July 8, 2021 Editor

Haiti’s fate is intertwined with the U.S.

By Ishaan Tharoor
with Claire Parker


photo above: A man speaks on the phone next to a mural in the Little Haiti neighborhood of Miami on July 8. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

WN: Haiti is a made-in-France-and-America tragedy . . . Please see Egberto Willies on this:

My wife Esther and I visited there in 1991, after attending a United Nations Restorative Justice Conference in San José, Costa Rica. We said in response that if we ever complained again about our circumstances, it was already too much . . . We felt similarly upon in 2018 visiting Rwanda–though its economic recovery since the 1994 genocide is miraculous.

David Cayley’s masterful and massive 2021 Ivan Illich: An Intellectual Journey explicates Illich’s critique of Western development philosophy (and heuristically all things Illich!) of which Haiti is prime exhibit. The author of the highlighted article writes:

Haiti has provided an anthology of cautionary tales of how 20th-century foreign aid and development assistance can go wrong, including a mess of failed projects that followed the cataclysmic 2010 earthquake in the country, which killed hundreds of thousands of people.

See too s July 8, 2021: Moïse’s assassination is a tragic reminder of Haiti’s unraveling democracy. We read:

Haiti’s constitutional crisis has failed to register with many Washington policymakers as well as those in the international community for far too long — in part, thanks to the plethora of challenges already present in the Western Hemisphere. Notwithstanding the Biden administration’s claims to the contrary, the inattention of US policymakers in recent years has contributed to the country’s rapid unraveling.

See as well: Opinion: How the U.S. can choose to be on the right side of history on Haiti, by Rosy Auguste Ducena, July 9, 2021. We read:

Yet, despite Moïse’s record of human rights abuses, the U.S. government continued to back the legitimacy of his presidency. And the State Department has maintained the wrongheaded policy of pushing for national elections in the coming months — no matter how much blood is shed, no matter how many innocents like Netty are murdered, no matter how unsafe it would be for the Haitian population. A few days ago, my own organization was publicly threatened by gang members. As Haitians put our lives on the line daily to speak out against this government’s dictatorial rule, we are left asking the Biden administration: Why?

The United States urgently needs to change its policy on Haitian elections. Instead of pushing for presidential and legislative elections in September, the U.S. government needs to listen to and align itself with Haitian civil society. Elections cannot be held fairly this year, and we are united in our call for the establishment of a limited-term transitional government made up of members of the judiciary and civil society to ensure a free and fair election and a return to democratic governance based on the rule of law. Complex questions remain to be answered, such as who will select this transitional government and what its term will be. But the transition must be led by Haitians, free of outside influence or partisan politics, and must retain the confidence of the public. Unfortunately, as long as the United States and others continue to back the flawed election process, Haitians are left with little room to work out necessary solutions.

Furthermore, even though Moïse is gone, the gangs he empowered and people he elevated remain. The United States must end its support for his corrupt government, which has made impunity and violence the rule, and has dismantled state institutions while consolidating power.

Finally, the United States needs to match its rhetoric and actions. The U.S. Embassy in Haiti said last week that it was “deeply concerned by the loss of life and general insecurity as a result of gang-related violence.” The administration said it was “shocked” and “saddened” at this week’s events. None of this helps Netty’s family in mourning, nor does it acknowledge the role of Moïse’s government in the violence, nor offer any security to the activists and journalists who continue to push for democracy and a brighter future for our country at great personal risk to themselves.

Please also click on: How Did Things Get So Bad in Haiti?, by Max Fisher, who with Amanda Taub writes The Interpreter newsletter, July 9, 2021. It’s complicated–as these quotes show:

The short answer is that there is no short answer. Haiti, by many metrics, resembles a country emerging from, or in the midst of, but without the actual war. That doesn’t happen because of one event or factor. It requires lots of them; a decades-long series of man-made and natural disasters, some related and some coincidental, but each building on the others to create what Haiti is today.

