Upholding Haitian Dignity: On Briefly Contextualizing the Ongoing Crisis in Haiti, Part Two
Foreign Interventions and Their Effects
Having detailed, in Part One, major events that led to Haiti’s founding, this section, or Part Two, traces how Haiti has visibly suffered at the hands of foreign powers.
Discussion topics will include: (1) the state-sponsored extortion of Haitian treasury funds, by France and the U.S.; (2) the systematic, if not genocidal, killing of Haitians in Napoleonic gas chambers —decades before Adolf Hitler’s mass gassing of Jews in Europe as well as America’s penal use of gas chambers; (3) a U.S. attempt at deporting African-Americans to Haitian territory, during the American Civil War; along with (4) the Dominican Republic’s (D.R.) mass killing, denationalization, and deportation of hundreds of thousands of Haitian-Dominicans and immigrant Haitians.
In continuing to discuss post-1804 Haiti, two remarkable 19th century events, carried out by France and the U.S., threatened to topple the country’s sovereignty.
In 1825, 21 years after Haiti’s Declaration of Independence, French leaders succeeded at extorting the Caribbean country.
This was not long after Haiti had managed to reunite its republican and monarchical halves, namely its northern kingdom and southern republic (which had meaningfully contributed to the decolonization, or freeing, efforts of other Latin-American countries).
Using more than a dozen deployed warships, French naval officers threatened unbridled violence. In exchange for peace, and the respect of Haitian sovereignty, monarchic France demanded, in line with an ordinance from reactionary French King Charles X, that Haiti pay the still-existing “investment arm” of France, Caisse des Dépots et Consignations (“Deposits and Consignments Fund”), 150 million francs.
Given Haiti’s significant struggles in paying off that amount, France later reduced its demand to 90 million francs, down by 40%. And to pay France this lower amount by 1883, Haiti had to take out huge interest-bearing loans from French banks and other sources that added up to 166 million francs, the equivalent of more than 10 years of Haitian governmental revenue at the time.
In the end, to pay off French extortion and loan interests, referred to as the “double French debt,” Haiti took a grand total of 122 years, or until 1947.
In furtherance of their militarily-enforced extortion, French authorities proclaimed that Haiti owed its former colonizer compensation for the loss of property interest that French colonists, as well as the Royal House of Bourbon and French First Republic, formerly held in Afro-Haitian slaves and plantations.
Strikingly, France went on to exact tribute, or restitution, from Haiti —despite France’s systematic, and arguably genocidal, killing of thousands of Afro-Haitians, under the leadership of First Consul Napoleon Bonaparte.
Claude Ribbe, a “normalien,” or graduate of internationally-revered and centuries-old French university École Normale Supérieure (Paris) and author of at least 12 published books, has drawn on the works of various scholars in making this significant point, thus unearthing French racism, opportunism, and cruelty.
Ribbe’s point is worth additional emphasis not only because of its relevance, in buttressing the claim made regarding French systematic killing of Haitians, but also in light of France’s denial and institutionalization of myths about the country’s ugly past and its racist present.
Despite partial dismissal from some sectors of French society, Ribbe’s work has received solid support from some French institutions, in pushing forward what could be regarded as an eye-opening thesis.
By drawing on the works of Haitian historians Antoine Métral and Thomas Madiou, the latter of whom composed a seminal work on Haitian literature and history, as well as leading French abolitionist writer and Second Republic politician Victor Schœlcher, Ribbe made his case that Napoleonic France succeeded at systematically killing large numbers of Afro-Haitians.
In countering Ribbe’s point that French killings of Afro-Haitian slaves, and other Blacks, amounted to genocidal, and thus systematic and racially-motivated, killing, critics have responded in one of two ways.
