Haitians Look Homeward


Haitians in northern California react to the violence in the old country. And here's an older but more detailed account of the stateside reaction, this time focused on Haitian immigrants in Florida.

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  1. joe,

    I agree with you. But the U.S. was created by a small group of educated thinkers who, unlike today’s Haitians, were not in utter desperation, had a working economy, and had a long history of living with the rule of law. How to translate the benefits of a republican form of govenrment to societies which have little experience with the basic underpinnings of liberal governance is the problem, in Haiti, as well as Iraq, etc.

  2. Well some scholars have stated that the “land reform” that followed Haiti’s breakaway in 1803 are the root of the problem. Of course Haiti has never had a period when it wasn’t ruled by one dictator or another (indeed, even Touissant styled himself as a dictator at one point, as did Dessalines, etc.). The country has had one long, sad history, and one wonders whether it would be better off today as a French colony (Martinque is certainly far more prosperous as a part of France – it is not a colony, but an overseas “department,” meaning that it is like Ha’waii if France had “states” or was federalist nature).

  3. db, I agree, it’s hard. That’s why it’s so damn frustrating that the administration just pissed away – no, actively worked to elminate – the one republican institution that was in plce, electoral changes in government.

  4. Joe, what administration are you “speaking” of? Chirac, Bush, Aristide? Somehow I think its a safe bet you are blaming the U.S. (if you were a politican, you would at this point accuse me of questioning your patriotism) And what, specifically(!!!), did that administration do to “piss away” what was in place. And what was in place anyway? Is that what you call a democracy or democratic republic? I’m sure there would be no end to the number of people who might disagree on that point. (a few in Haiti for example) I wouldn’t personally express on opinion on this topic, cuz it would be out of ignorance. But since you have, I’ll ask these obvious questions, and more. Did Bush buy those 50 year old rifles the rebels are carrying around? Did he direct them to surround the capital? Should he have taken unilateral action against the freedom fighters (or are they “terrorists” to you)? I would think you should at least appreciate cooperation with the United Nations as opposed to going in there like some cowboy, no?

  5. AJ, this has Otto Reich’s filthy figerprints all over it. There are always ambitious criminals, work seeking thugs, and 50 year old rifles available. It’s a question of calling them to hand. The Bush adminstration couldn’t get this shtick to work in Venezuela, but they did pretty well for themselves in Haiti. You want specifics? Tune in for the Congressional hearings.

    Haiti was far from a democratic republic before. It’s farther now. Bush could have spent the last 3 years building up republican institutions, but he decided to let them collapse. This is not primarily about what Bush did once the rebels started taking cities, but about what he did, and did not do, in order to make that happen.

    Although the kidnapping of Aristide at gunpoint is pretty outrageous.

  6. I really can’t picture us sending in troops to SAVE Aristide– and that certainly was not the wish of the UN or France. International sanctions against Aristide’s regime precede the Bush administration, and I can’t see how joe would have us defy them.

    The hope of the administration is to have the French assume some kind of long-term commitment…and for France, removing Aristide was a precondition. For a couple of weeks, Powell was trying to rescue Aristide with some kind of “power-sharing” agreement. Chirac was not having any of it (and that’s OK as far as I’m concerned).

  7. Recognizing the right of electoral losers to share the power that rightfully belongs to the elected (not to mention the “right” of a disbanded military command to ignore the decisions of the civilian government) was not a good faith effort to promote peace, but an effort to make the anti-Aristide gangs look more legitimate, in order to make it easier for our government to recognize the new coup junta.

    If Gore voters had started smashing windows and executing Republican City Committee chairmen, would you be supporting a power sharing agreement, Andrew? Of would say that anyone calling for such a thing was rewarding political violence, and undoing the result of an election?

    We didn’t just “not save” the Aristide regime. We supported those who overthrew it by force of arms, and worked to bring about a situation in which such a coup could occur.