The mechanism interlinking them is scarcity. When a country becomes severely poor — not so much in absolute terms, but relative to the cost of living, which has risen sharply in Haiti — competition for bare-subsistance resources becomes much fiercer. Government salaries tend to fall or simply not get paid out. Desperate to feed their families, government employees turn to corruption. Institutions ranging from the local police precinct to the agricultural ministry re-engineer themselves from service-providers into parasitic resource-extractors.

Scarcity worsens, both because institutions get less effective and because corruption and crime take more money out of peoples’ pockets. But also, because the institutions are less effective, it becomes much harder for communities to climb out of that scarcity. Over time, untended infrastructure erodes — both physical infrastructure like roads and ports and social infrastructure like schools and civil society — accelerating the decline into scarcity.

In Haiti’s case, an unlucky string of extreme events have drastically worsened that self-reinforcing cycle. A coup, a foreign intervention, a hurricane. And, in 2010, a major earthquake.

And this earlier piece by , @jonhenley, Thursday, 14 Jan 2010: Haiti: a long descent to hell, where we read:

But what has really left Haiti in such a state today, what makes the country a constant and heart-rending site of ­recurring catastrophe, is its history. In Haiti, the last five centuries have combined to produce a people so poor, an infrastructure so nonexistent and a state so hopelessly ineffectual that whatever natural disaster chooses to strike next, its impact on the population will be magnified many, many times over. Every single factor that international experts look for when trying to measure a nation’s vulnerability to natural disasters is, in Haiti, at the very top of the scale. Countries, when it comes to dealing with disaster, do not get worse.

“Haiti has had slavery, revolution, debt, deforestation, corruption, exploitation and violence,” says Alex von Tunzelmann, a historian and writer currently working on a book about the country and its near neighbours, the Dominican Republic and Cuba [Red Heat: Conspiracy, Murder, and the Cold War in the Caribbean]. “Now it has poverty, illiteracy, overcrowding, no infrastructure, environmental disaster and large areas without the rule of law. And that was before the earthquake. It sounds a terrible cliche, but it really is a perfect storm. This is a catastrophe beyond our worst imagination.”

There is more by Ishaan Tharoor (with Claire Parker), July 11, 2021: The spiraling chaos of Haiti’s crisis. In it:

“The constitution does not provide for the lack of both a president and a National Assembly, and the chief justice of the Supreme Court, who could arbitrate, died two weeks ago of covid-19,” explained the Economist. “The killing could also make it harder to hold elections for a new president and legislature, which are due in September.”

But experts caution that elections, even in a context in which they would be deemed safe to stage, are no panacea. “Institutional weaknesses encourage undemocratic behavior and the international community fails to discourage it,” wrote Peter Mulrean, a former U.S. ambassador to Haiti. “In a negative loop, each time undemocratic behavior is accepted, it becomes the baseline for the next loop. Jovenel Moïse’s rise and fall are a case in point.”

We can pray always for the peace of Jerusalem. We can pray always for the peace of Haiti.


President Biden acknowledged it was “a God-awful thing to say,” but he said it anyway. “If Haiti just quietly sunk into the Caribbean or rose up 300 feet, it wouldn’t matter a whole lot in terms of our interest,” the longtime senator from Delaware said in a 1994 TV interview. He was justifying why he seemed so much more engaged in the turmoil afflicting the Balkans than the troubles facing this small country in America’s backyard, which the United States and its allies had just invaded to restore democratically elected leader Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power after a 1991 military coup. In Biden’s view, the war in Bosnia carried geopolitical relevance that Haiti — no matter its proximity to the United States or the suffering of its people — never could.

Haiti, we are often reminded, is considered the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and has long been crippled by political instability. “The state is a predator and the rule of law remains elusive. A narrow cartel of special interests controls most of the economy,” wrote Wall Street Journal columnist Mary Anastasia O’Grady, adding that drug trafficking and gang warfare “has exploded.” The leading Spanish daily El País declared that Haiti is “on the verge of becoming the ‘Somalia of the Americas.’”

