Haiti: Don’t Forget

It’s been a week. One week. The Haitian earthquake that likely killed 100,000+ people last week is fading from public consciousness. After a week. American Idol has started back up, after all. One must redirect attention to the important things.

What’s worse is that little is remaining in the minds of most Americans other than “the great USA is sending aid.” Well… if you’re a thinking cog in The Machine. If you’re a nonthinking cog you may have opinions more along these paraphrases of Rush Limbaugh or Pat Robertson: “Haitian aid was a racist political ploy of Obama” or “Haitians got what they deserved because they made a deal with the Devil.” On a side note, I thought deals with the devil resulted in good things on this Earth in exchange for perpetual torture after death. Then again, any attempt to try to make sense of modern religion is an exercise in the absurd. But this is not an essay on religion.

This is an essay on Haiti – and on the United States’ relationship with Haiti.

Where to begin? Let’s start with this: Haiti is the second oldest republic in the Western Hemisphere, after the US. It won it’s independence in 1804 via a successful slave revolution. It is the only country in the Western Hemisphere to undergo a successful slave revolution. Upon shedding its French shackles, Haiti assisted other Latin and South American countries in their struggles for independence. Haiti was instrumental in assisting Simon Bolivar, the liberator, in gaining independence from Spain for South America and Haiti secured a promise from him that he would liberate their slaves following independence from Spain.

Obviously, the whole anti-slavery thing was not something viewed fondly by the United States – particularly the southern states. The United States only recognized Haiti as a country in 1862, after many southern states had seceded from the union. We literally denied the country’s existence for 58 years because we were on the side of slavery.

Haiti began a path to independent development. This ended in 1911. German population in Haiti was around 200; however, they controlled about 80% of Haiti’s commerce. The German controlled economy was giving high-interest loans to opposing political factions. In other words, they were exploiting Haiti. The United States felt that Germany had too much influence in Haiti. The US State Department backed a takeover of the central Haitian bank by the National City Bank of New York (now known as CitiBank).

Haiti went through five presidents in the five years between 1911-1915. The second to last was Vilbrun Guillaume Sam. Sam was liked by the US. Sam was opposed by Rosalvo Bobo who opposed the government’s expanded commercial and strategic ties with the United States. Fearing that the Haitian public was on Bobo’s side, he executed 167 political prisoners, including former president Zamor. Among those executed were a large chunk of the educated and wealthy class. The Haitian population again rose up to overthrow their government. Sam fled to the French embassy; however he was hunted down by the populace and torn into shreds. Pieces of his body were paraded through the streets.

So, hooray for another successful popular revolution? Haiti can go back to being the productive country it once was? Bobo would rise to power? Not so fast. News of the turn of events in Haiti reached the US Navy anchored in the capital’s harbor and was relayed to Washington DC. US president Woodrow Wilson, responding to complaints from American banks to which Haiti was in debt, ordered American troops to sieze the capital. The US occupied the country for the next 19 years.