The island of Hispaniola was first populated by the Arawak (or Taino) Indians who referred to the island by a variety of names, one of which was Ayti or Hayti, meaning mountainous. The island was first visited by Europeans when Christopher Columbus crashed his flagship, the Santa Maria, on a coral reef off the north side of the island and set up a makeshift colony which he named Navidad.
As one of the first "discoveries" by the imperialistic nations from across the Atlantic, Haiti enjoyed a brief period as a mainstay of the Spanish Empire, but soon slipped down the ranks as richer conquests in Mexico, South and Central America followed. By 1550, the island, strategically important to Spain's reign of the Caribbean but not a major source of income, had about 150 Natives left, out of a possible 1 million, the rest dead to disease, labor or overrun by genetic incorporation. The Arawak where soon extinguished, by definition an act of genocide, while the Spanish tried to hold on to an area that was seeing increased competition. The English challenged their hegemony, striking Santo Domingo in 1586 with a naval raid launched by Sir Francis Drake, and the French struck randomly from settlements on Tortuga Island.
By 1670, French settlements had popped up around the north shore of the island, and Spain, unable to hold onto everything, started getting plucked by imperialistic vultures waiting for instability; in 1697 Spain ceded the western third of the island to the French under the Treaty of Ryswick, which was known as Saint-Domingue. The next century saw a mass influx of forced immigration from Africa for the purpose of slave labor, and the French did quite well by it, turning their part of the island the world's largest coffee producer, and major sugar producer by the eve of the French Revolution.
The slavery in the new French colony was exceptionally harsh, leaving little room for reproduction on the island due to early death and separation. Africans were brought over as they were needed, the women often forming concubines for white rulers, and three class levels emerged in the Haitian society that turned into a stringent caste system after years of intense regulation. Growing dissent spread like wildfire over parched minds until generational pressure exploded into a full on rampage by rebelling slaves that saw the razing of a thousand plantations, the slaughter of everything white in its path, and a march to the town of Cap Francais (now Cap-Haiten). The whites responded by killing as many non-whites as they could, and they eventually shot thousands to death as the ill-armed rebels met defeat in the town. At the end 10,000 blacks were dead, 2,000 whites were dead, and plantations and property all over the country side was burning.
The rebellion did spark another point of discontent, that which existed between the mulatto class and the white ruling class who heavily regulated them. The mulatto class, encouraged by the French Revolution, sought to raise their status through egalitarian rhetoric and soon received limited support and recognition from the Republic. Slavery was abolished in 1793 and confirmed by the Republic in 1794. The white landowners on the island, however, sided with the Bourbons.
The many levels of allegiances and the changing mutually-beneficial nature of these relationships spiraled through the next ten years of war for control of the island between the black population, the mulattoes, the whites, the French, the British, and the Americans who sought to balance whatever European powers played near-by. Towards the end of the war, a major leader for the rebelling powers, Toussant Louverture, was betrayed by the French and taken to France where he died in a freezing dungeon. This act, and Bonaparte's reinstatement of slavery on the near-by island of Martinique, convinced many in Saint-Domingue that a terrible fate awaited them at the conclusion of the war.
They continued to fight, and won their independence, declaring it officially in January 1, 1804, making Haiti the second independent state in the Western Hemisphere and the first free black republic to break from colonial Europe. Haiti's first century as a nation went along a fairly complicated path stitched together through the relationships between the military, the mulattoes who claimed administrative powers, a large African population, foreign interests and the many ideas that were implemented during this new time of freedom, which, the people who fought for and wanted it, had to now chart the way through its unknown territory
By the summer of 1915, the political instability in Haiti reached a zenith when the president of the country was literally destroyed by an angry population. Increased German prospecting and investments there also worried people in the United States Government. Woodrow Wilson sent the marines in on July 28 of that summer and in six weeks they controlled the nation's major ports, custom houses and administrative institutions.
The American occupation lasted nineteen years, the first fourteen under a state of martial law. A treaty was passed through the Haitian legislature within months vastly expanding American authority over the nation's finances, administrative appointments, public health and public works. The treaty also instituted a new military force, more modern and crafted by the new occupiers, known as the Gendarmerie of Haiti. In 1917, the legislation was dissolved and replaced with a new constitution, supposedly written by then assistant secretary to the Navy, Franklin D. Roosevelt.
The constitution was fairly liberal, however, one major change to the country it contributed to was landownership. The independent minded Haitians had not previously allowed foreign ownership of their land; under the new laws foreigners were now welcome to buy land. The constitution did nothing to curb the obvious and overwhelming racism present in the occupying U.S. troops, and the scene there grew in to a kind of embarrassment for the U.S. over the next decade, especially for Wilson at the Paris peace conference in 1919. By 1934, Roosevelt was president, and he formally pulled the marines out, ending the nineteen year occupation and leaving the local military and political figures in charge to tend the future of modernized Haiti.
