U.S. Imperialism: No Friend of Haiti
Abayomi Azikiwe, editor of the Pan-African News Wire, covering an immigrant rights rally in Clark Park in southwest Detroit on Oct. 12, 2008. (Photo: Alan Pollock).
Originally uploaded by Pan-African News Wire File Photos
Abayomi Azikiwe, editor of the Pan-African News Wire, covering an immigrant rights rally in Clark Park in southwest Detroit on Oct. 12, 2008. (Photo: Alan Pollock).
Originally uploaded by Pan-African News Wire File Photos
Humanitarian Mission or Military Occupation?
by Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire
Editor's Note: The following address was delivered at a public meeting on Haiti held on January 23, 2010. The event also featured several other speakers including Kris Hamel, managing editor of Workers World newspaper, Sandra Hines, organizer for the Moratorium NOW! Coalition, Bryan Pfeifer, organizer for the Union of Part-Time Faculty at Wayne State University, Andrea Egypt of the Michigan Emergency Committee Against War & Injustice (MECAWI), Kevin Carey of the Detroit People's Task Force, and Ignacio Meneses of the U.S.-Cuba Labor Exchange. The meeting was chaired by Derek Grigsby of MECAWI.
Many days after the January 12 earthquake in Haiti, thousands of tons of supplies and food are sitting at the airport in the capital Port-au-Prince and not being distributed to the people who need it desperately. Tens of thousands of injured people are losing limbs, becoming permanently disabled and dying because of the obstruction of aid delivery and the lack of a coordinated effort between states, aid agencies and the Haitian community leadership.
At the epicenter of the quake people had not been provided with any outside assistance. U.S. helicopters fly over the area and drop pieces of bread to the thousands of survivors on the ground. As a result of this disconnect between the Haitian people and the western-based relief effort, anger is growing among many at the grassroots level.
In an Associated Press article on January 22 it states that "As aftershocks still shook the city nine days later, aid workers streamed into Haiti with water, food, drugs, latrines, clothing, trucks, construction equipment, telephones and tons of other relief supplies. The international Red Cross called it the greatest deployment of emergency responders in its 91-year history." (AP, Jan. 22)
Nonetheless, the distribution of this assistance is extremely slow. The AP article continues by pointing out that "the built-in bottlenecks of this desperately poor, underdeveloped nation and the sheer scale of the catastrophe still left many of the hundreds of thousands of victims without help. The U.S. military reported a waiting list of 1,400 international relief flights seeking to land on Port-au-Prince's single runway, where 12 to 140 flights were arriving daily."
Why after over an extended period of time since the quake and later aftershocks, that relief has not gotten to the Haitian people in mass? Why does the corporate-media seek out incidents to validate its claim that the Haitian people are incapable of handling their own affairs and determining the destiny of the country? The answer to these questions are to be found in the history and contemporary situation in Haiti and the Caribbean.
As of late January 2010, the U.S. has announced the deployment of 11,000 troops from the army and the marines. Also the United Nations' 9,000-person peacekeeping force will be increasing its presence with another 3,500 soldiers to bolster the Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH). The Obama administration pledged $100 million in relief assistance but the appointment of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush to coordinate efforts sent the wrong signal for not only the people in Haiti and the Caribbean, but also those within the United States itself who vividly recall the role of both these presidents in invading the country.
A myriad of other U.S., European and Canadian agencies have announced tens of millions of dollars in relief aid. Yet, from all credible accounts emanating from inside Haiti, the military forces deployed by U.S. imperialism are serving more as an impediment to helping the people than providing the type of assistance that is really needed.
There have been news reports showing U.S. troops firing on Haitians who are simply trying to get food, water and supplies from destroyed businesses damaged in the earthquake. Such scenes provide the rationale for increased repression and containment of the majority of the people in Haiti. At the conclusion of one week after the quake, it was stated that hundreds of thousands of people would be relocated from Port-au-Prince to other regions of the country.
