There is much self-congratulation about the United States’ reaction to Haiti’s devastating earthquake, even by honest and sincere people as can be witnessed by Matt Ianno’s “Consider this, Cortland” article in the February 11 edition of The Dragon Chronicle. There are two major problems with this self-congratulation: It forgets the historical record of U.S. intervention in Haiti, and it misunderstands the current U.S. role in Haiti during this crisis. I believe one major and very important way we can help Haiti is to take particular heed of our own nation’s policies that have dramatic effects on the Haitian people.
Ianno writes that “before this quake, Haiti was a country in desperate need of American support” and “finally Haiti has the attention of the American government.” Unfortunately, what Ianno and many others forget or do not know is that today is far from being the first time that Haiti has had the “attention” of the U.S. government. In the early 1900’s, under President Woodrow Wilson, the United States invaded Haiti, killed thousands of people, restored institutions of slavery, disbanded the Haitian parliament at gunpoint, and then militarily occupied Haiti from 1915 to 1934 that brought large-scale devastation by ensuring a type of re-colonization where U.S. corporations and economic policy ravaged the country. Following 1934, the U.S. handed power to a military vanguard that ruled with an iron-fist, followed by two U.S.-backed dictators (Papa Doc and Baby Doc) that continued to ravage Haiti. In the late 1980’s, the Haitian people overthrew Baby Doc, which was followed by an internationally recognized free and fair election in 1990 that brought Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power in a landslide victory. In 1991, under President George H. W. Bush, the U.S. overthrew the democratically elected government. In 1994, under President Bill Clinton, the U.S. reinstated Aristide on the condition that he drop his platform and accept the U.S. backed candidate’s platform that carried with it the normal exploitative economic policies and an embargo. After being out of office, Aristide was re-elected in 2000 in another landslide victory only to be overthrown again by the U.S. in 2004 under President George W. Bush. Following the 2004 coup, Aristide was exiled to South Africa where he continues to be blocked from returning to Haiti by the United States today, even in this time of crisis. It should be noted that all of this is in flagrant violation of international law in numerous ways.
As for the U.S. reaction to the earthquake, it is far from “a tremendous job” as Ianno describes. Many aid organizations including Doctors Without Borders have criticized the U.S. reaction because of its focus on militarization rather than aid distribution. The U.S. military has blocked aid from being distributed and has taken over the relief effort in violation of Haitian sovereignty, and in opposition to many organizations attempting to give immediate relief on the ground. Aid organizations and all of Haiti find themselves at the behest of the U.S. military once again, which, with some irony, is a major reason for Haiti’s current devastation in the first place.
As Peter Hallward pointed out in The Guardian, “along with sending emergency relief, we should ask what we can do to facilitate the self-empowerment of Haiti’s people and public institutions. If we are serious about helping we need to stop trying to control Haiti’s government, to pacify its citizens, and to exploit its economy. And then we need to start paying for at least some of the damage we’ve already done.”