By Hwaa Irfan
Why this has become such an intriguing subject, a subject that requires more time and space than that offered here, is the one simple fact that since the devastating earthquake that hit Haiti just before 5pm on Tuesday 12 January 2010, the extent to which information in and out of the country has been controlled. With the cholera outbreak months later, once again, the information in and out of the country was being controlled – the manipulation of truth blaming Haitians to an extent worked, because of the hold that racism still has preventing anyone from asking pertinent questions over what is a disease that should not have caused the amount of deaths that it had. Outsiders were not to know that the U.N. and other aid agencies like Doctors Without Borders had no idea, and in fact had unhygienic practices that even the Haitians balked at, or the fact that the cholera disaster was one which Haitians had demanded the departure of the U.N from its shores – instead the media was fed with and accepted that ‘those blacks… what else can one expect’ when they had protested about keys issues above and beyond the outside perception of a people who want something for nothing. Neither was attention paid when it became glaringly apparent that former U.S. presidents Bush and Clinton had set about raising money in the name of the Haitian disaster, to date none of which has been seen by Haitians in any form.
Keeping the Natives Quiet!
We will not go back into history, not much anyway, but this one important point one must begin with, because it is still relevant today:
“In 1789, at the time of the French Revolution, the colony of San Domingo supplied two-thirds of the overseas trade of France and was the greatest individual market for the European slave trade. In August 1791, the island’s slaves revolted. Their struggles lasted for twelve years, during which time they defeated in turn the local whites and the soldiers of the French monarchy, a Spanish invasion, a British expedition of some 60,000 men, and a French expedition of similar size under Bonaparte’s brother-in-law. The defeat of Bonaparte’s expedition in 1803 resulted in the establishment of the black state of Haiti.” – New York Times on the Black Jacobeans by C.L.R. James.
To France, the Revolution was a grave injustice; after all they have done to line their pockets. Haitians Merceron and Sambou Djibi recount what the French reaction was while publicly recognizing the independent state of Haiti:
“Freedom was acknowledged at the price of a huge ransom. On July 11th 1825, under threat of an expedition equipped aboard 14 vessels armed with 500 cannons, Haitian leaders were forced to sign a treaty with the king of France, Charles X. The King proclaimed by royal decree that the current inhabitants of the French part of Saint Domingue would pay the French Federal Deposit & Consignment Treasury in five equal terms for each subsequent year the amount of one hundred fifty millions francs. The first payment was due on December 31st, 1825 to compensate former colonizers who claimed loss and suffering. “We concede, under the stated conditions, as per the decree, that the current inhabitants of the French part of Saint Domingue to have full and complete independence of their government.”
“… in exchange of a massive ransom of 150 millions gold francs, which was later reduced to 90 millions, a reduction of 50% in custom fees. Haitians paid until 1888! This is the equivalent to approximately 21 billion dollars today. This crippling independence debt paid to France by Haiti formed the basis of the structural anomaly accounting for the social and economic instabilities prevalent on this island. Haiti was the richest Caribbean island weakened by a cycle of debts that sank it into abject poverty. The Negroes should not be able to build a nation or develop a prosperous economy on the new American continent. This would set a ‘bad precedent’ and generate ideas of emancipation from other enslaved afro-American people. By playing the race card between mulattoes and blacks, Westerners succeeded in depicting Haiti as the land of lawlessness, violence, corruption– a symbol of the inherent incapacity of the Negro, this big kid, to self-govern.”
Maintaining the Upper Hand
In WWI, France demanded from Germany 132 billion golden marks as restitution, but has ignored the U.S$21bn demanded by Haitians for restitution and reparation in 2003. This demand was voiced by former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the President exiled in South Africa currently, the same president that the powers that be is preventing from returning to and responding to the Haitian call, the same president that The U.S. removed from position via U.S. Special Forces in 2004, who kidnapped him. This call, was made by a people who obtained their freedom at the hands of one man, Toussaint L’Ouverture who led the slave revolt in the 18th century, and lost what they had on the invasion by the U.S. in 1915, who have controlled Haiti ever since, and to them the U.N have occupied their country since 1994 with 80% of the population living on a little over US$2 a day, 9 out of every 10 Haitians out of work, and the same U.S.-U.N backed government for 20 years. In his speech to ActionAid Jean William Jeanty said:
“Nobody in the US, the UN or the government has been able to tell us who left the city or the country and how many houses were destroyed. Nobody can tell us scientifically how many people died. Some people are saying 300,000 – others are saying 400,000 – but we don’t know. We know that it destroyed the three biggest institutions in the country, the legislative, executive and judicial branches of power. It destroyed the churches and the schools and now there are more than 2 million people in the streets, some in Port-au-Prince in camps and tents and others who left and went back to the countryside.”
