Why Haiti's Such a Mess (And Why Bill Clinton Was So Wrong to Prop Up Aristide)
Mr. Radu is Senior Fellow and Co-Chair, Center on Terrorism and Counterterrorism, at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia.
Ten years ago, in September 1994, U.S. troops invaded Haiti under the auspices of restoring democracy, human rights and the rule of law. At the time, the Clinton-conceived operation was hailed by leftists as a model of liberal interventionism, as former Catholic priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide was restored to power and an oppressive military regime was ousted. There was only one problem with this scenario: not only was Aristide vehemently anti-capitalist and (ironically) anti-American, he was every bit as brutal a despot as his predecessors. To make matters worse, the Clinton administration knew beforehand of Aristide's radical pedigree but chose to prop him into the dictator's chair anyway, in one of foreign policy's all-time worst liberal bungles. Today, the disastrous results of Clinton's experiment in Caribbean colonialism are painfully evident.
Despite the fact that Haiti, the second oldest independent state in the Americas, just recently marked its 200th anniversary in November 2003, freedom and prosperity remain sadly elusive for the country's citizens.
While the country, or more precisely the Jean-Bertrand Aristide regime, celebrated this bicentennial, most Haitians were too busy demonstrating against Aristide or simply scrounging for food—or a raft to Florida—to take part in any festivities.
In 2004, Aristide himself will celebrate the tenth anniversary of Operation Restore Freedom, which returned him to power. Friends of his, like Jesse Jackson and Randall Robinson, had helped pester the Clinton administration into undertaking this intervention. At the time, I pointed out that such an operation was an oxymoron, for how could one “restore” Haitian freedom, when the Haitian people have always been denied such freedom?
Ten years later, despite claims that Operation Restore Freedom was a great foreign policy triumph for the Clinton administration, the failure of Aristide's regime to transform Haiti's profoundly dysfunctional society into a functional one is all too evident. Indeed, if ever there was a case of a country hopelessly dysfunctional, from its civil society to its elected leadership, it is Haiti, which has become an almost perfect example of a society beyond salvation. Its problems are stubbornly rooted in violence and terror, which continue to enjoy mass support.
Aristide's election in 1990 (when he promised to “necklace” his opponents, or burn them alive) is often declared to have been Haiti's first free election, despite the notorious François “Papa Doc” Duvalier's election in 1957. Besides this ongoing democratic charade, since 1994 the Catholic Left in Haiti has destroyed what little remained after two centuries of savagery in the name of social justice and heretical liberation theology.
But Haitian corruption and misery are threats that reach well beyond the borders of Haiti. Washington has proven unable to do anything about Haiti, or even to protect the U.S. against wave after wave of Haitian émigrés coming to Florida. Haiti has also repeatedly invaded—raping, destroying, and stealing as much as possible—today's Dominican Republic, while always managing to remain eras behind it in terms of development.
The U.S. and European Union have suspended aid after the fraudulent 2000 elections that returned Aristide to power. Even Paris and Ottawa now agree with Washington that no more of the $500 million promised to Port-au-Prince in the ebullient days of 1994 should be delivered to Aristide.
Such a decision is absolutely necessary, since Haiti has always pursued the same solution to its problem of ungovernability: deflect blame and ask for money from outsiders. Hence, “You owe us $21,685,135,571.48, screams the bankrupt regime in Port-au-Prince” (London Telegraph, Oct. 10, 2003). This refers to the 90 million francs Haiti alleges it wrongfully had to pay France in 1825 in connection with Haitian crimes under founding father Dessalines as the country fought for independence, including murder, rape, confiscation of property, and similar actions against white French civilians, mostly women and children. That was the amount demanded by Paris in return for granting independence. With good reason, since Jean-Jacques Dessalines's 1805 Constitution clearly stated that “No white man of whatever nation he may be, shall put his foot on this territory with the title of master or proprietor, neither shall he in future acquire any property therein.”
