Editor’s Note: Although this piece was written in 2010, it’s implications are still worth examining today. This piece takes a look back at a 1970s U.S. document that gives context to the foreign relations between the U.S. and Haiti at the time and the overall sentiments U.S. officials have about Haiti’s political future.
By Garry Pierre-Pierre
Today, the international community gathered at the United Nations to decide how much each country will donate to the Haiti tin cup. Over the years, what to do about Haiti has seemed to be the preoccupation of many world leaders. The United States, as the most influential power in Haiti, has had its share of ups and downs when it comes to the island nation. Recently, a U.S. document entitled “National Security Study Memorandum 70 – Haiti” began circulating among some in Haiti.
The classified document was written on January 8, 1970 and declassified on April 16, 2002. It is a chillingly candid – some would say arrogant – document from U.S officials who see little use for Haiti. So today, as the “Haiti problem” is once again at the forefront of world discussions, it is worth looking at this document which is akin to the Haitian version of the Pentagon Papers.
“The trouble with Haiti is that it cannot reasonably be considered a member of the hemispheric community, and yet there it is, right in the middle of the Caribbean. The trouble with Haiti is that its leadership has been a succession of scoundrels, each of whom has driven the country further into darkness and desolation. The trouble with Haiti is that it is barely a country, yet its resident and expatriate would-be elites demand that it be treated like one. The trouble with Haiti is that it won’t respond to anybody’s therapy. Even if Haiti’s trouble should be compounded by violence and an uncertain succession after Duvalier passes from the scene, its hemispheric neighbors would be little tempted to press for intervention. And no matter who succeeds Duvalier, Haiti’s troubles are not likely to be relieved.”
This passage confirms what many of us have felt for quite some time and still guides American foreign policy toward Haiti. The language may have been more softened these days, at least, publicly, but the attitude remains the same at the higher echelon of American government. It reminds me when General John Hill, the former Southern Command commander told me that Haiti was not ready for General Electric or General Motors when I told him that during a meeting at his headquarters that those generals were my preferred ones to help Haiti.
The 32-page declassified document was essentially a look at Haiti post Francois Duvalier. It described an ambivalent relationship with the ruthless dictator. While the author or the report loathed the dictator, it provides little option to save or help the Haitian people under his iron grip.
“Duvalier remains an absolute despot,” the report says. ”[A]s long as he lives in control of his mental faculties he will not accept rivals nor groom a successor. In general, retention of the status quo is about the best the U.S should now seek, for our vital national interests in Haiti are not greatly threatened now nor are the likely to be in the foreseeable future.”
In describing Haiti’s people, the report said: “The lot of the people – the 90 percent who are illiterate and who subsist as peasant farmers or city slum dwellers – has not changed basically in the past 12 years.”
The report had this to say about Haitian exiles:
“The various Haitian exile groups – split among themselves by personal rivalries – do not seem to be sufficiently strong to threaten the regime. Located for the most part in New York, they are disorganized and lack resources. Their strength can be numbered by dozens rather than hundreds.”
I often wonder what the upper echelons of the United States government are saying about the current exiles, who are now known as Diaspora. We are a considerably larger group these days, but we’re not much better organized and we still lack resources; most of our collective savings, totaling about $2 billion is sent back to Haiti so that our families and friends can survive. It is also a challenge for the Diaspora to get its act together and begin creating institutions that can help Haiti become the real nation that we seem to want it to be.
The 1970 report outlines a history of U.S. involvement in Haiti. Some of the policies look a lot like what is still in place today.
“The United States has played a crucial role in twentieth century Haiti,” report says. “Our early involvement, inspired by fears of increasing European influence in Haiti, later took the form of attempts to help Haiti modernize and develop. This has in turn implied certain responsibilities both in our eyes and those of the Haitians.
Since World War II, our involvement has been limited mainly to economic and military assistance programs. Before 1957, these consisted principally of $30 million in long term Export-Import Bank loans (including $27 million for the Peligre Dam), a small technical assistance program, military training, and hurricane relief.”
This could be said about today’s Haiti. There is still little direct aid going to the Haitian government. Lately, a lot of focus has been on the so-called non-governmental organizations, whose track record in helping Haiti move forward has done precious little to alleviate poverty. While the Haitian government may be corrupt, these organizations have been incompetent in achieving their ostensible goals of providing real development to Haiti.
DETAILS OF PAST US AID TO HAITI
American officials have said, until the earthquake, they spent more than $4 billion in aid to Haiti since 1990. But they have little to show for it. I would love to see an itemization of the loot.
In 1970, here’s what the U.S. government said about aid to Haiti:
“After our AID Mission withdrew in 1963, we continued to support a few humanitarian assistance projects (principally malaria eradication and PL 480 food distribution) of only marginal political value to Duvalier. Most of the current US assistance is channeled to the Haitian people through multi-lateral or private charitable institutions. We have avoided bilateral assistance or other support to the Haitian Government, and have concentrated on humanitarian relief of hunger and disease, local community development, and financing some multilateral technical assistance to the Haitian Government. Our $3-4 million in annual grant assistance is divided as follows:
— $1-2 million in PL-480 food donations through CARE and church group
— About $1.5 million for malaria eradication (administered by the U.S. Public Health Service, the Pan American Health Organization, UNICEF and the Haitian Government)
— About $150,000 annually to support OAS technical mission (from the $475,000 U.S grant to the OAS in FY 1968 for this purpose)
— About $120,000 granted to CARE for community development and family planning in northwest Haiti; and
— A $40,000 special activities project to support local self-help activities.
US INTERESTS IN HAITI
The report outlines the United States’ interest in Haiti. Some remain the same today, although many have changed.
— Its location in the Caribbean, near Florida and Cuba, and bordering Dominican Republic;
— The $50-60 million in U.S. private investment, the substantial American missionary and charitable activities, and the fact that about 1,000 of our citizens are residents there;
— Haiti’s role as a member of the United Nations and the Inter-American system;
— A humanitarian concern about the poverty, illiteracy, and ill-health of its people.
Today, American interests in Haiti are largely taken care of. They’ve managed to control the drug trans-shipment trade. Another interest was the influx of boat people, but the U.S. Coast Guard has taken care of that with rapid interdiction on the high seas.
There aren’t too many Americans living there unless you consider the thousands of American-born children of Haitians or Haitian-Americans who went back home to retire.
US OBJECTIVES IN HAITI
The report outlines these U.S. objectives to …
— Ensure that Haiti does not become a hostile military base under Communist control threatening the security of the U.S. (e.g., Cuban missile crisis)
— Prevent to the extent politically feasible, Haiti from becoming a base or haven for subversion, anti-U.S. attitudes, extremism, and racism in the Caribbean.
— Protect U.S. lives
— Alleviate conditions of misery and deprivation, out of humanitarian concern for the Haitian people
— Avoid supporting the Duvalier dictatorship
— Stimulate Inter-American and other multilateral interest and involvement in social, economic and other problems of Haiti (including emergency problems of public order and political transition that may arise when Duvalier leaves the scene).
— Protect, to the extent feasible, property and other interests of U.S. citizens.
— Encourage the establishment of more stable and progressive institutions in the post-Duvalier period.
Above all, the United States’ primary objective is probably to rebuild Haiti and make it into a functioning state since “failed nation” is the favorite moniker attached to Haiti.
I can’t wait 40 years from now when papers written today are declassified. If only I’m so lucky to be alive.
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