Haiti’s been under effective occupation by the United Nations Stabilization Mission In Haiti (MINUSTAH, in French) for ten years, since 2004, after the United States, Canada and France came together to drive out Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Over that decade, MINUSTAH troops have shot at protesters, introduced cholera, raped, raped again and engaged in other acts of predation. Meanwhile, the “international community,” again led by Washington, Paris and Ottawa, carried out a second coup—an electoral coup—in 2010-11, engaging in heavy-handed vote manipulation to install Michel Martelly as president. After Haiti’s devastating earthquake that claimed hundreds of thousands of lives—the five-year anniversary of which just passed—even Bill Clinton apologized for forcing Haiti to gut its rice industry to benefit US agro-industry.
And yet The Washington Post, in a recent editorial, thinks Haiti needs even more intervention:
From time to time, Haiti’s chronic political dysfunction erupts in crisis and violence, compelling the international community to re-engage with an impoverished country it might prefer to disregard. Haiti is at just such a juncture right now. Policymakers in Washington and elsewhere should pay prompt attention, before the predictable calamity arrives… . Recognizing that the standoff has become dire, Secretary of State John F. Kerry has urged a negotiated settlement that would “open the door for elections to be scheduled as soon as possible.” Yet without more aggressive mediation by U.S., United Nations, French, Canadian and other diplomats, the chances of such a settlement are slim…. As Mr. Kerry pointed out, too much progress has been made since then toward rebuilding Haiti to risk extinguishing all hope amid renewed political violence. To dismiss Haiti as a basket case or shrug off its troubles as insoluble is to forget a history that suggests that without outside help, the country can deteriorate into anarchy, at which point ignoring it is no longer an option.
To paraphrase Clinton, there’s nothing wrong with American imperialism that can’t be solved by what is right with American imperialism.
Here’s the “too-much-progress” that has been made in the last decade, drawn from the Center for Economic and Policy Research’s “Haiti by the Numbers”:
Extreme poverty in rural Haiti in 2000: 38 percent
Extreme poverty in rural Haiti in 2012: 38 percent…
Number of people still living in tent camps, as of September 2014: 85,432…
Number of individuals living in informal settlements on outskirts of Port-au-Prince, not counted in official displaced population, according to Haitian government: 300,000…
Total amount awarded in contracts and grants by USAID: $1.5 billion
Percent that went directly to Haitian organizations: 1
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Percent that went to firms located inside the beltway (DC, Maryland and Virginia): 56…
Total amount awarded to Chemonics International, a [DC-based] for-profit “development” company, since the earthquake: $216 million.
Martelly is running a neo-Duvalierist restoration, as Jeb Sprague and Dan Beeton, among others, have argued. Elections are more than three years delayed, he’s appointed more than 130 mayors and has stacked the government, including the electoral council, with his supporters.
The Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti has just put out a policy briefing that is a good corrective to the Post’s paternalistic interventionism, pretty much a point-by-point guide of everything the United States, France and Canada doesn’t want to see happen in Haiti (because to do so would be to bring Aristide supporters back into the political arena):
• Encourage the Martelly administration to work in good faith with the Parliament and opposition groups to form a consensus government;
• Call for the establishment of a Provisional Electoral Council that complies with Art. 289 of the Constitution and is selected in a fair and inclusive manner in order to ensure credibility;…
• Call on the Haitian government and Provisional Electoral Council to ensure inclusion and full participation of all political parties in all facets of the electoral process;
• Work with human rights groups to identify and encourage the immediate liberation of all political prisoners, and promptly denounce any future arrests of Martelly regime opponents unless clearly justified; and
• Secure the Haitian public’s right to freedom of assembly and expression by refraining from use excessive force on demonstrators and condemning arbitrary arrests and use of force by Haitian police.
A few years ago, Keane Bhatt and I also put together a ten-point essay on why MINUSTAH should get out of Haiti and why UN troops should not be given immunity for their many crimes. More recently, we sent in this letter to the Post, which appears here as published:
The December 28 editorial “Haiti’s broken politics” concluded that, absent international intervention, Haiti will crumble into anarchy. In fact, Haiti’s crisis is, in large part, a consequence of U.S. and international intervention. This country has been occupied by U.N. soldiers for more than a decade. And it was U.S. pressure that led to the 2010 elections, months after the earthquake and weeks after the eruption of a virulent cholera outbreak, introduced by those U.N. troops. Fewer than 23 percent of registered voters cast a ballot. President Michel Martelly has never had a democratic mandate. It was only after a nine-member team from the Organization of American States, controlled by the United States and its allies, reversed the first-round results—in an unprecedented maneuver and without justification—that Mr. Martelly even made it to the second round. Since taking office, Mr. Martelly has failed to schedule elections, now more than three years delayed. He has appointed more than 130 mayors, sidestepping the democratic process. He stacked the electoral council with his supporters. The six “opposition” senators blamed in the editorial are a convenient scapegoat. These senators (and the thousands who have been protesting daily) are demanding legitimate, fair elections rather than a repeat of 2010. The international community indeed plays a role in shaping Haiti’s political future. But it is not one that it should be proud of.
What is at stake here is fear of democracy, as it has been in Haiti ever since that night of August 21, 1791, when Dutty Boukman, a vodou high priest, gave the signal to revolt. “The god of the white man calls him to commit crimes; our gods ask only good works of us,” Boukman reportedly said; “throw away the image of the god of the whites who thirsts for our tears and listen to the voice of liberty that speaks in the hearts of all of us.” Thus began the thirteen-year-long Haitian Revolution, resulting in the overthrow of Haitian slavery and the establishment of the second republic in the Americas.
This was the ceremony that Pat Robertson was referring to when he said, five years ago after the earthquake, that Haitians “swore a pact to the devil” for their freedom and “ever since, they have been cursed by one thing after another.” Robertson is nuts, but he’s right: there was a deal made, not with the supernatural but the financial, though these days it is hard to tell the two apart. Haitians agreed to pay France reparations to lost property—that is, the slave system they destroyed. Over the last decade, there’s been a movement to demand that France pay Haiti reparations for the reparations it extracted, which according to one tally amounts to $21,685,135,571. And 48 cents. This figure doesn’t count “interest, penalties or consideration of the suffering and indignity inflicted by slavery and colonization.” France of course refuses to pay, though a few years ago pranksters impersonating government officials set up a fake web page and released the following statement: “the historic debt of 90 million gold francs Haiti paid to France following the former’s independence at the dawn of the 19th century…. the 90 million gold francs, which Haiti paid France from 1825 until 1947, will be reimbursed in a yearly budget over the course of 50 years. Economic advisors working with the ministry have calculated that the total sum amounts to €17 billion including adjustments for inflation and a minimal interest rate of 5 percent per annum.” Paris issued an immediate denial.
Meanwhile, in the real legal world, last Friday, a New York district court just ruled against Haitian cholera victims, in a lawsuit demanding that the UN pay restitution:
One way or another, it sees, Haitians continue to pay and they continue to be cursed, now because of the neoliberal concessions Aristide had to promise Clinton before the US would restore him to power after the first coup against him (only to have the US intervene and stage a second coup that drove him back out of power).
In any case, here’s Wikileaked cable from 2008, from the US ambassador to Haiti, Ambassador Janet A. Sanderson. She calls MINUSTAH an “indispensable tool in realizing core USG [or US government] policy interests in Haiti.” Sanderson says that one of the main threats that MINUSTAH is helping to contain are “resurgent populist and anti-market economy political forces,” which if unleashed would reverse the “gains of the last two years.”
Ah, those elusive and fragile gains…