The Unspoken Colonial Contradiction of Haiti

by Erica Caines and Austin Cole, Hood Communist, Oct. 26, 2023

Since 1804, The Haitian Revolution has been discussed throughout the African world as its personal pride. Described as the largest and most successful slave rebellion in the Western Hemisphere, over the span of 10 years the “first Black republic”, Haiti, challenged colonial powers ending French control eventually winning its independence. 

Haiti’s success had a far-reaching impact, both directly and indirectly, contributing to the broader movement toward freedom, equality, and the end of colonialism and slavery. The success of the Haitian Revolution influenced the leaders of Latin American independence movements receiving support from Haiti, like Simón Bolívar, who saw the possibility of breaking free from colonial rule.  Haiti’s successful revolution weakened the institution of colonialism in the region, contributing to the wider development of nationalistic sentiments in the Americas.

Challenging the prevailing notion of the strength of colonial powers, Haiti is both a pride and joy for the African world and a significant marker in history for the Americas. Yet, it has become increasingly apparent that consideration of Haiti has not gone beyond 1804, evident in how people (mis)understand the present colonial imposition of Haiti. 

 

Haiti and Colonialism 

Today Haiti is suffering from both a crisis of imperialism and the effects of a longstanding history of foreign occupation, placing the country back into a pre-revolution colonial situation, as The Black Alliance For Peace Haiti/ Americas Team has noted. Since 1915, following the murder of Haitian President Jean Vilbrun Guillaume Sam, Haiti’s sovereignty has been placed into question with continuing foreign occupation forces and neocolonial heads of state. 

When the United States invaded Haiti with 300 troops on July 28, 1915, they stayed for 19 years. During that time, the U.S. rewrote the Haitian constitution and installed a puppet president; Wall Street consolidated their near-monopoly control of Haiti’s finances, banking, and industry, and Haitians lived under martial law that mirrored U.S. Jim Crow policies. It was also during that 19 year occupation that the  government of Haiti signed the 1929 treaty of Peace, Perpetual Friendship and Arbitration with the government of the Dominican Republic declaring the borders between the two countries and rights of both nations to use the waters of all the rivers located along the border fairly and equitably. While the foreign occupation of Haiti ended officially in 1934, the presence of that intervention lingered in the training of Haitian officers. 

Foreign occupation of Haiti has been ever-present with western- backed neocolonial leadership, like François Duvalier (Papa Doc) and his son Jean-Claude (Baby Doc), and, more concretely, the UN occupation initiatives: the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) and the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti (BINUH). What signifies the colonization of Haiti today is the presence of and power exerted from The Core Group, a self-styled council consisting of the diplomats of foreign countries with political and economic interests in Haiti and the representatives of a number of multilateral organizations and agencies (including the IMF and World Bank).  

The Core Group was created to coordinate the various branches and elements of the United Nations occupation in Haiti (MINUSTAH) following the U.S. backed ousting of democratically elected President Jean- Bertrand Aristide in 2004.  The Core Group, under the UN Security Council resolution, led to the military invasion and foreign occupation of Haiti.

Although the membership of The Core Group has fluctuated since its initial formation, it currently has nine members: Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Spain, United States, European Union, the Organization of American States, and the United Nations Organization. Significantly, the informal intergovernmental organization has never had a Haitian representative, and often meets without Haitian representation. Remaining as the arbiter of neocolonial, indirect rule of Haiti, the Core Group interferes in the decisions made for Haiti’s socioeconomic and political crises, and democratic practices in the country by installing governing leadership. 

Moreover, its presence in Haiti is based on a basic, racist assumption: that the Haitian people cannot govern themselves, that Haiti is ungovernable, that Haiti needs the paternalistic guidance of foreign powers. It does not matter that Haiti’s democratic ‘failures’ are due to imperialist meddling and destabilization–often by the Core Group’s members. Today, the Core Group and BINUH’s continued occupation of Haiti and the de facto regime that they keep in power are incapable of ensuring healthcare, food, security, and access to basic needs.

 

Haiti and Palestine

Across the internet, Afro- Caribbean sociologist Franz Fanon’s revolutionary work, The Wretched of The Earth, has been cited over the last week to give context to what is happening in occupied Palestine. However, it is the colonial context of occupied Palestine that has placed into question how colonialism is understood in the context of Haiti as well.

