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Haitian security forces and civilians take to the streets of the capital Port-au-Prince on July 8, 2021, a day after the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse. (Photo: Richard Pierrin/Getty Images)

US Policy Is Deeply Implicated in Haiti's Crisis

Following the killing of President Jovenel Moïse, Haitians are hesitant to seek aid from the United States, due to the West's long history of intervention in the island nation.

Jeff Abbott

 by The Progressive

Exactly what happened in the lead-up to the early morning of July 7, when armed mercenaries invaded the home of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse, is still unclear. What is known is that Moïse was assassinated, and eighteen Colombian mercenaries (seven of whom received some level of training from the U.S. military) and three Haitian Americans are accused of conspiring to kill him. 

The assassination is plagued by mystery, intrigue, and contradictions.

"For more than 215 years, the United States has punished Haiti for its revolution that occurred at a time when the U.S. economy was driven by chattel slavery."

Moïse was shot and killed in his home in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, by armed men who claimed to be agents from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. The assassination has caused a further unraveling of the delicate political situation in the Caribbean country, with rival factions trying to take power. 

“The crisis actually was very high even before Jovenel Moise’s assassination. But, after his death, the situation here is very uncertain,” Rosy Auguste Ducena, a human rights defender with the Port-au-Prince-based human rights organization Réseau National de Défense des Droits de l'homme, tells The Progressive. “The [State] institutions have been weakened by the Moïse administration and he didn’t hold elections when he had to. Therefore, the void left by his assassination is very immense.” 

The situation in Haiti was largely unraveling prior to the assassination. Moïse faced widespread criticism over accusations of corruption, failing to address rising gang and paramilitary violence, and causing a constitutional crisis when Moïse stated that he had one more year left in his term after his presidential term came to an end thisFebruary.

“The human rights situation was worsening day after day,” Auguste Ducena says. “The judiciary is not working at all. There are assassinations, kidnappings, gang rapes, massacres, a weakened police force, and the rights to live with security are violated. This is the everyday situation of the country since 2018.”

Moïse’s unilateral rule faced intense protests in the streets across the country, as the security situation continued to deteriorate. Just a week before the assassination of Moïse, a journalist, a human rights activist, and three others were killed in drive-by shootings in Port-au-Prince. Yet the embattled president had received support from the Biden Administration, which rarely spoke out against the crisis that the U.S. government helped create. 

“The international community supported Moise’s administration even as the civil society kept saying that supporting Moïse’s administration was also supporting corruption and impunity,” Auguste Ducena says. “And today, even after Moïse’s assassination, nothing has change because the international community is still on the wrong side of the history.”

She adds, “As of today, the international community is pushing for elections while we, the civil society, are asking for a transition because the population doesn’t trust this team and because of the spread of insecurity in every part of the country.”

Following the assassination, Claude Joseph initially assumed power as acting prime minister, but ceded power to Ariel Henry, who has support from the international commuinty. The United States continues to call for elections in Haiti. 

President Moïse was buried in the Northern city of Cap-Haïtienon July 22 amid continued protests. 

The Biden Administration has largely maintained the Trump-era foreign policy toward Haiti, even as Moïse centralized power around him, unleashed a terror of government-backed gangs against popular neighborhoods, and targeted the Haitian press. In exchange, the United States gained more support against the Venezuelan administration of Nicolas Maduro. 

“A combination of fear and the support from the United States had kept him in power,” Brain Concannon, a lawyer and board member of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, tells The Progressive. “His fate was connected to the support from the United States, so he voted against Venezuela in the Organization of the American States.”

Concannon points out that Moïse had inherited the structures of control that had begun with the U.S.-backed administration of Michel Martelly, a singer known for his lewd stage performances and lyrics who was elected as Haiti’s president in 2011. Martelly had initially failed to gain enough votes in the 2010 election to pass to the second round of voting, but after accusations of corruption and support from the Obama Administration, he was pushed through to the second round of elections, where he ultimately won. 

