Thursday, May 14, 2015

Autopsy of a Massacre

October 3, 2017  will mark the 80th anniversary of the massacre of Haitians on dominican soil, an event which, to borrow Franklin D. Roosevelt’s expression, “will ever live in infamy.”  We anticipate that the reaction among our readership will be mixed.  Some will consider this article another case of Dominican bashing.  Some will feel that bygone should be bygone, while another group who live on that part of the island or whose children attend school there will fear that this new round of discussion of our troubled relationship with our next door neighbor, may create some hostility towards them.

I wonder however, if these same people would raise their voices to object to the fact that we are perpetually reminded of the Jewish holocaust during World War II.  Would they object to the effort of the Armenian people to force the Turkish government to recognize that genocide was committed against them in 1915?  Finally, would they even empathize with the Native Americans who have seen a quasi annihilation of their population, in the hands of the European invaders in less than 100 years?

One of the 1937 massacre pictures in the border region between
 Haiti and Dominican Republic.                                                     
Could it be that these compatriots have been brainwashed to the point that they value less the life of a poor black or brown individual than that of a white person?  This reaction is difficult to accept when foreigners seem to be more eager to take up the cause of the poor Haitians living in the most horrible conditions in the Bateys.  Indeed, numerous movie directors from Canada, France and the USA have tried to bring the plight of the Haitian workers in Dominican Republic to the attention of the world. More recently Celine Gauthier a franco-peruvian photographer has organized an exhibit of pictures taken in the Bateys.  This traveling exhibit entitled “Esclaves au Paradis” or “Slaves in Paradise” has been shown in Paris and in Montreal.  We applaud all these artists who have decided to transform their indignation into action.  Unfortunately, the silence of our own singers, artists, movie producers and political activists is deafening. 

President E. Lescot and Rafael Trujilio
Worse than silence, we are more likely to hear condemnation of the Haitians themselves.  Why don’t the Haitian stay home?  Why can’t the government provide jobs to these poor people?  This is not an unheard of reaction as pointed out by Edward W. Said in his book entitled “Blaming the victims”, describing the anguish and oppression of the Palestinian people.  And victims, the Haitian people are!

This is not meant to be a puerile lament, but an invitation to look at the root of the problem, to perform an autopsy of the Haitian problem and as in medicine, learn how to care better for our economy, our health, our people.
Haitians were sent per thousand each year in the Dominican
 Republic under the regime of Baby Doc.                                  
First we have to look at the political context at the end of the XVIII century.  The French, still reeling from having lost their territory in North America to the British during the Indian War, allied themselves with the American army to defeat the British.  England lost no time in seeking revenge against the French when those who were to become the Haitians sought to free themselves, causing France to lose its richest colony.  The Haitian independence in 1804 was not well accepted by the Americans for many reasons.  First, at the Treaty of Morfontaine in 1800, Jefferson had agreed to treat St-Domingue as a French colony and not to assist the leaders of the Revolution.  Second, in 1804, the United States of America still had an economy based on slavery.  The country was going to get seriously shaken by the bloody revolts of Nat Turner and Denmark Vesey and the US government was not about to recognize a country created by former slaves.

The USA clearly saw the Independence of Haiti as a mistake that had to be erased.  When Simon Bolivar who had received far more help from Haiti than from the United States convened a meeting of all the former Spanish colonies in South America at the Conference of Panama in June 1826, both Haiti and USA were invited, but the Americans predicated their participation on the fact that the invitation to Haiti be rescinded.  Bolivar obliged them, albeit with some regrets

The policies of the USA towards Haiti have therefore been marked by racism and imperialism and from the fateful date of January 1, 1804, their effort to destroy the only self proclaimed black nation of the Americas has been relentless.  Haiti was a country of former slaves and was to remain in that capacity.  They imposed as a condition for Haiti to be recognized that a massive indemnity be paid to France, mortgaging the future existence of the young republic, while it was still in its infancy.

The attitude of the North American and European powers toward the small Caribbean country can be gleaned from various texts written by the most influential decision makers of the world.  Suffices it to give in example the declaration of one Winston Churchill in the prelude to the Spanish American War.
“ A great danger represents itself.  Two-fifths of the (Cuban) insurgents in the field are Negroes. These men… would in the event of success, demand a predominant share in the government of the country… the results being after years of fighting, another black republic.”
The other black republic of course was Haiti and this error could not be repeated.

The other driver of American policies is their long-standing imperialist ambition.  The following statement in 1897 by Senator Beveridge of Indiana can best summarize this ambition:
“American factories are making more than the American people can use; American soil is producing more than they can consume.  Fate has written our policy for us, the trade of the world must and shall be ours.”

