How to Mock the Past of a People in Shock
By Donya Alinejad
The aftershocks of the earthquake continue to hurt and haunt Haitians. As the nightmare goes on, the estimated death toll has reached 200,000 and the European Commission has estimated that 2 million people are homeless. Emergency aid from all over the world is being mobilized. But news of international aid seems to be reaching us much faster than the aid itself is reaching those who need it.
We hear of Haitian babies being airlifted to America for emergency medical treatment, and of the United States Navy hospital ship, “Comfort,” off the Haitian shore giving care to the worst injured. Meanwhile the stealthy increase in additional troops pledged by the United States will make their military presence in the country 16,000 strong. In the mainstream news this does not signal the latest expansion of American military occupation of Haiti, but is part of a neutral and necessary relief effort. But we can only see it this way when the history of military invasion of this island state by its superpower neighbor is conveniently kept from us.
The United States, the United Nations, France, and other international forces have historically played extremely important roles in keeping the masses of Haiti poor, the infrastructure weak, and the governments incapacitated. The American occupation that followed the US Navy Marine invasion of Haiti in 1915 gave rise to American and French control of banks and the national treasury, and resulted in neglect of public needs. American backing of dictator Papa Doc Duvalier during the Cold War (forming a counterweight to nearby Communist Cuba), and his son after him, blatantly undermined Haitian democracy. The ousting of democratically elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristide by 2 military coups due to his policies of nationalizing enterprises and self-sufficiency (rather than privatizing production according to American interests) makes one thing clear: that Washington will stop at nothing to implement its own plans for neoliberal and militaristic expansion in collusion with the Haitian elite and US-installed puppet governments in Haiti.
Today the Pentagon has full control over the Port-au-Prince airport. This same airport was jammed by military logistics only days after the disaster, resulting in a plane carrying crucial aid to be diverted to the Dominican Republic and delayed 3 days. At the same time we are told that the military presence is necessary because aid providers on the ground are impeded by security threats. This story of the (Black) victims, themselves, posing the main threat to security is the same one that widely circulated media airwaves during relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina. It should make us think.
Let’s not butcher the history of a people who led the first and last successful revolt of Black slaves against their masters in 1804. Lessons from the past point to a pattern of invasion, sanctions, profiteering, and imperialist violence that today continues to intensify the massive scale of destruction in the areas touched by this part-natural disaster.
Journalist in Haiti speaking on American domination of Haiti by West:
Info on first military occupation starting 1915:
US state department’s own documentation of the occupation (meant to “restore order” just like it says it is doing today):
Eyewitness account of US and UN involvement in Haiti following disaster:
Donya Alinejad is a PhD student at the department of Social and Cultural Anthropology (VU University). Read also her earlier post on the Iranian elections in 2009.