“As long as he kept the United States happy, they kept supporting him even though he was raiding the government treasury to create his machine,” Concannon says. “The United States continued to stand by him and downplay the complaints from the Haitian people and human rights organizations.”

Martelly’s term ended without a presidential election in 2016. While a transition government was formed, the subsequent elections were plagued by low voter turnout. Moïse was elected in 2016 and took office in February 2017, and continued to concentrate power. His administration was marked by corruption and the elimination of threats to his power, including suspending parliament and co-opting the courts.  

Amid the crisis brought about by the assassination of President Moïse, then-acting Prime Minister Joseph requested that the United States and the United Nations send military troops to assist in the securing of the situation. Initially, the Biden Administration rejected this request.  Any troop deployment to Haiti would be extremely problematic, as there is a long history of the West’s intervention in Haiti.  

“There is a bipartisan policy of limiting popular democracy in Haiti and keeping Haiti exploitable to U.S. interests,” Concannon says. “As long as this is the overriding objective, no intervention will be helpful.”

Haiti was the first country where enslaved people liberated themselves, forming the second republic in the Americas. But since the beginning of the Haitian revolution in 1791, culminating in the January 1, 1804, declaration of independence from France, the country has faced invasions, extortion, and manipulation from foreign powers, including from the United States.

For more than 215 years, the United States has punished Haiti for its revolution that occurred at a time when the U.S. economy was driven by chattel slavery. It wasn’t until after the Civil War that the United States would formally recognize Haiti. 

Haiti was occupied by U.S. Marines in 1915 after a series of presidential assassinations, which caused fears by Citi Bank that Haiti could not pay its debts. The early years of the occupation were met by an insurgency led by Charlemagne Péralte, who was captured in 1919 and nailed to a door, resembling a crucifixion, by U.S. Marines in a grotesque warning to the population. The Marines were finally forced to leave in 1932 following further uprising against the occupation. 

The occupation did nothing to strengthen Haiti’s democracy. Rather, it established the country’s military which was responsible for the coups in the following decades. 

In the decades following the removal of its troops, the United States supported the brutal dictatorship of François Duvalier, commonly known as Papa Doc, who ruled Haiti for decades through fear.

U.S. Marines were once again deployed to Haiti in 1994 following the return of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a popular priest and advocate of Liberation Theology who was elected to the presidency in 1989 and overthrown in a coup d’etat in 1991. Aristide would be reelected to the presidency in 2001, but was once again overthrown in a coup d’etat in 2004 after he demanded that France pay back the money that the country had extorted from Haiti in the 1800s. 

The United Nations deployed a military peacekeeping force to Haiti, known as the United Nations Stabilisation Mission in Haiti, following the 2004 coup, which was accused of grave human rights violations. These violations included United Nations troops in northern Haiti causing an outbreak of cholera after human waste was dumped into the rivers in October 2010. The United Nation’s militarized peacekeeping force ended in 2017. 

“When [the Stabilisation Mission] left, Haiti had more guns and less democracy than the day before the mission was authorized, ” Concannon says. “The mission was really there to consolidate the coup.” 

Despite the current crisis in Haiti, the U.S. State Department told Haitians not to come to the United States. For Haitian human rights advocates, there’s a sense that the international community will not be able to aid in the crisis either. But the United States and other countries will likely continue to exert their influence on Haitian politics through other means.

And that is exactly what many Haitians fear.

“Haitians are asking to have the chance to resolve their problems on their own,” Auguste Ducena says. “We want no foreign intervention. Today, we will deal with our problems alone to find Haitian solutions to the crisis. There is no rush. Let’s take the time needed to figure it out.”

© 2021 The Progressive

Jeff Abbott

Jeff Abbott is an independent journalist and photographer currently based out of Seattle, Washington. He has lived in Haiti and Guatemala, and has covered social movements in the United States, Mexico and Guatemala.

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