It seems like with everything happening in Haiti, the media has been searching for single incidents that could explain away the nation’s current climate. On Wednesday, July 7, former Haitian President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated by unknown operatives, and his wife, Martine Moïse was seriously wounded. Sadly, this is only a fraction of the long list of issues that loom over Haitians today.
From severe poverty, widespread deforestation, and protracted political instability in a country already living in such unfortunate conditions, some might be asking themselves, who is to blame for the current state of Haiti?
I would suggest that it’s pointless to single out one party; however, I will say that as a Dominican, it’s becoming increasingly more disturbing to read about Haiti as an almost isolated incident. This I find especially true when discussing the recent assassination with my American peers. They are not always aware of the role that the United States and other countries have played in draining Haiti of their resources. I am also disappointed with my fellow Dominicans who cannot find it in themselves to sympathize with their neighbors. They have often categorized Haitian people as simply unruly or incapable of “fixing” their home.
The power dynamics that had led to such disarray should be known. It is not only irresponsible but dishonest to profess that the reason why Haiti is in its current state is due to its own misjudgments. It should not end in a “well, they are the poorest country in the West,” because there is a much larger conversation to be had. It should boil your blood to hear imperialist nations describe Haiti as a lost cause.
Western media and the United Nations take it upon themselves to write off this assassination as another tragic event that they will attempt to “stabilize” for Haiti. This is the same rhetoric that they have used in the past—ignoring a long history of foreign interventions, like the thirteen years the UN spent filling Haiti with diseases, violence, and no results. These interventions can be used to clearly pinpoint why Haiti is in a political and economic position than it is in today.
From the beginning of the first Black republic’s independence in 1804, whatever capital they made went back to the French government as “compensation” for revenue lost from slavery. Compensation that ended up becoming 150 million francs, French currency at the time, equivalent to ten times Haiti’s annual budget. This debt took 122 years to pay off and has since contributed to the country’s continuing financial instability.
Unfortunately, it does not end there. Although the formerly enslaved people of Saint-Domingue proclaimed independence from France, for the longest time it was not fully respected by its powerful neighbor, the United States.
In fact, the U.S. did not recognize Haiti as a state until a good 60 years after it gained its independence. However, since its inception, the U.S. spent decades trying to gain control of Haiti’s ports and customs houses but was met with resistance, according to Aljazeera.
In 1914, U.S. Marines were able to force their way to the Haitian National Bank, where they seized $500,000 and transported it to New York. The U.S. occupied the nation for nearly 20 years where they continued to treat the country as their own personal playground. During this period the U.S. government imposed racial segregation, restricted freedom of the press, and indulged in violence against Haitians.
Even after its occupation the United States subsequently backed the three-decade-long dictatorship of François Duvalier. The U.S. provided money, weapons, and troops to sustain the regime, even after human rights abuses were well known.
The question still remains, why has it become so difficult for Haiti to establish a democracy even after the U.S. occupation?
In the 1980s and 1990s, the United States promoted “free-market policies” by eliminating safeguards for Haitian agriculture and the private government enterprises and services. The results have led to mass poverty and the slowly dug grave for the country’s government and infrastructure. All conditions have contributed immensely to the economic, political, and human costs of the 2010 and 2021 earthquakes. Haiti was finally able to democratically elect their president Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1990, but he was deposed in a coup, in which a CIA-trained and funded intelligence agency had participated.
This might all sound like a very condensed history lesson with no point; however, it’s crucial that we understand that there is almost no period within Haiti’s history as a nation where it was allowed true economic and political autonomy. If we are to truly help the Haitian people, we need to start by treating the country through a mixture of reparations and respect.
We need to understand that the world let this happen to Haiti, largely because of the studied indifference of the U.S. government. For instance, shortly after Duvalier’s son, Jean-Claude Duvalier, returned to Haiti from exile in 2011, then-Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, and her staff made it clear that any prosecution was a matter solely for the Haitian government to handle. The people of Haiti were once again met with the harsh reality that the international community has little interest in their affairs unless it serves their own interests.
The U.S. had no problem aligning itself with Duvalier’s son when he proclaimed himself “anti-communist.” From 1971 to 1986, they had no problem looking the other way as hundreds of political prisoners were held in a network of prisons known as the “triangle of death.” There was little uproar from the “land of the free” when Duvalier’s government repeatedly closed independent newspapers and radio stations, whilst simultaneously beating, torturing, incarcerating, and exiling Journalists.
It’s no surprise that once Duvalier made his return, the U.S. wiped its hands clean.
If we fast forward to the present day, although it is still unclear who hired the former president’s assassins and why, according to Reuters there are already clues that point to Colombian mercenaries, a U.S.-based security company, and various opponents of Moïse in the country. Elections are planned for September and many Haitian activists have called for transparent and fair elections—without foreign intervention.
During this time, the media as well as members of the international community should refrain from promoting the idea that Haitians are “unable” to rule themselves and that what is happening within the country is the result of naive domestic corruption and unruliness. Let’s not view these events as inevitable chaos and understand the huge role that intervention has systematically played to rob Haiti of its freedoms and democracy.