But Haiti isn’t just a country to which bad things happen. “Too often, the Caribbean nation tends to exist at a distance for many White Americans: a tropical tapestry for tales of dictators and political dysfunction, of poverty and adversity, of stories and tropes that exist in an ever-present now, ready to be deployed in fundraising materials and political campaigns,” wrote Robert Taber, a historian of Haiti at Fayetteville State University in North Carolina. “These stereotypes are steeped in anti-Black racism and mask an important truth: The histories of Haiti and the United States are intertwined and reach back centuries.”

The two countries were, of course, the first independent nations of the Americas and their journeys to independence were linked. Free men of color from the French plantation colony known as Saint Domingue were part of the French expeditionary forces that supported the rebellion of the American colonies against the British. But the independent United States looked on mostly in horror when the enslaved people of Saint Domingue rose up against their enslavers and, after more than a decade of bloody conflict, declared their independence in 1804.

Even as the fledgling republic of Haiti would go on to inspire insurrections farther to the south in Latin America, the slave-owning United States opted to isolate and ignore it. The U.S. government would only formally recognize Haiti as a sovereign, independent nation in 1862. (France, for its part, recognized Haitian independence in 1825, but used gunboat diplomacy to force the island nation to pay a crippling indemnity for the White planters’ loss of “property.” It’s a debt that Haiti kept paying well into the 20th century, and which many experts believe permanently enfeebled the country’s development.)

Haiti’s very existence was a reminder not just of the lurking threat of insurrection in U.S. slave states, but of a story of hemispheric freedom that cut against the Enlightenment pretensions of the American Founding Fathers, many of whom were themselves enslavers. “U.S. commentators deprived Haitians of agency and oversimplified the complex story,” Taber said of American coverage of the Haitian Revolution in a piece for The Washington Post. “Political philosophers even reconstructed their thinking about the universality of liberty to praise the American Revolution while condemning the Haitian one.”

In the years just before his death, Frederick Douglass, the great Black orator and abolitionist, spent a two-year stint as the American consul to Haiti. In 1893, he delivered a speech at the World’s Fair in Chicago, where he championed the power of Haiti’s story. “We should not forget that the freedom you and I enjoy today,” he said, “is largely due to the brave stand taken by the black sons of Haiti ninety years ago. … Striking for their freedom, they struck for the freedom of every black man in the world.”

In the years just before his death, Frederick Douglass, the great Black orator and abolitionist, spent a two-year stint as the American consul to Haiti. In 1893, he delivered a speech at the World’s Fair in Chicago, where he championed the power of Haiti’s story. “We should not forget that the freedom you and I enjoy today,” he said, “is largely due to the brave stand taken by the black sons of Haiti ninety years ago. … Striking for their freedom, they struck for the freedom of every black man in the world.”

In 2010, former president Bill Clinton felt compelled to publicly apologize to Haitians for having forced the country in the 1990s to drop tariffs on U.S. agricultural imports, a move that devastated Haiti’s rice-cultivating farmers. “It may have been good for some of my farmers in Arkansas, but it has not worked,” he said. “I have to live every day with the consequences of the lost capacity to produce a rice crop in Haiti to feed those people, because of what I did.”

Now, though, hunger is only one of the public’s concerns. “The killing of Haiti’s embattled president at his home by a group of gunmen followed months of escalating political instability and gang violence,” my colleagues reported. “Health and humanitarian organizations say the bloodshed has hamstrung efforts to combat a significant coronavirus outbreak in a country with weak health infrastructure and no access to coronavirus vaccines.”

Please click on: Haiti Tragedy

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Wayne Northey was Director of Man-to-Man/Woman-to-Woman – Restorative Christian Ministries (M2/W2) in British Columbia, Canada from 1998 to 2014, when he retired. He has been active in the criminal justice arena and a keen promoter of Restorative Justice since 1974. He has published widely on peacemaking and justice themes. You will find more about that on this website: a work in progress.

Always appreciate constructive feedback! Thanks.