Haiti: Reparations and reconstruction

Published on Pambazuka News, by Horace Campbell, May 19, 2011.


For two hundred years the peoples of Haiti have been struggling to reconstruct their society. Before the Haitian revolution of 1791-1804 could be consolidated, the French and other imperial powers worked to isolate the revolution for fear that the ideas of freedom would be contagious and spread. But they could not turn the tide of freedom. Failing to stem the idea that the African enslaved wanted freedom, the government and political leaders of France demanded reparations from Haiti, thus distorting the essence and meaning of reparative justice for 100 years. 

Despite this, the fears of the imperial west that the Haitian Revolution would inspire other slaves in Latin America, the Caribbean and the United States came to fruition. Haiti played its role of supporting freedom and independence throughout the region. Simon Bolivar and other revolutionaries from Latin America flocked to seek assistance from Haiti. Every act of freedom by Haiti scared the imperial powers; these powers slowly consolidated the ideas of capitalist exploitation and white supremacy so that these racist ideologies of the 19th and 20th centuries began to take root in Europe and North America.

United States revolutionaries, such as Thomas Jefferson, who internalised chauvinistic ideas about European and male superiority opposed the reconstruction of Haiti and refused to recognise the independence of Haiti. It was only after the bloody US Civil War (1861-1865), when the enslaved in the United States won their freedom that the US government recognised Haiti. This diplomatic recognition was followed by the destruction of the capacity for the Haitians to reconstruct their society. Western bankers, financiers and merchants and Jim Crow architects worked with a small clique inside of Haiti to frustrate efforts for reconstruction. To guarantee that reconstruction did not take place the bankers, financiers and the militarists organised a military occupation of Haiti (1915-1934). This occupation by the US, supported by France and Canada, laid the foundations for brutal militarism to contain the spirit of the people of Haiti. In the book, ‘Haiti: The Breached Citadel’, author Patrick Bellgrade Smith brings to life the epic struggles of the Haitians to be independent and how the forms of peasant agriculture gave them social solidarity outside of the urban centres where the évolué aped France … //

… Here was a firm basis for reparations and reconstruction.

Neither France nor the United States took these deliberations lightly. It was a historical coincidence that the attack on the US, 11 September 2011, took place two days after the end of the WCAR in Durban. Since that time the resolutions of the meeting were squashed as the world was diverted to the global war on terror. Inside Haiti, the forces of destruction unleashed terror against the peoples of Haiti. When the US invaded Iraq in March 2003, France and the US were at loggerheads. However, when it came to the destabilisation of Haiti, they were in agreement. The president, Aristide was removed from power and another form of occupation took place. Only this time, the French and the USA sought the cover of the United Nations with the installation of MINUSTAH. This devise of hiding behind the United Nations necessitated clarity on the part of the forces opposed to imperial domination. The Caribbean societies and the South Africans rejected the propaganda war against Haiti. Brazil and Venezuela gestured towards the progressive camp but allowed their troops to be caught to in the UN and NGO occupation.

Whatever the conditions of Haiti before the major event of January 2010, there was need for clarity; forces such as Patrick Gaspard, executive director of the Democratic National Committee, who served as director of the Office of Political Affairs for the Obama administration from January 2009 to 2011, and Paul Farmer, world-renowned doctor, had to emerge from the shadows to join the required fight back against the recolonisation and remilitarisation of Haiti.


International divisions over the future paths of Haiti simmered as disaster and rubble were reinforced by a massive cholera outbreak. The strain of this cholera was foreign to the Caribbean and instead of seriously investigating, the UN mobilised the international media to demonise the people of Haiti. It was in the midst of these multiple catastrophes that the US form of democracy without elections was imposed on the people of Haiti. The elections were held in November 2010 after the US disenfranchised the majority of Haitians by denying the participation of the Lavalas in the elections. Two candidates who between them received 11 per cent of the vote were nominated for the second round of the elections in March 2011.

The Clintons worked overtime to ensure that there was media support for this illegitimate process. Hilary Clinton, the US secretary of state left dealing with the smouldering revolution in Egypt to fly to Haiti to bully the government to accept a fraudulent process. President René Préval of Haiti was promised the same treatment of ouster like that which deposed Aristide if he did not accept the pressure to sanction the illegitimate procedure. In the midst of this farce of preparing for the runoff, the exiled Baby Doc Duvalier returned to Haiti. In a democratic society, Duvalier would have been arrested for the criminal actions and it was significant that there were no drumbeats for his arrest from the western media. Baby Doc is a criminal and pressures must be intensified so that he is brought to trial in Haiti.

Pressures on the people of Haiti did not deter them and they continued to organise. It was this grassroots organisation and pressure that enabled Bertrand Aristide to return. Reports coming out from the grassroots organisation in the country showed that the people were not cowed. Norman Girvan, professor Emeritus of the University of the West Indies, who attended and participated in one such meeting in Haiti, reported on the vibrancy of the grassroots social movements inside Haiti and their call for international solidarity. Girvan reported that approximately one hundred representatives of social organisations from throughout the country – including farmers, women, labour, students, human rights, and professionals – concluded three days of intense debate about the kind of Haiti they want to see, the obstacles they face, and the nature of the financing they need. According to Norman Girvan,

‘Among other conclusions, they agreed on an agenda for collective action that includes creating a permanent Assembly of Social Movements, campaigning for the non-renewal of the Interim Commission for the Reconstruction of Haiti – a veritable parallel government set up a year ago under the tutelage of the U.S., World Bank, IDB and other so-called “international donors”, and reinforcing a regional campaign for the withdrawal of the MINUSTAH military occupation.’
I am in support of the calls from within Haiti for a new path to reconstruction that begins with the people of Haiti.

The installation of Michel Martelly as president of Haiti on May 14 demanded that the left and progressive forces internationally organise to expose and oppose the forces of violence and destruction inside Haiti. The process that brought Martelly to the presidency was a sham, and this farce will force popular forces to distinguish between processes of democratisation and pseudo-elections without democratic participation.

The constellation of class and military forces fighting to oppose reparations and reconstruction in Haiti are the same constellation of forces that hid behind the view that Haiti is cursed. The majesty of the Haitian revolution continues to inspire new forces as we enter a new revolutionary moment. The events of the current revolutionary moment in world politics demand that Haitians and all those in solidarity with Haiti cannot give up on Haiti. I am in agreement with C.L.R James that the people of Haiti and the people of the Caribbean will move again and when they move they will shock the world. (full long text).

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