Guest post by Jemima Pierre.
July 28, 2015 marked the one hundredth anniversary of the landing of US Marines in Haiti and the beginning of a military occupation of the Black Republic that lasted until 1934 — nineteen years in total. With its massacres of Haitian peasants, its control of Haiti’s finances, its suppression of the Haitian press, and its dissolution of the Haitian legislature – all backed by a combination of Jim Crow ideology and Monroe Doctrine exceptionalism – the US occupation represents a searing annotation in the history of Haitian sovereignty. Yet the memory of the US occupation sits awkwardly in the context of the Haitian present where a new, second occupation of Haiti is currently in its eleventh year. It begs the question posed by @public_archive, “How do you memorialize occupation in the middle of occupation?”
The second occupation began June 2004 and was established under the pretext of “stabilizing” Haiti after the U.S.-sponsored ouster of the country’s democratically elected president, Jean Bertrand Aristide. During the 2003 “Ottawa Initiative on Haiti” France, Canada, and the US hatched a plot to overthrow Aristide. The following February their plan was implemented. Aristide was kidnapped by US marines and sent to a military base in the Central African Republic. US President George W. Bush announced afterwards that he was sending US forces to Haiti to “help stabilize the country.” As Peter Hallward documents, the invading “Franco-American” force targeted and killed Aristide supporters, installed a puppet Prime Minister, and enabled the formation of a paramilitary force that organized anti-Aristide death squads. The United Nations, then led by Secretary-General Kofi Annan, then cleaned up. According to Hallward, UN Security Council voted unanimously on April 29, 2003 to send, “an 8,300-strong UN Stabilization Force from 1 June, under the leadership of Lula’s Brazil.”
The United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) is a multi-billion dollar military occupation that has had in any given year between 6000 and 9000 military troops and police in addition to thousands of civilian personnel. While there is no civil war in Haiti, and while crime rates are higher in other nations in the Western hemisphere – including Jamaica and the U.S. – MINUSTAH has had its illegal mandate renewed and extended every year. During this second occupation, the US and its allies, France and Canada, have been able to install another puppet government, the neo-Duvalierist Michel Martelly. Martelly, who has been ruling by decree since January 2015, has opened up Haiti to radical economic fleecing, including the giveaway of land and the Republic’s gold and mineral resources. He has also diligently worked to reinstate the Haitian military. And in a horrific parallel to first US occupation of Haiti, MINUSTAH has committed numerous acts of violence against the Haitian people – including rape and assassination. MINUSTAH is also responsible for bringing cholera into the country, a disease that has killed more than 9000 Haitians and infected hundreds of thousands. Despite the deaths, and despite the evidence proving their culpability, the United Nations has enjoyed immunity from prosecution.
While the current occupation was initiated and continues to be largely funded by the U.S. and the United Nations, Haiti’s sovereignty has been extinguished by a multiracial coalition of Caribbean, Latin American and African countries. This may be the most sinister and least talked about aspect of the occupation, but it is perhaps the one that most requires our attention and contempt. In the first instance, there is Brazil. Brazil has been in charge of the military wing of the occupation since its inception. It has spent upwards of $750 million on maintaining military control. For Brazil, the country in Latin America with the largest Black population and a supposedly leftist government, Haiti is its “imperial ground zero.” Brazil has used its contribution to the occupation of the Black Republic to demonstrate its credentials as a regional power and to show the Americans and Europeans that it is ready for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. For Brazil, Haiti is also a training ground for domestic security and enforcements; its Haitian forces return to the country and deploy the tactics of military terror on its own poor Black and Brown favela dwellers.
The second occupation’s new Black leadership is, however, as egregious as Brazil’s involvement. The head of the MINUSTAH mission in Haiti is Sandra Honoré, of Trinidad and Tobago. A career diplomat and former ambassador to Costa Rica, Honoré takes up the post previously held by Mariano Fernández Amunátegui of Chile. Her deputy is Carl Alexandre, an African-American attorney who previously worked as the “Resident Legal Advisor” for the U.S. Embassy in Haiti. This Black leadership is accompanied by a multinational military force made up of a number of South American, Caribbean, and African countries, including Argentina, Chile, Columbia, Jamaica, Grenada, Benin, Burkina Faso, Egypt, Côte d’Ivoire, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Guinea, Cameroon, Niger, and Mali.
One-hundred years after US Marines landed in Haiti, it seems like the entire world has colluded to undermine the sovereignty of the world’s first Black nation. Under these circumstances, we cannot memorialize Haiti’s first occupation without rebuking those responsible for the second.
Jemima Pierre can be reached at pierrej[at]ucla.edu.
Image: Rear-Admiral W. B. Caperton and Haitian leaders, Port-au-Prince, September 18, 1915.