I’m joined by Kira Paulemon of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR.net), co-author with Jake Johnston of a recent report about a State Department contract to a politically-connected firm in Haiti. We talk about the contract, the two years of demonstrations in Haiti, the current president’s rule by decree, contrasts with the US attitude towards earlier Haitian presidents, and talk a little bit about how CEPR approaches its research.
US invaded and occupied Haiti 101 years ago today, and remained there for nineteen years. Accomplishments of the occupation include raiding the Haitian National Bank, re-instituting forced labor, establishing the hated National Guard, and getting a 25-year contract for the US corporation, United Fruit.
There was a pretext for the invasion – the assassination of Haiti’s president in 1915. But to understand the event, which has lessons to draw from a century later, it is necessary to look more closely at the invader than the invaded.
In 2016, the United States is living through a presidential campaign with a candidate willing to exploit racism and pander to anti-immigrant sentiment. Police are killing black people in cities across the US. Having drawn down troop levels in its two big wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the US still runs air srikes and drone strikes in the region, and covert actions all over the world. The US is still the determining voice in Haiti’s politics and economy. In other words, one hundred and one years after its invasion of Haiti, the US retains two features of what it was then: violent racial inequality, and empire.
The US presidential candidates can be looked at from the perspective of Haiti. One candidate has an extensive record there. The other has some historical parallels.
The Clintons have treated Haiti as a family business. In 2010, after an earthquake devastated the country, the Clinton Foundation was among the horde of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that stepped up their role in the still unfinished rebuilding phase. Haiti’s social sector had already been taken over by NGOs and its streets, since the 2004 coup and occupation, were patrolled by United Nations troops. The Clinton Foundation received pledges of hundreds of millions of dollars in development aid to rebuild Haiti. The crown jewel of the Foundation’s work: the disappointing Caracol Industrial Park, opened in 2012, which promised and failed to expand Haiti’s low-wage garment-processing industry, long a source of foreign profits and little internal development.
Hillary Clinton made her own interventions into Haiti politics as secretary of state. At a key moment in Haiti post-earthquake politics, Clinton’s State Department threw its weight to presidential candidate Michel Martelly. His electoral legitimacy was dubious and his presidency led the country to a constitutional crisis when people mobilized against another stolen election in 2015. That crisis is still ongoing, and will no doubt provide pretexts for the next US intervention.
To try to imagine the impact of Trump on Haiti, one need only look back a century. As Trump continues his seemingly unstoppable march to the presidency, he is compared to Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi and other populist buffoon-politicians have been made. Woodrow Wilson, the invader of Haiti in 1915, may be a better example of the damage a president can do.
When Woodrow Wilson became president, he set about doing what today would be called “Making America Great Again”. Decades had passed since the US Civil War. The post-war Reconstruction involved efforts to desegregate cities and government workplaces and make a place for newly freed Black people. Wilson reversed these efforts, strengthening racial apartheid in the US. His administration made sure there were separate bathrooms in federal government offices. Although Trump is unlikely to re-introduce segregation, something else happened under Woodrow Wilson’s rule that is relevant in this context: white vigilante violence and lynching spiked.
Wilson created a permissive environment for such atrocities. First elected in 1912, Wilson only got around to making a statement against the organized white violence – called “mob violence” or “race riots” – in mid-1917.
When more riots broke out in 1919, this time designed to suppress the democratic impulses of black soldiers returning from WWI, the NAACP implored Wilson to make a statement. But it was Wilson, himself, who had restricted black soldiers to non-combat roles during the war.
In foreign policy, Donald Trump’s pronouncements have been predictably incoherent and uninformed. But Woodrow Wilson’s presidency suggests that domestic policies of racism will not be confined to the domestic arena.
