Ignoring Haiti's Troubled Past May Condemn It to New Despotism

By William Pfaff Copyright Los Angeles Times Syndicate | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), September 18, 1994 | Go to article overview

Ignoring Haiti's Troubled Past May Condemn It to New Despotism


William Pfaff Copyright Los Angeles Times Syndicate, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


Britain has uneasily agreed to cooperate in President Bill Clinton's promised invasion of Haiti, but this is only to cling to the tattered remnant of the special relationship. No one here, or in Paris, or anywhere else in Europe, really wants to be involved in the Haiti affair.

Haiti is at the same time insignificant and immense - for what it means in Caribbean history and has meant in the history of Europe and the United States as well.

Haiti's was the only successful slave revolt in history, carried out under the leadership of one of the most remarkable men of the epoch, Toussaint L'Ouverture. But Haiti's success in expelling European control led it to poverty, struggle between mulattoes and blacks, and lastingly oppressive government, leading up to the American intervention of 1915 and an occupation that lasted until 1934 (with U.S. fiscal control until 1947). What then followed was the populist Duvalier family dictatorships that continued until 1986.

Because of its coffee and sugar production, Haiti in 1789 was the most profitable colony in the world, "the pride of France, and the envy of every other imperialist nation," as C.L.R. James wrote in his classic 1938 history of the Haitian Revolution, "The Black Jacobins."

"In August 1791, after two years of the French Revolution and its repercussions in San Domingo, the slaves revolted. The struggle lasted for 12 years. The slaves defeated in turn the local whites and the soldiers of the French monarchy, a Spanish invasion, a British expedition of some 60,000 men and a French expedition of similar size under Napoleon Bonaparte's brother-in-law. The defeat of Bonaparte's expedition in 1803 resulted in the establishment of the Negro state of Haiti which has lasted to this day."

It was, after the United States itself, the second independent nation in the Western Hemisphere. Does Clinton know anything about this history? As with Cuba, he is making foreign policy in order to please domestic political constituencies. To do so is appallingly dangerous.

Certainly the feeble Haitian army is not going to throw an absurdly enormous American invasion force into the sea. The Haitian public voted for Jean-Bertrand Aristide as their president; his restoration ought to please them - in theory, at least. But what happens after an invasion is what counts - as the Clinton administration understands, but without providing an adequate answer.

Supposedly the Caribbean military forces recruited to aid this invasion would police the invasion's aftermath, and then the United Nations would take over. However, the United Nations has become the warehouse for insoluble problems, and its capacity for continuing to function as such must be questioned. …

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