In one camp have stood those who have resorted to relying on points that are shored up by contempt, denial, mockery, or borderline racist insinuations. For instance, in writing for Fondation Napoléon, a non-profit organization founded to support Napoleonic heritage, French historian Pierre Branda maintained that part of Ribbe’s work is supported by two Haitians and a French national who was a fervent opponent of Bonaparte’s nephew, Napoleon III. While Branda elaborated upon his French compatriot’s literary achievements, Branda shed no light on the fact that one of the Haitians, on whom Ribbe has relied for argumentative support, has penned a distinctly authoritative, multi-volume work on Haiti’s history.
While, on its own, this omission is a simple snub, when compounded with other contextual clues and more serious affronts, Branda’s tone suggests that the historian held Ribbe’s work in considerable contempt.
More importantly, and in the second camp, one finds works that have made serious, and relevant, concessions, despite disagreeing with Ribbe. For instance, Australian History Professor Philip Dwyer concedes that Ribbe’s portrayal of French cruelty, inflicted upon colonized Haitians, “is certainly justified.”
According to Dwyer, French colonial atrocities included (1) “the use of dogs” trained to eat Black flesh; (2) “suffocation of slaves on prison boats – called étouffoirs – through the use of sulphur dioxide;” (3) “mass deportations and imprisonment;” and (4) “decapitations, shootings, and mass drownings.”
Dwyer’s disagreement with Ribbe, however, mainly concerns Napoleon’s supposed motive, writing that Napoleon acted to suppress opposition, and not because he, the racist French leader, was possessed by a racial ideology that paralleled that of Hitler.
Going past Dwyer’s acknowledgement and description of French cruelty, however, Marlene L. Daut, a self-described “Black woman of Haitian descent and a scholar of French colonialism,” writes in French that Napoleon and his generals used language that revealed genocidal intentions.
According to Daut, in October 1802, French Army General Charles Victor-Emmanuel Leclerc wrote to Napoleon, telling the First Consul that, for France to keep colonial control of Haiti, it was necessary “to destroy all the negroes of the mountains, men and women, to keep only the children [under] 12 years old, to destroy half of those of the plain ….”
Also, upon Leclerc’s death from virus-caused, and mosquito-carried, yellow fever, and attendant headaches, jaundice, muscle pain (or myalgia), and vomiting, Leclerc’s replacement, General Donatien-Marie-Joseph de Rochambeau, maintained that all Blacks over 12 years old had to be put to death.
Rochambeau used the word “extermination” specifically, in speaking of, as well as heeding to, the orders of Napoleon, “an icon of White supremacy,” who wanted to “destroy the government of the blacks.”
Having relied on independent sources, Ribbe’s book-length thesis, Dwyer’s article, and Daut’s documented interview, to establish that Napoleon used sulfur dioxide to mass murder pre-Independence Afro-Haitians, this piece will continue, in chronological fashion, to detail other harms that Haitians have faced at the hands of foreign powers.
Attempted American Recolonization
In addition to the almost ruinous effects of French extortion, preceded by the colonial gassing of its people, Haiti faced territorial encroachment from the U.S.
In 1862, 58 years after independence and almost 40 years since Haiti had started paying France, the U.S. decided, very conveniently, to change its mind.
After the American Civil War had begun, the U.S. officially recognized the success of Haiti’s hard-won Revolution, which had claimed the lives of at least 200,000, and more likely 350,000, Black Afro-Haitians, as well as 75,000 White French colonists.
And America did this in pursuit of not only increased commercial ties with Haiti but also in search of a way to solve America’s “race problem.” In a crucial, and contextual, vein, it is worth also noting that, around this time, America was hemorrhaging hundreds of millions of dollars in losses, stemming from its Civil War, and thus hankered for profits from any potential commerce with outside powers.
In a similar, problem-solving frame of mind, doing away with America’s race woes entailed, for Lincoln, convincing African-Americans —numbering, at the time, roughly four million (or 14%) out of 32 million Americans —to leave their place of birth, to either expand American influence across the Caribbean or create an all-White America.