Therefore, despite the presence of thousands of marines, army units and other U.S. personnel, the conditions of the Haitian people are worsening. The organizational capacity of the workers and youth are being stifled as a result of the dominance of the United States.
A History of Rebellion and Revolution Against Slavery
How did Haiti arrive in this social situation where it is often described as the "poorest country in the western hemisphere?" Absent of the series of hurricanes that hit the country over the last two years and the recent devastating earthquake that registered at 7.0 with a number of substantial aftershocks that did further damage to buildings, the character of Haitian political economy cannot be separated from the history of slavery, colonialism and neo-colonialism in the Caribbean.
Western European contact with the island that became known as Hispaniola, where both Haiti and the Dominican Republic are located, was a traumatic one. The Spanish Monarchy sent Columbus in 1492 to pave the way for its imperial and colonial aims that resulted in the extermination of the indigenous people on the island.
Ralph Korngold in his political biography of Toussaint Louverture,"Citizen Toussaint," states with reference to the indigenous people in Hispaniola that "If the Indians perished by tens and by hundreds of thousands, the white colonists prospered. Mines and plantations were developed. The ports of the island were crowded with proud galleons bringing manufactured products from the mother country and carrying away rich colonial produce." (Korngold, 1944, p.6)
Korngold continues by noting the tremendous wealth the Spanish gained from the exploitation of the resources and people of Hispaniola. He states that "For many of the colonists the dream of wealth came true. Some returned to Spain and spent in riotous living the wealth wrung from the Indians. Others built fine houses, imported costly furniture and clothing and set out to found a colonial aristocracy."
The colony of Hispaniola began to rival its European capital in wealth and opulence. According to Oviedo, who wrote to Charles V saying "that there was not a city in Spain comparable with Santo Domingo City,...there were mansions surpassing in size, splendor and comfort the palaces in which royalty lived in the mother country."
Frederick Douglass, the former abolitionist and U.S. Minister to the Republic of Haiti delivered an address in Chicago during 1893 where he discussed the role of Spain in the conquering of Hispaniola. Douglass pointed to the role of the Church in this process and the contradictions between the principals of Christianity and the practice of the Spanish in their extermination of the Caribbean native people and the enslavement of the Africans.
Douglass said in this speech that "In thinking of Haiti, a painful, perplexing and contradictory fact meets us at the outset. It is: that Negro slavery was brought to the New World by the same people from whom Haiti received her religion and her civilization. No people have ever shown greater religious zeal or have given more attention to the ordinances of the Christian church than have the Spaniards; yet no people were ever guilty of more injustice and blood-chilling cruelty to their fellowmen than these same religious Spaniards. Men more learned in the theory of religion than I am, may be able to explain and reconcile these two facts; but to me they seem to prove that men may be very pious, and yet pitiless; very religious and yet practice the foulest crimes. These Spanish Christians found in Haiti a million harmless men and women, and in less than sixty years they had murdered nearly all of them. With religion on their lips, the tiger in their hearts and the slave whip in their hands, they lashed these innocent natives to toil, death and extinction. When these pious souls had destroyed the natives, they opened the slave trade with Africa as a merciful device. Such, at least, is the testimony of history." (Haiti: A Slave Revolution, 2004, pp. 77-78)
Later the French, British and the Dutch would come seeking their fortunes on the island. The economic decline of the colony under Spain opened up the island to settlement by the French who took over the western region by the second decade of the 17th century.
Beginning in the middle 17th century, the main products developed on the island were cocoa, indigo and tobacco. In 1644 Benjamin Dacosta brought in sugar cane production from Java which led to rapid growth in this industry throughout the island and the Caribbean.
