By Roger Annis, Oct 26, 2017
The following letter by Roger Annis was published online On Oct 26, 2017 by the McGill Daily, the longstanding daily newspaper at McGill University in Montreal. The letter also appears in the weekly print edition of the McGill Daily, Vol 107, issue #8, Oct 22, 2017.
Hello McGill Daily editors,
While researching the status of Haitian refugees in Canada, I came across your editorial of September 18, 2017, ‘Harsh realities face Haitian asylum seekers in Canada‘. The editorial is most 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 to lift the protected status of Haitians in the U.S., 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 France of ‘Emperor’ Napoleon Bonaparte – and gained independence, on January 1, 1804.
Haitians only opted for independence because of Napoleon’s betrayal of the historic decision taken by the revolutionary National Convention in France in 1794 to abolish 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 libertè, egalitè, fraternitè 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 Haiti’s rebellion “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 with Haiti’s declaration of independence. It reverberated around the world. 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. France dictated that reparations were 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 stated determination of the Haitian government of the time, led by President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, to recuperate those funds through international courts. The revelation of the news of the odious debt and the demand by Aristide’s government for its repayment was a major embarrassment to the Socialist Party government of France 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. occupied Haiti for 20 years, beginning in 1915. That ended with a humiliating withdrawal in 1934, but before it withdrew, the U.S. implanted elements of a local military force loyal to its 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 increasingly joining in, 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 again in 2004. Their backing was particularly crucial to the paramilitary coup of 2004, as during his first term in office, Aristide had, remarkably, abolished the Haitian military. The imperialist powers introduced a UN Security Council military occupation regime known as ‘MINUSTAH’ beginning 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 new (2017) 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 Ottawa 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.
Roger Annis is an editor of the Canada Haiti Information Project. His articles there include:
* Haiti’s promised rebuilding unrealized as Haitians challenge authoritarian rule, Jan 12, 2015 (co-authored with Travis Ross)
* Haiti’s humanitarian crisis: Rooted in history of military coups and occupations, May 2011 (co-authored with Kim Ives)
The ‘Haiti’ category page on ‘A Socialist In Canada’ contains extensive writings on Haiti by Roger Annis, beginning in 2011. Earlier articles by him are on the website of the Canada Haiti Information Project.