The U.S. and Haiti

America’s role in creating the basket case of the West

Mr. Krulder is a graduate student in Chico State University’s Department of History.

Already suffering from grinding poverty, Haiti fell victim last week to the planet’s caprices. A massive earthquake killed untold thousands in the capital Port-au-Prince. Not surprisingly, the radical right in our own country began a campaign of misinformation about the island nation only 581 miles from the coast of Florida.

Fear? Perhaps.

The United States has a long and troubled history with Haiti. During the French Revolution, Haitian slaves managed to petition the Directorate and then Napoleon. At the heart of the matter was whether the slogan “Liberty, Equality, and Brotherhood” actually meant something. Denied, Haitian slaves took to violence (much as American and French revolutionaries had) to remove the colonial powers and created a republic of their own.

Trouble was, Haiti was black, and white Southerners were horrified by a successful (and gruesome) slave revolt so close to their shores. It was 1804, and the Jefferson administration kowtowed to Southern legislators; the United States actively campaigned internationally to discredit Haiti and imposed trade sanctions and blockades—just about anything to ensure Haiti’s failure.

It worked.

In the 20th century, Woodrow Wilson ordered Marines to land in Haiti in 1914 under the pretext of Europe’s alarming militarism and fears that Germany might seize it. After Wilson’s cronies wrote the Haitian constitution, our troops remained until 1934, propping up dictator after dictator who catered to the whims and likings of U.S. foreign policy.

Under the weight of a crushing depression, FDR removed our military presence in Haiti, thus ending the longest military occupation of any country in American history.

Televangelist Pat Robertson’s recent, incredible assertion that God hates Haiti because it made “a pact with the Devil” is not only insensitive to a real need, but ignorant of history and our role in ensuring the failure of that nation.

And Rush Limbaugh’s fantastical assertion that the White House Web site, which provides links to the Red Cross and the Center for International Disaster Information, is pilfering donations and wants your e-mail address only to promote President Obama and his causes is equally laughable.

In short, do what you feel is right; give if you feel the need to give. But do understand how Haiti arrived at where it is today.