A Socialist point of view on Haiti

Dear Mr. Hendricks,

I have little interest in a petty squabble over ideology with a student of political science. However, since your attack on the position of the International Students for Social Equality presents the opportunity to review some of the history of U.S.-Haiti relations in the context of the current tragedy, I offer a reply along those lines.

During the administration of Woodrow Wilson, the U.S. Marines invaded Haiti in 1915 under the guise of rescuing the Haitian people from German domination. The U.S. force declared martial law and seized the Haitian treasury and customhouses – effectively using the Caribbean nation’s own funds to pay for the occupation.

Washington’s response to the wide-spread resistance to the occupation was aerial bombardments coupled with ground assaults against the peasantry and a series of outright massacres, such as what occurred at March-a-Terre when as many as a thousand protesting Haitians were gunned down. Furthermore, peasants were seized off their land and pressed into chain gang-style labor while prisoners were beaten, tortured and in many cases executed in an effort to extract information. In 1919, the marines finally captured and murdered the resistance leader Charlemagne Peralte. Subsequently, his body was crucified and placed on display in an effort to terrorize the Haitian population.

Armed marines personally oversaw the parliament’s installation of Washington’s favored candidate as president. Washington also insured Haiti’s constitution was changed to allow foreigners to own land – a right outlawed since the 1804 slave revolt secured the country’s independence from France.

The gendarmerie that the U.S. had created shortly after the invasion was transformed into the Garde d’Haiti in 1928. While the commanding ranks of the Garde d’Haiti remained in the hands of U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) personnel, Haitians were promoted into this combined military and police force in what was termed its “Haitianization.”

In 1934, President Franklin Roosevelt, who as secretary of the navy in 1915 had first ordered the marines to invade Haiti, oversaw the transfer of control of the nation to the Garde d’Haiti. Washington now had a reliable native force through which it could brutally suppress internal opposition and protect its interests.

The 75 years since this transfer of power has seen the decades of repression under the U.S.-backed dictatorship of the Duvaliers, numerous U.S.-backed military coups, the murderous legacy of several U.S.-trained and funded death squads, and additional invasions by the U.S. Marines.

With its present occupation of Haiti, the USMC is attempting to revive the legacy of American colonialism for the 21st Century. In a USA Today interview, U.S. Lt. Col. Gary Keim, the commander of a Marine logistics battalion, said he and other officers studied the USMC occupation of Haiti from 1915-1934 before deploying there.

“We were required to reread it,” he said. “We’ve been here before. We’ve been successful before.” According to the article, the USMC views these years of occupation “as a model for nation building and counterinsurgency strategy.”

In the crucial first few days following the earthquake, a number of nations and relief organizations reported their relief flights being diverted as the U.S. military exercised its unilateral control of the Port-au-Prince airport and gave preference to incoming U.S. military flights over flights with aid. Both France and Brazil filed formal complaints against the U.S. military’s interference with the relief effort. French Cooperation Minister Alain Joyandet called on the U.N. to clarify Washington’s role.

“It’s a matter of helping Haiti, not occupying Haiti,” Joyandet said in an interview.
The top Italian official dispatched to Haiti, Civil Protection Minister Guido Bertolaso, reported the U.S. intervention as “pathetic… It’s a truly powerful show of force, but it’s completely out of touch with reality.”

Additional denunciations by Venezuela, Nicaragua, Bolivia and Cuba aside, Italy and France represent long-time allies of the U.S.

Doctors Without Borders reported that the diversion of its aid flights prevented surgeons from helping the sick and dying for 48 hours. Similar reports of diverted aid were issued by the Red Cross. The Spanish aid group Intervención, Ayuda y Emergencia held a press conference to denounce the U.S. militarization of the response and to warn that the “obsession with security” was disrupting efforts to save lives.

Tens of thousands of Haitians have died from treatable injuries such as crushed limbs, which became infected as medical supplies were delayed and diverted for days. Amputations without anesthetic were widespread; the saws being sterilized between uses with vodka.

“It’s been amputate or die,” Dr. Nancy Snyderman told NBC while working in Haiti with the relief effort. “Secondary infections are huge. It’s the number one cause of death right now.”

“I saw babies whose skulls had been cracked open like watermelons,” she added. “The best doctors could do is put a wrap around their heads and cover them and leave them to die.”

The Wall Street Journal published a denunciation by three prominent New York doctors, Soumitra R. Eachempati, incoming president of the New York State Chapter of the American College of Surgeons, and Dean Lorich and David Helfet, orthopedic surgeons and colleagues of Dr. Eachempati at the Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York City. It is worth noting that the Wall Street Journal is not exactly known for publishing “radical left-wing” propaganda.

Having been among the first doctors to reach Haiti after the quake, the three doctors wrote that the delays imposed by the U.S. military on relief groups entering the country “proved tragic.

“Upon our arrival at the Haiti Community Hospital we found scores of patients with pus dripping out of open fractures and crush injuries. Some wounds were already infested with maggots. Approximately one-third of the victims were children. Most of the patients already had life-threatening infections, and all were dehydrated. Many had been waiting in the hospital compound for days without water, antibiotics or even pain medicine. The hospital smelled of infected, rotting limbs.”

They continued: “The U.S. response to the earthquake should be considered an embarrassment. Our operation received virtually no support from any branch of the U.S. government, including the State Department. As we ran out of various supplies we had no means to acquire more … Later, as we were leaving Haiti, we were appalled to see warehouse-size quantities of unused medicines, food and other supplies at the airport, surrounded by hundreds of U.S. and international soldiers standing around aimlessly.”

Mr. Hendricks, given just this selection of reports from respectable individuals and organizations – published and broadcasted by prominent media sources – your slander that the ISSE is “blinded by their own radical left-wing ideology” is unfounded.

Furthermore, your claim that “the US military is leading a worldwide effort to bring clothes, food and medicine to suffering people” amounts to dishonesty on your part, or an exercise in patriotic self-delusion.

Clement Daly
International Studies for Social Equality

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