With that numbers of deaths after the earthquake, Haitians do not blame the earthquake; in fact they do not believe the earthquake can cause that many deaths. Instead they blame the way in which the U.S. has governed resources from their invasion 1915 – until current times with everything concentrated in the capital, Port-au-Prince. To those that have survived, the earthquake offered an opportunity, an opportunity that is being kept in check by the Interim Commission for the Reconstruction of Haiti, a commission led by former U.S. president Bill Clinton, that consists of foreigners, and remain completely unknown to the Haitians who remain excluded from the whole process. According to Jeanty, the Articles 12, 13, and 14 of the bill that Bill Clinton wrote in includes:
- The power to reclaim any land in Haiti for whatever reasons
- The power to take any land they want
- That the Ministry of Finance have to give Clinton what he wants
And this is in contradiction to the 1987 Constitution which prohibits any foreigner from owning land. On method employed by Clinton is the awarding of no-bid contracts, an example of which is a ‘foreign company that was awarded contract of US$400mn, the name of which remains unknown to the Haitians, and the task of that company was simply to clear up the rubble that still remains after the earthquake – in Haitian law, any contract over US$2,250 has to go through process of bids. The Haitians fought and lost against this bill being passed.
Yet, what is the reason for this commission, when the UN Mission to Stabilize Haiti, MINUSTAH, was set up after the kidnapping of Haitian president Aristade? Should not the cudgel have been passed onto them after the earthquake? But MINUSTAH is not all what it seems, and many Haitians still alive can testify to the way in which MINUSTAH persecutes Haitians, and have played a direct role in massacres.
In 2008, human rights groups, Zamni Lasante, the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, and the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights, RFK Center, uncovered in their report that the former Bush Administration had blocked life-saving aid to Haiti. The RFK Center had uncovered documents of the US Treasury Department which had prevented the release of US$146mn in loans (US$54mn allocated to water and sanitation), which was approved by the Inter-American Development Bank, and had shown that the intention was politically motivated, although the IDB was complicit in preventing those loans being released unless the Haitian government under Aristide did what they want!
The Elections and Aristide
The impending elections would help to maintain the status quo as Clinton’s commission tries to rush through the elections, the same way the U.N. has been trying to rush through the elections in the Ivory Coast, where France owns most of the wealth! The hypocrisy of U.S. and France over Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, when the U.S. excluded 14 candidates from the first round in November 2010 one of whom was Aristide’s former legal counsel Fanmi Lavalas. As stated by the International Crisis Group:
“To stimulate turnout, voter and civic education about the process and the stakes should be intensified, particularly among IDPs….Once the elections are over and parallel to the new government’s priority task of pushing reconstruction and sustainable development, a national consensus will be needed on electoral and political party reforms….But the urgent requirement is to succeed with the November elections.”
The International Crisis Group was set up in 1995 by World Bank vice-president, Mark Malloch Brown, and former U.S. diplomat Morton Abramowitz.
Ready for the elections Aristade awaits in South Africa with his diplomatic passport according to officials, but he has not received it! This makes one wonder at the nature of the relationship with the South African government and the powers that be. As protests took place in Haiti demanding for the current president to step down in February 2011, former Catholic priest Aristide anxious to return sits in limbo. How is it that the first democratically elected leader was kidnapped and sent into exile by a proclaimed democratic government leaving a former First Lady, Mirlande Manigat, and Michel Martelly, a singer as the contenders as declared by the election officials. They must be getting the U.S. qualifications of actors Ronald Reagan, and others confused! The second round, is the final round, so what providence do the powers that be tempt?
A call by prominent individuals went out to allow Aristide the right to leave, and for the South African Government to make that possible. An extract from the open letter addressed to South African President Jacob Zuma reads as follows:
“We write in the hopes that you can assist the Aristides in making their transition as soon as possible. The situation in Haiti remains dire, and the Aristides have expressed their willingness to help Haiti rebuild, through education initiatives and in other desperately-needed areas. Many people in Haiti have been greatly inspired by the news of the issuance of (his) passport…”
Delaying his return would be a major “disappointment to a people that have already experienced a long list of tragedies, disasters, and heartbreak….(We) support the efforts of the South African government to assist President Aristide and his family in quickly returning home. And we hope to see (him) in Haiti very soon.”
The authors included:
- Jesse Jackson
- Danny Glover
- British MP John McDonnell
- Dick Gregory
- Jack Healey, Human Rights Action Center’s founder and director;
- Jack Heyman of San Francisco’s International Longshore and Warehouse Union, who refused to unload ships with South African goods in the 1980s
- Selma James, widow of CLR James
- Byron Rushing, Massachusetts State Representative
- Margaret Prescod Women of Color/Global Women’s Strike’s
- Walter Riley civil rights attorney, Haiti Emergency Relief Fund (HERF) chairman and John George Democratic Club co-chair.
But it will take more than Aristide’s right to return, it will take guarantee of his safety, adequate protection, the right to participate in the elections, and most of all the people’s will and determination without the support of the powers that be.
Haiti ‘Gives ex-President Aristide New Passport.’ http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-12388715
James, C.L.R. “The Black Jacobins.” Alison and Busby, London. 1980.
Jeanty, J.W. “Haiti: Reclaiming Sovereignty.” http://www.pambazuka.org/en/category/comment/69025
Lendman, S. “Haiti’s Sham Elections – Solidfying Imperial Control.” http://www.progressiveradionetwork.com/the-progressive-news-hour/.
Lendman, S. “Obstructing And Delaying Aristide’s Return.”http://www.rense.com/general93/obstr.htm
“U.S. Repression of Haiti Continues.” http://www.projectcensored.org/top-stories/articles/16-us-repression-of-haiti-continues/