Letter: ‘Those who remain silent in the face of injustice become collaborators’

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Dear Editor,

President Trump calls Haiti a ‘SHITHOLE” country. Does he know that America’s trade with Haiti generates about $US300M annually in surplus for America? Does he know that most of the clothes people buy from Walmart, JC Penny, Gap, Old Navy and other well-known stores come from Haiti, made by Haitians who are paid by American businesses as if they are indentured servants? While Haitians struggle for a descent living, Americans carry on with a legacy of exploitation.

The American President, Donald Trump, is a racist, a bigot and a despicable human being. There should be no “ands, ifs and buts” – he is a poster child for racism, bigotry and hatred. Every right-thinking citizen around the world must condemn him. CARICOM must take the lead and stand up for Haiti, condemning Mr. Trump and demanding an apology. We must not play lapdog to anyone in the world, even if he happens to be the President of the United States. Today it is Haiti and Africa. Tomorrow it might be us.

Mr. Trump, the President of the United States and the so-called leader of the free world, called Haiti, El Salvador and African countries “SHITHOLES”. Even though Guyana and the other Caribbean countries and other countries in Central and South America were not named, it is clear that Mr. Trump thinks of all these countries in the same way as he describes Haiti. He believes that citizens from the Caribbean, South and Central America, Africa and Asia are “shitholes” because of our colour. He sees citizens of Norway and other European countries as desirable immigrants to America, because they are white. It is vile and bigoted and we ought not be diplomatic and mince words.

Haiti is the first and only nation to free itself from slavery by standing up and revolting in an armed struggle against injustice. In 1804 it became the second independent country in the Americas. Haiti stands as the first free, independent black nation in the world. For its audacity to stand up against white hegemony, it has paid a horrendous price, one in which rich, white countries have conspired to keep  Haiti a poor, desperate country. Trump calls it a “shithole” today, but America since 1804 has led the conspiracy to create this legacy and now Trump is dumping salt in the wound.

America’s rogue role started since 1804. In spite of the fact that America won its freedom from Britain because white colonials did not want to pay taxes, America did not support the independence of Haiti in 1804. They saw Haiti’s independence which was led by a slave, Toussaint Louverture, as a challenge since it may inspire American slaves to rebel. The whites that won America’s independence were heroes, the blacks that won independence for Haiti were regarded as hooligans, bandits and terrorists. It took 60 years for America to recognize Haiti as independent.

As we are about to celebrate the life and times of a global icon and a man of justice, Martin Luther King, we stand with Haiti and we speak out against the ugliness of Mr. Trump. The ugly under-development of Haiti is the story of many of our countries, even if the details are very different. In all of these stories, America and other so called “developed Western” nations must be confronted with their sordid role in creating the legacies of poverty, dictatorship and corruption in many of our countries.

Trump basically pronounces that Haiti is a “shithole” because it is a country of black people. But Haiti is poor and has been besieged by a legacy of dictatorship and corruption not because it is a black country, but because of the legacy of “white invasion”.  The imposed reparation of 150M Francs that Haiti had to pay France because it declared itself independent in 1804, a payment which was only completed in 1952, contributed to Haiti’s economic and social repression. But America’s footprint in Haiti’s under-development establishes America as the chief under-development agent for Haiti.

America’s invasion in 1915, ordered by President Woodrow Wilson, was in part to secure a safety zone for the newly constructed Panama Canal and to promote America’s political and economic influence in Haiti and in the region. It was an early version of the Caribbean Basin Initiative.

Yet the major impetus for the Haiti invasion in 1915 was to eliminate any further influence from France and to stop the German’s growing influence in Haiti and in the wider Latin America. In America’s growing competition with Europe for hegemony in Latin America, Haiti was collateral damage. The invasion had much to do with the desire of the New York Bankers with interest to control Haiti’s National Bank, its custom revenues and its external debt. America also wanted to take control of Haiti’s Mole St. Nicolas as a naval base, much like it did Guantanomo Bay in Cuba.

Essentially, Haiti’s sovereignty, gained through the sacrifices of life and limb, was abrogated by the Americans during the occupation by American marines between 1915 and 1934. It ought to be noted also that American naval forces attacked Haiti at least 17 times between 1864 and 1915. Haiti has never recovered.

American marines ensured that they crafted a new constitution and this allowed America to take control of the most meaningful real estate and agricultural land. It was the Americans who disbanded Haiti’s own military and replaced it with a new military called the Gendermerie, a military outfit that became the backbone of the Duvalier dictatorship and dynasty. Excepting for short periods when a Haitian President defied America’s control, such as when President Aristide attempted to unshackled Haiti from American control, America has controlled the destiny of Haiti to Haiti’s detriment.

We see the control, in the form of so called-aid packages. In the 1930s, Haiti’s national budget was dependent on foreign aid to the tune of about 25%. In 1967 it was 30% and as of right now it is greater than 70%. In a pseudo-colonialist model, America and its European partners have installed powerful NGOs and funnel foreign aid through these NGOs, keeping Haiti under control by promoting weak governments. The health sector, for instance, is almost totally under the control of NGOs. While these NGOs might be doing great work, by not strengthening government, America maintains political control.

Throughout this injustice, Haiti has not bowed and has not been passive and compliant. Haiti has bravely struggled and sacrificed. During the American invasion, for example, there were many protests and rebellion.

Every December 6, Haitians observe the Les Cayes Massacre. During a demonstration on December 6, 1929, American marines opened fire on 1,500 defenseless Haitians, killing 12 and injuring and maiming dozens of others. In fact, during the period 1915 to 1934, more than 15,000 Haitians were killed for standing up for their rights. The brave Haitian resistance, called the “cacos” was responsible for one of America’s first military defeat when the “cacos” forced America to end the invasion in 1934.

In spite of the military might and political interference of rich, white countries and the many natural disasters, such as hurricanes and earthquakes, Haiti remains a fiercely independent and dignified country, standing tall, unbowed. When the most powerful person on earth, the President of America, insults countries like Haiti, we must remind them that they are the authors of our poverty, our hunger and the legacy of under-development which today give them the gumption to call our countries “SHITHOLES”.

I am from a poor country and a country that has its faults. But my country and my fellow citizens are not “shitholes”. We have our dreams and aspirations, just like every American, even the white ones. We struggle for survival often, but we blame no one and we do not harbour hate for anyone. We admire America and we see America as a beacon.

Poor as we are and hungry as many of us often are, we struggle to become better against odds that are most of the time not of our doing. To Donald Trump we say we love America and we see Americans as our friends, but we will not be silent when America’s President stands as an ugly bigot.

As Martin Luther King taught us: Those who remain silent in the face of injustice become collaborators. We will not aid and abet the racist President of America.

Yours sincerely,
Dr Leslie Ramsammy

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