Haiti, Imperialist Disaster

Against the Current, No. 145, March/April 2010

David Finkel

THE PICTURES AND news reports tell the stories of Haiti’s physical destruction, the agony and heartbreak, the heroism of rescue efforts — and the filthy business of “missionary” child-snatchers — reporting the unfathomable scale of the reconstruction that may take decades.

What today’s pictures don’t convey is how Haiti became “the poorest nation in the western hemisphere.” How it was looted and deforested to pay “reparations” to France for the crime of winning its independence in 1804. How the U.S. Marines occupied it from 1915 to 1934. How all the imperialist powers abetted and profited from the horrific Duvalier family dictatorship. And then, after the Haitian people finally elected a popular president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, how the United States not once but twice assisted in coups that overthrew and finally forced him into exile.

When the Clinton administration restored Aristide after the first coup, it forced him to accept disastrous neoliberal “reforms.” That’s how Haitian agriculture was undermined by cheap food imports — U.S. “aid” that really functions to subsidize agribusiness — forcing its small farmers into the overcrowded capital city to work for pennies in sweatshops making baseballs, for example, if at all.

We’re supposed to believe there’s some kind of “cultural defect” that keeps Haiti poor. The “defect” is imperialism. That destroyed Haiti, just as surely as a racist capitalism at home drowned New Orleans.

Imperialism owes Haiti two centuries worth of reparations. Yes, send food, medicine and emergency housing right now. But then it’s the people of Haiti, not the Halliburtons and other corporate vultures, who can rebuild their country. The powers who have raped the place have one legitimate role only — to pay 100% of the cost.

ATC 145, March-April 2010