Commentary: No regrets for making Haiti a ‘shithole’?

34
Sir Ronald Sanders is Antigua and Barbuda's Ambassador to the US and the OAS. He is also a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London and Massey College in the University of Toronto. The views expressed are his own. Responses to: www.sirronaldsanders.com

By Sir Ronald Sanders

The effect of the inappropriate depiction of Haiti, El Salvador and all African nations as “shit hole” countries is a matter that the people of the United States of America and their government and Congress should contemplate seriously.

The responses have been swift, showing a mixture of outrage and shock. At the time of writing this commentary, there has been no expression of regret about the comment that has done nothing but injure the relations between the United States and many countries. Hopefully, representatives of the US in other countries will distance themselves from it, and apologise as discreetly as they can.

I am here concerned particularly with the remarks about Haiti, a member state of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the current chair of the group’s heads of government caucus.

My colleague, the ambassador of Haiti to the United States, Paul Altidor, rightly said, “We feel in the statements, if they were made, the president was either misinformed or miseducated about Haiti and its people”.

The United Nations spokesman Rupert Colville, described the remarks as “racist”, adding that, “You cannot dismiss entire countries and continents as ‘shitholes,’ whose entire populations, who are not white, are therefore not welcome.”

Haiti, for us in the Caribbean is more than just a member of our community; it is the first nation to rise up against slavery and oppression in our region. Importantly when the Republic of Haiti was established on January 1, 1804, it was the first free nation of free black people to rise in a world of empires of Western European nations.

And, Haiti paid a very high price for its assertion that black people were born free, entitled to freedom and the right to fight for it.

In a real sense, from the moment of that assertion of freedom, Haiti was earmarked for the “shithole” status now applied to it. It was punished by every European nation, particularly France, and successive governments of the United States aided and abetted in the process.

France demanded huge reparations for the slaves and plantations it lost at the revolt of Toussaint L’Ouverture. In 1825, Haiti’s leaders were forced to agree to pay France the harsh levy of 90 million gold francs, which the country did not finish repaying until 1947.

For almost 100 years, Haiti was pushed into poverty by the French demand, upheld by Western European nations and the US. Indeed, the US, which continued to be a slave-owning nation after European nations outlawed it, did not recognise Haiti as a free nation until 1862 – the last major power at the time to do so.

But, even that recognition was meaningless. Taking advantage of Haiti’s lack of capacity to defend itself from external intervention, US naval ships entered Haitian waters no less than 24 times between 1849 and 1913, ostensibly “to protect American lives and property”. Finally, in 1915, the US invaded Haiti and ruled the country as an occupying force for 20 years.

During that period, Haiti and the Haitian people, already impoverished, exploited and isolated by what was then ‘the international community’ — Western European nations and the US – were further disadvantaged. Their constitution was rewritten against their will, something the US State Department admitted in 1927. Under that constitution, laws preventing foreigners from owning land were scrapped, allowing US companies to take what they wanted.

In 1926, a New York business publication described Haiti as “a marvellous opportunity” for US investment, stating that “the run of the mill Haitian is handy, easily directed, and gives a hard day’s labour for 20 cents, while in Panama the same day’s work cost $3”. US corporations grew from 13 in 1966 to 154 in 1981, enriching themselves, pauperising the Haitian people even more and doing little to add wealth to the economy.

And, as with slavery, the excesses of US occupation by US companies were justified by the language of racial superiority. Haitians were described as “coons”, “mongrels”, “unwholesome”, “a horde of naked niggers”. The New York Times reported US representatives as saying that Haiti needed “energetic Anglo-Saxon influence”.

The Haitians have also suffered from governments that suited foreign powers being put into office, only to be removed if their policies ceased to serve the interest of those foreign powers. Therefore, democracy in Haiti was emasculated not by the Haitian people, but by external forces and Haitian elites that they suborned.

Incidentally, the US has had balance of trade surpluses with Haiti for many decades. For instance, in 2014, the US trade surplus with Haiti was $356.4 million; in 2015 and 2016 respectively it was $190.5 and $191.9 million. For the 11 months, ending November 30, 2017, the surplus in favour of the US was already $385 million. So, for a ‘shithole’ country it has provided annual revenues and employment to the US of some magnitude.

Sadly, from this entire experience, Haiti is the poorest country in all the Americas. But it is far from a “shithole”, possessing as it does some of the most beautiful landscapes and seascapes in the Caribbean; a remarkably talented and creative people – Haitian art and craft is natural, untrained aptitude; and hard workers.