In pursuit of his expansionist, or purge-oriented, ambition, President Lincoln, the reputed Great Emancipator, devised a daring plan with backing from speculator Bernard Kock and Wall Street financiers. At its core, aimed at recolonizing a part of Haiti, this scheme entailed transporting Black Americans, by ship, from U.S. soil to Île-à-Vache (“Cow’s Island”): an eight-mile-long, and two-mile-wide, isle off the southwestern coast of mainland Haiti.
Ultimately, Lincoln’s recolonization hopes for Haiti-bound Black Americans did not come to fruition, as acknowledged even by Lincoln’s fiercest defenders. An outbreak of smallpox, a disfiguring, highly contagious, and often deadly disease, along with logistical disputes, interfered and forced the U.S. Navy to rescue close to 400 African-Americans off Haitian shores, after some delay.
Out of the 453 Black Americans and would-be settlers who had left Virginia in 1863, at least 25 had died from smallpox (distinct from chickenpox), while others had succumbed to other serious medical problems.
Two years after their arrival on Haitian shores, corruption, exposure, and a no-work-no-rations policy imposed by Kock had brought 350 Black men and women back to America, arriving at Alexandria, VA. And these formerly-stranded, and likely traumatized, Black Americans appeared homesick and depressed, according to a physicianwho would later examine them.
Haiti’s troubles, at the hands of America, and other foreign powers, continued into the 20th century.
In 1915, under the leadership of President Woodrow Wilson, the U.S. invaded Haiti, killing thousands of Haitiansthroughout America’s 19-year occupation of the country.
American occupation of Haiti started out of America’s fear of a rising German influence in Haiti and less than a year after American bankers had convinced U.S. leadership to seize Haiti’s gold reserve —worth millions in contemporary terms —presumably to secure, or provide collateral for, American debt that Haiti had incurred in having had to finance its French-imposed independence debt.
In 1919, the National City Bank of New York, rebranded these days as Citibank, intensified American financial control, with Citi acquiring a controlling interest in Haiti’s central bank, the Republic of Haiti National Bank (now Bank of the Republic of Haiti).
By 1922, this hostile acquisition allowed Citi to own all of Haiti’s presumed and unsettled debts, previously held by French banks.
Also, though U.S. occupation would officially end in 1934, Haitian finances, as managed by the Fiscal Department of the American-controlled Republic of Haiti National Bank, were not free from American control until 1947.
At a fundamental level, U.S. occupation of Haitian soil harmed Haiti in several ways.
First, and to reemphasize, the American occupation caused the death of thousands of Haitian citizens. According to a scholarly source, “The racism of the US Marines … has been presented as a factor in the indiscriminate killings of n**gers who pretend to speak French (in the words of a US general).” Rum-drunk U.S. marines held Haitian lives in so little regard that they even bragged to African-American writer and civil rights leader, James Weldon Johnson, about their having tortured and executed Haitians, while Johnson was visiting Haiti in 1920.
The outright racism to which Haitians had found themselves exposed was confined neither to Haiti and nor within the ranks of the Marines.
The blatant, Haitian-directed, and anti-Black racism expressed during America’s occupation of Haiti also squared with White Americans’ more generally racist attitudes. For example, when some Haitians complained about the presence of American fleet USS Philadelphia, some years before U.S. invasion of Haiti, the New York Timesmocked these Haitians for having “semi-barbaric minds” that saw in the fleet “a threat of violence.”
Second, the U.S. occupation also deprived Haiti of the self-determination and time-sensitive non-interruption it needed to create and nourish its homegrown institutions.
U.S. Backing of the Duvalier Regime
Duvalier Corruption and “Brain Drain”
In addition to the above-inflicted harms, from 1957 until 1986, the U.S. backed François and Jean-Claude Duvalier, a despotic, ruthless, and mass-killing father-son duo, in order to stop Haiti from embracing Communism.
And the U.S. supported the Duvalier dictatorships at a time when hundreds of Haitians were brutally losing their lives and freedoms, and Haiti was incurring major debt brought about by the wasteful spending of these corrupt,unrepentant and entitled, leaders.
