let­ters to the edi­tor

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To the Mcgill Daily, While re­search­ing the sta­tus of Haitian refugees in Canada, I came across your edi­to­rial on Septem­ber 18. The edi­to­rial is very com­mend­able and I thank you for it. I very much sup­port your call for Haitian refugees to be treated justly and fairly by the Cana­dian gov­ern­ment. I par­tic­u­larly ap­pre­ci­ated the his­tor­i­cal con­text you pro­vided:

“In re­al­ity, Canada has both the ca­pac­ity and the eth­i­cal im­per­a­tive to wel­come them [ Haitian refugees], many of whom have risked death to es­cape un­sta­ble con­di­tions. The Cana­dian gov­ern­ment should also make repa­ra­tions for their role in bring­ing down the demo­crat­i­cally elected Aris­tide gov­ern­ment in the 2000s, as well as for the in­crease in de­por­ta­tions af­ter the lift­ing of the de­por­ta­tion ban in 2016, which has re­sulted in the de­por­ta­tion of more than 5,000 Haitian refugees in the first half of 2017 alone.”

As some 9,000 Haitian mi­grants and refugees made their way to Canada this past sum­mer fol­low­ing Don­ald Trump’s per­sona non grata warn­ing, the cru­cial is­sue that struck me is why Haitian refugees are seek­ing to come to Canada ( or the United States) in the first place. I know the an­swer to that puz­zle be­cause I’ve trav­eled twice to Haiti with sol­i­dar­ity del­e­ga­tions, once in 2007 and again in 2011. This was part of my ten years of ad­vo­cacy for so­cial jus­tice and sovereignty for Haiti along­side oth­ers in the Canada Haiti Ac­tion Net­work.

Haiti is a beau­ti­ful coun­try with a rich and pro­found his­tory and cul­ture. It broke my heart to see first­hand how the coun­try’s hopes and as­pi­ra­tions have been crushed by the im­pe­ri­al­ist North Amer­i­can and Euro­pean pow­ers. Why would so many Haitians wish to leave their beau­ti­ful home­land?

Be­cause the coun­try is ma­jorly un­der­de­vel­oped, both eco­nom­i­cally and so­cially. This begs a re­peat of the ques­tion:”why?”

Haiti’s mod­ern his­tory may be de­scribed as a his­tory of a coun­try and peo­ple cru­elly pun­ished by the world’s im­pe­ri­al­ist coun­tries for dar­ing to rise up against colo­nial­ism and slav­ery 226 years ago, in 1791. Worse than that, from the im­pe­ri­al­ist view­point, the Haitian peo­ple suc­ceeded in their up­ris­ing. They de­feated the largest mil­i­tary power of the world at the time—the French ‘Em­peror’ Napoleon Bon­a­parte—and gained in­de­pen­dence on Jan­uary 1, 1804.

Haitians only opted for in­de­pen­dence due to Napoleon’s be­trayal of the his­toric de­ci­sion taken by the rev­o­lu­tion­ary Na­tional Con­ven­tion in France in 1794, one that would have abol­ished slav­ery in France’s ter­ri­to­ries. How­ever, Napoleon qui­etly re­versed that de­ci­sion in 1802. When Haitians fi­nally sorted fact from ru­mour months later, they re­al­ized that their dream ( one that was shared by peo­ple in France as well) of a France truly guided by the rev­o­lu­tion­ary motto lib­erté, egal­ité, fra­ter­nité from the 1789 rev­o­lu­tion was not go­ing to be their re­al­ity. In the face of a French in­va­sion by some 50,000 sol­diers in 1802, the Haitian peo­ple mo­bi­lized for a rev­o­lu­tion­ary war of in­de­pen­dence. ( To­day’s im­pe­ri­al­ist lan­guage would call that po­lit­i­cal move­ment ‘ sep­a­ratism’).

France and French-lan­guage his­to­ri­og­ra­phy have never for­given Haitians for their bold war of in­de­pen­dence, which suc­ceeded less than two years af­ter its in­cep­tion. Haiti’s dec­la­ra­tion of in­de­pen­dence had re­ver­ber­ated around the world.

Thus, in 1825, with war­ships at the ready should Haiti refuse, France im­posed an odious pay­ment for the ‘ prop­er­ties’ ( in­clud­ing hu­man be­ings) France had ‘ lost’ through Haiti’s in­de­pen­dence, as a con­di­tion for rec­og­niz­ing the new repub­lic. Haiti’s ‘ in­de­pen­dence debt’ amounted to bil­lions of dol­lars in to­day’s cur­rency. The last pay­ment was made in 1947. This leads us to be­lieve that one rea­son why France as­sisted the 2004 para­mil­i­tary coup in Haiti was the Haitian gov­ern­ment’s stated de­ter­mi­na­tion to re­cu­per­ate those funds through in­ter­na­tional courts, led by JeanBer­trand Aris­tide, the pres­i­dent at the time.

