There are a few places that I have a particular interest in outside of Bermuda, and do my best to follow developments in these areas. In particular I keep track of developments in Canada, Singapore, Malaysia, the PRC, Eastern and Southern Africa (Kenya, Tanzania, DR Congo, Uganda, Rwanda, Mozambique, SA, Zim, Namibia, Botswana, Angola), Ghana, Sierra Leone, Venezuala, Colombia and the UK. One entire region that I try to keep an eye on is the Caribbean, with a particular focus on Barbados, Grenada, Cayman, Jamaica, Cuba, Martinique and Haiti.
Haiti in particular is one that really gets my passions going due to the injustices there. This is brought home today with the sinking of a boat, off the coast of TCI, loaded with around 200 Haitians fleeing their homeland. More than half of the people have been rescued, but the rest are unaccounted for, and the death toll is likely to be in the dozens. This in itself is almost a non-story – and that’s partly what really gets me riled up, the fact that these tragedies are now almost routine.
Whenever the topic of independence gets raised in Bermuda its predictable that the Jamaica or Haiti will be raised, almost always (and this is always the case with Haiti) as a bogeyman argument against independence. This is also partly a reason for my interest in Haitian issues, as it is necessary to study its history and its problems in order to rebut the anti-Independence arguments that invoke the name of Haiti.
I apologise now if this post comes across more as a rant than anything else. The injustices and the hell of Haiti have a tendency of leaving me capable of little else.
Haiti, what can one say about it? To the contemporary mind it invokes images of Papa Doc Duvalier and his Mongoose Gang, of military coups, of brutality, of overcrowded ships full of refugees, of violence, of deforestation and the needless hurricane deaths, of sexual exploitation and overall misery. It is a living hell in the midst of what should be a Caribbean paradise.
Of course Haiti also lays claim to the only successful slave revolution – whose leaders saw it first as part of the French Revolution, but then found it necessary to defend its gains when the revolutionary metropole turned on it. This titanic battle between what was then the greatest army in the world against poorly trained and equipped slaves (equipped more with a yearning for freedom than with muskets) sapped the resources of Haiti, and its scorched earth tactics that helped win Haiti’s independence also weakened its future, and it’s brilliant leader, Toussaint, was betrayed and imprisoned in France where he was murdered. Haiti was also the cradle of South America’s independence, providing a refuge and support for Simon de Bolivar’s revolutionary forces. Later, faced with an imminent invasion by French forces in 1825, Haiti’s leaders had to choose between paying an astronomical ransom or occupation – they choose to pay, further crippling their future.
In the last century the USA took over as the dominant force in Haiti’s development, invading and occupying the country first in 1915, until leaving in 1934 after establishing a puppet government, much as they had in Cuba after their help in its ‘liberation’. The USA provided support for the brutal dictatorship of Papa Doc and his Mongoose Gang and his successor Baby Doc. Following Baby Doc’s overthrow by a popular uprising (with tacit support from the USA who by now viewed the Duvalier as more of a liability than a use), and the abortive 1986 elections the former priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide (a Christian socialist, inspired by liberation theology) won the 1990 elections and initiated a series of near socialist reforms. The 1991 miliarty that expelled him was supported by the USA leading to a return of a brutal regime.
Aristide was returned to Haiti with the US invasion of 1994 – the repercussions of the coup d’etat involving waves of refugees fleeing the country had made support of the coup untenable by this time. Aristide was installed back in the Presidency, but only after making concessions to the US forces.
Aristide, re-elected in 2000, and once more began a series of mild social reforms, as well as seeking reparations from France (for the 1825 payment). In early (Jan-Feb) of 2003 a meeting of government officials from the USA, Canada, France and various Latin American states met in Ottawa (the ‘Ottawa initiative‘) to discuss the future government of Haiti. Haiti was neither aware of or party to this meeting, where it was decided that regime change must be seen there within a year. And surely enough, within a year a conflict was manufactured, supported in various ways (training, weapons, intelligence, media) by Canada, France and the USA. Aristide was kidnapped and sent into exile, and a new ‘interim’ government was convened which inserted its operatives into various aspects of the State.
It is true that Aristide’s allies are back in power today following the 2006 election of Preval. However it is also true that the country remains effectively occupied by military forces and handicapped by appointees made during the interim government, and protected by the US, Canadian and French powers. These same powers, and the interim government initiated a series of privatisations (which Aristide had been resisting), and this has further crippled Haiti.
And so today we see Haiti as a broken republic, broken by successive US interventions, and kept in this misery by the US and its allies.
One might wonder why they would seek to do this. There are various reasons motivating the different states. For France, part of it is fear about paying reparations for its cruel past and the precedence this would set. Part of it is no doubt purely to do with pride. For the US, a good part of it is their desire to prevent the rise of another Cuba in what it perceives as its backyard. Importantly Haiti, through its misery, is today the sweatshop of the Caribbean, providing labour for the manufacture of clothing and toys for the US market (Disney in particular is renowned for its exploitation of Haitian misery). Canada has its eyes on the mining sector (see St. Genevieve Resources and KWG Resources) as well as general exploitation of labour and commodity dumping (as does the US).
Haiti is one of the greatest tragedies in our hemisphere and region – in as much as I see us as related to the Caribbean (whether or not we are geographically so, or whether certain Bermudians accept it, we are seen as Caribbean by most of the world). It is a tragedy, and one that has been manufactured by new imperialist forces. We may sit back in our comfortable Bermuda homes sipping our dark’n’stormy’s or elephant beers and read the news about this latest tragedy of Haitian boat people. And most of us will simply say, meh, such a loss, and turn the page. That’s understandable. The situation in Haiti is hard to understand based solely on the news media with its chorus about corruption as the root of troubles there and the US interventions as benevolent ‘peace-keepers’. What doublespeak! We – all of us – in our comfortable homes are complicit in keeping Haiti in this living hell. We are complicit in our silence and acceptance of the US propaganda on this issue. We are complicit when our finance sector facilitates the exploitation of Haiti.
In the 1980s Bermudians participated in the global anti-Apartheid anti-imperialist movement, exposing companies in Bermuda supporting SA Apartheid and demonstrating when necessary to draw attention to Aparthied. I feel it is time that our new generation continue this tradition and pick up the mantle of fighting injustices such as this.
For more information on Haiti the below links are useful: