Originally: The United States and Haiti: conspiracy theory



(The writer represents Haiti at the Inter-American Development Bank, has written for Initiatives Democratiques, and was nominated for prime minister in 1998. Originally published in Le Matin.)


Here is a topic that will leave many non satiated. There is so much to say about our relations with the United States that it would take the equivalent of an encyclopedia to do so, and this text is only a very limited reflection on one specific aspect of these relations. I hope those interested in this issue will enrich it and apply it to other subjects.


When  the term “European” is used, it refers indistinctly to a Spaniard, a Dutchman, or a Swede. With the term “African,” one might think of a native of Benin, Senegal, or Burkina Faso. Likewise, the word “Asian” could apply to a Japanese, a Korean, or a Vietnamese person, for example. But when the term “American” is used, there is no need for further specification. No one imagines a Canadian, a Mexican, a Chilean, or a Haitian. The reference is specific to something or someone from the United States of America.


Americans have taken the name of the hemisphere for themselves alone, to the point that one has the impression that the Americas is derived from American, and not the other way around. Yet all peoples of the western hemisphere are Americans, since they live on the continent bearing this name. Nationals of the United States of America should be called by some derivative of “United States.” But such a word is practically nonexistent. Only in Spanish does one find the adjective estadounidense used on occasion.


The United States, since its birth, has won a major victory over semantics without firing a shot…


With respect to Haiti, some would not take a dim view of considering it to fall outside the Americas. This, in any case, is my interpretation of the recent statement by the Chairman of the African Union Commission, the honorable Alpha Oumar Konaré, who said “Haiti is an African country located outside of Africa.” But I am absolutely confident that Haitians themselves would prefer that Haiti remained a Caribbean country in the Caribbean, and thus, in the Americas. I wonder why it has not been said that The Bahamas or Jamaica are African countries located outside of Africa. But who knows what goes through people’s minds when they speak of Haiti, even with the best intentions!


No country in the world is indifferent to what the United States does, or fails to do. Sometimes, it is given credit for events it has nothing to do with. Often, it is blamed for everything that goes wrong in a country. There is even an unwritten rule that can be translated like this: “When things go wrong, blame the Americans. If you do not know why, they themselves know.” In Haiti, where things generally go wrong, this rule is applied more often than it should be.


We display an ambivalence which actually borders on schizophrenia when it comes to our relations with the United States. We like it when the U.S. is by our side, but it appears as if   we would like them  to be invisible. At the same time, we are often the first ones to invite them or hope for U.S. intervention.


In 1985, in Gonaïves, antigovernment protestors wrapped themselves in American flags to take away the authorities’ pretext that they were communist troublemakers.


In 1986, an eminent Haitian prelate stated that in Haiti, elections are generally governed by the three A’s: the Army, Assets (or money), and the Americans and that from that point on, a C would have to be added, for the Church.


In 1987, activists freshly  returned from exile denounced an “American plan for Haiti,” which aimed, in their opinion, to convert the country into an immense factory that would exploit cheap Haitian labor.


In 1988, socio-professional organizations fell in behind them to denounce the neoliberal policy aiming, as they would have it, to replace rice in Artibonite with flower plantations whose products could be exported to the United States.


In 2003 and 2004, on the other hand, Haitian trade and industry associations lobbied aggressively to get the U.S. Congress to pass the HERO Act—later called the HOPE Act— which could have helped improve our trade balance and create several thousand jobs in the assembly industry and in the previously disparaged factories.


In 2005, an election year in Haiti, people are already looking to the United States to try to determine which candidate it supports. But there are so many that signals are not yet clear, if they ever will be, or if there will be any signals at all.


Also in 2005, it is rumored that U.S. Baptist churches are taking steps to put their influence and resources behind the next Protestant candidate in Haiti. Like the prelate in 1986, the Protestants would like to add a C to the three A’s (In 1990 C was for the Catholic Church; in 2005 it will be for the Protestant Church).


The common denominator in all these situations is the enormous influence attributed to the United States with respect to the most minor details of national life. Yet when we analyze the story of the three A’s, for example, it is surprising to note that the Americans are the least influential of the A’s in Haitian elections. One initial observation: Even if at the beginning the United States was not on the right side of Haitian history (the past is the past), that does not mean that it has always contributed to our dictators’ rise to power.


