[News] Solidarity with Haiti Will Strengthen the Struggle for Racial Justice Everywhere

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Mon Jul 26 12:52:25 EDT 2021


progressive.org
<https://progressive.org/latest/solidarity-with-haiti-will-strengthen-the-struggle-imara-210726/>
Solidarity
with Haiti Will Strengthen the Struggle for Racial Justice Everywhere
Nia Imara - July 26, 2021
------------------------------

The current crisis taking place in Haiti stems from conditions that, for
the past century, the United States has had a direct hand in either
creating, manipulating, or defending. While the recent assassination
<https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/7/7/jovenel-moise-haiti-president-assassinated-at-age-53>
of President Jovenel Moïse has induced U.S. media to place an intermittent
spotlight on the country, they have done a poor job of providing any
historical context that would expose the central role played by the United
States in creating the Haiti that exists today.

Moïse, a rightwing businessman, was installed as president in 2017,
after a fraudulent
election
<https://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/haiti/article41860518.html>
marked by widespread voter suppression. Although the United States, the
European Union, and the Organization of American States endorsed
<https://www.oas.org/en/media_center/press_release.asp?sCodigo=E-233/17>
Haiti’s Electoral Council pronouncement that Moïse won a majority vote, the
popular view held in Haiti is that this was yet another “electoral coup”
orchestrated by the Haitian elite, with the aid of Western governments.
The mass demonstrations that followed the power grab were a continuation of
the grassroots effort to put an end to the debilitating poverty,
corruption, and violent repression engendered by previous administrations.

*Fanmi Lavalas*, the popular grassroots movement of the Haitian masses, has
been one of the main targets of repression. Since 2004, the movement’s
efforts to hold free, democratic elections have consistently been thwarted,
as men subservient to the Haitian elite and U.S. business interests have
been installed in the highest offices. On November 13, 2018, a
government-backed paramilitary force stormed the downtown Port-au-Prince
neighborhood of Lasalin, a *Lavalas *stronghold, and attacked
residents—ranging in age from ten months to seventy-two years old. They
massacred at least seventy-one children, women, and men, according to human
rights activists on the ground. The U.S. Embassy in Haiti vaguely referred
to the attackers as “gangs,” but a human rights report
<https://www.nlg.org/report-the-lasalin-massacre-and-the-human-rights-crisis-in-haiti/>
conducted in partnership with the National Lawyers Guild determined that
this was an act of terrorism directed by the Moïse-PHTK (Haitian Tèt Kale
Party) government. The Lasalin massacre barely registered in the U.S. press.
------------------------------

The assassination of Moïse punctuates a crisis that has been unfolding in
Haiti for decades. In 1991, following elections that grew out of a
widespread popular movement to end the Duvalier dictatorship, Jean-Bertrand
Aristide became Haiti’s first democratically elected president. He wasn’t
in office a year before the new popular government was overthrown by a
US-trained military loyal to the former regime in a September 1991 coup
d’état.

Years of violent repression ensued, with thousands of Haitians being
killed, imprisoned, or exiled. The Haitian people had to endure racially
motivated internment
<https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-clinton-solution-for-refugees-guantanamo/2015/11/23/7bf338a4-91f4-11e5-8aa0-5d0946560a97_story.html>
in U.S.-run refugee centers in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on top of punitive
economic blocks by the Bush and Clinton Administrations, before Aristide
was able to return and eventually be re-elected in 2001. His second term
was incredibly productive, with *Lavalas* making enormous advances in
public education, health care, labor rights, and infrastructure.

This progress was brought to an abrupt standstill in 2004, when the United
States, together with France and Canada, sponsored another coup d’état,
which included sending in more than 7,000 U.N. troops. The kidnapping
and forced
exile <http://www.randallrobinson.com/agony.html> of their president, many
Haitians believe, was an attempt to curb *Lavalas*’s progressive reforms to
lift the masses from poverty. Raising the minimum wage to seventy gourdes
(about $1) a day was a boon to the families of 20,000 factory workers, but
a liability to the business interests who benefit from cheap, unorganized
labor.

In addition, President Aristide had been calling for reparations
<https://www.jacobinmag.com/2017/01/haiti-reparations-france-slavery-colonialism-debt/>
from France which, after its defeat in the Haitian Revolution, punished its
erstwhile colony by exacting recompense for its lost “property” (i.e.,
enslaved people).
------------------------------

The facts of these U.S.-led interventions in Haiti—including details
concerning the training, funding, and arming of Haiti’s military
dictatorships—are laid out in several books including Randall Robinson’s *An
Unbroken Agony* <http://www.randallrobinson.com/agony.html> and Jeb
Sprague’s *Paramilitarism and the Assault on Democracy in Haiti*
<https://nyupress.org/9781583673003/paramilitarism-and-the-assault-on-democracy-in-haiti/>.
These books and others, like *The Uses of Haiti*
<https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/10234.The_Uses_of_Haiti>, by Paul
Farmer, also explain the *motivations* behind U.S. aggression toward Haiti.
When we consider Haiti’s economic significance to U.S. business interests,
U.S. interference in “the poorest country in the Western hemisphere” (or,
more correctly, one of the most robbed) becomes clear, and the origins of
the present crisis are demystified.

