A Pearl Cast Before Swine: How US Imperialism and Jovenel Moïse Have Strangled Haiti

Home News & Politics A Pearl Cast Before Swine: How US Imperialism and Jovenel Moïse Have Strangled Haiti

For Jovenel Moïse, the wanton brutality of police crackdowns isn’t even a necessary evil, but a display of his commitment to the programs he promises will serve the best interest of the Haitian populace.

When Jovenel Moïse, the current president of Haiti, was elected in November 2016, no one could pretend as though the United States didn’t have a hand in his victory. Apparently not content to just meddle in the affairs of Brazil, the Obama administration did all they could to install Moïse before the 44th President left office, one last imperialist stain that would quickly be forgotten and hand-waved as Donald Trump thundered his way around the world. 

There are a number of factors behind the Obama administration’s decision to rig the Haitian election for Moïse—not least of which being the roughly 20 billion dollars in gold, silver, and other precious metals that the country controls—but as protests against the US’s corrupt darling (which started back in 2019) rise to a fever pitch, it almost seems less a question of why the State Department did what it did, and more a recognition that there was no version of history in which they wouldn’t. After all, Moïse is just the latest in a long line of examples of the United States and other Western powers working tirelessly to manipulate and bleed the island nation, which stretches nearly all the way back to the moment its people asserted themselves via the revolution that made Haiti the first Black republic in the Caribbean.

Long has the world taught us that the United States—and the other nations which comprise the international cartel it heads—have little tolerance for the independence and sovereignty of countries in the global south, especially those with majority Black populations and the promise of resources beneath their feet. As news networks pay little mind to the protests currently underway, though, it’s clear that this nation has little interest in reckoning with the result of its meddling, which is no fucking surprise.

So let’s make sure that we do the reckoning they won’t. Haiti deserves it.

To think that the aforementioned issues stem entirely from President Barack Obama would be naive. As with every politically-approved attempt to dismantle the dignity and sovereignty of a state in the global south, the project of destabilizing Haiti spans decades. Perhaps the moment most emblematic of modern US intervention, though, is the installation of Michel Joseph “Sweet Micky” Martelly in May 2011. Martelly, who in the 1990s promised he’d treat his governance of the nation like a business, was extolled by politicians in the United States. They called his victory “overwhelming,” despite signs of meddling and corruption. Even his candidacy was a sham—at the time, there was a stipulation in Haitian electoral law that prohibited the election of anyone who hadn’t lived in the country for five years prior. Martelly only surrendered his US permanent residency card in 2011. When a judge brought to light evidence of Martelly’s continued corruption in office, he was assassinated, clearly if not entirely provably, by Martelly. This is unsurprising when you consider that Martelly had ties to the Duvalier regime, which was characterized by the extortion of the people and the brutality and terror wrought by the Tonton Makout, a paramilitary group named after the mythological boogeyman who kidnaps and punishes children, carrying them off to be consumed. 

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Martelly stepped down in February of 2016, in accordance with the doctrine of the 1987 constitution that was written specifically to prevent another “president for life”: all presidents will serve no more than five years, extenuating circumstances be damned. Moïse, his successor, refused to abide by this rule—asserting that his full term has yet to be served, despite the law dictating that it ended on February 7, 2021—and has been backed by the United States in doing so. 

It’s worth noting that the US was singing a different tune in the 1990s. After the coup against Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1991, the nation’s first democratically-elected leader was exiled. He was returned to power three years later, but when he tried to serve his full term of five years, the US told him he had to stick to the constitutional calendar and step down in 1996.

Looking at how Moïse has operated over the course of his presidential tenure, it’s unsurprising that the US would so blatantly and nakedly toss aside any commitments to the superficial performance of “democracy.” While Moïse flaunts Haiti’s term limits in a way that exposes both his own allegiances and the hypocrisy of the United States in their pronouncements of fair elections, he does so in a way that is almost comically revelatory of the State Department’s motives in the region. As a member of the Lima Group, Moïse asserts Juan Guaido as the rightful ruler of Venezuela, publicly denouncing Nicolás Maduro back in 2019. He has also imposed the will of the International Monetary Fund on the country, having struck a deal that caused a significant hike in fuel prices in 2018.  

