Please join Robert Fatton and Millery Polyneé for a conversation on how race and racism have affected international governance interventions, including international policing and development initiatives. March, 2022.
0:00:29.9 John Ciorciari: Good afternoon, everybody. I'm John Ciorciari, a faculty member here at the Ford School. And welcome to today's event on how race has affected US foreign policy and governance interventions in Haiti. This is the fourth of five events that we are hosting this semester on race and international relations. It's part of a broader initiative here at the Ford School on the Racial Foundations for Public Policy. This term's series is led by our Center for Racial Justice, its director, Celeste Watkins-Hayes, as well as Dominique Adam-Santos. It's also co-sponsored by the Ford School's International Policy Center and Weiser Diplomacy Center, as well as our friends at the African Studies Center at UM's International Institute. Lastly, I wanna thank Ambassador and Professor Susan Page, my colleague here at the Ford School for her role in co-leading the series.
0:01:21.4 JC: In previous sessions this term, we've discussed America's role in the colonial project. We've talked about how race has impacted the development of international relations as a discipline, academically, and as a profession. And today, we're going to talk about how race has affected foreign policy and development in one very important case, that of Haiti. We're very pleased to welcome two noted experts, Robert Fatton and Millery Polyné. Robert Fatton is the ambassador. Henry J. Taylor and Ms. Marion R. Taylor, Professor of Politics in the Department of Politics at the University of Virginia, where he's also served as the chair of the politics department and associate dean of the graduate school. He's the author of several books and many scholarly articles. Some of the books most relevant to today's conversation include Haiti's Predatory Republic: The Unending Transition to Democracy, published in 2002. The Roots of Haitian Despotism, published five years later in 2007. And Haiti Trapped in the Outer Periphery, published in 2014. His most recent book is entitled The Guise of Exceptionalism: Unmasking the National Narratives of Haiti and the United States, published last year. So welcome to the Ford School, Professor Fatton.
0:02:38.1 Professor Fatton: Thank you so much for inviting me.
0:02:40.0 JC: Thank you. And we're also delighted to welcome Millery Polyné, who is an associate professor and former associate dean for faculty at the New York University's Gallatin School. His interests include the history of US African-American and Afro-Caribbean intellectual thought, coloniality in the Americas, human rights and dictatorship, as well as race and sports. He's also published numerous scholarly articles, a book and a few edited volumes. And among his most relevant works for today's purposes are his book in 2010 entitled, From Douglass to Duvalier: US African-Americans, Haiti, and Pan-Americanism 1870 to 1964. As well as a pair of edited volumes, one entitled The Idea of Haiti: Rethinking Crisis and Development, published in 2013. And The Haiti Reader, a volume he co-edited, published with Duke University Press in 2020. So welcome to you as well, Professor Polyné.
0:03:41.1 Professor Polyné: It's great being here. Thank you for having me.
0:03:43.9 JC: Thank you. I'll start with some questions in arm-chair style, and we'll then turn to some questions from the audience. You who are watching, can enter your questions in the chat function on your screens. And we look forward to your comments and your inquiries as well. But I'd like to start, and if I may, starting with Professor Fatton. I wanna go back to the beginning, historically, to set the framework for understanding for our audience about how Haiti came to be as a country. If you could walk us through, briefly the period of the slave raids that brought Africans to what was then Hispaniola, the fight for freedom from French colonial rule, the reparations that Haiti had to pay to France, and how that early history established the foundations for governance in Haiti in contemporary times.
0:04:40.4 PF: Well, immediately after the so-called discovery of Haiti, the indigenous population was decimated. And the question became, "Who would replace them in terms of labor?" So the first enslaved Africans arrived in 1517, and there was some 15,000 of them who arrived in first instance. But to move very quickly to the period of the pre-independence and the revolutionary movement, at that point, you had about... It's estimated about half million enslaved Africans. The enslaved Africans were divided. They were divided between the so-called Creole and the so-called Bossale. And the Creole were those who had been born in Haiti. And the Bossale were the ones who had just arrived in the country.
0:05:49.4 PF: So there, you already had a division, because the Creole, had some sort of superiority complex vis-a-vis the Bossale. Now, there was a contingent of French colonialists, and they represented about 30,000 White French people, French colonizers. And there, you also had a division between what was called the Grand Blond, the Big White as it were, and the Petite Blond, the small whites. The grand blond were really the ones who had the economic power, the political power. They were in charge of a very profitable economy based on the plantation. And the plantation itself was rooted in slave labor. It was basically sugar. And at that point, just before the revolution started, Haiti or Hispaniola or Saint-Domingue, however you want to call it, at that point, was extremely profitable. It was, as it were, the core of the French Empire, and it really was extremely wealthy in terms of the French colonizers, and obviously, France.