Better yet, when I consulted a historian on the last time, in his opinion, the United States facilitated the rise to power of someone in Haiti , he responded without hesitation that since President Elie Lescot, a U.S.-backed candidate has never won, and that, in Haiti, the United States has more influence over a president in office than a candidate. This would imply that  you can win the elections without the U.S., but you cannot govern without its support.


Regardless, many believe that the United States never does enough in Haiti or that what it does, it does poorly. The result is that we often make a great show of our dissatisfaction and doubt about the United States’ desire to truly help us, evoking both past and present history.


With regard to the past, some today still  resent the fact that the United States took so long to recognize our independence, thus aggravating our initial isolation in the region. Others believe that, when the U.S. started to take an interest in us, it was to keep us under occupation for nineteen years and to leave us the legacy of the Garde d’Haïti [the Haitian Guard] which was an oppressive  army . (Do not even mention the efforts made with respect to health and to modernize  agriculture. Haitians  will say that, in any case, no trace of any of this remains today).


Recent history seems to carry a hodgepodge of grievances of all camps and all political chapels. Here is a random sampling: The U.S. supported an embargo that destroyed the country’s economy; it welcomes Cubans with open arms and throws our migrants in prison; it returns to us American criminals of Haitian origin who aggravate our own security problems;  it wants to work only with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and thus contributes to weakening national institutions.


We have become accustomed to seeing the hand of the United States everywhere. And many Haitians view this omnipresence with suspicion and think that we will never be masters of our own destiny.


It is not surprising then that there are many questions regarding  between Haiti and the United States, seemingly stemming much more from this perception of ubiquity and omnipotence than from their own substance .The conspiracy theory also remains quite widespread. Currently, those who in the 1980s loudly denounced the so-called American plan for Haiti express some  doubts. They defeated Plan A, but the United States, they say, implemented a subtle Plan B that was even more detrimental to the country.


Now, as they would have it, this plan B, which has been implemented since 1990, included the election of the priest from St-Jean Bosco, the coup against him, his restoration to power by 20,000 Marines in 1994, his reelection in 2000, and his ouster in 2004. There are many Haitians in Haiti and the diaspora who espouse this theory and claim that everything that has happened in Haiti since the end of the Duvalier’s regime is part of the American plan for Haiti.


When one remarks that if there really was  such a plan, things came full circle in 2004, many still appear skeptical and claim that the United States certainly has something else in the works. Either a new Plan A or a Plan C, to be carried out this time by the U.N. Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH). Conspiracy theorists never really rest and are never short on arguments.


Admittedly, a minority has always rebelled against this theory, arguing that we think that way simply to clear our consciences and downplay our responsibility for our poor choices and misfortune. But it is truly a small, silent minority that is neither very vocal nor very visible.


I personally believe that it is high time we stopped fueling these various conspiracy theories and faced up to reality. Moreover, whether or not we believed in an American Plan for Haiti, it is clear that this plan has failed—for the United States, and for us. So, for the first time in a very long time, there does not seem to be a specific plan for Haiti anywhere. Above all, let us not believe those who insinuate that MINUSTAH is the new face of the American, French, Brazilian, or Latin American Plan for Haiti.


And so, while we are at it, instead of spending our time fighting the plan of others (as fictitious or fanciful as it may be), let us ask ourselves first if the time has not come for we Haitians to finally prepare a Haitian plan for Haiti. I am more than sure that if a majority of Haitians can agree on a plan, our partners, whether they be the United States or the international community as a whole, will all set their plans aside to support ours.


I therefore propose that we stop questioning the intent of those who try to help us. I also propose that we make the most of MINUSTAH’s presence in our country to truly make it our own. So let us take MINUSTAH at its word so it can contribute fully and effectively to the success of the plan we will have prepared ourselves.


This was not my original intention, but I have just realized that I have made a case for the success of the national dialogue. All the better, because a HAITIAN PLAN FOR HAITI CAN ONLY EMERGE FROM A TRUE NATIONAL DIALOGUE. This, in my opinion, is the only way to start over on fresh footing and counter all the conspiracy theories!