Markets of foreign consumption had to be created everywhere, even if it implied the unscrupulous destruction of existing economies or imposition by force of trade agreements, the so-called gunboat diplomacy.

Photo of  one Haitian in Dominican batey.
In the latter half of the XIX century, Haitian sovereignty was violated countless times by the Germans and the Americans, the latter trying their hardest to get control of the Haitian economy.  At the occasion of the riots of July 1915, the Marines landed in Port-au-Prince.  The main candidate to the presidency was Dr. Rosalvo Bobo.  He was bought on board of a Navy ship and asked if he would officially endorse the occupation of Haiti by the US forces.  When he replied “Never,” he was sent to exile and Sudre Dartiguenave who had already given his agreement was chosen to be the new president of Haiti.  At that time, the Americans occupied both sides of the island.  They heavily invested in the sugar factories of the Dominican Republic, but not in Haiti.  Instead, they considered the “former slaves” to be good labor force for the sugar plantations, creating the first massive influx of Haitian peasants across the border.  Subsequent Wall Street fluctuations led to economic upheaval and eventually to the massacre, Trujillo’s solution to the “Haitian problem.”

President Vincent is a luncheon guest of president Roosevelt
Delanoe at the White House in December 1942                      
Six years later in 1943, the Japanese had seized control of South-East Asia, depriving the United Sates of one of the most important item necessary to its industrial machine: rubber.  Scrambling to maintain the production of rubber, the US government inked a deal with then President Lescot to grow in the north of the country at a large scale a vine called Cryptostegia that grew fast and could produce rubber.  Completely ignorant of the nature of the plant, but oh so gullible! Lescot agreed to have thousands of acres of fruit trees, such as mangoes and breadfruit destroyed and planted with Cryptostegia, forcing previously independent small farmers to work for the Americans at the rate of 30 cents per day.  When the results proved to be well below their expectations, the project was simply abandoned.  Thousands and thousands of peasants had lost their livelihood and had to seek work wherever they could find it, even if it meant going back where their brothers and sisters had been murdered without mercy.  Since then, each government, including those that professed the most to defend the masses, in exchange for monetary remuneration, have sent Haitian peasants across the border to harvest sugar cane.

The other page of this saga is the long adversarial relationship between Haiti and the International Monetary Fund.  This organization is well known all over the world for its modus operandi, which is first to lend money to third world countries at high interest rates, even when they are politically unstable.  The money is most often dilapidated.  Nevertheless, the subsequent governments pay back several times over the amount of the debt, without ever being able to fully erase it.  When they can no longer pay, the IMF institutes strong measures to control the economy of the debtor country.  They start then by eliminating all kinds of social programs, particularly free education and health care. One of the most recent examples was Argentina, where the measures were so harsh that they trigger massive riots.  In Haiti, they did not trigger any rioting because the people were kept in the dark, but it was just as efficient. 

HASCO in 1974
Among others, the production of sugar was eliminated. For years, Haiti, thanks to its factories of Welch in the North, HASCO in the West, Centrale Dessalines in the South, had not only been able to satisfy its internal consumption of sugar, but also was deriving significant income from the exportation of sugar.  In 1977, for the first time in its history, the sugar production had dwindled so low that Haiti had to import sugar for local consumption.  Eventually all those mills ceased to function, resulting not only in a loss of jobs, but also in a loss of revenue for the local farmers and a loss of currency for the country since the sugar has to be imported.

President Clinton has completely destroyed
the structure of Haitian agriculture in 1995
, by forcing the nation to drop tariffs on rice
imported from America.                                  
Closer to us, during their supposed campaign to restore democracy, the United States government demanded that Haiti reduces the tariff on American rice from 35 % to 5 %, flooding the Haitian market with cheap rice, which many busunessmen and members of the government were happy to sell to the public, because it meant large profit for them. In addition, a contract with the Haitian government stipulated that any funds provided by the US could not be used to buy fertilizers for the farmers or to offer low interest loans to them. This spelled disaster for the rice farmers of the Artibonite department, who had to give up farming and either migrate to the urban slums of Port-au-Prince, venture on the high seas towards Florida or cross the border to look for work in the sugar fields

The last chapters of this sad story were written when J. B. Aristide acquiesced to provide land along the border, between Maribaroux and Ouanaminthe to Dominican financiers in order to establish a frank zone.  This land had been known to be rich and to produce excellent crops of cocoa and coffee. The peasants were forcibly removed from their land, where factories were built.  These factories on Haitian soil are guarded by Dominican guards.  The management is almost exclusively Dominican. The local inhabitants are paid less than minimum wage.  A recent visitor told me that the Haitians have to eat their lunch outside, because they are banned from the cafeterias exclusively reserved to the Dominican workers.

