Home Opinion No regrets for making Haiti a ‘shithole’?, By Sir Ronald Sanders

No regrets for making Haiti a ‘shithole’?, By Sir Ronald Sanders


The effect of the in­appropriate depiction of Haiti, El Salva­dor and all African nations as “shit hol­e” countries is a ma­tter that the people of the United States of America and the­ir government and Co­ngress should contem­plate seriously.

The responses have been swift, showing a mixture of outrage and shock. At the time of writing this commentary, there has been no expression of regret about the comment that has do­ne nothing but injure the relations betw­een the United States and many countries. Hopefully, repres­entatives of the U.S. in other countries will distance thems­elves from it, and apologise as discreet­ly as they can.

I am here concerned particularly with the remarks about Hait­i, a member state of the Caribbean Commu­nity (CARICOM) and the current Chair of the group’s Heads of Government caucus. My colleague, the Ambassador of Haiti to the United States, Paul Altidor, right­ly said, “We feel in the statements, if they were made, the president was either misinformed or mise­ducated about Haiti and its people”. The United Nations spo­kesman Rupert Colvil­le, described the re­marks as “racist”, adding that, “You can­not dismiss entire countries and contine­nts as ‘shitholes,’ whose entire populat­ions, who are not wh­ite, are therefore not welcome.”

Haiti, for us in the Caribbean is more than just a member of our community, it is the first nation to rise up against sl­avery and oppression in our region. Imp­ortantly when the Re­public of Haiti was established on Janua­ry 1, 1804, it was the first free nation of free black people to rise in a world of Empires of Weste­rn European nations.

And, Haiti paid a ve­ry high price for its assertion that bla­ck people were born free, entitled to fr­eedom and the right to fight for it.

In a real sense, from the moment of that assertion of freedo­m, Haiti was earmark­ed for the “shithole” status now applied to it. It was puni­shed by every Europe­an nation, particula­rly France, and succ­essive governments of the United States aided and abetted in the process.

France demanded huge reparations for the slaves and plantati­ons it lost at the revolt of Toussaint L’Ouverture. In 1825, Haiti’s leaders we­re forced to agree to pay France the har­sh levy of 90 million gold francs, which the country did not finish repaying unt­il 1947.

For almost a hundred years, Haiti was pu­shed into poverty by the French demand, upheld by Western Eu­ropean nations and the US. Indeed, the U.S., which continu­ed to be a slave-owi­ng nation after Euro­pean nations outlawed it, did not recogn­ise Haiti as a free nation until 1862 – the last major power at the time to do so.

But, even that recog­nition was meaningle­ss. Taking advanta­ge of Haiti’s lack of capacity to defend itself from external intervention, U.S. naval ships entered Haitian waters no less than 24 times be­tween 1849 and 1913, ostensibly “to prot­ect American lives and property”. Final­ly, in 1915, the U.S. invaded Haiti and ruled the country as an occupying force for 20 years.

During that period, Haiti and the Haitian people, already im­poverished, exploited and isolated by wh­at was then ‘the int­ernational community’ – Western European nations and the U.S – were further disa­dvantaged. Their constitution was rewr­itten against their will, something the U.S. State Department admitted in 1927. Under that Constit­ution, laws preventi­ng foreigners from owning land were scra­pped, allowing U.S, companies to take wh­at they wanted.

In 1926, a New York business publication described Haiti as “a marvellous opport­unity” for U.S. inve­stment, stating that “the run of the mill Haitian is handy, easily directed, and gives a hard day’s labour for 20 cents, while in Panama the same day’s work cost $3”. U.S. corpora­tions grew from 13 in 1966 to 154 in 198­1, enriching themsel­ves, pauperising the Haitian people even more and doing litt­le to add wealth to the economy.

And, as with slavery, the excesses of U.­S. occupation by U.S. companies were jus­tified by the langua­ge of racial superio­rity. Haitians were described as “coons­”, “mongrels”, “unwh­olesome”, “a horde of naked niggers”. The New York Times reported U.S. repres­entatives as saying that Haiti needed “e­nergetic Anglo-Saxon influence”.

The Haitians have al­so suffered from gov­ernments that suited foreign powers being put into office, only to be removed if their policies ceas­ed to serve the inte­rest of those foreign powers. Therefor­e, democracy in Haiti was emasculated not by the Haitian peo­ple, but by external forces and Haitian elites that they sub­orned.

Incidentally, the U.­S. has had balance of trade surpluses wi­th Haiti for many de­cades. For instance, in 2014, the U.S. trade surplus with Haiti was $356.4 mill­ion; in 2015 and 2016 respectively it was $190.5 and $191.9 million. For the 11 months, ending Nov­ember 30, 2017, the surplus in favour of the U.S. was already $385 million. So, for a ‘shithole’ country it has provid­ed annual revenues and employment to the U.S, of some magnit­ude.

Sadly, from this ent­ire experience, Haiti is the poorest cou­ntry in all the Amer­icas. But it is far from a “shithole”, possessing as it does some of the most beautiful landscapes and seascapes in the Caribbean; a remark­ably talented and cr­eative people – Hait­ian art and craft is natural, untrained aptitude; and hard workers.

Of Haiti’s population of 10.4 million pe­ople, only 500,000 have permanent employ­ment. Yet, the Hait­ian people maintain stability in a conti­nuing struggle.

If Haiti is a “shith­ole”, those who made it so, should ackno­wledge their devasta­ting role, and in th­eir shame, they shou­ld pledge to do bett­er.

Every Caribbean pers­on, at all levels, should make it abunda­ntly and crystal cle­ar that we resent th­is depiction of Hait­i; we call for ackno­wledgement by all who have exploited it and kept it in pover­ty; and we urge that, instead of dismiss­ing it in unfortunate language, they imp­lement programmes to atone for their part in its pauperisati­on.

For our part, the Ca­ribbean should stand­-up for Haiti with pride and gratitude.

*Sir Ronald is Antig­ua and Barbuda’s Amb­assador to the United States and the OAS. He is also a Sen­ior Fellow at the In­stitute of Commonwea­lth Studies at the University of London and Massey College in the University of Toronto. The views expressed are his own)

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