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  • Whole families have been devastated by the outbreak of cholera, which was traced to a U.N. base

    Whole families have been devastated by the outbreak of cholera, which was traced to a U.N. base | Photo: Reuters

Published 22 January 2015
Those responsible for continued Haitian suffering enjoy impunity.

Throughout its history, Haiti has received lessons in savagery from the world’s big imperial powers. The latest lesson was delivered about a week ago by a U.S. court that said the UN cannot be held accountable for criminal negligence that has killed 8,700 Haitians from cholera since 2010. The Obama administration, needlessly worried that the court might take the side of common decency, formally urged the court to rule the way it did. The Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH) noted that “Despite calls from around the world — including from the UN’s own human rights chief — that the UN must provide remedies to the victims of cholera, the organization has persistently refused.”

UN troops (known as MINUSTAH) have been stationed in Haiti since 2004 when they took on the task of consolidating a coup directly perpetrated by the U.S. government with considerable assistance from France and Canada. As U.S. troops kidnapped Jean Bertrand Aristide, Haiti’s democratically elected president at the time, and flew him off to Africa, Canadian troops secured the airport in Port-au-Prince. French troops also participated. Days after the coup, a New York Times headline explained things to its readers as follows: “U.S. and France Set Aside Differences in Effort to Resolve Haiti Conflict.” The “free press” of the self-proclaimed “civilized” countries seldom fails to dazzle. MINUSTAH propped up a dictatorship headed by Gerard Latortue which presided over the murder of about 4000 of Aristide’s supporters in the greater Port-au-Prince Area from 2004-2006 according to a study published in the Lancet medical journal. [1]

The French government hated Aristide for asking, in 2003, that France pay Haiti about $21 billion dollars in reparations.  Peter Hallward remarked in his superb book about the coup that “Unlike most slavery-related reparation demands in the air, the Haitian claim refers to a precise and well-documented sum of money extracted in hard currency by the ex-colonial power.”

Haitian slaves rose up in 1791 and by 1804 had thrown France off the island of Hispaniola (which Haiti shares with the Dominican Republic). The slaves freed a colony which generated more wealth for France than the Thirteen Colonies (that became the USA in 1776) did for Britain. Conditions in Haiti were so monstrous that a third of the slaves died within three years after arriving from Africa which explains why they were willing to suffer horrific losses to defeat the French.[2] By 1825, France was able to bully the Haitian government into paying 90 million francs as “compensation” for the loss of slave-generated wealth. The last instalment on that “debt” was paid by Haiti in 1947. Aristide’s very limited reparations demand was based on that “debt” - not the wealth stolen while France successfully (and savagely) exploited its colony, and not the hundreds of thousands of slaves murdered by France for the “crime” of fighting for their freedom.

The U.S. military occupied Haiti from 1915-1934. It reinstituted slavery and facilitated the theft of at least 260,000 acres of land by North America firms. Estimates of the numbers of Haitians killed range from 3,000 to 15,000 but some historians say the death toll was higher. The USA left a modernized Haitian army to do its dirty work for several decades after the occupation ended. [3]

Aristide was first elected in 1990 in Haiti’s first free and fair elections. He was deposed several months later in U.S.-backed military coup.  Bill Clinton ordered the junta that ran Haiti to resign in 1994 but insisted that Aristide’s years in exile count as years served in office and that Aristide implement economic policies desired by the Haitian elite. Clinton’s government did all it could to help perpetrators of the coup escape justice for their crimes (thousands of murders and rapes) and even remain employed in Haiti’s security forces. In spite of Clinton’s manoeuvres, the Haitian government, by 2000, managed to convict dozens of soldiers, including three high command members, but the 2004 coup freed them from prison. Clinton’s machinations bore fruit for the Bush administration in many ways throughout the 2000s as Jeb Sprague extensively documented in his book “Paramilitarism and the Assault on Democracy in Haiti”. Thanks to Wikileaks we know that Bush borrowed from Clinton’s tactics and, with the help of the UN, inserted hundreds of former “insurgents” against Aristide’s government into Haiti’s police force.  

Haiti’s last free and fair elections were held in 2000, but those elections were cynically smeared by Western governments and the international press in order to justify the crushing of Haitian democracy. Aristides’s party has been banned from every election since 2006. MINUSTAH has amassed a grim record ofshooting at protesters (videos hereand here) and of sexual assault in addition to causing a lethal cholera outbreak. UN troops have remained in Haiti largely because Haiti’s army was disbanded by Aristide shortly after he returned to Haiti in 1994. MINUSTAH, like the former Haitian army, is the last line of defence of the Haitian elite against the democratic aspirations of the majority.

On January 12, 2010 an earthquake struck that killed hundreds thousands of Haitians. People around the world acted on their decent impulses and donated money, but the results have been pitiful as this concise statistical summary by the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) reveals. The $7.2 billion disbursed to Haiti since the earthquake - if it had been given directly to the Haitian government – would have been enough to almost double its expenditures of roughly $2 billion per year in the post-earthquake period. Budget support for the Haitian government accounts for only $340 million since the earthquake. In other words, 95% of the relief funds have by-passed the government and flowed into an often corrupt and unmonitored foreign aid sector. Haiti’s per capita GDP over the past fifteen years has never reached the level achieved in 2000, after a very brief period when the country had an elected government that was not subjected to harsh economic sanctions by the U.S. and its allies.  

Recent unrest in Haiti has prompted the Washington Post editorial board to call for “more aggressive mediation by U.S., United Nations, French, Canadian and other diplomats” – words that should provoke widespread derision and protest. The prosecution of “U.S., United Nations, French, and Canadian” officials for what they’ve done in Haiti would be possible if anything resembling a “free press” existed.


[1] Athena R. Kolbe and Royce A. Hutson, "Human rights abuse and other criminal violations in Port-au-Prince, Haiti: a random survey of households," The Lancet, Vol. 368, No. 9538, September 2, 2006

[2] See Paul Framer’s “Uses of Haiti”, pg 56

[3] "Uses of Haiti" pg 82-85; also Hallward’s "Damming the Flood" pg 14

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