President Aristide (L) at the White House in 1994
   seeking US intervention in Haiti.                         
Finally, under pressure from the neo-liberals in Washington, Aristide and now his successor Preval have agreed to privatize many of our state owned institutions.  “La Minoterie d’Haiti,” our only flourmill and “Le Ciment d’Haiti,” our only cement manufacturer have been sold to private consortia.

All these measures, while perhaps profitable selfishly to some corrupt members of our government, lead to further deterioration of the equilibrium between the two countries.  First, by providing cheap labor to the Dominican Republic, we are in a way undermining our own production of goods.  The production costs over there are reduced and we find ourselves unable to compete with such inexpensive items.  Thus, Haiti has become the third most important importer of Dominican goods, with a net increase of 19 %.  A close scrutiny of the data reveals that the sales have increased the most for flour and cement, two products that not too long ago we were producing.

Bill Clinton and Rene Preval on road trip
Trade between nations follows the principle of communicating vessels.  If a vessel is positioned lower than the other, the liquid flows in one direction and one direction only and soon the most disadvantaged vessel finds itself empty.  With little or no agricultural or industrial production, Haiti is condemned to live from subsidies from the United States, Canada and other donor countries.  Popular wisdom tells us that the hand that gives is always on top of the hand that receives.  For example, I was recently told that the Minister of Health in Haiti controls only 2% of his department’s budget, the rest being administered by various NGO and foreign agencies.  Knowing the history between the USA and Haiti, between France and Haiti, can they be trusted to do the right thing for our people? On the other hand, knowing the problem of corruption that has never been tackled by the interim or the current government, I am sad to say: “can the government be trusted?”

Being a physician with a keen interest in history and not an economist, I confess that I may lack the technical capacity to provide a solution to these problems.  However, it would seem to me that it is high time that all Haitians understand the dire character of the situation.  The present state of affairs can serve only one purpose: to maintain us in a state of subordination to the Great Powers and their proxies, so that all the media can continue to repeat that Haiti is the poorest country of the western hemisphere.

It is imperative to establish strict control of our finances.  Important sources of revenue for the government cannot be “given” to “loyal” political allies.  I am talking for example of airport taxes, burial fees in the cemeteries etc…  Tolls must be established on the National Roads, to provide maintenance services.  Proper tariff must be imposed on imported goods, to stimulate the local industry.  We must pay back or seek relief from the international lenders and free ourselves from the control of the IMF, like Jamaica and Venezuela have done recently.  Policies good for the G-8 group are usually not necessarily good for third world countries.

We must reinvest in our agriculture, restore our autonomy in the production of rice and sugar.  We must support our farmers by providing them with expert recommendation for fertilizers or more modern techniques of agriculture.

Thirdly, we must reestablish the rule of law.  There can be no excuse for criminality.  We have to respect ourselves and each other.   This is our only chance to woo the thousands and thousands of baby boomers who have recently retired or are about to retire.  They have been moving to Florida, Georgia, Arizona and even… Dominican Republic.  With a favorable and more stable political, many a retiree would instead choose to return to Haiti Cherie, bringing with them their retirement nest eggs.

Finally rather than ceding our land to the Dominicans or to Cruise companies, we should invest in tourism.  Haiti with its rich history has the possibility to become the greatest tourist destination for people of African ancestry all over the world (and all other interested groups).  Haiti can be a true Mecca of African History in the Americas.  The list of important sites includes the Citadelle Laferriere, the Sans-Souci Palace, the site of the Vertieres Battle, Gonaives, birthplace of our flag, Port-au-Prince and the Museum of the National Pantheon, the Jacques and Alexandre Forts, etc… Other important tourist destinations would include Le Centre d’Art and many large professional art galleries, the Parc de la Canne a Sucre and its highly professional performances by singers and dancers.  At last, but not least, our natural resources are unique and beautiful and are just awaiting the visitors: Saut d’Eau, Voute a Minguette, with its impressive columns of stalactites and stalagmites, Bassin Zim, Saut du Baril, the pink sand of Chouchou Bay Beach, for me the best in the world, the incredible landscape of Azuei Lake, the beautiful beach of Cyvadier etc.

It is high time that members of our government play their role of guardian of our people and our territory, like proud and stern bull dogs, and not like hungry, lap dogs ready to trample everyone in order to jump at any crumb falling from the tables of the rich and powerful.  The future of our nation depends on it. Our dignity depends on it.

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