Recent days have witnessed the shocking sight of illegal Haitian immigrants being violently deported at the U.S.-Mexico border, and thousands of people huddling under a bridge in Texas, wading panic-stricken across the shallower waters of the Rio Grande, or being pursued relentlessly by the U.S. Border Patrol. Looking back through the hottest stories from around the world over this period, stories such as the assassination of the president of Haiti and the Haitian earthquake have come up time and again. The country is in chaos, the lives of its people unbearably tragic. Yet Haiti hasn’t always been such a shambles.
In 1804, Haiti became the first independent nation in Latin America and the Caribbean, and was considered a “land of hope.” Some 200 years after its independence, though, the difference between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, with which it shares the island of Hispaniola, is like night and day. The land of hope has sunk into despair, and political turmoil, economic collapse and social disorder, along with a heavy reliance on foreign aid, have combined to make it the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Why, we can’t help but wonder, has Haiti fallen into a state of such utter misery? In response, there is no way that Haiti’s neighbor to the north, the superpower that is the United States, can shirk its responsibility.
The United States has long regarded Haiti as its own backyard and has resorted to all sorts of tricks in order to exert control over it. In 1868, U.S. President Andrew Jackson floated the idea of a U.S. annexation of Hispaniola to secure U.S. interests in the Caribbean. In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson sent U.S. Marines into Haiti, where, in an act of unbridled pillage, they took $500,000 from the Haitian National Bank, placing it substantially under U.S. control. And in July 1915, when Haitian President Jean Vilbrun Guillaume Sam was found lying dead in the streets of Port-au-Prince, the United States sent troops to occupy the country, under the pretense of protecting the interests of Americans and foreigners. The United States then forced Haiti to sign the Haitian-American Treaty of 1915, established a U.S.-controlled Haitian army under full command of the U.S. Navy, imposed policies of racial segregation, censorship and forced labor and took full control of Haiti’s finances, thus appropriating for itself the hegemonic authority to intervene in Haiti with impunity. The United States exercised military rule over Haiti for 20 years, from 1915 until 1934. During this period, it coerced the Haitian president into dissolving the legislature, and forcibly transplanted onto Haiti a new constitution modeled on the American one. This new constitution sanctioned the United States’ occupying behavior, granting it the authority to seize land in Haiti. During the occupation, all “democratically elected” presidents in Haiti were spokespersons for U.S. interests. By installing puppet presidents, the United States exploited Haiti’s tariffs and finances, precipitating the country’s descent into financial crisis.
In 1934, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt implemented a good neighbor policy and withdrew U.S. troops from Haiti, but the stain of U.S. influence remained, and following World War II, successive Haitian presidents maintained pro-American policies in order to secure U.S. economic and military aid. From 1957 until 1986, during the dictatorial rule of the infamous Duvalier father and son, the United States casually ignored its vaunted “democratic” standards, dispatching troops to assist the Duvaliers in their transition to power, all in order to protect U.S. business interests in Haiti, and to prevent the country from falling to the Soviet Union. In the early 1990s, Haiti’s military junta forcibly deposed Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the first democratically elected president, plunging the country into chaos. In response, the United States intervened once more, occupying Haiti under the pretenses of “safeguarding the peace” and “rebuilding democracy,” and forcing the military junta to relinquish power. However, behind this noble rhetoric lay yet another instance of the United States’ brazen plundering of Haiti, with the former explicitly demanding a 3% reduction in tariffs on rice imports in exchange for assisting with exiled President Aristide’s return to Haiti. The upshot was that Haiti became the simultaneous recipient of both cheap American rice and of a repatriated President Aristide, with the United States’ dumping of cheap rice and takeover of the Haitian market leading to the complete collapse of the country’s already fragile agricultural system. As a result, large numbers of farmers lost their livelihoods, pushing the population to the brink of famine.
As has been seen in other countries and regions, the United States has only ever put its own interests first, and never truly considered the interests of Haiti. Having outlived its usefulness, Haiti has been discarded like trash by the United States, and in fact, Donald Trump has not been shy about referring to Haiti as a “shithole country.”
Who on earth would turn their backs on their native country and exhaust the family funds, to set forth willingly on the treacherous path of the illegal immigrant?! The Haitians are essentially the ones footing the bill for the United States’ self-serving actions, yet the current U.S. administration is mercilessly and brutally expelling Haitian immigrants. It is past time for the United States, which has sown the seeds of evil in Haiti, to set aside its arrogance, shoulder its responsibilities and do what needs to be done — for peace in Haiti, and for the well-being and fulfillment of its people.