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On 2 May 2017 The Boston Globe published an article entitled, “Haiti Should Relinquish its Sovereignty,” written by Richard Albert, a law professor at Boston College. Albert urges Haiti to assign its “sovereignty” to a “majority-white country” like Canada. Black leaders, he implies, are too “narrow” and filled with “self-interest” (his words) to govern other black people. This line of thinking places Albert within a long tradition going back to Haitian independence in 1804 of white supremacist foreign writers, like Joseph Arthur de Gobineau and Spencer St. John, who insisted that Haiti would be better off as a colony. Albert’s argument not only revives this same brand of racism, but betrays his own ignorance of Haitian history and his lack of cultural and self-awareness, particularly, regarding his unjustifiable sense of the detachment of “majority-white” countries from the very situation he describes. As one of Haiti’s earliest historians, Baron de Vastey (1781-1820), reminded his readers in 1818, the country’s “internal problems derive from both exterior and interior political intrigues.”
But all that is misinformed about this self-professed “native” of Quebec’s argument that Haiti should cede its “200 years of independence” to Canada actually begs a larger question: does Haiti have sovereignty in the first place?
Does Haiti have sovereignty in the first place?
While Albert may be unaware of this fact it may interest readers to know that calls for Haiti to return to its former colonial status, have often been heeded. From 1857-1900 the U.S. tried over a dozen times to acquire by force the port of Môle-Saint-Nicolas in northwestern Haiti. In 1914 the National City Bank of New York impounded all of Haiti’s revenue; and the U.S. formally took over the Haitian government by violent military occupation from 1915-1934. Even though this U.S. takeover was couched in language describing it as being for Haiti’s own good, the Caco opposition led by Charlemagne Péralte occasioned more than 3,000 Haitian deaths at the hands of U.S. marines. Thus, the U.S. has done more than merely “engineer” one coup d’état in Haiti. And the solution that Albert now offers as a cure for Haiti’s ills has, in many respects, been the cause of its political problems.
The United States, for example, has been deeply involved in Haitian elections, to the point that we can say, without any hyperbole, that the U.S. has had a hand in installing, undermining, and/or removing Haitian political leaders since at least the 1986 fall of Jean-Claude Duvalier (some might say since the puppet government of Philippe Dartiguenave). Moreover, many of the leaders of the military coup against Haiti’s president Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1991 had CIA training. The CIA also attempted to prevent Aristide from re-assuming office in 1994, despite the UN Security Council’s resolution requiring his return. The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) later blocked aid to Haiti in putative protest of the 2000 elections that once again brought Aristide to the presidency. Aristide’s second presidency was complicated, but the U.S., Canada, and France (whom Aristide had demanded pay Haiti $21 billion dollars in reparations for the 1838 indemnity of 90 million francs that Haiti was forced pay as the price of recognition for sovereignty) did all unite to have Aristide literally removed from the country after the popular uprising that unseated him in February 2004. Aristide’s removal brought on MINUSTAH, the United Nations’ current so-called “stabilization mission in Haiti,” which even Albert owns has been a “disaster,” but I bet all the victims of rape by UN soldiers and those who suffered from the cholera epidemic introduced into Haiti by UN troops, would say it has been nothing less than catastrophic.
So, let’s talk about sovereignty again for a minute. The Oxford English Dictionary defines sovereignty as “A state with a defined territory that administers its own government and is not subject to or dependent on another power.” After what I just described, can we really say that this definition applies to contemporary Haiti? Perhaps we need another word to describe Haiti’s situation: neocolonialism. Kwame Nkrumah defines neocolonialism as “the last stage of imperialism.” “The essence of colonialism is that the State,” Nkrumah writes, “is in theory, independent and has all the outward trappings of international sovereignty. In reality its economic system and its political policy is directed from outside.” Indeed, this very reality is what led Haiti’s best known historian, Michel-Rolph Trouillot, to plainly state that Haiti “represents the longest neocolonial experiment in the history of the West.” By Albert’s own admission, the Haiti of the last 30 years, which is to say, neocolonial Haiti, has resulted in “every part of everyday life” in the country becoming “worse,” “unspeakably awful.” This neocolonial experiment has been by all objective measures terrible for Haiti, which has been time and time again forced to relinquish its sovereignty to the same “majority-white” nations who once systematically enslaved, raped, and otherwise tortured black and indigenous peoples in the very Caribbean archipelago where Haiti sits.
The cure for colonialism is not more colonialism.
What Haiti needs to have the opportunity to return to is sovereignty itself, the sovereignty that Haitians fought and died for during the Haitian Revolution (1791-1804) when they defeated the armies of Spain, England, and France (twice); the sovereignty that Haiti has been prevented from maintaining for the last 150 years by the great “white” powers of Canada, the United States, France, and England. Make no mistake: neocolonialism is a disease. As René Philoctète wrote in his 1975 play Monsieur de Vastey, it is “like Thrombosis, Cirrhosis, Tuberculosis, Arteriosclerosis….The entire clinic, yes.” And in the words of my colleague Laura Wagner, “the cure for colonialism is not more colonialism.”
Photo via @EmbasssyOfHaiti