Wilson sent US troops all over Latin America – Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Panama, Nicaragua and and of course, Haiti – which may have got it the worst of all. Racist wrath has been a constant in Haiti’s history since it became independent in a slave revolt, and Wilson unleashed that wrath on the island in the 1915-1934 occupation. Chomsky’s Year 501 gives a flavor for what US occupiers were thinking and doing:
“Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan, found the Haitian elite rather amusing: “Dear me, think of it, Niggers speaking French,” he remarked. The effective ruler of Haiti, Marine Colonel L.W.T. Waller, who arrived fresh from appalling atrocities in the conquest of the Philippines, was not amused: “they are real nigger and no mistake…real nigs beneath the surface,” he said, rejecting any negotiations or other “bowing and scraping to these coons,” particularly the educated Haitians for whom this bloodthirsty lout had a special hatred. Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin Delano Roosevelt, while never approaching the racist fanaticism and thuggery of his distant relative Theodore Roosevelt, shared the feelings of his colleagues. On a visit to occupied Haiti in 1917, he recorded in his diary a comment by his travelling companion, who later became the Occupation’s leading civilian official. Fascinated by the Haitian Minister of Agriculture, he “couldn’t help saying to myself,” he told FDR, “that man would have brought $1,500 at auction in New Orleans in 1860 for stud purposes.” “Roosevelt appears to have relished the story,” Schmidt notes, “and retold it to American Minister Norman Armour when he visited Haiti as President in 1934.”
Chomsky concludes this section of horrifically racist quotes from the US elite about Haiti with a warning: “the element of racism in policy formation should not be discounted, to the present day.”
Nor should Haitian resistance.
The US occupiers of 1915-1934 faced a rebellion led by Charlemagne Peralte. Marines assassinated him and circulated a photograph of him crucified. Rather than intimidating Haitians, the photo enraged them, and cemented Charlemagne Peralte’s place as a national hero.
If Haitians had a say in the US presidential election, a case could be made for the devil-you-know of Clinton rather than the risk of a new Woodrow Wilson in Trump. But subjects of the empire can’t vote, only citizens. Worse, Haitians have been punished if the US didn’t like who they chose in their own elections. The US tried to set the tone 101 of master years ago.
But people still resist.
First published at TeleSUR English: http://www.telesurtv.net/english/opinion/Haiti-101-Years-After-US-Invasion-Still-Resisting-Domination-20160727-0048.html
If the Dominican Republic had decided in 2013 to nationalize its industries, announcing a deadline of June 17, 2015 for the expropriation of all foreign-owned enterprises on its side of the island, it is unlikely that the US would throw its hands up and say nothing could be done because the DR was a sovereign country. We know it is unlikely, because the US overthrew the president on the other side of the island in 1991 and in 2004 for trying to raise the minimum wage. More likely, there would be a regime change in the DR and a more friendly government would be put in place, to much celebration from US elites and media.
But when, a court in the DR pronounced “La Sentencia” in 2013, stripping Dominicans – people born in the DR – to undocumented Haitian parents of citizenship, and the Dominican Congress established a June 17, 2015 deadline for these hundreds of thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent to establish residency by navigating a bureaucratic labyrinth of unbelievable complexity, US officials mumbled their concern. Since June, tens of thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent have left the DR. Greg Grandin, writing in the Nation, has called it a “slow-motion, undercover pogrom”. They have left under threat of violence. They have accepted “voluntary” deportation because their only alternative was involuntary deportation. They are living in camps on the border between Haiti and the DR, not unlike the camps where hundreds of thousands of people were forced to live after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.
Displaced people living in camps have reached the culmination of a process that renders them without power or protection. The natural disaster of the earthquake was prolonged and made vastly more deadly by Haiti’s lack of sovereignty. This completely engineered disaster of deportation shows how Haiti’s lack of sovereignty is intertwined with the DR’s.
Now that North American media have begun to publish on the deportations, many of them discuss Haiti’s invasion of the DR in 1822. Historian Anna Ellner helps make sense of this 19th century history, and reveals it to be completely distorted in most accounts. Ellner (whose excellent blog post was linked by Grandin, who has also helped maintain a focus on this issue) presents a different history, one in which Haiti and the DR were “siblings in a struggle for freedom”.
If the two countries were siblings in a struggle for freedom, it was a struggle against domination by the US. The US invaded and occupied Haiti from 1915-1934, and the DR from 1916-1924. The US supported the Duvalier dictatorships that ruled Haiti from 1957-1986, and the Trujillo dictatorship that ruled the DR from 1930-1961. One of Trujillo’s most notorious acts was the “Parsley massacre” of 1937, a genocidal campaign against Haitians in the DR. The word “parsley” in Spanish is perejil, and prospective victims of the massacre would be made to pronounce the word. If they pronounced it with a Haitian accent, they were killed.