  8. joe,

    if you can cite evidence that the U.S. “worked to bring about a situation in which such a coup could occur,” I’d like to see it.

    So far, I haven’t heard any credible stories about the U.S. government plotting against Aristide. Haiti is not exactly big or important enough to draw that kind of attention from the administration. It would have been far simpler for the administration to just ignore Aristide and ensure his continued power for the sake of the relative stability it offered.

  9. To be fair, I don’t have a shred of proof that the US government did anything dirty.

    But I wasn’t born yesterday, either. I’ve seen this shit happen before. There are yellow feathers in the air, the canary’s gone, and the cat’s playing it cool.

    You have to really, really want to believe in Bush not to see what’s happening.

  10. >>You have to really, really want to believe in Bush >>not to see what’s happening.

    I disagree. I don’t want to “believe” in any politician. I want to know. This is less about Bush doing anything to mess with an elected foreign government than it is about the U.S. stepping in to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe. (I mean a worse one than Haiti already is)

    Whether or not that’s a good idea is up for debate.

  11. joe

    Haiti has been under UN sanctions since the elections in 2000, which were credibly perceived as fradulent (hence your “winners” and “losers”). Aristide was perceived as a Fujimori (Peru)– an architect of a Presidential coup. This was the attitude of not only the State Department, but the UN the EU, France AND the Organisation of American States.

    During the period the US was pressing for the enforcement of UN sanctions against Iraq…so were the Doves (as an alternative to war). We could not defy the consensus (the UNANIMITY) of world opinion on Aristide’s regime…

    and we had no reason to: here is a guy who CREATED the thugs who deposed him, rather than an army capable of supplying order for his country.

  12. Andrew (bigot),

    The elections you write of were the parliamentary elections of 2000; and Aristide likely had little to do with the problems in those elections (it was his party that was largely to blame). Of course if he cannot control his party, there is a problem.

    As to the issue of the position of Chirac and de Villipen, well, (a) they were willing to take the heat here so the U.S. could duck in after them; and (b) its obvious that both the U.S. and France are using this issue as means to make themselves look good domestically (France really has no real interest there except to stop any flow of refugees to Martinque, etc. – we already have 250,000 Haitian refugees to deal with from the 1990s) and the “mend fences” from Iraq (think about how effusive Bush and Chirac were to each other on the phone, and how Bush called Chirac).

    At this point it is a fait accompli.

  13. Haiti was not on the administration’s mind. If it were, a crappy shell of a democracy would be far better than the thugs there now. If the U.S. had intervened to support Aristide, the exact same people mad at the U.S. for not intervening would be up in arms for the U.S. having intervened, just as they were when the U.S. intervened to support Aristide. The U.S. simply told Aristide that all hope of maintaining power was gone.

    There is no immediate cure for Haiti. Perhaps some sort of regional task force led by Caribbean nations could help, but wildly blaming Bush, or France, or whomever you hate, or creating wild conspiracy theories won’t help matters at all.

  14. I’m not sure, but since everything was super nice under Aristide, those Haitians in California protesting his ouster must just be on vacation, right?

    The problems with Haiti are so numerous as to be unenumerable in this forum (hmmm).

    Aristide bad, rebels bad, U.S.A. bad, France bad, Haitian elite bad. I guess since everyone is bad, there’s no ‘right’ thing to do with Haiti, correct?

  15. Evacuate the country to somewhere more habitable and less utterly ruined, like Antarctica?

    Haiti is headed rapidly toward overpopulation and desertification. Something like 80% of the populations ekes out an existance doing subsistance agriculture on the tiny arable sliver of the country remaining. It’s the one place on the planet Malthus was right about. Broken government is one cause of that, and a major effect of it as well. The country is only going to get worse.

  16. db,

    See the second article, on the Haitian emigres in Florida.

    I don’t think anyone’s saying Aristide was “super-nice.” Just that the glorified death squad leaders trying to unseat him are a hell of a lot worse.