Korngold points out that "Sugar cane might have been profitably grown on small farms had independent mills been erected. But there appeared instead large sugar plantations that had their own mills and were manufactories as well as agricultural establishments. To produce sugar in this fashion required a great outlay of capital. Vast estates swallowed up the small farms." (Korngold, p.11)
By 1789 over one million Africans had been imported into Hispaniola as slaves. C.L.R. James wrote in the "Black Jacobins" in 1938 that "In 1789 the French West Indian colony of San Domingo (Haiti) supplied two-thirds of the overseas trade of France and was the greatest individual market for the European slave trade. It was an integral part of the economic life of the age, the greatest colony in the world, the pride of France, and the envy of every other imperialist nation. The whole structure rested on the labour of half-a-million slaves." (James, Preface)
James continues by recounting the sheer magnitude of the revolutionary struggle launched by the African people of Haiti beginning during the last decade of the 18th century. He says that "In August 1791, after two years of the French Revolution and its repercussions in San Domingo, the slaves revolted. The struggle lasted for 12 years. The slaves defeated in turn the local whites and the soldiers of the French monarchy, a Spanish invasion, a British expedition of some 60,000 men, and a French expedition of similar size under Bonaparte's brother-in-law. The defeat of Bonaparte's expedition in 1803 resulted in the establishment of the Negro state in Haiti which has lasted to this day."
The revolt and subsequent seizure of power in Haiti, is the only recorded revolution that was conceived, organized and carried out by a slave population in the entire history of human society. James says "The transformation of slaves, trembling in hundreds before a single white man, into a people able to organize themselves and defeat the most powerful European nations of their day, is one of the great epics of revolutionary struggle and achievement."
The Haitian Revolution had a tremendous impact on the United States. It struck fear into the slave master class in the South and the North who new from that point forward there was a real potential for the overthrow of the plantation owners and their dreaded system of exploitation and oppression. The revolutionary struggle in San Domingo rendered absurd the notion of the inherent superiority of the European and the inability of the African people to both rise up and defeat their rulers.
Inside continental North America, the defeat of the French imperialist army in 1803 weakened its stranglehold on large sections of the territory. Korngold says that "It was not Toussaint's intention to help the United States of America acquire the Louisiana Territory, which doubled the area of the country and made possible further expansion westward; but there is reason to believe that but for the Negro general the Territory might have remained a French colony. (Korngold, p. xii)
In regard to the role of Toussaint, James says in the "Black Jacobins" that "The writer believes, and is confident the narrative will prove, that between 1789 and 1815, with the single exception of Bonaparte himself, no single figure appeared on the historical stage more greatly gifted than this Negro, a slave till he was 45. Yet Toussaint did not make the revolution. It was the revolution that made Toussaint. And even that is not the whole truth." (James, p. x)
As it relates to the role of the individual in history, James notes that "Today by a natural reaction we tend to a personification of the social forces, great men (women) being merely or nearly instruments in the hands of economic destiny. As so often the truth does not lie in between. Great men (women) make history, but only such history as it is possible for them to make. Their freedom of achievement is limited by the necessities of their environment. To portray the limits of those necessities and the realisation, complete or partial, of all possibilities, that is the true business of the historian."
A Chronology of Historical Events From 1803-2010
As mentioned earlier, the role of the Haitian Revolution between 1791-1804 had a tremendous impact on the slave system in the United States. The fear of rebellion in the South, the Louisiana Purchase after the defeat of the French imperialist army in 1803 changed the economic and social character of the United States.
Toussaint, however, would not live to see the triumph of the Revolution. He was betrayed and later deceived in discussions with the French that led to his arrest, deportation to France and eventual death in prison in 1803.
Nonetheless, the Revolution continued under the leadership of Jean-Jacques Dessalines and the Republic of Haiti was proclaimed on January 1, 1804. Some two years later Dessalines was assassinated at Pont-Rouge.
Both the United States and France refused to recognize the Haitian Republic. This did not stop the new nation from playing an important role in Caribbean and Latin American affairs during the 19th century.