Trujillo’s Parsley massacre was written about in Dominican-American writer Junot Diaz’s novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, and in Haitian-American writer Edwidge Danticat’s novel The Farming of Bones. Diaz and Danticat have been writing and speaking out about the deportations, both in 2013 and in recent months. In June, Danticat called it “a humanitarian crisis ready to happen.” Diaz asked: “What happens when a government basically green-lights your most primitive, fucked up xenophobia?”
Mark Philips, writing from the border last month, describes what “voluntary deportation” is looking like:
“On the DR side of the border, we observed a cargo truck — previously used to transport plantains — pull up alongside one of the full school buses parked nearby. We learned that the bus driver refused to continue to Haiti and negotiated to have the cargo truck carry the passengers the rest of the way to Port-de-Paix, in the north of Haiti. The steel, open-air truck box was dirty, smaller than the school bus and not designed for carrying people, especially for hours in the hot sun. Passengers yelled at the driver, saying they were being treated like animals. A few women with babies on their laps were then allowed to sit in the front of the truck with the driver. All others, including several small children, had to stand or sit on their luggage in the back of the truck’s dusty steel box. Several individuals had to hang off the sides of the truck.
“This ride, as it turns out, was not provided by the DR government. Nor was it free. Passengers told us they paid the equivalent of up to $60, a large sum for impoverished workers in the DR. To put it in perspective, the next day the Haitian government pledged relief funds to help those passing through the town of Belladère that work out to 110 Haitian gourdes, or $2.15 per person.”
As for the humanitarian crisis “ready to happen” in June: it has begun to unfold in the camps on the border.
US influence over all of this is extremely concrete – Todd Miller reported in the Nation in 2013 that US border agents work at the border and train Dominican border agents.
North American journalists that have managed to present simplistic and inaccurate versions of the 19th century Haiti-DR relations were not, apparently, able to dig up the much more recent and relevant history of the destabilization of Haiti’s elected government over a period of years, starting in 2001, by paramilitary forces operating from safety in the Dominican Republic, culminating in an invasion that killed thousands and overthrew the government in 2004. That cross-border operation, too, could not have taken place without US sanction and assistance.
Haiti is not ruled by Haitians and does not have the power to help the deportees any more than it had the power to help those displaced by the earthquake. Its government is effectively under the control of the donor community, the US, and the UN, and its president is currently too focused on stealing the next election to worry about an unfolding humanitarian crisis on the border.
On the other hand, the many tendrils of influence that the US has on the island of Hispaniola shared by Haiti and the DR give a special responsibility to North American friends of those countries. An unusual statement came from former Peace Corps volunteers calling for the suspension of military aid to the DR. Many have pointed out that the DR’s economy depends on tourism. Possibilities for campaigns abound. Greg Grandin pointed out that the international attention focused on the issue in recent months slowed the process down. With more work, it could be stopped.
First published on TeleSUR english: http://www.telesurtv.net/english/opinion/Dominican-Republic-Deportations-Cannot-Occur-Without-US-Consent-20150816-0006.html
First published on TeleSUR english
On August 12, a court in Haiti summoned former President Jean Bertrand Aristide to appear on charges of corruption. Aristide’s lawyers quickly filed a motion with the Supreme Court seeking the recusal of the judge who issued the warrant. Lawyer Mario Joseph, from the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, accused judge Lamarre Belizaire of engaging in a political trial, bringing baseless accusations forward, violating due process in the way Aristide was informed of the summons (through the press), and questioning the process by which the case came to be under Belizaire’s jurisdiction. Aristide and his lawyers argued that, since due process was not observed in summoning him to the court, he did not have to appear. For his part, neither did judge Belizaire, who left the country (see the AP story, Evens Sanon Aug 14/14, “Haiti tense after summons issued for ex-president”).
Judge Belizaire is an interesting character. One of Aristide’s lawyers, Brian Concannon Jr., told journalist Kevin Pina (see the Haiti Information Project blog: – August 19/14, “Haiti: IJDH Director Dismisses Allegations Against Aristide As False”) that Belizaire was so famous for misusing judicial authority to persecute enemies of president Martelly that he had been banned by the bar association for 10 years; that he was a political appointee, appointed directly from the prosecutor’s office without the legally mandated 3-year hiatus; that he lacks the minimum qualifications (either a specialized course or 8 years of specialized practice) to be a judge; and that he didn’t have jurisdiction to bring the case.
