The Price of Haiti's Liberty

By Graham, Paul | Canadian Dimension, December-January 1994 | Go to article overview

The Price of Haiti's Liberty


Graham, Paul, Canadian Dimension


Amid the joy of liberation, Haitians might be forgiven if gratitude causes them to forget that 1994 is not the first time US marines have dropped in to restore order.

Woodrow Wilson sent two thousand US marines to Haiti in 1915 to put down an anti-government uprising that threatened his attempts to get control of the country's customs operation. The US subsequently "negotiated" a treaty that gave it control of Haitian government finances -- and stayed around for 19 years.

While martial law gave way to ruling through puppet governments, the US military continued to call the shots. Franklin Roosevelt claimed to have authored the 1918 Haitian constitution when serving as assistant secretary of the navy. The marines introduced racial segregation, conducted a major road building program, often with forced labour, and trained the local army. This slave labour policy caused an uprising in 1919 which the marines crushed, killing nearly 2,000 Haitians in the process.

The departure of the US military in 1934 left in place a series of compliant, corrupt and repressive regimes astride an impoverished people. Perhaps the most vicious was Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier, who ruled Haiti from 1957 to 1971 with the help of a murderous gang known as the Tonton Macoutes. Papa was succeeded by son, Jean-Claude (a.k.a. "Baby Doc"), who was forced out in 1986 -- fleeing (does this sound familiar?) aboard a US Air Force jet.

The period between Baby Doc's exile to a French villa (reportedly he's broke and on the run from indignant creditors) and Aristide's election in 1991 was marked by military coups, rigged elections and bloodshed as five governments toppled. Despite the best efforts of the Haitian bourgeoisie, Jean-Bertrand Aristide became president in free elections in February 1991. He was ousted seven months later and a reign of terror ensued.

The repression ended this fall, but as the Haitians will learn, there is a steep price.

The Multinational Monitor reports that Aristide has agreed to a draconian plan to restructure the Haitian economy in order to attract World Bank and the International Monetary Fund financing. …

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