We Owe Haiti
by Christopher Winfield
As a student of world history and a man who visited Haiti in 2003, I say the US owes Haiti a great deal of development support beyond just $10 million for earthquake relief. Our foreign and economic policies have taken advantage of the country for decades.
From the 1950s to the 1970s, the US backed financially and militarily the Duvalier regime (Papa Doc and Baby Doc) because the Duvaliers pledged support against the Communists in Cuba. It didn’t matter to our State Department that the Duvaliers were corrupt thugs who rigged elections, looted the country’s treasury, and assassinated those seeking democratic reform.
During the Vietnam War, US agribusiness negotiated with the dictators for the clearcutting of existing forest and annexation fruit orchards to plant rubber trees for the US war effort. The trees didn’t take in Haiti’s soil, yet large swaths of ground remain deforested to this day, exacerbating mudslides and flooding.
During the 10am hour of the Friday 1/15 Diane Rehm show broadcast on WAMU in Washington, DC, Rehm’s guests explored the idea that African Americans might become resentful of the US government efforts towards Haiti in contrast to the lack of response during Katrina.
I am a 32-year-old, African-American, college-educated, married father of two whose parents visited Haiti for their honeymoon in the late 1970s, and who visited himself in 2003. I say the causes of the Haitian people, African Americans, and Latinos in this country are not isolated.
The Haitian Revolution in 1820 inspired anti-slavery abolitionists in this country like Fredrick Douglass and W.E.B. DuBois, and encouraged other countries in South America and Africa to separate themselves from European colonial powers. The example of peoples in other parts of the African and Hispanic diasporas then returned to inspire our own Civil Rights movements.
Haiti stood up to schoolyard bullies and extortionists. In return, the gang sat on Haiti’s chest and took turns pounding him for 200 years. Now that Haiti is dazed and bloody, we need to help him up, not blame him for laying in the mud.
Americans (African or otherwise) owe Haiti—owe Haitians respect and the tools for survival.
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