Of Haiti’s population of 10.4 million people, only 500,000 have permanent employment. Yet, the Haitian people maintain stability in a continuing struggle.

If Haiti is a “shithole”, those who made it so, should acknowledge their devastating role, and in their shame, they should pledge to do better.

Every Caribbean person, at all levels, should make it abundantly and crystal clear that we resent this depiction of Haiti; we call for acknowledgement by all who have exploited it and kept it in poverty; and we urge that, instead of dismissing it in unfortunate language, they implement programmes to atone for their part in its pauperisation.

For our part, the Caribbean should stand up for Haiti with pride and gratitude.

© Copyright to this article is held by Sir Ronald Sanders and its reproduction or republication by any media or transmission by radio or television without his prior written permission is an infringement of the law. Republished with permission.

print

34 COMMENTS

  1. Sir Ronald Sanders could not have put it better. Trump is only saying publicly what many US politicians are saying privately, especially republicans. Republicans have been very silent on not only this latest disgraceful incident but many others. Republicans like Rubio, Cruz, and Lindsey Graham who Trump publicly humiliated now think he is the greatest thing since sliced bread. Speaker of the house Paul Ryan, as usual gives very weak responses. This is not only directed at Africans, Latinos, and Haitians, but to every country that has a black population. We the people of the Caribbean should stop wanting to become colonies of America and should seek help when we need it for elsewhere. American aid comes with a very high price. America will use you for as long as it benefits them. Remember Noriega of Panama and what is taking place in Pakistan now

    • Your response is so much on point. What we as a People of color need to do is hurt American where it matters most, in the pocket. Stop shopping for two days, just two days and they would fall to their knees. Check out of their hotels and stop doing business with companies that’s owned by non blacks or Latinos.

  2. Sir Ronald: I was wondering if you had any nice pictures of Susan and yourself posing with our mutual friend , Donald (Shithole) Trump? We could photo shop You and Sue out and use his shot in our new coffee table book “Greatest Shitholes and Arseholes of the World”. I’m sure it would be a best seller world wide. Ron,your essay was fair, educational and just plain smart. Happy Near to you and Susan. Maj and Jack

    • U n your ilk has bit 1 response 2 truth n justice…attack the messenger which makes U no better than the shithouse encasing the shithole that is the Trump presidency

    • In the words of Martin Luther King “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea.”

  3. Let me just say that the Donald’s characterization of the places he named was spot on and true. If we as blacks have to have our success depend on the permission of the whites we are everything white supremacist ever said of us. What are we so stupid we can’t get out of an exploitative relationship. What are we so stupid as not to realize that in international relations there are no friends only interests. What we hope someone will come and get us out of this nethermost orifice. All these post independence leaders are just ashamed that the Donald told them exactly as it is. Sir Ronald Sanders and those of his ilk have no shame as they are a part of the leadership that lead us down this excremental pathway.

    • Truth be told in black and white. Mr. Sanders you are so right in everything you’ve said bit let’s not forget that money is so easy to pur leaders that they’ll sleep with whomever , sell whatever and say whatever in ORDER to be in good graces with Known Enemies. Though BELIZE is one of the New aforementioned countries, it’s just so sad that The Great Haitian is the brunt of this attack and Donald being the bearer of these news. I pray that we, as citizens of The Carribean gladly know OUR ENEMIES, those who’ve revealed their hatred and those who smile at us and whisper behind their hands. AWAKEN MY PEOPLE.

  4. Brilliant response from a true caribbean patriarch. I so wish that CARICOM would get its act together so that we could be less dependant on those countries like the US who only want to take our resources while implementing policies that endanger our right to meaningful existence.

  5. In my opinion,

    The biggest shithole of them all,
    belongs to Trump himself,
    it is just below his beak!!

    And overflowing with *********!

    Get a grip, Mr. President!

