Just before the murder of Haitian President Jovenel Moise last July, I was reading the definitive story of the country’s great revolution: “The Black Jacobins” by CLR James. James’ work as an accomplished historian and as a radical inspired many anti-colonial movements of the mid-twentieth century, and his famous subject has not lost its relevance.
The appalling treatment of Haitian migrants by the administration of Joe Biden has already been rightly mentioned in this article. I cannot match the eloquence and sentiment with which a fellow columnist has to put the case of broad asylum, an argument which should convince any reader. Instead, I intend to provide additional history.
The Haitian revolution fought in the last decade of the 18th century, defeated France and Britain, and marked the first successful slave revolt for independence. Directed by Toussaint L’Ouverture, the protagonist of James, he was both inspired by the French Revolution and helped America. Yet it also threatened the imperial order, emerging as a specter of black freedom obtained through violence.
The United States is indebted to Haiti via a depressing historical irony. It was only because Napoleon’s army was so exhausted in Haiti – then in Santo Domingo – that he was willing to cede Louisiana’s purchase territory at such a low price. America has doubled in size.
In a cruel twist, however, the first successful slave uprising led to a massive expansion of slavery. That Thomas Jefferson ignored Thomas Paine’s exhortations not to extend it to new territories in any form counts as one of the big spots on his record.
The United States continued to fail acknowledge Haiti’s independence for nearly six decades. The 20th century brought sustained US imperial efforts to control and exploit it, including the 1915-1934 marine occupation which bring, according to historian Greg Grandin, a system of forced labor reminiscent of slavery.
The American administrations then supported the murderous and authoritarian Duvalier family, who ruled in Haiti from 1957 to 1986. In accordance with the essentials of its Cold War foreign policy, this American complicity deepened Haiti’s suffering.
This story got slightly more complicated in the 1990s with Operation Uphold Democracy. In 1990, Jean-Bertrand Aristide became president in Haiti’s first democratic election in decades. The United States supported these elections, but leftist Aristide did not. In 1991, after having incurred the enmity of the Haitian elites, Aristide was overthrown in a coup by Raul Cedrás and forced into exile.
This episode offers a fascinating lens through which to explore the nuances of the American Empire. The United States did not appreciate Aristide’s reformism and was not initially motivated to uphold the integrity of his election. President Bill Clinton could count on on the general anti-interventionist sentiment that the United States had fostered among its population through previous imperialist enterprises like Somalia to justify a arguably immoral hands-off position.
What became of Operation Uphold Democracy nonetheless revealed, lying fallow, the potential to steer American power in a moral direction.
Recognizing perhaps that there was no “hands-off” option, given that Haiti was essentially an American semi-colony in which the United States intervened almost daily, the Black Caucus of the United States. Congress pressured Clinton to take action. Clinton’s final decision to deploy troops, after repeatedly giving Cedrás the green light, succeeded in putting Aristide back in power.
This unfortunately does not earn him reverence. Given the past history, America’s claims of loyalty to Haitian democracy were spurious at best. The conditions of Aristide’s restoration included coercion into friendly deals by the United States with the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank that crippled Haiti financially, and the CIA even had a leader of the Cedrás death squads on its payroll for information purposes .
Yet the concept of American moral action as atonement for past crimes against other countries remains valid. Perhaps this intervention contained the seeds of such behavior, the most achievable today through unconditional asylum for Haitian refugees.
Alas, instead we are entitled to footage of border patrol agents reconstitute the slave capture system. Haiti is grappling with a series of crises, and Biden has chosen to emulate his predecessor by keep on going the title 42 expulsions he started.
If basic compassion for human suffering is not enough, then this country must understand that granting asylum to Haitians – whether they come from Haiti or from secondary countries like Brazil and Chile – is the least it can do. can do to compensate for his hand in their suffering.
Eddie is a junior at LAS.