Perhaps due to this situation between 1950 and 1975, the U.S. provided considerably less military support than to other countries it supported at that time. There were only 567 U.S. trained military personnel there and $4,200,000 of US military aid was provided, compared with, e.g. 3705 and $38,200,000 in the Dominican Republic. Unusually for states in Latin American it had links with, the did not provided U.S. aid or training to police. Torture was practiced on an administrative basis during this period, as with all U.S.-influenced Latin American countries of the time.
Information about what happens in Haiti, why it happens, and who is accountable is sifted before served before an uninterested American public. Foreign policy towards that small cleft in the Caribbean Sea has been wrought with self-serving policies with no real genuine attention to the Haitian populous.
African Swine Fever
AFS hit in the Dominican Republic in 1978 and over the next couple of years spread across the whole island. AFS is a highly contagious and fairly deadly disease which frightened the United States Government into pressuring Jean-Claude Duvalier into slaughtering all the Haitian Black Pigs with the promise of replacements. The HBP acted as stock options for rural Haitians who could sell them for supplies when necessary, eat when hungry, and keep them around at little expense and care for security in the future. The HBP were well suited to the rough rural terrain and the indigenous plant life for sustenance and needed only rare human attention for survival.
After the slaughter was much like the Enron crash for the Haitian rural community, whose life-savings and stocks had been destroyed and replaced with non-foraging, expensive to maintain American pink pigs that had none of the value of their previous holdings. The major repercussion was a huge protein deficiency in the diet of the rural Haitians which persisted throughout the eighties and nineties.
Refugee Crisis After Cedras' Coup
On May 24th, 1992, President George H.W. Bush signed an order that forced the return of Haitians fleeing the island without any inquiry into their status as refugees. The practice for the previous ten years involved the Coast Guard and the Immigration and Naturalization Services monitoring those headed towards America and if they qualified for refugee status. During that decade 25,000 Haitians were returned or not permitted entry into the United States.
Between the coup that upset Aristide and President Bush's order, over 34,000 Haitians were denied any further travel. Bush's order on the 24th allowed for this to continue without questioning anyone. This was immediately challenged in the courts and on July 29th, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled this should be halted, stating it violated a U.S. statute prohibiting the return of people who faced persecution. Three days later the Supreme Court, in a two paragraph order, without any further explanation, stayed the lower court's decision.
It should be noted that Haiti, after many decades of military dictatorship, harbored a deep desire for democratic elections. However, the candidates offered in 1990 did little to increase voter registration. After Aristide announced his candidacy, the country became interested in the race and by election time over 80% of possible voters were registered. Aristide was elected by 67% of the vote.
The overthrow of his government by members in the military who had been seasoned under the Duvalier leaderships breached the fundamental doctrines of democracy in every direction. Bush, and then William J. Clinton, did not seek a quick restoration of Aristide as president, seeing him as the result of mobocracy, and the refugees fleeing poverty, not persecution. Rather, they sought to find a compromise between the junta's demands, the bourgeoisie's interests, foreign interests invested there and Aristide with greatly redacted powers.
The decision to not recognize the recent mass flux of Haitians as anything but political refugees, and the length of time it took to restore Aristide, gave the military junta ample time to seek out, terrorize, and crush the most vocal and influential members of the grassroots movement that had evolved around him.
The OAS initiated an embargo against the supporters of the coup which went into effect in November of 1991 and did not end until October of 1994 when Aristide was finally returned to a country of frightened and dead constituents. The idea behind this was to starve out the power of the military and make life uncomfortable for the elite civilian sector. Without oil, agricultural aid, and "the nicer things in life", the embargo could weaken and dissuade the rogue government.
On February 4th, 1992, President Bush lifted the embargo for American assembly plants in Haiti. The door now open, the embargo became relaxed, allowing for agriculture aids (seeds, fertilizer, pesticides) and oil to enter and local goods, among them food, to be exported. American companies did $265 million in trade with the military junta between January and October of 1992. By exempting American companies from the embargo, yet holding the rest of the world to it, American companies found themselves in the position of being the only ones on the block the rogue government could deal with.
Ironically, many of those in the U.S. Government that argued for a relaxations and exemptions to the embargo based on humanitarian reasons were some of the loudest proponents of increased embargoes against Cuba. Under Clinton's first seven months exports from Haiti jumped by 3,500%, much of which was food (fruits, nuts, melons), relegating Haiti to a producer while the population starved. While members of the U.S. Congress fought for these exemptions, the peasant groups, church groups, and labor groups in Haiti continued to call for real embargoes that would take power and comfort away from the military. They were not consulted by Congress.