The U.S.-backed Duvalier dictatorships also contributed to Haiti’s “brain drain,” as Haitian migration to the U.S. sharply increased post-1986.
While François and Jean-Claude were in power, thousands of Haitians fled Haiti for fear of dying at the hands of the Tonton Makout (Haitian Creole for “bogeymen”): a paramilitary special operations unit charged with committing systematic violence against political opponents.
Dany, a now highly-celebrated novelist and distinguished French-language grammarian, as well as ex-journalist and -janitor, fled Haiti for Canada in the late 1970’s, in search of security, after the Tonton Makout had decapitatedhis friend.
Dominican Denationalization and Deportations
Many of the Haitians migrating out of Haiti in the late 1980’s traveled to the D.R., Haiti’s adjoining, eastern neighbor.
Nearly 30 years later, after having lived through and dealt with intense “Antihaitianismo” (Spanish for “anti-Haitianism”), to assimilate into Dominican society, as many as 300,000 Dominicans of Haitian descent were dealt a cruel and devastating setback.
Through applying a legal ruling (“Sentencia TC/0168/13”) retroactively, to the year 1929, the D.R.’s Constitutional Court handed down a decision that uprooted many lives —using a lengthy, and forgivably error-laced, judgment written by 13 justices (or high-level judges).
In reaching this “majority opinion,” joined by most of the deciding justices, the Court cited what it believed were applicable Dominican laws. For instance, as shown in the opinion’s English translation (provided by the non-profit Haitian American Lawyers Association of New York), the Court mapped out its consideration, and interpretation, of various Dominican statutes, regulations, and supreme law, including at least 32 of the D.R.’s 39 Constitutions.
The Court also provided two justices’ dissenting opinions, explaining these judges’ joint, and separately-explained, disagreement with the “ratio decidendi,” or foundational rule, of the majority’s ruling and interpretation of constitutional text from 1966, almost 50 years from when the case in question was being decided.
At issue, before the Court, was whether the constitutional term “foreigners in transit” could void the citizenship right of a person —who was born on Dominican soil, to parents of Haitian nationality, and had been registered in the D.R. as such, when the country’s Constitution recognized jus soli (or birthright citizenship).
In other words, and put generously: under birthright citizenship, what does the Court make of this almost 50-year-old term, that its justices handpicked from one of D.R.’s many Constitutions, in determining whether Dominican people, born to undocumented immigrant Haitian parents, should qualify for Dominican citizenship?
This legal issue landed before the Court, on appeal, of a 2012 ruling —in an amparo, or constitutionally-unprotected rights, action — issued by a lower-level civil, commercial, and labor court, in response to a complaint filed with respect to a fundamental rights violation.
The Court ended up ruling that the above legal term could cancel someone’s right to Dominican citizenship, in this case a Spanish-speaking, Haitian-Dominican Black woman, and now mother of four, born to blue-collar, immigrant Haitian parents.
To arrive at the above ruling, the Court had to make up a new interpretation of the term “foreigners in transit” and apply this newly-devised reading to a Haitian-Dominican person in an unclear immigration situation.
Dominican authorities later relied on the Constitutional Court’s legal opinion to deport tens of thousands of overwhelming Black Dominicans, and immigrants, back to Haiti —with many deportees being familiar with neither the language nor culture of their Haitian ancestors’ homeland.
One of the two judges who disagreed with the Constitutional Court majority made clear the fact that taking people who have long lived in the D.R. illegally, or without government permission, to be “foreigners in transit” is not the right way to interpret the constitutional words at issue.
And to support this argument, this justice maintained that “people in transit or transient foreigners” stay only briefly “in a country that is not their final destination.”
The justice concluded by highlighting that the parents of the Black Haitian-Dominican woman had stayed in the D.R. for a long period of time, although without official permission. In so doing, it was impossible for the woman, whose nationality and fundamental rights had been taken away, and her parents to be “transients or foreigners in transit.”