Colonialism can be defined as the near total political, economic, and military domination of a peoples (typically an indigenous peoples) and their land by an outside group or state. As Guyanese historian Walter Rodney notes, colonialism as a system by design underdevelops and sabotages the social, political, economic, and cultural systems of the colonized country and people. This is in large part due to the state of ‘unfreedom’ that colonialism leaves the colonized in, without the capacity for self-determination and control of collectives futures – or as Frantz Fanon and Amilcar Cabral both described, the colonized are made into ‘objects of history’ by these systems. 

The situation of Palestine is clearly a colonial one. While many commentators will begin the history of occupied Palestine in 1948, it is critical to understand that the colonial occupation of Palestine by British forces began with the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916 and subsequent capture of the land by British and Allied forces in 1917. In 1922, the “British Mandate” became official, despite the hollow calls for ‘national self-determination’, a dream which we know only applies to European nations.

By this time, Zionism had at least a two-decade long history and the 1917 Balfour declaration, named for the then-British secretary of state for foreign affairs, suggested that Palestine could be a place for Jewish people to escape the white supremacist terrors of Europe. Palestine was later transferred temporarily to colonial oversight by the UN, which then fulfilled the colonial dreams of Zionists, partitioned Palestine, and created the state of “Israel”. 

The establishment of the Zionist colonial entity in occupied Palestine is the result of the application of a settler colonial model to a post-World War II context. In 1948 zionists and the colonial forces of the UN displaced hundreds of thousands of indigenous Palestinians in what’s known as the Nakba, or ‘great catastrophe’, largely because of European guilt for allowing the horrors of the Holocaust. It can not be forgotten that when many countries, like the United States and pre-revolutionary Cuba, turned away fleeing European Jews, Palestinians welcomed many of these refugees, who would later betray that trust and occupy the very homes of Palestinians who had welcomed them. Since then, the Zionist entity has aggressively recruited Jewish settlers to occupy more land, violently displaced more Palestinians, established a Jewish apartheid state, and slowly consolidated nearly-complete political, economic, and military control over the indigenous peoples of occupied Palestine, the West Bank, and Gaza.

This is why calls for a two-state solution ring hollow. With the current colonial situation, any solution that leaves a Zionist state based on the supremacy of Jewish people intact will guarantee ongoing antagonism and underdevelopment for the people of Palestine. Their self-determination and sovereignty cannot be spoken about while their land remains occupied.

This is important and relevant to Haiti for two reasons: first is the recognition that the UN, since its establishment, has aided and abetted ongoing colonization by ‘Western’ powers. Second is that colonial forms have necessarily shifted since World War II, the era of decolonization, and the end of the Cold War. Even in Occupied Palestine, the Zionist entity has had to take great pains to avoid the excesses of previous colonial powers, who did not hesitate to unleash massacres of barbaric scale in the ‘Belgian’ Congo or ‘British’ India and Kenya or ‘French’ Algeria. This is one reason why the current level of bombardment and massacre is so shocking – in the modern era of ‘humanitarianism’ and global governance, colonial powers have been pressured to hide their genocidal intent through more clever means. The mask, it seems, has now been allowed to come off. 

Looking at the current situations in these two countries, on the one had you have Palestine, where the Zionist occupiers have a blockade on Gaza and they control the the flow of food, electricity, and people; where in the West Bank they also reserve the right to restrict movement and brutally police everyday life; where all over Palestine they reserve the right to kill thousands and bomb hospitals, schools, mosques, and churches – all with impunity and with the support of the US and NATO. And then you have Haiti, where there is a less singular colonial oppressor, but where the UN, the US, and the Core Group have nonetheless committed atrocities, killed tens of thousands by bringing cholera to the countrysuppressed wages in favor of profits of foreign firms, been complicit in the mass rape and abuse of Haitian women and children, and implicitly supported the flow of weapons into the hands of the people. While the UN missions have always resulted in violence and death in Haiti, the decades of hiding colonial intent behind humanitarian aims has been jettisoned in favor of a militaristic assault to pacify the country, without even false promises of “development”. None of this mentions the political subterfuge and control that both of these colonial forces have exerted, to deny self-determination and sovereignty at every turn, claiming that the people they rule are ‘savages’ or ‘unfit to govern themselves’.

