By Lydia Shiel, Staff Columnist
The past four months have been particularly fruitful as far as horrifying news concerning international relations with Haiti go. But then again, so have the past 200 years.
Dick Durbin informed us at the beginning of the year that Donald Trump referred to Haiti and some unnamed African nations as sh**holes in a meeting on immigration reform. Apparently, he also said “Why do we need more Haitians? Take them out.” It was probably a new low for him as far as blatant racism goes, which I always thought would be hard to achieve after that “I love Hispanics!” taco bowl tweet back in 2016.
Later in the week I saw an image of people in Port-au-Prince protesting the “sh**hole countries” comments as well as the Trump Administration’s decision to end Temporary Protected Status for Haitian immigrants, which will force some 58,700 Haitian people back into the living conditions they escaped after the earthquake. One of the protester’s signs read: Haiti Has Been Fighting U.S. Racism Since 1804. And isn’t that the truth?
One of the protester’s signs read: Haiti Has Been Fighting U.S. Racism Since 1804. And isn’t that the truth?
In 1804, Haiti shook off its French oppressor after a two-year conflict that made it the first and only nation born of a slave revolution. It became the only nation in the western hemisphere to ever defeat three superpowers: Spain, France, and Britain, and it was only the hemisphere’s second republic after the US. The world’s first Black republic. It was one of the most amazing moments in world history.
When you learn about the Louisiana Purchase in high school, you get the impression that Monroe had quite the stroke of luck. It is presented almost as a fluke that Napoleon was willing to cede so much land. I remember marvelling at the circumstances, the haphazard transfer, and the low price. What I don’t remember hearing about is Haiti.
Wanting to revive mercantilism through economic ties in the Caribbean, the United States invaded Haiti for the first time (of many) in 1915, ostensibly to assist in stabilizing the nation. Stabilizing the nation, right.
But it turns out Napoleon gave up his dream of a Transatlantic France after his unbeatable 60,000 troops were so painfully defeated in Haiti. It was his disillusionment following the incredible revolution which prompted him to sell land to the United States. You can learn about this on the Wikipedia page if you are 17 and so desire to fill the holes in your education, but Haiti is referred to only by its colonial name (Saint-Domingue) until you scroll pretty far down– I think that’s a serious oversight, as my 17-year old attention span didn’t often carry me very far past the first paragraph. Regardless, the Haitian Revolution seems to be the reason the United States even exists in its present state.
As thanks, the United States refused to recognize Haitian independence and worked tirelessly to suppress conversation about the Haitian Revolution within its borders after the purchase. The fear was that similar actions would be taken on the part of the United States’ own slaves. Jefferson and many of his contemporaries viewed Black republicanism (read: freedom) as a social ill which should be contained at all costs. Only in 1862, after the Southern states seceded, did the US finally recognize Haiti.
And even if the United States acknowledge Haiti’s status as a republic, it continued to view it as an island of slaves. Wanting to revive mercantilism through economic ties in the Caribbean, the United States invaded Haiti for the first time (of many) in 1915, ostensibly to assist in stabilizing the nation.
The US “assisted” Haiti by training an army notorious then and today for its undemocratic coups and human rights violations
Stabilizing the nation, right. The US “assisted” Haiti by training an army notorious then and today for its undemocratic coups and human rights violations, and initiated a trade which has had disastrous effects on Haiti. This brand of US activity in the country persists.
Trade policies are still written to greatly benefit the United States, and thus to commodify Haitian labor. Food aid to Haiti is subsidized to benefit US farmers, but it actually floods the Haitian market and makes it impossible for farmers to continue producing locally. And after the earthquake in 2010, other aid “to Haiti” went pretty much anywhere aside from into the government or into the hands of Haitian people.
Trade policies are still written to greatly benefit the United States, and thus to commodify Haitian labor.
One huge expenditure on the part of USAID though, was the creation of a massive industrial park on the north coast of Haiti. And while there are legitimate benefits for Haiti in development like this, the people who work inside the park producing $7 t-shirts for Walmart are only being paid $5 a day. Five. Dollars. A. Day. Not to mention, the US has been profiting off textile production in Haiti for decades with little demonstrated benefit to Haiti.
During his campaign, Trump actually sought Haitian-American votes by condemning the Clintons for their continued role in the destabilization in Haiti in the 21st century (more invasions under President Clinton, meddling in elections under both, building of the aforementioned factory under Secretary Clinton), but his condemnation was both hypocritical (he employed sweatshop labor at the time) and shortsighted. Every US presidential cabinet since the 1960s has participated in the commodification of Haitian labor and in further destabilization of the country. We as consumers have done everything in our means to continue this exploitation.
Every US presidential cabinet since the 1960s has participated in the commodification of Haitian labor and in further destabilization of the country. We as consumers have done everything in our means to continue this exploitation.
Another bleak reality in Haiti is work by NGOs based in nations like the United States and the United Kingdom. Beyond the ineffectiveness of their programs, the vast majority of NGOs destabilize Haiti through their insistence on working outside of the government. By bypassing the state, they weaken it. According to Ann Crawford-Roberts, “American money, both from the federal government and from individuals, flows to NGOs and not, in general, the Haitian government, making it even harder for the state to function.” On average, less than 2% of relief money from NGOs actually gets to Haiti, its government, or its people.
And it would be remiss not to mention the NGO activity in Haiti we’ve been hearing about as of late. As in, when Oxfam apologized for eight years of sexual exploitation on the part of its aid workers in the country. Following this apology, women in Haiti told us it has become common practice in the past eight years for NGO employees to offer critical supplies in exchange for sex. These women implied sexual exploitation of this variety, as well as the expensive orgy variety we’ve heard more about, was so endemic in Port-au-Prince that Oxfam’s public scandal was unsurprising at best, and uninteresting at worst.
So, if Trump’s despicable assessment of Haiti during that meeting with Dick Durbin is any representation of his base’s opinion on the nation, and if the left’s reaction is any indication of our outrage, I think it’s time we all evaluate the past 200 years and the continued commodification of Haitian labor. We each need to take a serious look into the mirror (or perhaps the shiny screen on our new iPhone X), and evaluate our role in this.
French reparations? US reparations? NGO reparations? What a revolutionary idea.
It’s time for the mission trips that change only the lives of their white, teenage participants to stop. It’s time for the gilded “humanitarianism” to stop. And it’s time for the left’s support of politicians with business initiatives intended to fix the crisis in Haiti to stop. The money for all of this should instead go directly to Haitians.
French reparations? US reparations? NGO reparations? What a revolutionary idea.