Perhaps even more damningly, Moïse has taken money from Venezuela meant for the betterment of Haiti as a whole and pocketed it for himself. PetroCaribe was created by former Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez in 2005, with the goal of converting oil into regional influence and gaining alliances against the US. From the time the deal was signed between Haiti and Venezuela in 2006, the latter’s state oil company sold oil to Haiti and allowed them to defer payment on 40% of what they bought for up to 25 years with very low interest rates. The Haitian government was supposed to use upwards of 4 billion dollars in loans to fund infrastructure projects, and these funds became even more imperative after the January 2010 earthquake that devastated the country and sank it into further despair.

But these projects never materialized. Since there was very little oversight, there was very little that the people in charge couldn’t do. In a report by Haiti’s Superior Court of Auditors and Administrative Disputes from May 2019, two companies belonging to Moïse—which were essentially the same company—were implicated in “collusion, favoritism, and embezzlement” after work they had been assigned on the same stretch of road never came to fruition.

Moïse was always destined to be a dictator. Out of the 12 million or so people in Haiti, only about 500,000 voted for him. Last year, he disbanded the Haitian parliament, dismissing leaders who would’ve enforced the term limits he was supposed to abide by. He also had a Supreme Court judge arrested, as well as many others in opposition to him. Moïse understands how the Haitian constitution works, and he is betting on collective ignorance to keep his position. The people of Haiti have not been so easy to fool, however, and they have once again taken to the streets to protest. “We can’t deal with what’s happening here,” a Haitian woman painfully exclaims in a video shared by Danny Shaw of Telesur. “The country can’t. People are hungry—they can’t eat. People are dying everyday.” Moïse, in response, has turned his remobilized army, police force, and street gangs on them, cracking down on these people with tear gas

Throughout all this, Moïse has maintained that he is in the right for asserting his position, that the law is restrictive and holding him back from helping his people, that the opposition is forcing him into brutality and ruining his plans for reconstruction. For him, the wanton brutality of police crackdowns isn’t even a necessary evil, but a display of his commitment to the programs he promises will serve the best interest of the Haitian populace. If breaking eggs to make an omelette is unavoidable, then scarring and tamping down the voices of his critics is the cost of maintaining a country, albeit one he has forced to its knees at the pleasure of an imperial steward.

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So, he swears he isn’t a dictator. He swears that once his five-year term is fully served in 2022, he will step down. It’s probably just a coincidence, then, that there is an upcoming constitutional referendum on April 25—the first one in over 30 years—that would allow for the president to serve two consecutive terms. 

He’s also stated that as long as he is backed by the US, he has nothing to worry about. And the Biden administration is determined to show its support. Biden, who said in 1994, “if Haiti just quietly sunk into the Caribbean or rose up 300 feet, it wouldn’t matter a whole lot in terms of our interest.” 

Beyond a simple historical reckoning, Haiti also deserves a leader its citizens support, a leader who isn’t imposed on them by the ghoulish force of neocolonialism, a leader who will help uplift the most marginalized and the most oppressed. A leader who will listen to the people. Jovenel Moïse, clearly, isn’t any of those things.

It would be so easy to chalk the current situation in Haiti up to bad leaders or the culmination of years-long corruption, but this simply obscures the truth. Haiti has been met countless times with simultaneous callousness and imperial paternalism, again and again the people have been bled dry and left to rot while colonialist forces smile in their faces and tell them to have no fear. But even this doesn’t tell the whole story. The truth, the simplest version of it, is that Haiti’s fate was sealed the moment its people claimed freedom from slavery in 1804. There was never a version of history, certainly not one in a world so elementally and irredeemably anti-Black, where slaves would not be met with retribution for their transgressions. Asserting our place as human was always going to be met with continuous reminders that we are not in fact human, we are things to be plundered and used and tossed off as anti-Blackness sees fit. We are supposed to stay in our place, colonialism tells us. Slavery is a never-ending system, and we were never supposed to glimpse liberation. 

As long as this world stands, there will be no relief, and the promise of liberation our ancestors fought for will only ever be a dream. And so, more than a historical reckoning, more than a strong and caring leader that will hold fast against imperialism, Haiti and its people and our ancestors deserve nothing short of the end of the world.

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