  6. I agree whole heartedly with your article Sir Ronald. We in the Caribbean need to stand together and object as strenuously as possible against this type of person. We have been too docile in coming to the defence of each other. We have not stood up forcefully enough in the presence of American”aggression”. We have not been forceful enough in our defence of the Cuban people when this same Donald Trump removed the effects of the good work of President Obama, in his support for the Cuban people, with Trump reisolating them. I join in every effort to demand an apology from the United States Government; not Donald Trump, but the Congress, who are the representatives of the American people. I plan to wear my T-Shirt, that I am getting printed that states: “Proud to be from a Shit-hole country;” I am African and Caribbean.Let us not forget, and hopefully the Canadian Government will raise objection on the matter, the previous
    Governor General of Canada was a Haitian. Trump owes the government and people of Canada an apology for his portrayal of their former Governor General’s country, and its people, in the way he has.

  7. Those of us from the Caribbean with lighter skin or white have generally lived a better life in their respective island than the majority, of which I am sure Sir Ronald is part. We get to visit, immigrate or go to school in the countries that we now seem to dislike. We run businesses that we pass from generation to generation and the majority of the population that keep us in business do not share our opportunity. We live in exclusive areas with servants ,yard boys etc.
    Who is Sir Ronald ,to talk about this when we have treated our own people like this for generations. Hearing the truth and having to look at ourselves in the mirror is not easy, so we turn it and deflect the truth so we can pass the blame.

  8. Thank you for being so clear. It is ironic that Americans look down on the poorest and most unstable countries of the Americas without acknowledging (in some cases without knowing) that it has been their government, intelligence services and military working in tandem with their corporations that have rendered them so. It is further unfortunate that Trump’s comments will only strengthen his political base. And these these spectacularly crude pronouncements also serve to deflect attention and headlines from his attack on the poor and marginalized within his own borders.

  9. The USA seems like a nasty pimp, mistreating the Caribbean countries like whores to the almighty dollar. The relationship improves once the tyranny stops by having the Caribbean ladies improve their self worth and status. The Caribbean countries must put the American ideologies aside and re-install their cultures and become stronger through unification. Corruption must cease on all levels of Caribbean governments, as it’s so shortsighted and robs from the future of the Caribbean recovery …. the people must usher in politicians that have good intentions for the welfare of the entire region, then hopefully within a few decades we might see a restored and beautiful independent Caribbean region, and the USA slavery economics would be just a wise memory.

  10. How many Haitian immigrants does Antigua and Barbuda accept each year? And where in Sir’s article is an acknowledgment of the vast sums of financial assistance gifted to Haiti over the last century? Not to excuse ignorant and racist remarks, but let’s not lose sight of reality.

  11. All that noble stuff is fine, but the question should be “Why was Haiti called a Shithole? Is it true or is it not true? We should first examine this objectively. Is Haiti to be hailed as a bastion of virtue that provides impeccably for it’s population and should be upheld as a fine example for all nations?

    I think not. What we should be doing, instead of hurling back stones, is seek to correct the considerable ills on the island so that it can no longer be called a shithole country.

  12. An Administration based on make America White Again – why is everyone surprised – the Republicans are accomplices in this Scam – let’s get to the polls You can’t afford to stay home – International Shame on the US

  13. Sir Ronald, I don’t think anybody else could have characterized your analysis more astutely as you did. You pounced with great factual authority on how some “powerful countries” help to under develop the Nation of Haiti. Your compelling argument as to why Haiti is struggling dated back long before the days of emancipation of slavery speaks loud and clear for all to know. Its sad! its time to right the wrong.

  14. It’s telling that Sir Ronald had to go back 200 years to find something positive to say about Haiti, conveniently leaving out the successive year’s of brutal dictatorships, poor governance, lack of education, rampant disease, high infant mortality rate, low life expectancy rate yet instead of taking responsibility and addressing these issues, the likes of Sir Ronald would rather take offence to being labeled a shithole country! You don’t like your country being called a shithole, don’t leave it, take responsibility and do something positive to bring about a change but romanticizing about a 200 year old revolution which has brought zero positive change to the people of Haiti is to delude yourself and evade responsibility for the current predicament Haiti is currently confronted with…

