By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
May 30, 2022
Haiti, I am sorry
We misunderstood you
One day we’ll turn our heads
And look inside you…
—David Rudder, “Haiti”
About 22 years ago I was a part of a New England delegation that travelled to Haiti to demand that Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the first democratically elected president of Haiti after years of dictatorship, be allowed to assume the office he had won fairly and squarely.
We met with the United States Ambassador to Haiti, but nothing came of it. Our pleas, like so many others, were like voices crying out desperately in a wilderness of deceit and deception.
In 2004, the United States abducted Aristide, removed him from power and took him to Central African Republic. In an interview with CNN, Aristide said he “saw the US military surround the airport, the palace, my house… They used pressure to push me out. That’s why I call it again and again a coup d’etat, a modern way to have a modern kidnapping”. (Los Angeles Times, March 2, 2004.)
White House press secretary Scott McClellan called Aristide’s accusation “nonsense”. He added: “Conspiracy theories do nothing to help the Haitian people move toward a better, more free and more prosperous future.” US officials insisted that Aristide approached them “to enquire about help, and by midnight, after consulting his family, had agreed to leave and to sign a letter of resignation”. (LA Times)
Colin Powell, the black Secretary of State at the time, also perpetrated the lie. He said Aristide left Haiti “willingly… It was his decision, based on what his security people were also telling him about the deteriorating situation, that he should leave. He went onto the airplane willingly. And that’s the truth”. (LA Times)
In 2003, Powell lied to the world when he said Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. It led to the death of 4,000 Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians. In 2005, in trying to expunge this bloodletting from his record, Powell admitted: “I didn’t lie. I didn’t know it was not true. I was secretary of state, not the director of intelligence,” (The Washington Post, October 18, 2021.) No weapons of mass destruction were ever found in Iraq and this lie remains an ignoble stain on his life.
What was Aristide’s crime? He was about to tell the world that the United States and France had ripped off the Haitian people of their wealth for over 200 years. As a result of their misdeeds, he was demanding reparations from France on behalf of his nation. The New York Times noted: “Generations after enslaved people rebelled and created the first free black nation in the Americas, their children were forced to work, sometimes for little or even no pay, for the benefit of others—first the French, then the Americans, then their own dictators.” (May 22)
The Times noted that over the last 200 years, the Haitians paid France about $560 million in today’s dollars. “But that doesn’t nearly capture the true loss. If that money had simply stayed in the Haitian economy and grown at the nation’s actual pace over the last two centuries…it would have added a staggering $21 billion ? double checking figure ? to Haiti over time, even accounting for its notorious corruption and waste.”
French diplomats and about 130 Haitian intellectuals denounced Aristide’s claims and called it “a desperate attempt” to detract from his drift toward totalitarianism, corruption and incompetence. Aristide’s estimation was accurate. It was exactly what several economists had found.
The Times also concluded French officials have long said that Mr Aristide’s call for restitution had nothing to do with his ouster; that he had taken an autocratic turn, lost control of the country and was spirited into exile to prevent Haiti, already heaving with turmoil, from careening into chaos.
And this is the kicker: “France’s ambassador to Haiti at the time, Thierry Burkhard, conceded in an interview that France and the United States had effectively orchestrated “a coup” against Mr Aristide, and that his abrupt removal was “probably a bit about” his call for reparations from France, too. “It made our job easier to dismiss the reparations claims without Mr Aristide in office.”
It is clear that Powell lied to the world about the US coup in Haiti in 2004 and that Aristide signed a resignation letter.
Aristide wanted to tell his truth to the world but he wasn’t given a chance to do so. The Los Angeles Times claimed: “Aristide is known for his skill at using international news media to his political advantage. In his interview with CNN, he said he would be ‘very delighted’ to come to the US to ‘tell the truth’ about what had been inflicted on him by Washington.”
Aristide is black. He was trying to tell the world what the US and France had done to his country. Volodymyr Zelenskyy is white. He has used the media to inform the US Congress, the British Parliament, the Canadian parliament and various media throughout the world about what Russia is doing to Ukraine. The press calls him a brave and courageous man (which he is) because he has fought back against the atrocities Russia is inflicting on his country.
Aristide was depicted as duplicitous because he decided to expose 200 years of deceit and deception that was practices against his country by the two leading powers of the 19th and 20th centuries. He was also accused of inventing “conspiracy theories”.
We may not be able to restore Haiti’s glory, but it is important to know that the roots of Haiti’s dispossession lie squarely in the rapacious actions of the US and France. They should be made to pay for their violence against the poor people in Haiti.