How Can Haiti Move Forward?Roundup
tags: Haiti, Caribbean history
Marlene L. Daut, a professor of French and African American Studies at Yale University, is the author of Tropics of Haiti: Race and the Literary History of the Haitian Revolution in the Atlantic World, 1789-1865.
“What happened to the Creole pigs is a cancer for Haiti,” a woman explains in “Poto Mitan: Haitian Women, Pillars of the Global Economy,” a documentary from 2009. Creole pigs—animals indigenous to the island of Hispaniola, which is home to both Haiti and the Dominican Republic—once served as bank accounts for Haitian families. By raising and selling a healthy, fattened pig, the woman says, a family could pay for food, clothing, and education. This all changed in 1981. An outbreak of swine fever in the Dominican Republic had spread to Haiti, and U.S. officials feared that the disease, which is harmless to humans but highly contagious and deadly among pigs, might reach the United States. A powerful consortium of foreign governments and institutions, including the U.S.D.A. and the International Development Bank, required Haitian farmers to kill every pig in the country. Farmers were promised compensation through U.S.A.I.D. and replacement pigs from North American farms.
“They could have saved a small reserve of pigs,” Yolette Etienne, of the National Campaign Against Violence, a Haitian nonprofit, says, in the film. “But the American government demanded total and complete eradication of the entire race of pigs that we had.” Foreign pigs arrived in Haiti, but they were vulnerable to disease and ill-suited to the climate, and proved unable to survive. The country’s pork industry was effectively destroyed, and the Creole pig went extinct. The effect of all this on the country was profound. Many rural families, facing starvation, flocked to Port-au-Prince to seek scarce factory jobs. The population of the capital swelled, causing mass unemployment and a housing crisis. Many Haitians became consumers rather than producers of food, relying on imports from abroad for sustenance.
Governmental interventions in Haiti have a terrible track record—even ones that respond to natural disasters, such as the 2010 earthquake that devastated Port-au-Prince. That year, the United Nations sent two thousand troops and fifteen hundred police officers to Haiti to support the nine thousand peacekeepers already on the ground and help provide emergency relief, including food, water, and medical care. But some of those troops brought cholera with them, creating an overlapping disaster when an outbreak killed at least ten thousand Haitians and sickened hundreds of thousands more. The mission was also plagued by allegations of rape and sex trafficking; during the same period, U.S. families hastily adopted more than a thousand Haitian babies and children, as the U.S. government temporarily did away with routine screening protocols. Foreign N.G.O.s operating in Haiti have not fared much better. In 2018, media accounts revealed that Oxfam Great Britain covered up an investigation into the hiring of sex workers for orgies by its staff. The Haitian government responded by banning Oxfam from Haiti. A few years earlier, an investigation by ProPublica showed that the American Red Cross, which raised a half billion dollars for aid in Haiti after the quake, had squandered the money, building only six permanent homes.
Today, we’re again talking about intervention in Haiti. Since the assassination of the country’s President, Jovenel Moïse, in July, 2021, armed groups have taken over its capital and brought daily life to a standstill. Gangs have repeatedly cut off access to roads, the airport, and fuel supplies; they have also kidnapped for ransom numerous prominent members of Haitian society, and are charged with murdering people indiscriminately, with babies and children sometimes caught in the crossfire. Schools have closed, and travelling to hospitals, banks, and markets has become treacherous, if not impossible. Food and water are increasingly hard to obtain, and doctors are seeing a dangerous resurgence of cholera.
In October, the Biden Administration helped draft a U.N. resolution authorizing the deployment of international troops to Haiti. In an attempt to distance itself from the previous U.N.-led occupation, the resolution proposed a non-U.N. mission led by a “partner country.” António Guterres, the U.N.’s Secretary-General, had earlier proposed the dispatch of a multinational “rapid action force.” The resolution that was ultimately adopted by the U.N. makes no mention of foreign troop deployments. Still, the Canadian government has not ruled out participating in a foreign deployment, if there’s “a consensus across political parties in Haiti.” Ariel Henry, the acting Prime Minister and acting President of Haiti, and eighteen top-ranking Haitian officials (most of whom are no longer in office), previously requested the deployment of foreign troops, too.
But Haiti’s government is not a proper stand-in for its people. Headlines such as “Haiti calls for help” are misleading. Thousands of Haitians across the country have protested the idea of foreign intervention, rejecting Henry’s request and demanding his resignation. “Life is not going to get better with an international force,” Marco Duvivier, an auto-parts manager who took part in the protests in Port-au-Prince, told a reporter for the Associated Press. Widlore Mérancourt, the editor-in-chief of the Haitian news outlet AyiboPost, was more measured when he told me that, though sending foreign troops to Haiti might halt violence and temporarily restore basic governance, it would only be “a Band-Aid, not a long-term solution”; such an intervention, he said, wouldn’t address the “root causes” of a “social structure” that cyclically produces gang leaders who lead mass uprisings that largely comprise Haiti’s youth, resulting in government overthrows that lead to the deployment of foreign troops.
Haiti appears to be stuck between two bad options. To many foreigners, and to those in power in Haiti, intervention seems necessary to halt the current gang violence—and yet history and the Haitian people themselves tell us it’s a bad idea.