God Hates Haiti (II)

After Pat Robertson does what crazy mentalists do, journalist Lisa Miller responded, pointing out that Haiti is “surely a Job among nations” (Why God Hates Haiti, Newsweek, January 15, 2010). After listing the appalling conditions Haitians endure and the recent series of (quasi-)natural disasters that preceded this latest devastating earthquake, Miller writes: “This litany doesn’t even touch on Haiti’s disastrous political history, most notably the reign of François (Papa Doc) Duvalier, who assassinated and tortured more than 30,000 in the 1960s.”

The Duvalier dynasty (Papa Doc later being joined by his son Baby Doc) was established in 1957, and lasted three decades. It enjoyed US support, and US elites have profited massively from Haiti’s impoverishment. This, along with the centuries of imperialist domination of the peoples of Hispaniola (Haiti and the Dominican Republic) is not touched on in Miller’s response to Robertson’s idiocy.

At least Pontius Pilate had the decency to wash his hands in acknowledgment of his crimes.

See also : Our Role in Haiti’s Plight, Peter Hallward, MRZine, January 16, 2010 | Haiti: Fast Facts from UNICEF.

Miami Autonomy & Solidarity / Miami Autonomía y Solidaridad / Miaymi Otonomi ak Solidarite has issued a Call for Solidarity and Funds for the Working People of Haiti! by way of Batay Ourviye.

U.S. relations with Haiti are not a thing of yesterday, and show no sign of fundamental change. They go back 200 years, to the days when the Republic that had just won its independence from Britain joined the imperial powers in their campaign to quell Haiti’s slave rebellion by violence. When the rebellion nevertheless succeeded, the U.S. exceeded all others in the harshness of its reaction, refusing to recognize Haiti until 1862, in the context of the American civil war. At that moment, Haiti was important for its strategic location and as a possible dumping ground for freed slaves; Liberia was recognized in the same year, for the same reasons. Haiti then became a plaything for U.S.-European power politics, with numerous U.S. interventions culminating in Woodrow Wilson’s invasion of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, where his warriors — as viciously racist as the Administration in Washington — murdered and destroyed, reinstituted virtual slavery, dismantled the constitutional system because the backward Haitians could not see the merits of turning their country into a U.S. plantation, and established the National Guards that held both countries in their grip after the Marines finally left.

Wilson’s thuggery has entered history in two different versions: here and there. In the U.S., the events figure in the amusing reconstructions entitled “history” as an illustration of U.S. “humanitarian intervention” and its difficulties (for us). Haitians have somewhat different memories. “Most observers agree that the achievements of the occupation were minor; they disagree only as to the amount of damage it inflicted,” Trouillot writes under the heading “unhealed sores.” The damage included the acceleration of Haiti’s economic, military, and political centralization, its economic dependence and sharp class divisions, the vicious exploitation of the peasantry, the internal racial conflicts much intensified by the extreme racism of the occupying forces, and perhaps worst of all, the establishment of “an army to fight the people.” “The 1915-1934 U.S. occupation of Haiti,” he writes, “left the country with two poisoned gifts: a weaker civil society and a solidified state apparatus.

A year ago, after enduring almost two years of renewed state violence, grassroots organizations, priests in hiding, tortured labor leaders, and others suffering bitterly from the violence of the security forces expressed marked opposition to the plan to dispatch 500 UN police to the terrorized country, seeing them as a cover for a U.S. intervention that evokes bitter memories of the Marine occupation. If ever noted, such reactions may be attributed to the fact that “even a benevolent occupation creates resistance…among the beneficiaries” (Harvard historian David Landes, writing about the Marine occupation). Or to the deficiencies of people who need only a new culture and more kind tutelage of the kind he provided as director of the USAID mission in 1977-79, Lawrence Harrison writes in a “think piece” on Haiti’s problems in which the U.S. military occupation merits only the words: “And some of the Marines abused their power.”

Poor and suffering people do not have the luxury of indulging in fairy tales. Not uncommonly, their own experience gives them a grasp of realities that are well concealed by the intellectual culture. The usual victims can not so easily dismiss the record of U.S. power, which leaves little doubt that U.S. military intervention in Haiti would be the death knell for any form of democracy that “risks upsetting the traditional structures of power with which the United States has long been allied.” Haitians who have lost all hope for restoration of democracy might support a military intervention that could, perhaps, reduce terror and torture. But that is the most that can be realistically expected.

The military occupation left the island under U.S. control and largely U.S.-owned. The killer and torturer Trujillo took over the Dominican Republic, remaining a great friend until he began to get out of hand in the 1950s. In Haiti, Washington reacted with some ambivalence to the murderous and brutal dictatorship of “Papa Doc” Francois Duvalier, finding him a bit too independent for its taste. Nevertheless, Kennedy provided him with military assistance, in line with his general program of establishing firm U.S. control over the hemisphere’s military and police as they undertook the task of “internal security” that he assigned them in a historic 1962 decision. Kennedy also provided aid for the Francois Duvalier International Airport in exchange for the Haitian vote to expel Cuba from the OAS. When “Baby Doc” Jean-Claude took over in 1971, relations rapidly improved, and Haiti became another “darling” of the business community, along with Brazil under the neo-Nazi generals and other right-thinking folk. USAID undertook to turn Haiti into the “Taiwan of the Caribbean,” forecasting “a historic change toward deeper market interdependence with the United States,” Trouillot observes. U.S. taxpayers funded projects to establish assembly plants that would exploit such advantages as enormous unemployment (thanks in part to USAID policies emphasizing agroexport) and a workforce — mainly women, as elsewhere considered more docile — with wages of 14 cents an hour, no unions, ample terror, and the other usual amenities. The consequences were profits for U.S. corporations and their Haitian associates, and a decline of 56% in wages in the 1980s. In short, if not Taiwan exactly, Haiti was an “economic miracle” of the usual sort.