The Amer­i­can rul­ing classes, too, never for­gave the Haitian peo­ple for their ‘ in­so­lence’, re­call that the U. S. was a slave repub­lic for an­other sixty years fol­low­ing the Haitian Rev­o­lu­tion. The U. S. had oc­cu­pied Haiti for twenty years, be­gin­ning in 1915. That ended with a hu­mil­i­at­ing with­drawal in 1934, but the U. S. did suc­ceed in im­plant­ing el­e­ments of a lo­cal mil­i­tary force loyal to U. S. in­ter­ests. In 1957, the tyran­ni­cal, fam­ily dy­nasty of François Du­va­lier be­gan a long, thirty year rule with vi­tal U. S. sup­port. Canada, once a slave- hold­ing coun­try of its own right and founded on the dis­en­fran­chise­ment of the orig­i­nal in­hab­i­tants, was a late­comer to Haiti, but its pol­icy is just as firmly sit­u­ated in the French and U. S. tra­di­tion of re­venge and ret­ri­bu­tion.

What does all of this have to do with Haitian refugees in the year 2017? That part of the story be­gins in 1986, when the Haitian peo­ple rose up and over­threw the Du­va­lier fam­ily dic­ta­tor­ship. The anti- Du­va­lier rev­o­lu­tion opened up the pos­si­bil­ity of a new path of de­vel­op­ment for Haiti founded on prin­ci­ples of so­cial jus­tice and na­tional sovereignty. But the U. S. and France, with Canada’s in­creas­ing help, did ev­ery­thing in their power to pre­vent that. The im­pe­ri­al­ists feared the spec­tre of a new Cuba aris­ing in the Caribbean, so they in­ter­vened and sab­o­taged Haiti’s op­por­tu­nity to make progress. They backed the over­throw of the elected and pro­gres­sive pres­i­dent Jean- Ber­trand Aris­tide twice, once in 1991 and later in 2004. Their back­ing was par­tic­u­larly cru­cial to the para­mil­i­tary coup of 2004, as dur­ing his first term in of­fice, Aris­tide had abol­ished the Haitian mil­i­tary! The im­pe­ri­al­ist pow­ers in­tro­duced a UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil mil­i­tary oc­cu­pa­tion regime known as ‘MINUSTAH’, which be­gan in June 2004. (That regime has never left, though the for­mal name has been re­cently changed).

Years later, along came the earth­quake in Jan­uary 2010 that lev­elled large ar­eas of the Port au Prince re­gion and killed tens of thou­sands. The two coups d’etat against Aris­tide had ren­dered the coun­try all the more vul­ner­a­ble to the earth­quake dis­as­ter. ‘ Re­con­struc­tion’ was promised by the im­pe­ri­al­ist pow­ers, but that was cru­elly blocked and sab­o­taged, sadly with the ac­qui­es­cence of much of the in­ter­na­tional aid and char­ity in­dus­try. Most of that same in­dus­try was al­ready deeply com­pro­mised by its sup­port to the 2004 coup. (More in­for­ma­tion on the 2010 earth­quake can be found in the book by au­thor Tim Schwartz, The Great Haiti Hu­man­i­tar­ian Aid Swin­dle.)

Haiti has a tremen­dous po­ten­tial for hu­man de­vel­op­ment through de­vel­op­ing agri­cul­ture, fish­ing, sci­ence, arts and cul­ture, as well as his­tor­i­cal tourism. But Haiti has been badly dam­aged by sev­eral cen­turies of for­eign in­ter­ven­tion, plun­der and ret­ri­bu­tion. Their path to de­vel­op­ment is blocked by the ex­i­gen­cies of the world cap­i­tal­ist or­der. What else can many Haitians do ex­cept seek a bet­ter life in North Amer­ica?

With the Caribbean re­gion be­ing in­creas­ingly dev­as­tated by the con­se­quences of glob­al­ized cap­i­tal­ism and global warm­ing, many Haitians look long­ingly to Cuba as an al­ter­na­tive model of so­cial and eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment from which they could craft their own na­tional vari­ant. If only Haitians were able to freely choose their destiny.

I con­cur with your edi­to­rial on the fact that Canada should wel­come Haitian refugees. The gov­ern­ment in should cease Canada’s preda­tory in­ter­ven­tion into Haiti and in­stead pro­vide mas­sive as­sis­tance for so­cial and hu­man de­vel­op­ment. Shame­fully, not a sin­gle party or MP in Ot­tawa has spo­ken in favour of tak­ing such a course. Haitians are truly the vic­tims of a cruel and tyran­ni­cal world eco­nomic or­der. Mod­ern day im­pe­ri­al­ism is de­stroy­ing lives and de­stroy­ing the very eco­log­i­cal foun­da­tion upon which hu­man life rests. De­fend­ing those who are pri­mar­ily af­fected by this or­der is a vi­tal step along a path of so­ci­etal sal­va­tion for all.

In Sol­i­dar­ity, Roger An­nis

Roger An­nis is an edi­tor of the Canada Haiti In­for­ma­tion Project ( https:// www.canada­haiti­ac­tion.ca/). His ar­ti­cles there in­clude ‘ Haiti’s promised re­build­ing un­re­al­ized as Haitians chal­lenge au­thor­i­tar­ian rule’, Jan 12, 2015 ( coau­thored with Travis Ross).

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