for Canada."
Canadians know something is wrong. In a letter to the Star last week, retired Toronto contractor Kevin Kelly expressed disgust with Defence Minister Peter MacKay's early comment about having 150 people on the ground, "Enough for crowd control at a rock concert," he wrote.
Added Kelly: "By following the American lead, once again we look hapless."
Dr. Paul Farmer, deputy UN special envoy to Haiti under former president Bill Clinton, has been a caustic critic of U.S. policy. "What then is to be done?," he wrote in his 1994 book The Uses of Haiti. Then, Farmer was a Harvard medical professor who had practised in rural Haiti for a decade. "The first order of business might be a candid and careful assessment of our ruinous polices towards Haiti. The Haitian people are asking not for charity, but for justice."
Conventional wisdom portrays the U.S. as Haitian benefactor, notably during the 19-year occupation by Marines, ending in 1934, that left a partial road system and some schools. In reality, the Marines created an army whose top officers would be trained at the infamous U.S. Army School of the Americas, with its documented record of teaching torture to despots and army generals.
Haiti's poor struggled through the savagery of dictators Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier and his son, Jean-Claude "Baby Doc," until the latter was exiled to France in 1986. What followed was more butchery by the Tontons Macoute, a groundswell for democratic elections and the victory in 1991 of new president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a slight Liberation Theology priest from the slums of La Saline, as president.
Washington, not to mention the Haitian elites, were apoplectic. Aristide wanted land reform, a higher minimum wage (to $3 a day), an end to low-wage foreign-owned factories controlled by outsiders and an end to privitization that turned government assets over to a privileged few.
"(Aristide) did not please the U.S. Agency for International Development which had invested millions in keeping Haitian wages low," wrote Farmer. USAID is in charge of relief and political education internationally. Ariside lasted until an army coup, backed by the CIA, in September 1991. A few days later, I walked into army headquarters in Port-au-Prince to find the CIA station chief â.. who'd been with the generals during the coup itself â.. laughing with the colonel in charge. They gave me a so-called top secret dossier on Aristide, an amateurish job put together by a mysterious Canadian. Aristide was supposedly a drug-addled communist intent on slitting the throats of the upper classes. Later that week, while the U.S. publicly condemned the coup, the American ambassador hosted select journalists at his residence to hand out copies of the file. It shifted public opinion against Aristide in the U.S.; there was a three-year delay before his return in 1994, when his term had essentially expired. By then, and during a later stint as president, Aristide was a changed man, no longer the champion of systemic reform.
U.S. policy towards Haiti has always been complicated, with the White House, state department, Pentagon and intelligence agencies often fighting for different interests. As president, Clinton worked with the UN to restore Aristide but was repeatedly thwarted by a Pentagon concerned with control of the hemisphere. These clashes came to bear on Aristide's future, not to mention Canada's, in Haiti. In 1993, the USS Harlan County, sent by the Clinton Administration and full of soldiers to help restore Aristide, turned away from Haiti because of what appeared to be an anti-American protest on the docks. But it was led by the nefarious Emmanuel "Toto" Constant, leader of a new Macoute, who turned out to be on the CIA payroll at $500 a month. The next day, Canadian Mounties, in the country to train Haitian police, left with tears in their eyes. They knew the protest wasn't real but Ottawa, listening to Washington, shut down the mission. Long efforts by Canadian troops to impose order also failed; Haiti continued to be ruled by guns that, despite Canadian pleas, the United States' military had refused to round up. More than 15,000 U.S. soldiers did land in Haiti to pave the way for Aristide's return in 1994. When they pulled out two years later, Canadians shouldered the lead UN peacekeeping role. It was Washington's idea. Former prime minister Jean ChrÃ©tien revealed to an open mike at a Madrid conference: "(Clinton) goes to Haiti with soldiers. The next year Congress doesn't allow him to go back. So he phones me. Okay, I send my soldiers and thereafter, I ask for something in exchange." What Canada got remains unclear.