This white supremacist colonial logic sees some of its most egregious expressions within the UN Security Council, which clearly has no appetite for creating conditions for peace – in the last two weeks it has approved a military intervention in Haiti and multiple times denied support for a humanitarian ceasefire in Palestine, primarily at the bidding of the US. Today, in both Haiti and Palestine, it is increasingly challenging and dangerous to oppose colonialism because of the aggression of the US/NATO and their imperialist axis of domination that knows only rule through military and economic warfare. It is not a surprise to the colonized and oppressed of the world, but at this moment the UN, particularly the UN Security Council, has shown its true intentions as a tool of ‘Western’ imperialist exploitation, which does not consider the rest of the world as equal partners in the project of global governance.

This colonial aggression includes the increasingly maniacal and violent attacks on the popular masses fighting for their self-determination and sovereignty not only in Haiti and Palestine but on the African continent and throughout the Americas as well. Colonial powers have for years used their internal colonies and populations as captive laboratories to develop stronger forms of domination. This is true in Haiti where the Global Fragility Act is being employed to create a new Monroe Doctrine with a global focus. This is true in Palestine where surveillance, weapons, and border control technologies are refined on Palestinians and then exported around the globe – including at the US-Mexico border against Haitian migrants, and against Africans within the US through the GILEE program.

This colonial aggression includes a corporate media apparatus that parrots propaganda and disinformation in places where it serves the interests of the collective ‘West’. The western media runs stories day and night about so-called barbarism of the Palestinian resistance, or speaks derisively about the ‘gang-ridden streets’ of Port-au-Prince, yet is nowhere to be found when the colonized resist and proclaim their humanity, or when the masses in the West rise up in shows of solidarity; they are nowhere to be found when Haitians come together to safeguard their own communities or build a canal to supply themselves with resources. 

This colonial aggression includes the normalizing of the Dominican Republic’s current fascistic and dehumanizing approach to Haiti, Haitians, and Haitian-descendant Dominicans. A host of historical, socio-political, and geographic factors allow the DR to weaponize state forces to remove citizenship rights of Haitians, to grossly exploit Haitian labor to conditions of virtual slavery, and to enforce colonial tactics of controlling the Haitian-born and descendant population,  all without pushback from the ‘Western’ international community. And this is partially because the US, Core Group and imperialist allies have been aided in their colonial plunder of Haiti by that very Dominican government, which works to manufacture consent in the international community for increasingly militaristic and extractivist ends.

Finally, this colonial aggression includes emploring imperialist puppets like Kenya’s President William Ruto, who is leading the force of troops in the military intervention of Haiti after agreeing to a security deal with the US, which will give them $200m for that purpose. This is the same Kenyan government that tramples on the rights of its own citizens and currently stands with “Israel” and their genocidal project.  And it is not just Kenya: troops and police will come from at least 13 other nations as well. As the British and French empires used their colonial subjects to fight in foreign wars, so do the US and UN now employ the people of other nations in the Global South to do their bidding.

To oppose these accelerating aggressions and the genocidal impulses of white supremacist imperialism, it is clear that the frame of anti-colonial struggle must be applied to Haiti. The US, through the US Agency for International Development and National Endowment for Democracy, as Travis Ross describes in his article “As MSS Tries to Subdue Haiti’s Resistance, USAID Will Assemble ‘Civil Society’ Puppets”, has already conscripted some portion of 250 civil society organizations in Haiti to support their efforts at re-occupying the nation. As one Kenyan foreign minister noted in a New York Times interview, they are already preparing for at least a 3-year mission, not the supposed 1-year mission approved by the UNSC. The colonial forces within the US, UN, and NATO know no international law beyond domination and their own interest, and they have no regard for the humanity and lives of the colonized. The anti-colonial movement that proclaims self-determination, sovereignty, and human dignity for all the oppressed people of the world must rise up in support of Haiti and Palestine and many more, to create the new world that wants to emerge.

 

Erica Caines is a poet, writer and organizer in Baltimore and the DMV. She is an organizing committee member of the anti war coalition, the Black Alliance For Peace as well as an outreach member of the Black centered Ujima People’s Progress Party. Caines founded Liberation Through Reading in 2017 as a way to provide Black children with books that represent them and created the extension, a book club entitled Liberation Through Reading BC, to strengthen political education online and in our communities.

 

Posted Oct. 28, 2023