Haiti offered the Reaganites yet another opportunity to reveal their understanding of democracy enhancement in June 1985, when its legislature unanimously adopted a new law requiring that every political party must recognize President-for-Life Jean-Claude Duvalier as the supreme arbiter of the nation, outlawing the Christian Democrats, and granting the government the right to suspend the rights of any party without reasons. The law was ratified by a majority of 99.98%. Washington was deeply impressed, as much so as it was when Mussolini won 99% of the vote in the March 1934 election, leading Roosevelt’s State Department to conclude that the results “demonstrate incontestably the popularity of the Fascist regime” and of “that admirable Italian gentleman” who ran it, as Roosevelt described the dictator. These are among the many interesting facts that might be recalled as neo-Fascists now take their place openly in the political system that was reconstructed with their interests in mind as Italy was liberated by American forces 50 years ago. Curiously, all this escaped attention during the D-Day anniversary extravaganza, along with much else that is too enlightening.

The 1985 steps to enhance democracy in Haiti were “an encouraging step forward,” the U.S. Ambassador informed his guests at a July 4 celebration. The Reagan Administration certified to Congress that “democratic development” was progressing, so that military and economic aid could continue to flow — mainly into the pockets of Baby Doc and his entourage. It also informed Congress that the human rights situation was improving, as it was at the time in El Salvador and Guatemala, and today in Colombia, and quite generally when some client regime requires military aid for “internal security.” The House Foreign Affairs Committee, controlled by Democrats, had given its approval in advance, calling on Reagan “to maintain friendly relations with Duvalier’s non-Communist government.”

To justify their perception of an “encouraging step forward” in “democratic development,” the Reaganites could have recalled the vote held under Woodrow Wilson’s rule after he had disbanded the Haitian parliament in punishment for its refusal to turn Haiti over to American corporations under a new U.S.-designed Constitution. Wilson’s Marines organized a plebiscite in which the Constitution was ratified by a 99.9% vote, with 5% of the population participating, using “rather high handed methods to get the Constitution adopted by the people of Haiti,” the State Department conceded a decade later. Baby Doc, in contrast, allowed a much broader franchise, though it is true that he demanded a slightly higher degree of acquiescence than Wilsonian idealists, Mussolini, and New Dealers. A case could be made, then, that the lessons in democracy that Washington had been laboring to impart were finally sinking in.

These gratifying developments were short-lived, however. By December 1985, popular protests were straining the resources of state terror. What happened next was described by the Wall Street Journal with engaging frankness: after “huge demonstrations,” the White House concluded “that the regime was unraveling” and that “Haiti’s ruling inner circle had lost faith in” its favored democrat, Baby Doc. “As a result, U.S. officials, including Secretary of State George Shultz, began openly calling for a `democratic process’ in Haiti.” Small wonder that Shultz is so praised for his commitment to democracy and other noble traits.

The meaning of this call for democracy was underscored by the scenario then unfolding in the Philippines, where the army and elite made it clear they would no longer support another gangster for whom Reagan and Bush had expressed their admiration, even “love,” not long before, so that the White House “began openly calling for a `democratic process'” there as well. Both events accordingly enter the canon as a demonstration of how we “served as inspiration for the triumph of democracy in our time” in those wondrous years (New Republic).

Washington lent its support to the post-Duvalier National Council of Government (CNG), providing $2.8 million in military aid in its first year, while the CNG, “generously helped by the U.S. taxpayer’s money, had openly gunned down more civilians than Jean-Claude Duvalier’s government had done in fifteen years” (Trouillot). After a series of coups and massacres, Reagan’s Ambassador explained to Human Rights investigators that “I don’t see any evidence of a policy against human rights”; there may be violence, it is true, but it is just “part of the culture.” We can only watch in dismay and incomprehension.

Haitian violence thus falls into the same category as the atrocities in El Salvador at the same time, for example, the massacre at El Mozote, one of the many conducted by U.S.-trained elite battalions — and one of the few to be admitted to History, after exposure by the UN Truth Commission. Given their origins in U.S. planning, these routine atrocities must also be “part of the culture.” Or perhaps “There is no one to blame except the gods of war,” as Christopher Lehmann-Haupt of the New York Times observed, reviewing the “fair-minded” account by Mark Danner which “aptly denotes” the “horrifying incident” as “a central parable of the cold war” for which blame is shared equally by Salvadorans on all sides, murderers and victims alike. In contrast, atrocities organized and directed by the Soviet Union always seemed to have more determinable origins, for some reason…

~ Noam Chomsky, ‘Democracy Enhancement’, Z Magazine, May-August, 1994.

About @ndy

I live in Melbourne, Australia. I like anarchy. I don't like nazis. I enjoy eating pizza and drinking beer. I barrack for the greatest football team on Earth: Collingwood Magpies. The 2021 premiership's a cakewalk for the good old Collingwood.
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