Rewriting History in Haiti

January 22, 2010

The earthquake in Haiti has stimulated a renewed interest in Haiti’s history, of a sort, and it has also stimulated a desire to rewrite it in ways that are congenial to the country’s historical tormentors.

Paul Richter, writing in the LA Times is a gross offender, writing a laudatory piece about ex-presidents Clinton and Bush II. As Richter (lies) about Clinton and his relationship with exiled Haitian president Jean Bertrand Aristide, “President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, whom Clinton restored to office with the intervention of 20,000 U.S. troops in 1994, resisted U.S. pressure to make Haiti more democratic and to reform its withering economy. U.S. hopes of finally building strong democratic institutions, including an independent judiciary and police, went nowhere.”

This is a classically imperialist rewriting of history, and a great insult to suffering Haitians. The roots of their vulnerability to disasters and the militarised, incompetent response to their suffering lies in the 1990s when efforts at rebuilding the nation after years of dictatorship stumbled. Aristide did not “resist U.S. pressure to make…democratic reform” – he was elected twice and he disbanded Haiti’s murderous army. And the economic reforms that he resisted constituted shock therapy after years of “structural adjustment” which had gutted the country’s rural economy.

It was Clinton who really helped to reform the “withering economy” by cutting off all aid to Haiti, leaving it without funds to strengthen public services and improve the capital’s housing stock.

This rewriting of history serves a purpose. It is intended to increase support for ongoing U.S. “engagement” with Haiti. Richter brings in ex-Clinton adviser Robert A. Pastor in this regard, quoting him as warning that, “There’s a crisis, there’s a strong reaction, and then promises to remain engaged. And then there’s disillusionment, and interest wanders…This applied to the way the past two administrations reacted to Haiti. I’m afraid it will apply to this one too.”

U.S. officials are ready to turn this engagement into further shock therapy. As if quoting from Naomi Klein’s “the Shock Doctrine” the ex-U.S. envoy to Haiti, James Dobbins, told CNN yesterday that Haiti “has undergone shock” while “Some of the institutional and social obstacles to reform may now be more movable. The Haitian system itself may be more malleable.”

On Wednesday, the current U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Arturo Valenzuela, confirmed that “There’s already a strategic plan in place that looks at all sorts of areas, such as energy agriculture, jobs, employment, and strengthening some of the institutions in Haiti.”

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