1. AN EMBARRASSING PRESENCE
Jean-Claude Bajeux is director of the Ecumenical Center for Human Rights in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and one of the leaders of the political party Konakom. He and his family left Haiti in October 1993 after their house was attacked by members of FRAPH, and he has recently returned.
Haiti, with its seven million people inhabiting 28,000 square kilometers, two hours by plane from Miami, may seem to have taken on disproportionate significance in American public opinion and in the concerns of American leaders. But, of course, that is nothing new. As far back as 1828, when the first Pan-American congress was convened in Panama, pressure from the United States succeeded in barring the participation of Haiti, the world’s first black republic, which had been created in 1804 out of a triumphant slave revolt against Napoleon’s armies. And between 1915 and 1934, Haiti was occupied by American Marines.
Contrary to the recent claims of Ross Perot, the goal of that American occupation was not to import democracy. Rather, it was to defend the interests of the First National City Bank, to gain managerial control over the Haitian budget, and to supplant the German and French interests which were strong in Haiti at the time. All of these aims were achieved, and Haiti in those years became totally dependent on the United States for its imports as well as its exports.
Still more recently, from as early as 1920, after having supplied the sugar industries of Cuba and the Dominican Republic with an army of cane cutters, the Haitian exodus shifted toward wherever work was to be had: the Bahamas, Canada, the French West Indies, French Guyana, and, of course, the United States.
Six months after young Jean-Claude Duvalier, then age nineteen, proclaimed himself—with the State Department’s acceptance—President for Life in 1971, the first “boat people” arrived in Miami; since then, successive waves of Haitians amounting to several hundred thousand people have embarked for the United States. It is the Haitian peasantry that has been taking flight—both the peasantry of the countryside and the peasants who have become the jobless, landless, and homeless of Haiti’s urban areas. Here we have one of the symptoms of a malaise that goes beyond the coup d’état of September 30, 1991, or the question of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s return. When a Haitian peasant sells his land in order to leave his country for good, it is a sign that he’s recognized failure—the failure of Haitian society, the failure of a state that has proved itself incapable of assuring its citizens even a minimum of safety and well-being.
It is impossible to understand the events in Haiti without taking account of this deep failure. One must try to identify the mechanisms behind the crisis that has finally led to a therapeutic military intervention in the affairs of the second independent nation in the hemisphere. It is an intervention desired and demanded by the mass of Haitian people, who have welcomed the soldiers of…
This is exclusive content for subscribers only.
Try two months of unlimited access to The New York Review for just $1 a month.
Continue reading this article, and thousands more from our complete 55+ year archive, for the low introductory rate of just $1 a month.