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  • Writer's pictureDonald V. Watkins

What Does America Owe to Haiti and Why?

Updated: Oct 15, 2021

By: Donald V. Watkins

Copyrighted and Published on September 30, 2021

As September 2021 draws to an end, Americans can finally breath a sigh of relief that the 16,000 migrants camped out under a bridge in Del Rio, Texas have been cleared out. The overwhelming majority of these migrants were from the small Caribbean Island nation of Haiti.

The Haitian migrants left their country a long time ago and had been living in Chile, Guatemala, and other countries in the Central and South America. They made their way to Del Rio by traveling from Haiti to Chile, Guatemala, and other countries in Central America first. From there, they traveled to Acuna, Mexico, where they crossed the Rio Grande into Del Rio, Texas.

When the migrants arrived at Del Rio, it was a nightmare experience for American Border Patrol agents, who were totally unprepared for this surge of migrants. The migrants had to be detained, fed, housed, and processed. Eventually all but 3,000 of these migrants were deported to Haiti and their other countries of origin. The U.S. is currently processing the applications for entry into America for about 3,000 Haitian migrants who were not deported.

Published videos of Border Patrol agents chasing migrants of color on horseback sparked outrage in the Biden White House and around America. The videos evoked images straight out of America's treatment of blacks during the slavery era.

So, what does America owe to these Haitian migrants, and why?

America Joined European Nations in Punishing Haiti for over 200 Years for a Successful Haitian Slave Revolt Against Their French Colonizer/Slave Owners

On January 1, 1804, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, a native Haitian, declared the independence of Haiti from France colonization. This proclamation brought to an end the only successful slave revolution in history and transformed the French colony into the second independent state in the Western Hemisphere behind the United States (which declared its independence from Great Britain in 1776). With this act, Haiti arose as a symbol of humanity, liberty, and dignity for peoples of African descent, and it changed the course of history.

The momentousness of the Haitian revolution was matched only by the speed and efficacy with which it was marginalized and "forgotten" by whites in the Western World. The exceptional nature of the revolution in a slaveholding world was surpassed only by the interest the colonial powers of Europe and the Americas had in suppressing the memory of it from public discourse, written and oral history, and news accounts following the declaration of Haiti's independence.

As migrants of all colors flowed into North America from the 1790s into the early nineteenth century, the fear engendered in whites by a successful black slave revolution so close to its shores was remembered for generations in the United States. This is particularly true in the Antebellum South where it was held up as evidence that "race war would be the only result of the universal emancipation of the slaves."

From 1804 through 1934, the United States, Spain, Great Britain, and France carried out a sustained campaign of commercial and political interference with the internal affairs of Haiti. During this period, these four foreign powers raped and pillaged Haiti's natural resources and financial assets and exploited its national economy.

American presidents who owned slaves of African descent were extremely hostile in their policies toward Haiti. President Thomas Jefferson actually preferred a Napoleonic colony to a free black republic in the Caribbean. Jefferson never extended diplomatic recognition to Haiti for fear that its ambassador to the United States would inflame American slaves "by exhibiting in his own person an example of a successful revolt."

After the U.S. Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 was enacted into law, which made it easy for whites to kidnap and sell free blacks into slavery, thousands of free African-Americans in the Northern states fled to Canada, Mexico, and Haiti for their own safety. In 1857, the U.S. Supreme Court declared in the Dred Scott case that, "A Negro had no rights that a white man was bound to respect." In response to this decision, an exodus of blacks in America, both runaway slaves and free persons of color, made their way to Haiti as quickly as they could.

In 1915, under pressure from First National Bank of New York, President Woodrow Wilson ordered the U.S. Army to invade Haiti. The Army seized Haiti's national Capitol and took all of the gold from the country's treasury. It also wrecked Haiti's national economy. After 111 years of independence, Haitians no longer had a voice in the administration of their national affairs. America ruled the country with an iron fist. The U.S. Army's armed occupation of Haiti ended on August 21, 1934.

In 1931, Marine Corps General Smedley D. Butler summed up our financial intervention in Haiti this way: "I helped make Haiti .... a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenue in .... Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints."

On February 28, 2004, some 200 years after Haiti declared its independence, French, Canadian, and U.S. forces backed an armed insurgency against Haiti's first democratically elected president, Jean Bertrand Aristide. Described as a "humanitarian intervention," the armed overthrow of Aristide is one more example of the triumph of neo-colonialism over the political choice of a majority of the Haitian people.

Were the Migrants at Del Rio the Descendants of Blacks Who Fled America to Avoid Enslavement?

Many of the Haitians at Del Rio, Texas are descendants of the American blacks who were forced to flee America to avoid captivity and enslavement by slavers in the 1800s. In light of this fact, what obligations does America have to these migrants?

Why is America not properly welcoming the descendants of slavery-era black refugees back home to American soil? Chasing these migrants with Border patrol agents on horseback is exactly what their ancestors fled from; it is not how the descendants of these refugees should be welcomed back home in 2021.

When is America going to return the gold the U.S. stole from Haiti's national treasury, along with all accrued interest, theft penalties, and a reasonable payment for Haiti's loss of the use of this gold for 106 years?

What responsibility do the Wall Street banks that General Smedley empowered have with respect to the U.S.'s financial intervention in Haiti? When will they pay up the money they owe to the Haitian government? This restitution is similar in nature to what was required of Swiss banks when they were forced to return cash, valuable paintings, and expensive jewelry to the rightful Jewish owners. German soldiers stole these valuables from Jewish victims and hid them in the vaults of these banks during World War II.

Finally, when will one of our living U.S. Presidents tell America the full truth about our nation's 217 years of ugly, racist, and embarrassing mistreatment of Haiti's government and its people?

IMAGE: Haiti's history with America

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