By Max A. Joseph Jr.
Anyone with an ounce of common sense might find it odd that Haiti, a country accustomed to being sanctioned by the international community for the simplest perceived offense, cannot use the same course of action to advance or defend her interests. And, it is all the more illogical that Haitian leaders, past and present, have consistently embraced a policy of peaceful coexistence with the Dominican Republic, Haiti’s contiguous and meddlesome neighbor, which has continuously proven, through its deeds, to pose an existential threat to the Haitian people. History is a culmination of asymmetrical events, the longer the Dominican Republic threat is ignored, the more catastrophic it will be to Haiti and its people.
Facts matter. Destabilizing Haiti has always been the official state policy of the Dominican Republic. From the cyclical mass deportation of Haitian migrants, to denying citizenship to hundreds of thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent, to harboring terrorists and sabotaging Haiti’s bi-centennial in 2004, the Dominican Republic transgressions are well documented, destructive and never-ending. Surprisingly, Haiti’s political class remains somewhat oblivious of these facts.
Last month in response to the emotional pleas by many sectors of Haiti society for a get tough policy toward the Dominican Republic to counter the waves of anti-Haitianism in that country, Haiti’s Michel Martelly practically exhorted his fellow countrymen to accept their fate. His lecture, at times, professorial, sarcastic and contemptuous of the nationalistic reaction of those protesting the treatment of their fellow Haitians in the Dominican Republic, was striking in one particular aspect: the absence of a policy to address the troubled relations between the two neighbors whose fate is forever intertwined by geography and colonialism.
A shameless opportunist, the Haitian president also tacitly made an appeal for the re-establishment of the Haitian army, which he inferred will help defend the country’s territorial integrity against foreign aggression. The speech left many with the impression that occupied and defenseless Haiti is compelled to go along with the mistreatments of its citizens in the Dominican Republic because it doesn’t have an army. Assuming Haiti had a standing army, what would be its relevancy in this affair? The man is either completely out of touch with reality or simply does not understand what the crisis is about.
The strength of the powerful has never been a good match for the resilience of the defenseless. The Dominican Republic middle income status relies heavily on cheap labor and trade with Haiti, its less prosperous neighbor; an arrangement which, of course, translates into a zero-sum game. In fairness, the Martelly government is only partly responsible for this present state-of-affairs whose origin could be traced to the 1929 Borno-Vasquez understanding that not only cost Haiti a portion of its territory but also caused the displacement or forced relocation of tens of thousands of Haitians. Louis Borno was president of Haiti from May 15, 1922- May 15, 1930 and Horacio Vasquez, was president of the Dominican Republic from July 12, 1924- March 3, 1930. Within a decade, in 1937, an estimated 30,000 of Haitians would be murdered as a result of this abomination. Upon realizing the world will not stand in the way of dehumanizing or annihilating Haitians, the Dominicans basically been pushing up the ante.
The 1929 Borno-Vasquez understanding clearly violated the basic principles of international law given that Haiti was then under U.S occupation (1915-34) and therefore could not legally or freely sign any agreement with a third party. Incidentally, Haiti had travelled the road of coercion a century earlier. In July 1825, under the threat of an invasion by an armada of British, French, German, Spain and US warships, Haiti was required to pay France the onerous sum of 150 million gold francs for losses suffered by the defeated colonialists as a result of it choosing to get rid of slavery and becoming the first independent black nation. This episode, which was a turning point in Haiti’s descent into the abyss of poverty, must be seen as the apex of colonial arrogance and immorality akin to Germany ransoming the state of Israel for the Holocaust.
In this unforgiving world, warrior nations every now and then falter but ultimately get to write their own version of history. On the other hand, peaceful nations that pay no attention to the pervasiveness of the “law of the jungle” in human interactions or under any prevailing geopolitical order get subjugated or in worst case scenarios annihilated. Fittingly, as strange as it may sound, peace actually poses a greater threat to humanity survival than war or natural disasters. This indisputable reality has not only escaped the attention of much of the world, but also allowed the few that understood it to flourish, conquer and dominate the rest.
Apparently, Haitian politicians do not subscribe to the notion of “trials and errors” because the 1929 mistake is being repeated over and over. Although Haiti’s sovereignty was nullified by the more than a dozen of UNSC resolutions mandating its occupation, successive Haitian governments have, since 2004, been signing treaties in contradiction to the spirit, moral, and intent of the sometimes sacrosanct international law. Haiti could only find its way out of this unenviable situation by reconnecting with the ideals of its founders whose courage helped bring down the most repugnant socio-economic system ever devised by humans. Contextually, we need to embrace our legacy as a warrior nation because our ancestors did not change the course of human history only to have others control the destiny of their descendants.