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The Untold Truths in Trump’s Bigoted View of Haiti

“In politics, there are no permanent friends or permanent enemies, only permanent interests” (Unknown). Worse than being an enemy or an annoyance, Haiti is presently of no interest to the United States except from a public image standpoint. This is an unfortunate reality that Haitians must accept and work to change. In a 1994 TV interview, then Senator Joe Biden said: “If Haiti just quietly sunk into the Caribbean, or rose up 300 feet, it wouldn’t matter a whole lot in terms of our interests.” Although often taken out of context (Biden was comparing the necessity for military interventions in country like Bosnia versus Haiti), that remark fits into a long-standing view and understanding of Haiti by American administrations. Most recently, Trump, the former embattled American president, reacted to the images of Haitian migrants amassing at the border by publicly repeating what some media had reported him saying in the past, that most of “these people probably have AIDS”. He added that accepting Haitians seeking asylum would be “a death wish” to America.

The treatment of Haitians at the Texas border almost like cattle being rounded up, under the presidency of Joe Biden, a man who is renowned for being compassionate and who promised more human immigration policies in response to the family separation approach by the Trump administration, highlights the fact that Haitians are not afforded the respect and dignity that would be offered to persons of other nationality or ethnicity. Cubans and Jewish immigrants come to mind. Some of the people at the border were deported without due process and sent back to a country were economic catastrophe and hellish insecurity coupled with natural disasters to create a humanitarian nightmare. All people who have suffered and persecuted deserve to be received in a land where their basic rights would be respected and where they can nurture the hope of a better life for their families. It seems, however, that leverage, and interests lead some group of people to automatically be given that protection while others are left to the whims of political expediency.

America does not want to upset the people of Israel, a crucial military and geopolitical ally. They also want to show to Cubans and to the world that the Unites States are the good guys and that Russia, a supporter of the communist regime in Cuba, is the bad guy. Plus, Cubans constitute an important voting bloc in Florida, a political battleground that both Democratic and Republican presidential aspirants covet every four years.

Haitians, however, although in important numbers in Florida, do not offer much political benefit to either the Democratic or the Republican party. They are not united enough to lobby the major parties or to command any special attention from presidential candidates. In the heat of campaigns some symbolic gestures and a few vague promises are made, but the pudding never tastes like milk and honey. Haitians are not perceived to bring any significant contribution economically or socially contrary to reality because of the same lack of unity and organization of their people and resources. A valuable argument can be made for the historical gift from Haiti in helping to advance the cause of freedom and liberty in the US and around the world whether by the power of their example or by concrete sacrifices. One could appreciate the meaningful addition of the Haitian culture to the literary and artistic fabric of the United States and of the world. Haitians could also claim a rightful debt and present a moral bill to the international community for the injustice they have orchestrated to punish a young Haiti for the sin of defeating a colonial power and dare proclaiming their independence. Imagine forcing a young country who wants to integrate the world economy and have access to international markets to pay a debilitating indemnity to compensate their former masters.

Haitians would have a legitimate claim of restitution from France, Spain, and the US that exploited its natural resources during their shameful occupation (1915–1934) of Haiti and their hands in continuously supporting corrupt governments and causing the intellectual hemorrhage that dried the country of its best human assets. Sometimes, an event like the assassination of the president, a major earthquake or the kidnapping of missionaries might warrant some attention or expression of friendship and support. But the truth is, it does not matter. None of that matters enough to the United States and other world powers if Haitians do not stand on their own feet, united in the vision of the nation they want and showing that they can lead themselves.

When Donald Trump calls Haiti a “shithole country” or stands against Haitian immigrants he reveals three major truths. First, he confirms his chronic disregard for facts, truth, and human dignity. He confirms his lack of decency, generosity, and his intellectual penury relating to world history, human diversity and the value of immigration broadly speaking. Secondly, Trump’s commentary reflects the US general approach to Haiti. Haiti is not important. The goal is not to provide opportunities to Haitians or give them the latitude to define their own destiny. The approach is to give aid, keep Haiti as stable (quiet) as possible, keep them away from our borders even if that means supporting corrupt politicians and masquerade elections.

Lastly, the manner in which Trump speak of Haiti and the treatment that Haitians receive under the Biden’s administration show that Haiti is a “pitimi san gadò” (a sheep without a shepherd) and that is not solely the fault of our American “friends”. The children of Haiti have lost the memory of their own glory. They have forgotten their place in history and the awesome responsibility they inherited from their ancestors. Haitians have not put Haiti first and most self-proclaimed leaders and saviors have prioritized their personal interest and the interest of their group. The intellectual and business elites have used their influence and their connections with foreign entities to create an institutionalized system of exploitation and of corruption that prevents true economic development and structural change. And the members of the Haitian diaspora when they are not detached, complaining of being excluded (they have a point), or divided, are not organized enough to make their voices heard and have an impact in decisions being made about Haiti on the global stage. On paper, Haiti has the right friends, the inspiring history, the colorful culture, but, Haiti has been forgotten, abandoned by those it was supposed to count on, by those for whom it has fought and bled.

Beyond all the noise and outrage, the truth is that the first Black republic is on the brink of becoming a failed state and only real efforts, sacrifice, unity, and care from Haitians can bring Haiti back to a place where the neglect, exploitation and insults will not touch the psyche of a proud people.

Bency Alphonse, M.S.

Is The Executive Director of HALI

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