In 1815-1816 Simon Bolivar, the South American revolutionary, was granted asylum twice in Haiti where he gained support and military assistance in his campaign to liberate Latin America from Spanish colonial rule. Later in 1822 Haiti intervened in the Dominican Republic (Santo Domingo) resulting in the collapse of slavery on the island of Hispaniola. The Haitian occupation of the Dominican Republic lasted until 1844.
In 1825 the French granted conditional recognition to Haiti after the Republic agreed to pay "indemnity" to the former colonial power for the property destroyed during the revolutionary war of 1791-1803. Haiti promised to pay 150 million gold francs as compensation resulting in full recognition in 1838.
In 1861, the United States ruling class split over the question of slavery and several southern states withdrew from the Union leading to the civil war that lasted until 1865. At the time of the civil war, some 4 million Africans remained enslaved by the white ruling class. During the civil war approximately 176,000 Africans participated in the Union army in the fight to end slavery.
It was during this period in 1862-63 that both the Emancipation Proclamation was issued and the formal recognition of Haiti was granted by the United States Government. It became obvious that the northern states under Lincoln could not win the war without the participation of the African people. In 1889 Fredrick Douglass was appointed as the U.S. Minister and Consul General to Haiti.
During the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, the United States escalated its drive to become the world's leading imperialist power. The so-called Spanish-American War was in actuality a concerted effort to seize control of the Spanish colonies of Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines. The U.S. would build a military base on the island of Cuba at Guantanamo Bay. The Platt Amendment was passed by the U.S. Congress which granted the imperialists a "legal right" to occupy this section of Cuba for decades to come.
In 1914, world war erupted in Europe although the U.S. did not become directly involved until 1917. Nonetheless, the U.S. Marines invaded Haiti in 1915 and virtually re-enslaved the African masses. Eventually the brutal conditions and blatant racism led to the formation of a guerrilla army among the Haitian masses under the direction of Charlemagne Peralte, whose "cacos" would play an instrumental role in the withdrawal of U.S. troops during the Roosevelt administration.
Another tragedy inflicted Haitians in 1937 when between 17,000 to 35,000 of its people, who were living in neighboring Dominican Republic, were massacred by the armed forces on the orders of President Rafael Trujillo. This massacre was endorsed by the United States when Secretary of State Cordell Hull declared that President Trujillo was one of the greatest people Latin America had produced.
In 1957, the most well-known dictators and U.S. puppets, Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier, became President of Haiti. In subsequent years, Duvalier attacked his opponents and drove many of them into exile. This reign of terror continued with the full backing of the U.S. until 1964 when Duvalier declared himself "President-for-Life."
Although "Papa Doc" Duvalier died in 1971, his son, "Baby Doc" took over the reigns of power in Haiti. During the 1970s and 1980s, thousands more Haitians fled the country and sought asylum inside the United States. The level of poverty and repression against the people accelerated with mass exploitation carried out against the people by many U.S.-based multi-national corporations.
Between the years of 1982-84, the agricultural sector in Haiti was virtually destroyed when the U.S.-controlled Organization of American States and the State Department's Agency for International Development oversaw the slaughter of livestock deemed to be carriers of "African Swine Fever." The country has yet to recover from this tremendous set back to the peasant economy in Haiti. Consequently, many people were forced to leave the countryside and take up residence in the urban areas which became extremely overcrowded.
Despite these repressive measures by the Duvalier regime backed by the United States under successive administrations, the masses in Haiti rose up through strikes and rebellions forcing the dictatorial regime of "Baby Doc" Duvalier to flee the country. The U.S. Air Force provided safe passage for Duvalier to take refuge in France. A military junta took charge, led by Gens. Henri Namphy and Williams Regala, largely due to the fact that no cohesive political party or coalition was in a position to effectively seize power.
Unrest in Haiti continued in 1987 when the landed elites engineered the mass killings of peasants who were demanding land reform in Jean-Rabel. In November 1987, the scheduled elections were canceled after the military and the para-military Tonton Macoutes, set up by the Duvalier regime, murdered opposition politicians and their supporters.