Supporters of Aristide mobilized in front of his house in Port au Prince to physically prevent an arrest. They remained on vigil for days. United Nations forces, continuing their decade long dishonorable role in Haiti, brought an armored personnel carrier, sirens, tear gas, and soldiers in riot gear to try to make the arrest. From the video of the attack, it is impossible to tell which country the UN soldiers are from – Brazil remains in command of the mission. For all of the excessive and partisan force they brought to bear against Aristide’s supporters, international forces didn’t manage to kidnap Aristide again.
The UN’s zeal for capturing Aristide, a former elected leader with a record of reasonable achievements in his short, coup-interrupted terms in office, has not been matched in attempts to bring to justice a real dictator, with a truly murderous and truly corrupt decades-long record – Jean-Claude Duvalier. “Baby Doc”, under whose reign thousands of people were killed, ‘disappeared’, and tortured, and who stole hundreds of millions of dollars from Haiti, returned to Haiti before Aristide did, and attempts to prosecute him in court for human rights violations and corruption have stalled.
The UN managed to be on the scene to try to arrest Aristide on August 14th, but they were not on the scene to prevent some real criminals, including the mastermind of a kidnap ring named Clifford Brandt, from breaking out of Haiti’s Canadian-built prison on August 10th. Heavily armed commandos broke into the prison, freeing Brandt and more than 300 other prisoners. The UN took two hours to get to the scene. Brandt was recaptured two days later at the Dominican border.
A few days later, Aristide’s lawyers were successful, and the warrant against Aristide was suspended pending an investigation of judge Belizaire for bias.
Aristide has been in the country since 2011, keeping a low profile and working in education. He was elected president in 1991, overthrown in a military coup, returned in 1994 to finish his shortened presidential term, became the first president to hand power over peacefully to another elected president (Rene Preval), was elected again in 2000, and overthrown yet again in 2004. In 2004, Aristide was replaced by a peculiar, internationalized occupation with heavy involvement by the Latin American countries and the United Nations, the structures of which remain in place to this day, despite two electoral exercises and the disruption of the 2010 earthquake. I’ve referred to these structures of occupation as ‘Haiti’s new dictatorship’.
One of the key structures of Haiti’s internationalized dictatorship has been the courts, which use judicial persecution to prevent popular candidates from running for office. Since 2004, the courts have targeted political leaders and, in particular, actual and potential political candidates from Aristide’s Lavalas political party. In 2004, when Aristide was overthrown, he was flown to the Central African Republic. He returned to the Caribbean, to Jamaica, but that country was pressured so heavily by the United States that Aristide had to leave again, to South Africa, where the government held its ground against US pressure. The Haitian Constitution stated that, after a disruption in the presidency, new elections had to take place within 90 days. Two years later, when the elections happened, Aristide was still barred from the country. Other leading Lavalas politicians were jailed when the coup happened in 2004. The Lavalas candidate who was going to run in his place, Fr. Gerard Jean Juste, was jailed on fairly ridiculous claims that he had weapons in his church. The electoral authority disallowed him from running from jail, claiming that he needed to present his candidacy papers in person. Jean Juste was released on compassionate medical grounds, and died of cancer in 2009. Political persecution by the court, bias by the electoral authority, and of course the soldiers of the United Nations, all ensured Lavalas’s exclusion from the 2006 elections.
Through some very shrewd strategy and massive mobilization, a popular candidate, Rene Preval, did manage to win the 2006 elections, and did what little could be done in a context of foreign control. When Michel Martelly was elected in an earthquake-devastated Haiti, Aristide got back into the country in the time period between Preval’s and Martelly’s presidencies. He insisted that he had no intention of returning to politics, and has worked on various educational projects since his return.
During his exile, and during the worst years of the coup regime (2004-2006), persecution of Aristide and his party occurred through the courts. Evidence was lacking for any of the outlandish claims that ranged from embezzling millions of dollars to murdering people in voudoun ceremonies, but the claims were pernicious enough to be effective as smears. The judicial processes, too, imposed massive costs on the movement, kept many of its leaders in jail and others on the run, and, of course, helped exclude them from elections. As lawyer Brian Concannon Jr. told journalist Kevin Pina on flashpoints, the pattern has been consistent since 2005: the court will raise the accusation, then withdraw the accusation before the persecuted get a chance to defend them.