With support from the majority opinion, from above, and the resulting Special Naturalization Law (“Ley No169/2014”), along with the endorsement of D.R. President Danilo Medina, the Dominican government denied tens of thousands, and multiple generations, of Haitian-Dominicans, and immigrant Haitians, their fundamental rights.
And these prerogatives included the right to not only vote but to also to access vital public goods and services, relating to healthcare, education, employment, and private property, as well as birth, marriage, and death registration.
This profoundly marginalizing, if not traumatic, event has deprived many human beings, with strong or weak ties to Haiti, of their much-needed legal protections, effectively putting them in a position of statelessness and reopening old wounds between Haiti and the D.R.
In other words, this landmark decision placed Haitian-Dominicans in a “state of indefiniteness,” as termed by the Haitian-Dominican plaintiff, Juliana Deguis Pierre, who had brought the case before the Constitutional Court, after her birth certificate was confiscated and her identity card was denied simply “because her surnames [or last names] are Haitian.”
Moreover, according to human rights organization Amnesty International, the Dominican government has, since 2015, either deported, or forced the “spontaneous” return of, at least 100,000 Haitian-Dominicans and immigrant Haitians back to Haiti.
These deportations, or forced returns, took place after a convoluted “regularization” plan that left many in a destabilizing limbo.
And as of last month, June 2021, news agencies have documented the fact that the D.R. is building of a wall to keep out not only child refugees but also other vulnerable migrants fleeing violence and poverty in Haiti —fueling tensions between Haiti and its aggressive, unsympathetic, and racially-prejudiced eastern neighbor.
The Parsley Massacre of 1937
In light of its cruel nature, Dominican denationalization harkened back to a much earlier genocidal outrage committed by the Dominican government.
In 1937, thousands of Haitians and dark-skinned Dominicans, numbering anywhere from 15,000 to 40,000, suffered grim deaths at the hands of Hitler-inspired D.R. President Rafael Trujillo, as part of a murderous, ethnic-cleansing campaign.
The 2010 Earthquake
In light of the attendant crises discussed above, it is clear that Haiti and its people, whether at home or nearby, have continued to suffer since the end of the Duvalier dictatorships.
Moreover, Haiti grapples with continued U.S. meddling in its economic and political affairs, and the country has also had to cope with devastating natural disasters.
Haiti has borne the brunt of multiple regional hurricanes and a 2010 earthquake that killed more than 310,000 Haitians and injured several hundred thousand others.
These events reveal that Haiti has been in a state of prolonged trauma inflicted by nature and, most notably, external actors.
Many of Haiti’s past and ongoing problems are undoubtedly related to the country’s unexpected, and unprecedented, defeat, in 1804, of anti-Black racism and overt White supremacy, as represented by colonialism and slavery.
21st Century U.S. Anti-Haitianism
And, notably, Haiti has continued to face multi-faceted anti-Black racism well into the present era, albeit in a subtler, though perhaps more menacing, form.
For instance, in an American context, examples of anti-Haitianism have revealed themselves in the words of Regent University Chancellor, and Yale Law alum, Pat Robertson, and ex-U.S. President Donald Trump.
While Robertson proclaimed that Haiti’s 2010 earthquake, and its numerous attendant deaths, had resulted from the Caribbean country’s supposed pact with the devil (despite Robertson also calling the catastrophe “a blessing in disguise”) —Trump allegedly grumbled that Haitians “all have AIDS,” (on top of calling Haiti a “s**thole” country).
In singling out, and advancing generalizations about, Haitians’ religious standing and health, both of these comments appear to constitute Americanized embodiments of anti-Haitianism, voiced by people near, or at, the highest rung of American leadership.
Ultimately, from 1804 to now, precisely 217 years, Haiti has faced consistent external intervention, undermining, and shaming, particularly with respect to its economy, political system, and culture.
With the aim of pinpointing Haiti’s growth areas, Part Three will discuss the concealed effects of foreign actors’ hostile actions, as compounded by anti-Black racism and anti-Haitianism, while circling back to the Moïse administration.