The struggle against Columbus, plantations, and our cheap clothes and Cokes
Intro by Mary Beaudoin, Editor WAMM Newsletter Vol. 39 No. 2 Spring 2021
Sugar cane plantation. Based on drawings by William Clark, during a residence of three years in the West Indies (London,1823)
From the year 1492, when the rapacious explorer Christopher Columbus first landed, Haiti has struggled against foreign occupations. First claimed by Spain, the island of Hispaniola (as the conquerors named it) was split among two colonial powers in 1697. The eastern part was designated a Spanish colony and came to be called the Dominican Republic, and the western part was ceded to France as Saint Domingue, later to be called Haiti.
Under France, hundreds of thousands of people were kidnapped from the African continent, enslaved, and forced to work on the plantations of Saint Domingue, producing sugar for export. The colony generated tremendous wealth. The slaves began to revolt in 1791. They battled the French, British, and Spanish, all of whom wanted to secure “the pearl of the Antilles” for their colonial empires. Ultimately, the uprising was so strong among the Black people that they triumphed over all of the foreign powers and, in 1804, formed an independent republic, reviving the name Haiti (the Indigenous Taino’s name Ayiti).
The Republic of Haiti has had to struggle to keep itself free of foreign occupation ever since. In 1904, President Theodore Roosevelt extended the Monroe Doctrine, warning European powers to stay out of Latin America including the Caribbean, and claiming that the region fell under Washington’s “sphere of influence.” The U.S. sent in the Marines to occupy Haiti between 1915 and 1934, ostensibly to stabilize the country, but actually to maintain American financial and business interests and to keep Germany away.
Decades later, in 1994, under Operation Uphold Democracy, 25,000 UN peacekeeping forces – most of them U.S. military – were sent in to invade and occupy Haiti. They were accompanied by air support. Again the rationale was to establish stability. UN forces remained until 1996, and were re-established in 2004 under the United Nations Stabilization Mission. (see “Peasant Farmers Protest”). (https://history.state.gov/milestones/1993-2000/haiti)
What are these interests now? In contemporary terms, they are those of neoliberalism, explained by the online dictionary Investopedia as:
the policy that encompasses both politics and economics and seeks to transfer the control of economic factors from the public sector to the private sector. Many neoliberalism policies enhance the workings of free-market capitalism and attempt to place limits on government spending, government regulation, and public ownership.
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The policies of neoliberalism are accelerated with what economist Naomi Klein calls the “shock doctrine,” imposed on a country when it finds itself in dire straits and is forced to go into debt, which acts as a form of bondage to international institutions. The beleaguered nation also must accept related economic conditions. Haitian-American writer Edwidge Danticat in 2010 described how “disaster capitalism” took advantage of the cataclysmic earthquake in Haiti:
U.S. elites with both the Bush and now the Obama administrations have used social and natural crises to continue and expand the U.S.’s neoliberal economic plans. In close collaboration with the new UN Special Envoy to Haiti, former President Bill Clinton, Obama has continued to push for an economic program familiar to much of the rest of the Caribbean – tourism, textile sweatshops, and weakening of state control of the economy through privatization and deregulation.
President Biden’s policies toward Haiti remain to be seen, but St. John’s University political science professor Gary Prevost expects that veteran diplomat Roberta Jacobson, appointed as Undersecretary of State for the Western Hemisphere, will likely follow positions like those of Clinton and Obama. Prevost notes that National Security Council advisor for Latin America, Juan Gonzales, has no particular track record on Haiti.
The Linen Market at St. Domingo. Engraved print of a painting by Agostino Brunias, published by John P. Thompson (London), October 6, 1804 depicts pre-sweatshop textile trading.
A key aspect of neoliberalism, which we as U.S. citizens need to be aware of, is that of the free-trade agreements, which have rocked the economies of both the U.S. and Haiti and have decimated the livelihoods of many U.S. workers, while having a terrible effect on Haitians. A free-trade zone exists geographically within a country but acts as a special economic area exempt from laws that normally regulate imports, exports, and production. Foreign corporations that choose to set up in a free-trade zone are tax exempt, thus benefiting themselves and the enabling elites of the host nation, but depriving that nation’s economy, exploiting the people’s labor and resources, as well as causing environmental destruction. For example, a free-trade zone means Haitians are forced to produce stevia for our “natural” sweetener drinks and clothes for Gap.
The article and statement that follows reveal the struggles of the Haiti people against foreign meddling – especially from the U.S., and free trade. These struggles are exemplified by the work of a group of courageous women: Haitian Women in Solidarity (SOFA) who are resisting the effects of the free-trade zones and neoliberal policies affecting their lives.
Update: While Haitians are protesting violent injustices, Biden has shown hostility to Haitian immigration with deportations. He even used Trump’s tactic of tweeting to announce that immigrants (who also happen to be people of color) are not welcome in the U.S., while at the same time filling official appointments with women and people of color.
Demand that U.S. officials act to halt Haitian immigrant deportations, and U.S. interference in Haiti.