  17. Yeah, I got that. But getting Aristide out may have prevented a lot of bloodshed. Whom to choose? Despot #1 or Despot #2? What’s behind door number 3? It’s such a mess to get involved in the affairs of others…

  18. We should have chosen the despot that was elected by the public, and made his face that electorate in a regularly scheduled, fair election.

    “Aristide bad, rebels bad, U.S.A. bad, France bad, Haitian elite bad. I guess since everyone is bad, there’s no ‘right’ thing to do with Haiti, correct?” Wrong. The right thing to do is to support a government of laws, not men, so the rights and well being of people are not dependent on the goodness of politicians.

  19. A nice description of what we should do. Trouble is, it doesn’t describe Haiti in any way.

  20. joe

    I think a fresh start is better than Aristide. Maybe stay a while this time.

  21. The fresh start could have come during the last elections, if there had been sufficient attention paid by the US. And it could have happened peacefully, and been a lot more likely to stick.

    “Maybe stay a while this time.” Maybe if we had stayed a while last time, we wouldn’t be in this mess. Maybe it was a mistake to back out of nation building. Maybe it was a mistake to assume that what happened in unstable, poor countries won’t affect us.

  22. Andrew,

    The U.S. occupied Haiti from 1915-1933; it didn’t help. And to be realistic, the U.S. isn’t going to “stay ahile” (neither is France). They will get Haiti limping again and leave; throwing paltry sums of money at them every year to keep the ruling junta, dictator, autocrat, etc. from making noise.

  23. joe

    I agree. We should have stayed longer last time, and should stay long enough this time. I don’t know what you would have had us do during the last election, but it appears that all along the US has been in accord with the attitude of most of the world on Aristide’s regime, and I’m certain that it is for the best that he is gone.

  24. Same mistake you make about Iraq. “I’m certain it’s for the best that he’s gone.” Except that somebody is going to replace him – in this case, most likely a dictator from the disbanded military.

    It’s more important to have republican institutions to build up than to try to make sure that you’re installing a “good” coup leader.

  25. joe

    Same mistake YOU are making about Iraq AND Afghanistan. This is where we disagree, I suppose.

    I would go on to say that some wars HAVE to be fought three times. Democracy is fairly secure throughout most of Europe now…AFTER WWI, WWII and the Cold War. A lot of problems (maybe most of the serious ones) will not yield, unless you keep coming back at them…and, like it or not, if it IS a serious problem, you WILL keep coming back at it.

    During the initial Afghan operation, I saw a minor Dem. congressman interviewed on FOX (only time I watched FOX…or TV). He said the most sensible thing I heard during the period.

    Q: Should we go to Afghanistan?

    A: Yes.

    Q: Some say we will be back in twenty years?

    A: That is quite likely.

    Q: Then why go?

    A: Because we NEED to go…now, and twenty years from now.

    Sometimes life is just that simple. Everyone hopes to do it more efficiently, but…

  26. Kevin Carson,

    Actually, it was more to establish normalised international relations; and the U.S. part of that embargo from the Jefferson administration until at least the 1840s. To be blunt though, most of Haiti’s problems are self-created; what the U.S. and France did was certainly unfair, shameful, not in line with the “values” each nation espoused, etc. but Haitians have failed themselves as much as an international power failed Haiti.

  27. Andrew, I never claimed Haiti’s electoral system was a shining beacon, just that it was better than the revolving door of coup juntas that is the alternative. They had an established, peaceful, constitutional method of assigning power through regular elections. We should have spent the past years working to strengthen and improve that flawed system. You can’t actually believe that military coups are better than elections, can you?

  28. All the talk of Haiti as a “failed society” ignores a really big elephant in the living room.

    First of all, Haiti had to pay a massive indemnity to France after independence, to establish peace with them. Given their economic state at the time, it was far more crippling than Germany’s reparations after WWI.

    Second, Haiti has been systematically looted by a superpower to the north for the past hundred years.

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