  15. It’s good to see how these comments have got us taking a closer look at our situation in the Carribean. We have for years allowed our politicians there to amass great wealth on the back of the poor, send their kids to elite schools, themselves attend elite schools. You see it’s ok, for us to do it or say it to our own people but when someone else says it, we are taught to use the “R” word. We have been brainwashed to think that republicans are bad and democrats are good. Let’s take a history lesson and see the reality. All I ask is you keep an open and honest mind. The first black president never made a trip to Haiti even though it would be less than an hours trip. But he sure went out of his way to go to all these countries in the Middle East and apologize for America. What Haiti did not deserve one. I’m sure he got a pass for only one reason. Earthquake 8 years ago and so much money in the billions was given for Haiti’s reconstruction to the darling of the darling of all blacks and nothing has been done to rebuild the country and now all these fake sympathizers and House n**** want to keep the status quo and protect the rapist who took all that belongs to Haiti. What trump did was blame the victim and forgot about the perpetrators the clintons and Haiti’s government who live like kings while doing nothing to help their own people. Speaking from experience, I went to Haiti after 34 years and was shocked to see the star of the island. What we really need is to bring those who were responsible before the world tribunal to give an account for what happened to the money. Oh wait, that will be worthless since the elite, politicians protect their own.

  16. It’s good to see how these comments have got us taking a closer look at our situation in the Carribean. We have for years allowed our politicians there to amass great wealth on the back of the poor, send their kids to elite schools, themselves attend elite schools. You see it’s ok, for us to do it or say it to our own people but when someone else says it, we are taught to use the “R” word. We have been brainwashed to think that republicans are bad and democrats are good. Let’s take a history lesson and see the reality. All I ask is you keep an open and honest mind. The first black president never made a trip to Haiti even though it would be less than an hours trip. But he sure went out of his way to go to all these countries in the Middle East and apologize for America. What Haiti did not deserve one. I’m sure he got a pass for only one reason. Earthquake 8 years ago and so much money in the billions was given for Haiti’s reconstruction to the darling of all blacks and nothing has been done to rebuild the country and now all these fake sympathizers and House n**** want to keep the status quo and protect the rapist who took all that belongs to Haiti. What trump did was blame the victim and forgot about the perpetrators the clintons and Haiti’s government who live like kings while doing nothing to help their own people. Speaking from experience, I went to Haiti after 34 years and was shocked to see the star of the island. What we really need is to bring those who were responsible before the world tribunal to give an account for what happened to the money. Oh wait, that will be worthless since the elite, politicians protect their own.

  17. I hasten to compliment Sir Ronald Sanders on his most ‘a propos’ response to President Trump’s commentary concerning Haiti. As a past Chairman of Royal Commonwealth Society Club in (1965-68)Jamaica, I have developed a keen awareness of the roles played by many of our British Commonwealth bretheren in furthering the cause of self-government on Terran Earth, and it came to realisation that Haiti has been an inspiration to probably all of them, regardless of the degree of cutaneal melanation of the majority of their citizens. The President was ill advised to have made such a comment and may have exposed the ‘rump’ in his Trump self, as revealed in the recently released video now going the rounds and showing the S***H**** word beamed onto one of his beautiful hotel.

  18. Indeed, this article by Sir Ronald Sanders is spot-on. One would be hard pressed in any attempt to argue that it is not: clear, concise, factual and essentially indisputable.

    This should be deemed “required reading” in all Governance/Political Science/Caribbean History courses.

  19. In denying the Haitian people and its leaders “agency” — the ability to freely determine and choose their fate — except during the Haitian revolution when they proudly and justly defeated Napolean’s armies, Sir Ronald, an exmplar of white Caribbean privilege if there ever was one, is guilty of a sublimnal neo-racist interpretation of post 1803 history.

    Blaming only the white American imperialists for Haiti’s current status as the poorest and most underdeveloped country in the Western Hemisphere is is just another example of Western intellectual imperialism in which black people are falsely depicted as the word’s eternal victims. This not only re-victimizes people like the poor of Haiti but exempts their home grown black political exploiters masquerading as populist leaders and their closed allies, the parasitic indigenous mulato business elite, from the present plight that ordinary Haitians are facing on a daily basis.

    Trump is not the enemy of the Haitian people. Their true and eternal enemies are their own elites.

  20. Sir Sanders,

    You have demonstrated, better than anyone else I have read, that ignorance and prejudice crumbles under the force of evidentially based argument. In the spirit of fairness, I wish to thank President Trump for creating this nasty situation so that we could be better informed about the real reasons why Haiti and other developing countries continue to experience difficulties. I had no idea, for example, that the French continued to demand reparations till as late as 1947. The ethical hypocrisy of a nation describing itself as the home of Liberté, égalité and fraternité is staggering. I’m sure that if most French citizens know about this now, they would demand that their government make reparations for Haiti’s past reparations. Once again, sir, many thanks for your robust, informed and powerful stance against ignorance and injustice.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.