Such racist constitutions in Haiti have since changed, but the behavior of its government has not. The French are right to dismiss this monetary claim, not just because it is extortion, but also because -- due largely to Paris' influence -- the EU has already wasted almost $2 billion on Aristide's thuggish regime. And no matter how much Aristide and his lackeys spend on lobbying in Washington, it appears that even his racialist supporters in the United States are embarrassed by him now.
The Washington Post reported (on November 18, 2003) that, at the 200th anniversary celebration, Aristide told Haitians, “After 200 years of economic violence, the traces of slavery are still here. Poverty today is the result of a 200-year plot. Whether it be slavery or embargo, it's the same plot. You are victims.” Referring to the aid suspensions—-which he calls “economic sanctions”--he said, “We got out of the blockade then, now there's another one. It's the same conspiracy. We won that victory. We can walk toward another victory.”
The undeniable truth is that Aristide is merely the latest incarnation of an uninterrupted chain of murderous tyrants who have ruled Haiti over the centuries. In fact, the country still glorifies the racist Jean-Jacques Dessalines (Emperor Jacques I) as its “founding father.” That a genocidal murderer is the national hero makes perfect sense in Haiti, where Dessalines's assassin, Henri Christophe (King Henry I, 1806-20), is also glorified as a founding father. Although many Haitians excuse Christophe's act as a part of Haiti's independence struggle, it is obvious that Haiti's history of bloodshed, from the lines of succession to the lush fields of the countryside, underpins its current political and social culture.
And the tragic spin of Haiti's history wheel continues. Whereas under Francois Duvalier the sinister “tonton macoute” gangs controlled the population, now it is Aristide's “chiméres” gangs doing the killing and beating. Members are recruited from the worst ghettos. Formed for the purpose of beating up or even murdering opposition, some of these gangs themselves are now considered “opposition.” One famous thug, Amiot Metayer, the alienated leader of a formerly pro-Aristide “community organization" called the “Cannibal Army,” was found dead on a roadside in Gonaives with his eyes shot out. His gang's members blame Aristide.Even a cursory understanding of Haitian history should have taught the Clinton administration that to speak of “Restoring Freedom” in a country that never had it -- or wanted it -- is ridiculous. The real reason for Clinton's intervention was the invasion of Florida by Haitians, an invasion that has not abated and never will, because of the very fact that, by per capita income, Haitians today have only 60 percent of what they did in 1800. “Restore Freedom”? Freedom has not yet dawned upon Haiti's bloodstained shores. To insist Bill Clinton restored freedom insults the meaning of the word itself.
This article was first published by frontpagemag.com and is reprinted with permission.
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Jim Balter - 2/29/2004
``"Mr Smale, you replied:"I do not think any Haitian peasant would think that their liberation from slavery was an insignificant change." And that is probably why they are still trying to acieve it by attempting to sail inner tubes to Florida.''
Achieve what, exactly? Are you equating tyranny with
slavery? You can do so, but such conflations make your
position so tautological as to not be worth pondering.
"As for your contention that the Mosiac Jews fled from slavery is simply wrong. The EARNED their freedom and chose to leave Egypt ..."
This is nefarious equivocation (that it is nefarious
is evident from the fact that you ignored the rest
of Mr. Smale's points of distinction). In context,
"fled" simply means "traveled away from", and that claim
is not wrong, simply or otherwise. Whether they "earned"
or "chose" was not in contention.
John S Kipper - 2/20/2004
Mr Smale, you replied:"I do not think any Haitian peasant would think that their liberation from slavery was an insignificant change." And that is probably why they are still trying to acieve it by attempting to sail inner tubes to Florida.
To suggest that the Haitian revolution against the French sugar magnates ended slavery becuase it displaced the ruling class is patently false, as evidenced by the subsequent history of the trouble country. The revolt ov=bviously just replaced a master of one color with a master of a different color. And the terror increased, how else to describe "collaring," a quaint custom adapted from South Africa--you remember, it involves lighting a gasoline soaked car tire that is placed over the victims' head.
