Op-Ed: The assassination is only the last chapter in the tortured history of Haiti

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“Haiti seems to be cursed”, wrote The world, in an editorial two days after the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse. “It is a failed state,” added the august Parisian daily. It doesn’t surprise me. Haiti only attracts the world’s attention in times of major disasters, such as the earthquake which, on January 12, 2010, destroyed 80% of the capital, Port-au-Prince, and some communities up to 35 miles.

At that time, no less a figure than the Evangelical Protestant pastor, the Reverend Pat Robertson, said the catastrophe was God’s “punishment” of Haitians for “the pact that was signed with the devil to gain their independence.” Apparently he was referring to the voodoo ceremony that started our struggle for independence. Never mind that the scriptures say that God only visits the transgressions of parents in the third and fourth generations. And that our cause was just.

More than two centuries after our epic victory over Napoleon’s French army by the motley army of former slaves, Haiti is still seeking to redeem its heroic bet. The first black republic to declare independence, on January 1, 1804, Haiti was the second independent nation in the Western Hemisphere, after only the United States. Yet Haiti had to wait for President Lincoln to be recognized by Washington.

On the left, a bronze memorial in Port-au-Prince commemorates the abolition of slavery. Right, aerial view of La Citadelle, a 19th century fortress in northern Haiti. (Photos by Larry Luxner)

Historians have yet to fully address the plot to destroy Haiti that began shortly after independence. The world powers of the time declared an embargo on the new nation, cutting it off from international trade. In 1806, at the request of Napoleon’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Charles-Maurice Périgord, the United States went further by declaring the blockade of Haiti. The letter from Périgord to his envoy in Washington relates the perfidy.

“The federal government should adopt severe measures to prevent all kinds of communication between a civilized nation and savage peoples who, by their ferocious, no less barbaric ways, are alien to the system of civilization,” Perigord wrote. Moreover, he writes, “they do not only threaten the security of France, but also the security of all European colonies and those of the United States.”

And this: “The existence of armed Negro peoples, defiling the places they occupy with their most criminal acts, is a horrible spectacle for the white nations. The campaign intensified in 1825, when, by order of the King of France, Charles X, an armada moored in the port of Port-au-Prince ready to reduce the Haitian capital to ashes if President Jean-Pierre Boyer refused to sign. that Haiti owed France 150 million francs, or about $ 21 billion in current dollars.

Haiti’s presidential palace in Port-au-Prince after the devastating earthquake of January 2010. (Photo by Larry Luxner)

This debt was for the loss of property, including slaves. It was eventually bought by a precursor of Citibank. It was then that the Americans invaded Haiti in 1915. The debt was finally paid in 1947. Thus, the Haitian economy was mortgaged from the start of its existence as a nation. The Americans invaded after the assassination of President Sam, who was dragged out of the French embassy, ​​where he took refuge after ordering a massacre of political prisoners.

Sam suffered a worse fate than that of Jovenel Moïse. His body was torn to pieces and marched through the capital. The American occupation lasted 19 years and, in general, American troops humiliated Haitians. Most of these soldiers came from the southern states, where the negroes were kept in what the southerners saw as “their place.” America’s role in Haiti was not a pretty picture, even including relatively recent events.

In 1994, President Clinton sent 20,000 troops to Haiti to bring back to power its democratically elected president, Jean Bertrand Aristide, who had been overthrown in a coup, fled to Venezuela and eventually landed in Washington. Aristide finally got Washington to support his return. As a dividend in the United States, rice farmers in Arkansas conquered the Haitian market, destroying local rice production.

Raymond Joseph, former Haitian Ambassador to the United States, and his wife, Lola Poisson. (Photo by Larry Luxner)

I maintain that Haiti’s underdevelopment is due, first and foremost, to France and other European powers, in agreement with the United States. They were determined to make the country an example, especially, at least in the early years, to deter the copier revolts of those who were enslaved in this hemisphere and elsewhere in the world, including Africa. They succeeded, making Haiti the outcast state it is today.

Not that this tragedy is without Haitian accomplices, traitors who have embraced corruption for their personal gain. Haitian leaders of this ilk included François “Papa Doc” Duvalier and Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, who posed as anti-Communists and precipitated a brain drain from Haiti during a dictatorship that lasted. 29 years. This too has contributed to the situation in which Haiti finds itself today.

Yet the Haitian revolution allowed the United States to double its sovereign territory. This happened in 1803, when France sold the territory of Louisiana to the United States for the equivalent of $ 15 million. Compare that with what the French imposed on Haiti as reparations for lost property. The French capital of the New World was Cap-Français, today Cap-Haitien. The French went so far as to force the Americans to backdate the Louisiana purchase to April 30 to avoid giving credit to the slave revolt.

Buildings in downtown Port-au-Prince, Haiti, ravaged by the January 2010 earthquake. (Photo by Larry Luxner)

Despite all the attempts to stifle the Haitian revolution, it caught the attention of Simón Bolívar. It was from Haiti that in April 1816, Bolívar launched his liberation expedition, with men, arms and money provided by then Haitian President Alexandre Pétion. When Bolivar offered to recognize that the liberation of Venezuela was due to Haiti, Pétion reportedly said, “No. But wherever you are successful, free the slaves.

The ties between Venezuela and Haiti were historic and strong for many years thereafter, until 2019, when Moses turned his back on Nicolás Maduro and embraced President Trump’s efforts to isolate the Venezuelan tyrant. Maduro, for his part, flaunted democratic principles and aligned himself with Cuba, China, Russia and even Iran. And then things took another tragic turn.

On June 2, Moïse received the credentials of the first Russian diplomat in Haiti, Sergey Melik-Bogdasarov. On June 17, Moïse, accompanied by his wife Martine and a large delegation, went to a two-day conference in Turkey. This tilted his ideological preference and led the European Union to distance itself from its anti-democratic measures. This included a referendum to empower himself and absolve him and his close associates from wrongs committed during his tenure.

Haitian schoolchildren gather for an event in the town of Croix des Bouquets, near the Dominican border. With 11.4 million inhabitants, Haiti is now the most populous nation in the Caribbean, even surpassing Cuba. (Photo by Larry Luxner)

So here we are at a turning point, in a drama spanning more than 200 years that Shakespeare himself could not have imagined. It’s a time when Haiti once again faces an uncertain future, with power-hungry individuals arguing over who will legitimately assume leadership. Right now, Haiti is yearning for something better than what history has given us.

Now is the time for civil society, politicians and religious organizations from all sides to organize an inclusive conference that will pave the way for a caretaker government to set the stage for democratic elections. Before that, Haiti will need a plan to deal with the heavily armed gangs that have imposed their rule across the country, including in the capital. Government sovereignty must be restored.

Only then will attention be able to turn to a public works program and a renewal of agriculture, and a decentralization program to make the country “The Republic of Haiti” instead of “The Republic”. of Port-au-Prince ”. France’s reparations for the billions it forced Haiti to pay over 122 years would go a long way in lifting the curse and stopping our plunge into a “failed state”. And it is only then, hopefully, that Haiti will be able to recover its old nickname of “Pearl of the Antilles”.

Raymond Joseph, former Haitian ambassador to the United States, is one of the editors of the New York Sun, where this article first appeared.


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