By January 1988 there had been a military-controlled election that was boycotted by the Haitian masses. That election brought Leslie Manigat to power. In June Manigat was overthrown in a military coup by Gen. Namphy. By November Namphy was overthrown by Gen. Prosper Avril.
These political and military actions did not appease the Haitian people. In early 1990 the military was forced to declare a state of siege. Avril was forced to resign in March of 1990. This resignation created the conditions for the formation of a Provisional Government led by Supreme Court Justice Ertha Pascal-Trouillot.
Another round of elections were held in December 1990 where the former priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide was elected with 67.5% of the popular vote. The favorite candidate of the United States, Marc Bazin, finished second with only 14.2% of the vote.
The election of Jean-Bertrand Aristide was opposed by the United States because he had become a symbol of political representation for the Haitian workers and peasants. As a result the Tonton Macoute attempted to stage a coup in January of 1991, but it was halted due to the actions of tens of thousands of Haitians who surrounded the National Palace and demanded the return of President Aristide.
Aristide was sworn in as President of the Republic of Haiti on April 7, 1991. However, on September 30, another military coup overthrew Aristide who was forced into exile in Venezuela and later the United States. Between 1991-94, thousands of Haitians made attempts to leave the country and flee to the United States. Many of them were captured by the coastguard and returned, however, many others were able to land inside South Florida.
In 1994, the military regime in Haiti resigned and President Aristide was returned to power in Haiti by the United States administration under Bill Clinton. Aristide's return to power was carried out under unfavorable conditions for the Haitian masses. Aristide was forced to step down as leader after one year. He later returned to power in 2001 but was once again undermined by U.S. foreign policy.
On February 29, 2004, the United States administration under George W. Bush invaded Haiti again and staged a coup against Aristide, forcing him into exile in the Central African Republic. With the intervention of the International Action Center and the Congressional Black Caucus Haiti Task Force, Aristide was released from Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic, and is granted political asylum in the Republic of South Africa under the leadership of the African National Congress.
Haiti, Cuba and the African Revolution
In the most recent disaster to strike Haiti with the earthquake on January 12, other nations were there to lend assistance. Cuba had over 400 medical personnel in the country and set up field hospitals for the victims of the quake.
The People's Republic of China also sent rescue teams to help with the efforts to save lives and provide rehabilitation services to the victims. In Africa, there was a major mobilization to provide assistance to Haiti. Leading political and religious figures such as former Mozambican and South African first lady Graca Machel as well as former Archbishop Desmond Tutu have announced initiatives to collect humanitarian aid for the people of Haiti.
In 1963, C.L.R. James wrote an appendix for the re-issued version of "Black Jacobins", which had been published originally during the Great Depression when the author was making a transition from the United Kingdom to the U.S. In this appendix, which was entitled, "From Toussaint L'Ouverture to Fidel Castro," James draws a direct line between the Haitian Revolution of 1804 and the Cuban Revolution of 1959.
James says that "Castro's revolution is of the twentieth century as much as Toussaint's was of the eighteenth. But despite the distance of over a century and a half, both are West Indian. The people who made them, the problems and the attempts to solve them, are peculiarly West Indian, the product of a peculiar origin and a peculiar history. West Indians first became aware of themselves as a people in the Haitian Revolution. Whatever its ultimate fate, the Cuban Revolution marks the ultimate stage of a Caribbean quest for national identity. In a scattered series of disparate islands the process consists of a series of uncoordinated periods of drift, punctuated by spurts, leaps and catastrophes. But the inherent movement is clear and strong." (James, Black Jacobins, p. 391)
The author goes on to look at the role of the sugar industry in the Caribbean as a source of labor exploitation and profit for the imperialists but also as a production center that played a key part in shaping the consciousness of the people of the region and consequently their contributions to the overall international working class struggle.