As for your contention that the Mosiac Jews fled from slavery is simply wrong. The EARNED their freedom and chose to leave Egypt in order to find their own place in the world. Their objective was not to destroy the state, but, instead, to lead their own lives. And they succeeded, for good or ill, they eventually founded their own kingdom. ANd the consequences are still with us. But, most importantly, we should take them at their own word, the important thing was to force Pharoah to "let my people go," and indeed he did. Looks like a success to me; the objectives of the oppressed were achieved and they became free, as they defined the word.
[ Reply ]
Robert Smale - 2/18/2004
Dear Mr. Kipper,
To begin let us accept, as you seem to like to do, that the Bible is not a problem free source. That the Jews were actually "enslaved" in Egypt. I personally do not like this approach, as we cannot really know from the Bible what was the actual character of Jewish bondage in Egypt. Was it chattle slavery as existed in Haiti or something else? Were the Jews just a repressed ethnic group? The Bible does not really give enough information to hammer these important points out. But let us pretend and say it was slavery.
What Moses lead was not a slave rebellion of the type that occured in Haiti. Moses led an exodous or flight from "slavery". A successful slave rebellion would have meant the destruction of the Egyptian state and the destruction of the institution of slavery itself. Neither of these things happened. The Jews fled from slavery, they did not destroy it in a rebellion. The Haitians destroyed their masters, destroyed the state that held them in slavery, and destroyed the institution of slavery itself. They then siezed control of their nation. That is a successful slave rebellion.
As for your ignorant dig about the Haitians simply going from one type of despotism to another. I do not think any Haitian peasant would think that their liberation from slavery was an insignificant change.
Dennis William Johnson - 2/18/2004
I thought it was Dessalines who allowed the Polish Legions to stay in Haiti. Riccardo Orizio actually visited their descendants. Maybe he was only racist against the French.
Lost White Tribes : The End of Privilege and the Last Colonials in Sri Lanka, Jamaica, Brazil, Haiti, Namibia, and Guadeloupe, by Riccardo Orizio, Avril Bardoni (Translator)
Poland's Caribbean Tragedy: A Study Of Polish Legions In The Haitian War Of Independence 1802-1803, by Jan Pachonski and Reuel K. Wilson
John S Kipper - 2/16/2004
Mr. Smale, what more evidence do you want than the archeological evidence of the founding of the Jewish state, the written word of the "Bible as history", as interpreted by many religious and secular scholars, conemporary Egyptian confirmation and subsequent verification by other contemporary swubsequent Mediterranean sourdces?
My point was merely to point out that the Haitian experience was not the only successful slave revolt in history. I should now like to amplify that stand by adding, the light of subsequent history, the Haitian experience of over two hundred years of failed government and denied freedom challenges your assertion that the elimination of slavery leads to freedom. Instead, it seems that one despotism (French)has merely led to another (indigenous). I guess that Haitian peasants thank God every day that they are now oppressed by people of the same color.
Robert Smale - 2/15/2004
Dear Mr. Kipper,
Let us try to stick to history that is verifiable using more than one problematic source.
Robert L. Smale
John S Kipper - 2/14/2004
"Haitian revolution is the ONLY SUCCESSFUL SLAVE REVOLT IN HUMAN HISTORY. The destruction of slavery was all about the hunt for freedom."
Of course. Moses failed.
Robert Smale - 2/13/2004
Dear Mr. Radu,
This article reveals more about your own personal bias and racism than it does anything about Haitian history. To hurl the epithet of racism at nineteenth century Haiti is the height of hypocrisy.
You write of "...Haitian crimes under founding father Dessalines as the country fought for independence, including murder, rape, confiscation of property, and similar actions against white French civilians, mostly women and children." Are you forgetting that the great majority of these white French civilians were the slave owners who for decades had turned Haiti into a hell on Earth for African slaves?
Also, after Independence, almost no nation on Earth recognized Haiti as an independent republic because is was a black republic of former slaves. The United States could not recognize Haiti because of the implications of Haiti for the Southern United States--a true seat of racism.
Finally, it is shameless to assert that the people of Haiti do not understand freedom and that they "never had it -- or wanted it". The Haitian revolution is the ONLY SUCCESSFUL SLAVE REVOLT IN HUMAN HISTORY. The destruction of slavery was all about the hunt for freedom.
Robert L. Smale