Elections are approaching again, in Haiti. Aristide has vowed to stay out, but he, and Lavalas, remain very popular. More than their electoral popularity, they have an ability to mobilize people, and a record of achievements on behalf of the people, that their opponents lack. This round of court persecution, complete with the UN muscle to back it up, is becoming a predictable part of Haiti’s dictatorship’s pre-electoral circus.
In recent years, Latin America has become stronger, more democratic, and more independent from the United States, with stronger solidarity in the Americas and a willingness to stand up to the superpower in the north. But with a few noble exceptions (Venezuela, Cuba, and CARICOM), Haiti has been exempt from this solidarity, as Brazil, Argentina, and Chile lead the UN mission in its enforcement of the dictatorship.
Haiti’s successful struggle for independence against slavery inspired Bolivar in Latin America. Its historic role is one of leading the hemisphere’s fight for freedom. Instead of suppressing Haiti’s democratic movement through the UN, the Latin American countries should support it.
Justin Podur is the author of Haiti’s New Dictatorship (2012). His blog is at podur.org.
With an attempted coup underway in Venezuela, those of us who studied the 2004 Haiti coup are looking back at Haiti 10 years ago and being reminded of the parallels. Actually, I wrote about the Venezuela coup of 2002, which followed a similar playbook to the coup attempt currently underway.
I write about a lot of different countries and a lot of different political situations, and people have implied to me that it is impossible for anyone to be knowledgeable about so many different contexts. It seems to me though that in many of these situations, the same external actors are intervening (for example, the US and other Western countries), and they have a limited number of ways of conducting intervention. There’s some kind of a playbook out there, and for people who are concerned about development or democracy or freedom in the poor countries, there is no way to avoid trying to understand what is in that playbook of intervention. That’s why I wrote Haiti’s New Dictatorship, and why I really liked Peter Hallward’s Damming the Flood. I think of both books as an attempt to understand the way external power operated to destroy the sovereignty of a country – in this case, Haiti. Peter showed how it was done, and I tried to focus on the post-coup results.
One of the strongest moral voices against coups in Latin America for the past decade and a half has been, and you wouldn’t know it from the name, the Centre for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR). Their name only covers one aspect of their organization’s personality – the fact that they are extraordinary researchers and that they do their homework. Their name doesn’t cover the fact that they are a strong voice of principle, when the media are full of murky justifications for coups and violence, and murky accusations of violence against targeted enemies. They have been very strong on Venezuela and on Haiti.
In this interview, published on CEPR, Dan Beeton and Georgeanne Nienaber interview former OAS Special Representative in Haiti, Ricardo Seitenfus. It’s a powerful account because it comes from someone who was part of the post-coup attempts to bring Haiti under control. It reveals a lot about how Haiti has been governed, post-coup. Seitenfus was fired for telling the truth about what was going on. If you read Haiti’s New Dictatorship, you’ll find this interview with Seitenfus verifies a lot of what I argued was going on based on other sources.
The Jamia Journal did a nice little report and audio recording of my lecture on Feb 25/13 in the Poli Sci Department of Jamia Millia Islamia, here in Delhi.
Joe Emersberger’s got a sharp eye for discerning when media information is misleading or false. When the 2004 coup happened in Haiti, Joe published his correspondence with the Globe and Mail reporter in Haiti at the time, and very ably showed me how someone with a keen eye and decent principles can hold their own in a debate with someone with a privileged position and (undeserved) authority.
What constitutes a dictatorship? Haiti had an election in 2006, which the popular candidate won. It had an election in 2011, which had one of the lowest turnouts in recent history and which was subject to all kinds of external manipulation. Given these elections, is it unfair to call Haiti, a country that suffered 30 years of classic dictatorship under the Duvaliers from the 1950s to the 1980s, a dictatorship today?
This talk was recorded on November 15, 2012 at Concordia University in Montreal.
Matthew Adams from rabble.ca just did a podcast with me about Haiti’s New Dictatorship. Check it out.