by Guest Contributor Shannon Joyce Prince
In the current edition of Newsweek, President Obama claims to tell Americans why Haiti matters. Unfortunately, his claims reflect the racism, dishonesty, and denials of history that surround the way the “First World” frames Haiti and Haiti’s earthquake. Haiti does indeed matter to a variety of people and entities for reasons both good and ill – but not for the reasons Obama gives in Newsweek.
First, Haiti matters to the American government and American society because it gives us a chance to rewrite history. This tragedy provides us with the opportunity to expiate our crimes and portray ourselves as Haiti’s saviors. Due to America’s and the First World’s extensive financial and media resources, we get to determine the story that is told to the world about Haiti’s past and present. Thus, Obama’s version of the story claims, “… in times of tragedy, the United States of America steps forward and helps. That is who we are. That is what we do. For decades, America’s leadership has been founded in part on the fact that we do not use our power to subjugate others, we use it to lift them up…” However, in terms of our relationship with Haiti (and other non-white or non-Western countries) the opposite is true.
As Randall Robinson pointed out in his works Quitting America and An Unbroken Agony, the U.S. has been sabotaging Haiti ever since the country’s independence. I could write an entire essay on the U.S.’s crimes against Haiti, but I’m just going to give a few of the examples Robinson offers on pages 200 and 201 of Quitting America.
The U.S. sided with France against the slave rebellion that brought Haiti independence. We then destroyed Haiti’s economy by forcing the country to pay 150 million francs in reparations to French slave-owners for their loss of property (slaves.) We occupied Haiti for nineteen years beginning in 1915, re-enslaving Haitians and leasing over 200,000 acres of land to American corporations – land stolen from tens of thousands of peasants. President John F. Kennedy gave military aid to Dictator Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier. We even provided the murderous post-Duvalier National Council of Government with millions in aid.
But the story doesn’t end there. As Paul Street has noted , “A reformist priest named Jean Bertrand Aristide threatened Washington’s vicious neoliberal regime when he won Haiti’s first free election in 1990… Aristide was removed in a U.S.-supported coup in 1991 but returned amidst popular upheaval in 1994. The Clinton White House initially backed the coup regime even more strongly than did George Bush I. Thanks to its rhetoric about ‘democracy’ at home and abroad, the militantly corporate-neoliberal NAFTA-promoting Clinton administration felt compelled to pretend that they backed Aristide’s return to power in 1994. The Clinton Pentagon and State Department delayed that return for two years and made it clear that Aristide’s restoration to nominal power depended upon him promising not to help the poor by offering any further challenges to Washington’s ‘free market’ economics.”
The story continued in 2004 when the U.S. government ousted President Aristide and sent him to the Central African Republic, although as Colin Powell notes, “We did not force him onto the airplane.”  I give this lengthy excerpt from a far lengthier litany of crimes to show that Obama’s claim that America doesn’t use power to subjugate others, but rather to lift them up, is untrue. But while America has overwhelmingly been a negative force towards Haiti, Haiti played key positive roles both in the development of the United States and in the worldwide quest for liberty that is as old as humanity itself. Read the Post Why Haiti Matters: Barack Obama and the Larger Discourse on Haiti [Essay]