James goes on to point out that "The history of the West Indies is governed by two factors, the sugar plantation and Negro slavery. That the majority of the population in Cuba was never slaves does not affect the underlying social identity. Wherever the sugar plantation and slavery existed, they imposed a pattern."
These two factors that have shaped the history and the class character of the Caribbean are rooted within the production process itself. James goes on to say that "The sugar plantation has been the most demoralising influence in West Indian development. When three centuries ago the slaves came to the West Indies, they entered directly into the large-scale agriculture of the sugar plantation, which was a modern system. It further required that the slaves live together in a social relations far closer than any proletariat of the time. The cane when reaped had to be rapidly transported to what was factory production. The product was shipped abroad for sale. Even the cloth the slaves wore and the food they ate was imported. The Negroes, therefore, from the very start lived a life that was in its essence a modern life. That is their history--as far as I have been able to discover, a unique history." (James, p. 392)
Even today in the aftermath of the quake, it is the United States--the leading imperialist power on the globe--that is dominating the political situation in Haiti. Why was it necessary to send thousands of U.S. marines and army personnel? In previous military occupations of Haiti, the people have suffered immensely. At the same time these periods within Haitian history where the people were subjected to military occupation, the masses have rose up in resistance.
After the U.S. invasion on February 29, 2004 that deposed President Aristide and imposed a puppet regime that was allied with imperialism, the United Nations operation in Haiti carried out the foreign policy aims of the U.S. Therefore, when the corporate media and the capitalist state advances the notion of the inherent dependency of the Haitian masses and the altruistic motives of U.S. imperialism, the actual history of relations between the two countries must be considered.
Workers and oppressed people in the United States have a role to play in the current crisis in Haiti. The anti-war and peace movement can also raise issues in the current debate around U.S. assistance to the Caribbean nation. The workers and the oppressed peoples through their organizations can demand that all direct aid to the Haitian people must be delivered immediately. They can demand that aid shipments be distributed in conjunction with grassroots community organizations operating on the ground in Haiti.
The anti-war and peace organizations must call upon the Obama administration to cease and refrain from utilizing military force against the Haitian people. That the weapons carried by the army and marines be unloaded so that there can be some effort towards developing trust between aid distributors and the Haitian masses.
All groups can call for the permanent lifting of deportation orders against Haitians. There should also be an immigration process for Haitian who wish to travel and live in the United States.
What is one of the most significant outstanding issues involving U.S.-Haitian relations is the right of President Jean Bertrand Aristide to return to Haiti. Aristide in a statement after the quake, expressed his willingness to return to Haiti in order to assist in the reconstruction process.
It was the African National Congress government in the Republic of South Africa that supported Aristide when he was under attack by the imperialist countries. Former South African President Thabo Mbeki supported the 200th anniversary independence celebrations held in Haiti on January 1, 2004. At great personal risk and amid threats to the South African state, President Mbeki refused to leave after his helicopter was fired on by counterrevolutionary elements operating in Haiti during this period.
South Africa clearly understood the connection between the revolution that overthrew slavery in Haiti during the 18th century and early 19th centuries and the struggle to abolish apartheid and settler-colonialism in Southern Africa that reached fruition during the closing decades of the 20th century. Just as the Haitian Revolution drew the attention and support of African people outside of Hispaniola, the South African Revolution attracted the support of people through the African world and the international community as a whole.
The Cuban government under the leadership of Fidel Castro sent over 250,000 of its own people to Angola between 1975-1989 to fight in solidarity with the African masses in their quest for the total liberation of the sub-continent. These joint efforts between Cuba, Angola, Namibia and the people of South Africa resulted in the defeat of the racist apartheid system that had been responsible for the oppression, destruction and deaths of millions throughout the region.
Moreover, based upon the history of military intervention, labor exploitation and unwarranted interference in the internal affairs of Haiti, the United States, France and Canada all should pay large-scale reparations to the Haitian people that would serve as a mechanism to assist in the reconstruction of the country.