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From owner-haiti@lists.webster.edu Thu Oct 16 19:50:37 2003
Date: Thu, 16 Oct 2003 16:12:44 -0500 (CDT)
To: Haiti mailing list <haiti@lists.webster.edu>
Subject: 16955: This Week in haiti 21:31 10/15/2003 (fwd)
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On eve of 200th anniversary of Haitian independence: A history of U.S. embargoes

By Greg Dunkel, Haiti Progres, Vol. 12 no. 31, 15-21 October 2003

In 1806, Haiti was diplomatically isolated. It had audaciously declared independence two years before, after crushing Napoleon’s French army sent to re-enslave it. But no country in the world recognized its independence. Certainly France, which had just suffered a major blow to its fortunes and prestige, refused. Spain still had its slave-based colonial empire in the Caribbean and Latin America. Great Britain, at that time the predominant world power, worried over its plantations in Jamaica, just 75 miles from Haiti, whose profits also depended on the brutal super-exploitation of enslaved Africans.

There was substantial trade between the United States and Haiti, even after the Haitian revolution ended slavery. Haiti sold coffee, molasses, sugar, cotton, hides and so on and bought dried cod, cloth, hardware and other bulk commodities. But Thomas Jefferson, the slave-owning, slave-selling president of the United States, was terrified by the successful slave rebellion and went so far as to call Toussaint Louverture’s army cannibals. Louverture was a leader of Haiti’s liberation struggle.

Jefferson gave backhanded support to the Haitian struggle when its successes led France to consider selling Louisiana. But that was just a temporary maneuver. He was implacably opposed to Haitian independence.

He tried hard to prevent any contact between the United States and Haiti. Jefferson called upon Congress, which his party controlled, to abolish trade between the two countries. France and Spain, two major colonial powers in the Caribbean at the time, were also enforcing boycotts of Haitian trade. Consequently, partially in 1805 and finally in 1806, trade between the United States and Haiti was formally shut down.

Trade still continued on an unofficial basis. U.S. ships could call at Haitian ports, but Haitian ships were excluded from U.S. ports. This decimated the Haitian economy, already weakened by 12 years of hard fighting and much colonial sabotage.

In the 1820s, South Carolina Sen. Robert V. Hayne made the U.S. position absolutely clear when he stated: Our policy with regard to Haiti is plain. We never can acknowledge her independence.

The embargo let U.S. merchants dictate the terms of trade between the two countries, establishing a neocolonial relationship. Jefferson and the other racist slave owners kept the United States from recognizing Haiti until the U.S. Civil War ended slavery here in 1863. Before that time the U.S. slave owners presented the racist argument that Haiti’s devastating economic decline was an example of what happens when Africans govern themselves. These slave owners did not mention that Haiti’s problems were caused by cruel and punishing neocolonial economic policies and actions.

Even in the midst of a civil war fought over the existence and expansion of slavery in the United States, outright racist actions were common in Washington. In April 1862, when Sen. Charles Sumner raised the issue of recognizing Haiti and Liberia, representatives of border states like Maryland and Kentucky objected to the presence of Black diplomats in Washington. (For more information, see The Struggle for the Recognition of Haiti and Liberia as Independent Republics, Charles H. Wesley, The Journal of Negro History, Vol. 2, Oct., 1917.)


In the early 1800s, Haiti’s government still felt threatened by France even after it had crushed Napoleon’s army in 1802. In 1821 France offered internal self-rule under a French protectorate. This was essentially what Louverture thought he had won in 1801.

Haiti had given asylum and essential military and material help to Sim¢n Bol¡var in his struggle to free Latin America. But Spain still possessed Cuba and Puerto Rico, had claims over the eastern portion of the island of Hispaniola, now the Dominican Republic, and still profited from slavery. Furthermore, Haiti faced the hostility of the United States even from sectors like the Northern bourgeoisie, who weren’t tied to slavery but were still thoroughly racist.

In return for official recognition as an independent nation, President Jean-Pierre Boyer offered France 150 million gold francs indemnity and custom duties half that of any other nation. This was a tremendous sum, estimated by the present Haitian government to be some $21 billion in current dollars including interest. After a show of force by the French navy, Haiti swiftly borrowed 24 million francs to pay the first installment.

The money was earmarked to indemnify the slave owners and their heirs for their losses during Haiti’s revolution. For Haitians, the freedom they had won with their blood had to be also paid for in cash.

After France’s recognition, Great Britain and the other European powers quickly followed suit. But the United States refused.

France’s financial hold on Haiti continued until the first U.S. occupation in 1915. This hold was so complete that even when Haiti set up its Banque Nationale in the 1880s, it was done with French capital and French bank officers.

During the 1800s Haiti had two neocolonial overlords: France and the United States, both of which extracted as much as they could from the country, blaming its economic problems on what the Haitians were forced to do to survive.


In the 19th century, the United States and the European powers used Haiti’s extreme diplomatic isolation and the devastation resulting from its revolution against the French slave owners to control Haiti. In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, the United States uses Haiti’s dire poverty.

Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere by any measure.

Haiti’s debt was $302 million in 1980. In 1997 it was almost $1.1 billion, which is almost 40 percent of its Gross National Product. The value of its exports has fallen to 62 percent of 1987 levels. It should be listed as a severely indebted low- income country but the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank have refused to do so.

More than 80% of the people in the countryside regularly don’t get enough to eat. Some 50% of the people are illiterate. Seventy percent are unemployed. Life expectancy is 56 years and falling. Infant mortality is more than double the Latin American and Caribbean average. (Figures from PAPDA the Haitian Platform to Advocate for an Alternative Development)

Few people in Haiti have a reliable supply of clean water and those who do buy it by the jug.

The U.S. government put an embargo on loans to Haiti from the Inter-American Development Bank and got the European Union, another large donor to Haiti, to do the same. The United States took this action because in the 2000 elections, Washington’s favored candidates lost.

When U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell spoke at the Organization of American States meeting in Santiago, Chile, in June, he warned that the OAS would re-evaluate its role in Haiti if the Aristide government did not conform to OAS resolutions about the organization of Haiti’s elections. This was also a warning to Latin American countries to follow the U.S. policy on Haiti.

The United States wants to rig Haitian elections so that its favored candidates win. In the 19th century, it used gunboats and threats to assure victory. Now it’s more convenient to hide the hand that throws the rock behind an organization like the OAS.

But Haiti is not Florida, where George W. Bush stole the last presidential election. The first election that Aristide contested in 1990 was in fact more than just an election. It was a mass movement, a Lavalas flood to elect a people’s candidate and it swept all the encrustations and debris left over from decades of foreign interference and U.S.-backed Duvalierist terror.

Aristide’s election was a shock to U.S. reliance on rigged cosmetic elections to put in politicians who will enforce neo- liberal capitalist exploitation.

Despite a 1991 military coup to oust Aristide that cost over 5,000 lives and all sorts of CIA skullduggery, popular support for Aristide remained strong. He and his party won the 2000 election. The real reasons the U.S. and European governments are withholding aid from Haiti are to force concessions out of Aristide or topple his administration should he not submit to imperialist demands and to punish the Haitian masses as was done in the 19th century for daring to make a revolution that ended slavery.