Thursday, January 14, 2010

Haiti, a brief history

When I was living in upstate NY in the 70s, I owned a frame shop and gallery. One of my customers was a former USAID worker - her husband was a former Haitian consulate officer. They beat it out of Haiti a couple hours before Papa Doc's thugs, the Tonton Macoutes, arrived at their home in Haiti with submachine guns and burned it to the ground.

One of the few possessions she she was able to bring from Haiti was a pane of glass from one of the windows in their home that her husband had engraved with an original poem he'd written for her.

My friend, Eva, through her contacts in Haiti, brought paintings by Haitian folk artists into the US. We framed them, she showed them and, when they sold, she sent the profits back to Haiti. She grew and sold the most beautiful shallots in her garden in the hills of upstate New York, too - those profits went back to Haiti as well.

When the people Haiti prevailed in the only successful slave revolt in history, they were forced to pay reparations to France for their independence. The reparations were draconian and, eventually Haiti began to default on payments. A number of countries came to the rescue ... with high interest loans, high enough that for a time Haiti was making loan payments equal to fully 80% of the nations GDP.

And then there were François "Papa Doc" Duvalier and his son, Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier, Haiti's "Presidents for Life" who raped what was left of the nations treasures and killed it's people with impunity ... kept in power by their secret police, the Tonton Macoutes. But they were vigorously anti-communist, a factor that, in the time of Castro, allowed American foreign policy to turn a blind eye to the plight of the Haitian people.

From Wikipedia:
In December 1990, the former priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide won the election by more than two thirds of the vote. His mandate began on 7 February 1991. In August 1991, Jean-Bertrand Aristide's government faced a non-confidence vote within the Haitian Chamber of Deputies and Senate. Eighty three voted against him, while only 11 members voted in support of Aristide's government. Following a coup d'etat in September 1991, President Aristide was flown into exile. In accordance with Article 149 of Haiti's Constitution of 1987, Supreme Court Justice Joseph Nerette was named Provisional President and elections were called for December 1991. These were blocked by the international community and the resulting chaos extended into 1994.

In 1994, Haitian General Raoul Cédras asked former U.S. President Jimmy Carter to help avoid a U.S. military invasion of Haiti. President Carter relayed this information to President Clinton, who asked Carter, in his role as founder of The Carter Center, to undertake a mission to Haiti with Senator Sam Nunn, D-GA, and former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Colin Powell. The team successfully negotiated the departure of Haiti's military leaders and the peaceful entry of U.S. forces under Operation Uphold Democracy, paving the way for the restoration of Jean-Bertrand Aristide as president. Aristide left the presidency in 1995.

In the over two centuries of Haiti's independence there has hardly been a day the country hasn't been subjected to the international or domestic plunder of its resources. The current crisis is only the latest and most visible disaster in their history.

For a more detailed history of Haiti between 1990 and the present, click here.

From American foreign policy point of view, Haiti has only two small problems. 1.) The people are black and 2.) they don't have any oil. From that policy standpoint, if they could only overcome those two small problems, we'd be more than happy to be supportive in normal times. But, until then ....

My friend Eva and her husband passed away many years ago, but I will always remember them, the paintings .... and the shallots.

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