An Associated Press headline on July 8 read, “Biden with few options to stabilize Haiti in wake of slaying.” Following the assassination of president Jovenel Moïse, AP reports, “the U.S. is unlikely to deploy troops.”
Nonetheless, the American political and media establishments seem to blithely assume that Haiti’s internal affairs are very much America’s business. State Department spokesman Ned Price said “It is still the view of the United States that elections this year should proceed.”
An “electoral timetable” proposed by Moïse was “backed by the Biden administration, though it rejected plans to hold a constitutional referendum.”
Imagine, for a moment, that Russian president Vladimir Putin announced his support for the U.S. holding 2022 congressional midterm elections, but denounced a proposed constitutional amendment.
Haven’t American politicians spent the last several years kvetching about supposed “Russian meddling” in U.S. elections? Is there some particular reason why “election interference” is bad when others do it to us, but good when we do it to others?
The United States has intervened in Haiti’s internal affairs for more than 200 years, almost always with poor results for both countries’ populations.
After Haiti’s slave population rose up and overthrew their French masters, Federalists led by Alexander Hamilton recognized Toussaint Louverture’s new regime and encouraged independence. (Louverture maintained the colonial relationship with France until 1804.)
Under Thomas Jefferson, the U.S. withdrew that diplomatic recognition under pressure from slave owners who feared a spread of Louverture’s rebellion to the American mainland, and refused to recognize Haiti’s independence until 1862.
Subsequently, Washington intervened militarily in Haiti multiple times, occupied the country from 1915 to 1934, and supported the dictatorships of Francois “Papa Doc” and Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier from 1957 to 1986 on the Cold War logic that Haiti could be a Caribbean “counterweight” to Communist Cuba.
Since the fall of the younger Duvalier, the U.S. government has continued to intervene in Haitian affairs, dangling and withdrawing aid, engaging in economic blockade, and intercepting and repatriating U.S.-bound refugees, based on who’s in charge in Port-au-Prince and whether they toe Washington’s line.
While it’s simplistic to conclude that the US government is responsible for all of Haiti’s many problems, Washington certainly bears a great deal of responsibility for those problems. The way forward and out of that culpability is less, not more, interference in Haiti’s affairs.
If the U.S. government really needs a “Haiti policy,” that policy should include two elements: free trade and welcoming refugees. Beyond that, hands off Haiti!
Thomas L. Knapp is director at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism.