by Ellen Isaacs
October 18, 2019
What could be more ironic and cruel than witnessing the increasingly racist and nationalist mistreatment and expulsion of Haitians following the devastation wrought by hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas? How does a former victim of British colonialism become a fount of racist nationalism itself? How do the citizens of the only land to have overthrown slavery in modern history deserve this treatment? Because, unfortunately, racism and nationalism are the strategies with which governments around the globe retain power.
The Origins of Expulsion
In the late 19th and early 20th century, there was reciprocal migration and trade between the Bahamas and Haiti. Before obtaining independence from the British Empire in 1953, Bahamian political leaders emphasized anti-racism, black Bahamians having long suffered discrimination, but it didn’t take long after self-rule for anti-Haitian policies and rhetoric to arise. As the Bahamas developed a flourishing tourist industry, cheap labor was needed to work in hotels, resorts and wealthy homes. Haiti was suffering under the cruel dictatorship of Papa Doc Duvalier, forcing many to flee in a search for safety and survival. Just as political and economic chaos in Haiti increased even more after Duvalier’s fall in 1971, there was a downturn in the economy of the Bahamas. Needing a scapegoat, Bahamian government-inspired propaganda blamed Haitians for every social ill, including tuberculosis, AIDS, malaria, prostitution, drugs, crime and gangs.
The Bahamian Immigration Act of 1964 prohibited employing foreigners without government authorization, and only for jobs specified on a work permit that cost $2000/year. Bahamians always have to be given preference in hiring. The children of non-Bahamian parents are not citizens and can only apply for naturalization at age 18, and then only within a one-year window. “Stateless” children and foreigners are charged higher rates for services, such as tuition. In general, Haitians live in poorer communities, with poorer services and few basic amenities, such as the Mudd district of Abaco island. There most residents occupied wooden shacks as they serviced the marinas, golf courses and resorts with cheap labor. (https://www.monroecollege.edu/uploadedFiles/_Site_Assets/PDF/The%20stigma%20of%20being%20Haitian%20in%20The%20Bahamas.pdf)
The level five hurricane in September wreaked havoc on the Bahamas
As of September 14, 2019, 1,300 people, mostly Haitians, remained missing, 61 were confirmed dead and 15,000 were without food or shelter. Some have fled and remain unaccounted for, some went to shelters in Nassau and some took refuge in churches. In early October, the government began deporting Haitians in shelters, including those who were legal but had lost their documents in the storm. Businesses were warned not to hire anyone without a work permit, and it is not allowed to apply for a new permit without leaving the Bahamas. Before Dorian, the government had been planning to demolish Haitian shantytowns, a process delayed by court order, but now bulldozing is underway. (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/10/world/americas/haiti-bahamas-dorian-deport.html) Trump also made clear that no storm refugees who were not documented Bahamian citizens would receive a welcome in the US.
But Also in the Dominican Republic
Haitians have also long migrated across the border that divides their country from the Dominican Republic (DR), in a similar search for employment and safety. When Spanish-speaking DR was home to huge sugar companies under the dictator Trujillo in the 1930s, Haiti provided a source of low-paid labor. As the economy diversified, Haitians began to work in other industries, and second generation immigrants began to demand more equality. This led to tougher immigration laws in 2013 which stripped almost 134,000 Dominicans of Haitian descent of citizenship. As a result, over 54,000 were deported and over 160,000 left voluntarily. Like in the Bahamas, all this has been possible because of racist ideology that has been promoted for many years. (https://www.nybooks.com/daily/2018/08/13/bettween-hope-hate-help-haitians-in-the-dominican-republic/)
The History of Haiti’s Predicament
Haitians are still being punished for being the first to overthrow slavery. They defeated the French in their richest colony in 1791 and established the first independent black state in the New World. In 1825, France demanded that Haiti, under threat of attack, pay $21 billion for the “theft” of its slaves lives and land. Financed by French banks and Citibank, this was not paid off until 1947.
The US invaded Haiti in 1915 and occupied it for 19 years, enforced a system of forced labor, murdered thousands of Haitians who resisted, and designated 40% of Haiti’s national output for debt repayment. The US rewrote the Haitian constitution to permit foreigners to own land, leading the way to throwing peasants off their own lands and forcing them to move to cities and, later, emigrate in search of work. The budget was controlled by the US until 1947. For the decades since, the US has used foreign aid to control events in Haiti, has manipulated tariffs and financed coups d’etat. In 1988, the IMF imposed an austerity plan that cut state spending by 25%. In the 1990s, the island was flooded with US rice after tariffs were lowered, destroying local agriculture.
Aristide, a reformer, was elected in 2000 with 92% of the vote. So threatened were US business interests that the US and Haitian militaries conspired to capture him and fly him to exile in South Africa. Haiti was further devastated by the earthquake of 2010 that killed 230,000 and destroyed most of the infrastructure. Add to that the worst cholera epidemic in modern history, introduced by UN peacekeepers. Huge amounts of aid was donated or promised to the island, but most was not delivered or was squandered by government and NGO corruption.
Recent elections, those of Martelly in 2011 and Moise in 2016, have been manipulated by the US to assure that allies of the local elite and US business are in power. Fewer that 10% of Haitians voted for either one. Currently 60% of the people live in poverty and 25% in extreme poverty. However, protest remains alive and well. Students and workers by the thousands have been in a continual state of revolt for months over prices of essential goods and the poor quality of services. As of yet, their aim is for true independence, but not an end to capitalism. As the history of national liberation struggles around the world over the last century has shown, even winning independence does not benefit ordinary people if the system of capitalist exploitation remains in place.
What Lessons Do We Draw
The capitalist economies of Haiti, the Bahamas and the Dominican Republic not only have maintained the modus operandi of their former colonial masters, but continue to be exploited and dominated by imperialist powers – especially in the case of Haiti. The situation is not dissimilar to that of all the nations of Central and South America, Africa and much of Asia. All these capitalist elites continue to use the most tried and true method of dividing, weakening and exploiting workers –racism. It doesn’t even require that the most super-exploited have a different color skin. Differences of language, culture, or national origin are enough to be manipulated for the gain of the rich. Once again, it is clear that all the workers in these nations suffer by allowing wages, working conditions, and services to be brought down by the divisions imposed by the elite. On all our shores, we must refuse to be so splintered and unite and fight back together, fight back for a non-capitalist world.