In the United States today, Haiti is entitled to much more than our pity
and charity; it deserves our solidarity. To begin, the birth of this
majority Black country had a unique historical impact in advancing racial
justice on the world stage. A former colony of France, Haiti led
<https://haitianstudies.ku.edu/haiti-history> the first successful mass
slave rebellion of the colonial era.  In 1791, enslaved Africans launched
an uprising that would culminate in Napoleon Bonaparte’s defeat in 1803.
This momentous event was a critical blow to slavery everywhere, including
in the United States, where news of the revolt inevitably spread, inspiring
resistance
<http://www.cnn.com/2010/OPINION/01/26/joseph.african.americans.haiti/index.html>
to slavery in this country.

Having established the new republic in 1804, Haitians outlawed slavery
<https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2020/07/12/haiti-was-first-nation-permanently-ban-slavery/>
in their constitution, arguably establishing the first true democracy in
colonial America. A decade later, Haitian President Alexandre Pétion
provided Simón Bolívar with protection, weapons, and soldiers for his
campaigns in South America. His one condition was that Bolívar promise
<http://islandluminous.fiu.edu/part03-slide03.html> to abolish slavery in
the territories he liberated from Spain.

Thomas Jefferson, meanwhile, having capitalized on France’s defeat by
acquiring the Louisiana Territory in 1803, partnered with
<https://history.state.gov/milestones/1784-1800/haitian-rev> European
allies to deny Haiti diplomatic recognition.  Defenders of slavery clearly
understood the threat posed by the new Black republic. They began to
produce racist propaganda
<https://www.monticello.org/site/research-and-collections/st-domingue-haiti>
maintaining that instability in Haiti was due to the inferiority of Black
people rather than a consequence of slavery itself. Slaveowners and their
supporters offered up this demonized image of Haiti as evidence that Black
people were unfit for freedom and self-determination.

For proponents of racial justice in the United States, it is essential that
we take a critical view of conventional representations of Haiti. Anyone
familiar with the media’s habitual portrayal—subtle or not—of Black people
in the United States as a people who tend toward criminal, violent,
uneducated, shiftless, and irrational behavior should not be surprised when
that same warped lens is applied to Black people in Haiti
<https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2021/07/america-haiti-limited-options/619481/>
.

The language may not be as overtly racist as it was two centuries ago. Yet
the lack of historical context in typical news coverage—especially when it
comes to U.S. influence in Haiti—together with the persistent
misrepresentation of facts, amount to the same message: Haiti is doomed to
remain “mired in economic underdevelopment and insecurity
<https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/07/world/americas/haiti-poverty-history.html>.”
And the unwillingness to excavate below the surface with regards to the
current situation means that Washington is not held accountable for its
complicity in impoverishing Haiti.
------------------------------

As we approach July 28, the anniversary
<https://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/haiti/article29093698.html>
of the first U.S. invasion of Haiti in 1915, we might consider that the
U.S. government has no moral authority to make decisions about what happens
in Haiti today.  This first invasion took place after the assassination of
a president, under the pretext of protecting Haiti against “insecurity.”
U.S. troops occupied
<https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2015/07/30/100-years-ago-the-u-s-invaded-and-occupied-this-country-can-you-name-it/>
the country for nineteen years, leaving behind a legacy of Jim Crowism.
Rather than repeating history, the Biden Administration should terminate
the U.S.-led coup and occupation and take the further step of making
reparations for exploiting Haiti’s resources and labor and for supporting
dictatorships.

For many Black people in the United States, Haiti’s history has a special
significance.  When we realize that Haiti’s present is as important, it
will be clear that its future is linked to our struggle for racial justice
here.  Ultimately, the struggle for racial and other forms of social
justice in the United States stands only to benefit from our commitment to
solidarity with Haiti. If we say that we value Black lives, our integrity
demands that we educate ourselves about the history of U.S.-Haiti
relations. For how can we, as Black people, expect that our *human* rights
will ever be truly respected by the same government that applies racist
tactics against Black people elsewhere?

A movement for racial justice in the United States will be successful only
when it recognizes that people of color around the world share a common
struggle.
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