Two things occur here that are necessary to point out. Both the Bush and Clinton administrations would not allow refugees protection in America because they were escaping from poor economic conditions, yet they both encouraged an embargo that made for these worsening conditions. When they made arguments for exemptions and relaxations of the embargo, they did so on the pretext of the inhumanity of starving the Haitian people, yet the exceptions they took advantage of saw much of the food supply leave the island, and goods that supported the military and investment enter the island.
While the U.S. forces had little problem finding the boats stuffed full with refugees, there was a huge amount of drug trafficking that went undetected beneath the radar. Besides receiving vital aid from American corporations, the military leadership in Haiti also got around the effects of the embargo through a lucrative drug-smuggling operation that added millions of dollars a year to their coffers.
The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) revealed that Haiti and the Dominican Republic were stop over points for cocaine coming from Colombia to the United States. They also revealed that one to four tons were coming in monthly from Haiti alone. According to Aristide's antidrug czar, Patrick Elie, police chief Michel Francois, whose "attaches" were responsible for a large number of murders and unnecessary violence, had been in the center of the trade. Indicted in 1997 on charges he and six others ran a smuggling ring for a decade, Francois is now a fugitive.
Elsie also reported that the CIA had been heavily involved with the military since before the election, and were cooperating with members involved in the drug trade, providing protection from outside inquiries and aiding in administrative construction internally. He says the CIA helped create the Haitian National Intelligence Service, which was a front. Supposedly the HNIS was to combat drug-smuggling but in reality the office was involved in protecting the trade, intimidating political opponents and assassinations.
While increased drug traffic through Haiti brought drugs to the streets with all the desperate flavors cocaine adds to impoverished settings, Aristide's return in the end of 1994 allowed for blame of governmental involvement to switch from the military to Aristide himself. It is no easy task to portray a priest, popularly elected by the people, as a major player in the country's narcotics trafficking, while relegating the ingrained military, who ignore the will of the people through intimidation and murder, as innocent bystanders effected by his unfair means of support.
As reports come out of Haiti that the rebels have funded their operations through narco-profits, Aristide has had to vehemently counter arguments that he is in fact involved. Maybe everyone's involved, but Aristide using the factions in the military that are a part of this, the very ones who ousted him, seems unlikely. One of the top rebel leaders, Guy Philippe, is believed to have a played a significant role in illicit profits during his tenure in the police force in the 1990s. However it was Aristide, convicted dealer Jacques Ketant claimed in a courtroom in Miami, that was responsible for Haiti turning into a "narco-country".
Articles and resources
Related SourceWatch articles
- Gerard Latortue
- Haiti Democracy Project
- Hustling for the Junta: PR Fights Democracy in Haiti
- International Politics and Haiti in 2004
- Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti
- National Endowment for Democracy
- U.S. Agency for International Development
- William Swing (U.S. Ambassador 1993-8)
- Hands Together - NGO
- Haitian Centers Council, Inc. V. McNary: by Jonathan Harris, Keith Highet, George Kahale, Jacques Semmelman; American Journal of International Law, vol. 87, 1993
- "Disobedient" Generals and the Politics of Redemocratization: The Clinton Administration and Haiti; by Chris McGillion and Morris Morley; Political Science Quarterly, vol. 112, 1997
- The Costly Remedy; by Bernard F. Griffard; Forum for Applied Research and Public Policy, vol. 15, 2000
- World Orders, Old and New, by Noam Chomsky; Columbia University Press, 1994
- The Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti: http://HaitiJustice.org
- Haiti Justiceblog: http://blog.ijdh.org
- Derek Mitchell, "2004 Ousting of Jean-Bertrand Aristide," Center for Cooperative Research.
- "Haiti: A Slave Revolution," edited by Pat Chin among others, has many relevant essays on the history of Haiti and Aristide
- Haiti-news list -- An e-mail list for news and information on Haiti, including an online archive.
- Kevin Pina, "The Untold Story of Aristide's Departure from Haiti," The Black Commentator, September 16, 2004.
- Max Blumenthal, "The Other Regime Change," Salon.com, July 16, 2004. Blumenthal looks at the role played in Haiti's military coup by the federally-funded International Republican Institute and its senior program officer for Haiti, Stanley Lucas. He asks, "Did the Bush administration allow a network of right-wing Republicans to foment a violent coup in Haiti?"
- The Louverture Project - Haitian history Wiki
- Sasha Kramer, "The Friendly Face of US Imperialism: USAID and Haiti," CounterPunch, October 14, 2005.
- Ben Terrall, "Haiti: A coup regime, human rights abuses and the hidden hand of Washington", Pambazuka News, January 26, 2006.
- Peter Hallward, "'One Step at a Time': An Interview with Jean-Bertrand Aristide," The Black Commentator, February 22, 2007.
- Kevin Pina, "The Unspoken Truth About Gangs in Haiti," The Black Commentator, February 22, 2007.