The Crime of the Centuries

Against the Current, No. 38, May/June 1992

The Editors

CAPITALISM’S CRIMES AGAINST humanity follow each other with numbing daily regularity; but even in this era of routine atrocities, the United States’ forced repatriation of the Haitian refugees sets a new standard of sorts. What is distinctive about this particular horror is not so much that it victimizes people whose countries the United States has destroyed, as has already been done to Vietnam, Grenada and Panama among others; nor that it sends them back to face death squads, which was standard policy throughout the 1980s in the large-scale deportation of Guatemalans and Salvadorans.

Nor is the deportation of the Haitians by any stretch of the imagination unique for its racism and class bias. The distinction is that the policy is so blatantly on display. For once there is nothing to expose, it is all in the open: Black refugees are labelled “economic” rather than “political” refugees, which is quite logical since it was the most desperately poor in Haiti who backed the elected president of Haiti, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and who are thus the targets for military reprisals. They are shipped home to starve, if they are not murdered first by uniformed gangsters–thugs whom the Bush administration pretends to oppose, but whose positions in authority it has forced the exiled Aristide to confirm as a condition of his own return to office.

The denial of the Haitian refugees’ most basic human rights (to say nothing of due process) by the Bush administration could not have been more complete if Patrick Buchanan or David Duke occupied the White House. What is worse, the fact that not a single Democratic presidential contender raised this crime as a political issue–let alone leading a demonstration against it–confirms the bi-partisan character of the policy. This was unsurprising, coming just one year after the now-forgotten U.S. bombing of the Ameriyeh civilian bomb shelter in Baghdad. In that “surgically precise” action, by eyewitness accounts the melted human fat of the victims covered the floor to a depth of several inches–a detail unreported in the official mass media, and unprotested by any segment of the official U.S. political culture.

While the Haitian repatriation must be seen in this light–the irreducible moral degeneracy of official U.S. culture and its media during and since the Gulf War–its meaning is perhaps equally to be located in the unfolding crime of the centuries since the landing of Christopher Columbus, so lavishly celebrated by that official culture and media this year. Haiti is on the same island where Columbus’ expeditionaries first landed and, as reported by C.L.R. James in Black Jacobins, “after giving thanks to God, urgently inquired after gold.”

On that same island, in the neighboring Dominican Republic, the pro-U.S. regime is celebrating the 500 Years with the installation of a giant lighthouse, illuminating the entire area with the electric power that is denied to the residents of the highway shanties in its shadow. Elsewhere in the Caribbean, Michael Manley, one-time fiery opponent of the International Monetary Fund and target for U.S. destabilization, is preparing for retirement, long since converted to a well-disciplined austerity-administering social democrat. Grenada and Panama, “liberated” by U.S. forces in the dress rehearsals for the Gulf, stagnate. George Bush promises to be “the first United States President to set foot in free post-Castro Cuba.” A fine piece of imagery for 1992: the wimp as latter-day Teddy Roosevelt with his foot on the throats of the peoples of the entire hemisphere.

An alternative image is embodied in a rich tradition of indigenous resistance to colonialism and imperialism in the New World and of solidarity with the victims. It is that tradition that needs to be celebrated by defenders of democracy and elementary human decency, and a few parts of which we present in the “500 Years of Resistance” in this issue of Against the Current. Further material on the same theme will appear in future issues. We dedicate this issue to the people of Haiti, resisting the death-squad dictatorship that snatched away their democratic victory, a people whose recovery of that victory will owe nothing to the imperialist heirs of Columbus who own and control the United States of America.

May-June 1992, ATC 38