0:07:09.2 PF: Now, the population which was subjugated, obviously, that was the enslaved population. But you also had what has been called the Affranchi, the so-called free colored people. And there, most of those people tended to be of my color, the so-called Mulattos. But there were also, obviously, Black Africans. And the paradigmatic example of that is none other than Toussaint Louverture who was a slave, then he became a slave owner, then he became the emancipator. And then you had the slaves and Jean-Jacques Dessalines, the other, obviously, critical leader of the African Revolution was a slave. But when the revolution started, he obviously was part of it around the late 1780s, 1791.
0:08:05.5 PF: So you have at that moment therefore a deeply divided colonial society. On the other hand, the main division was clearly between Whites and Blacks, and between slave owners and enslaved people. There was no doubt about it. And when the revolution started, you had all kinds of strange alliances between the colonizers, the different major powers, the French, the Spaniards, the British. But eventually, what happened is that up till 1799-1800, you had a coalition as it were of different leaders of the enslaved population who were part of the French Army, establishing a certain degree of autonomy by the time of the 1801 Constitution of Toussaint Louverture. And what Toussaint Louverture wanted was to have full autonomy in Haiti while remaining, to some extent, part of the French Empire. And Toussaint wrote several letters to Napoleon saying "du premier des noirs au premier des blancs," "from the first of the Blacks to the first of the Whites." And Toussaint Louverture thought that that would work. Napoleon had very different ideas.
0:09:36.1 PF: Napoleon was back on re-establishing the colony. He was back on re-establishing slavery, actually. And not surprisingly, when he sent his troops back to Haiti, the idea was to just go by Haiti, recolonize and it would be an easier affair because you had 50,000 French military. And he had assume that it was not going to be a very long mission. And obviously, that didn't work that way. One of the first thing he did, which actually led to really the solidification of the Haitian revolutionaries, was that he tricked Toussaint Louverture and ultimately captured him, and brought him back to France. And Toussaint Louverture was sent to the Fort-de-Joux near Besancon in France, and Toussaint Louverture died there. But that event led to the crystallization of the leadership under Jean-Jacques Dessalines. Jean-Jacques Dessalines was a major figure in terms of that coalition and in terms of his military capacity.
0:10:53.6 PF: And by 1804, Haiti became independent after defeating the French armies. So that is the fight for emancipation. It was an extremely costly fight in terms of number of dead, and obviously, in terms of the economy. The economy was essentially destroyed as a result of the revolution, because the slaves looked at the plantation as the embodiment of evil. In other words, it was the structure that really oppressed them, violated them, brutalized them. And during the revolution, the idea was that in order to win you needed to burn the plantation.
0:11:44.4 PF: So that meant on the other hand, that once Haiti became independent, the fundamental basis of the economy had to a large degree collapse. And you had also something like 150,000 people dying in the process. So you're talking about the major catastrophe at the economic level and at the population level. So the cost of emancipation was quite high. And it left significant elements that have contributed to the underdevelopment of Haiti today, kind of authoritarian tradition that we've had in the country. And what I mean by that is, in order to win the revolution you needed to have a significant military. And the military was the machine of command and obedience. And that was translated to the Haitian leadership in the period of Independence. So you have that element, the authoritarian command and control ethos, if you wish, of the key figures of the Haitian Revolution. The other fundamental element is that they wanted to revive the Haitian economy. In order to revive the Haitian economy, at that time, the only game in town was the plantation. And the plantation operated in a white supremacist world order.
0:13:20.0 PF: In other words, if you wanted the plantation to work, you needed to have slaves or you needed coerced labor. And that became one of the major contradictions of the post-Independence period. Because all of the leaders, the Founding Fathers had to deal with that problem. They literally had all kinds of so-called "code rural." In other words, rural codes. Which were basically the idea that you had to force the peasantry, the newly-freed slaves to work again on the plantation. And that is obviously something that the newly-emancipated Haitians were not going to put up with. So there was kind of an exit from the state. So you had that kind what we call in Haiti, "Le pays de loire," "The country outside of, if you wish, the state." 'Cause the state was perceived as really very authoritarian. So this is one of the major contradictions. An amazing revolution, that is really a worldwide revolution, that leads to the abolition of slavery and to the rupture, if you wish, with the white supremacist world order.
0:14:45.4 PF: And one of the interesting things about the Haitian Constitution of Dessalines, is that he declared that all Haitians were Black. Now, that clearly indicated, to a large degree, the fact that the Haitian population was Black. But Black, in the mind of Dessalines, was much more than color. Because you had some troops from Poland, which were part of Napoleon's army, which defected. And they joined the Haitian Revolution. And those were, in fact, called Blacks too. So Blacks are the kind of a universal category. It was a reversal of the white supremacist idea. And that is a very significant element in the Haitian Revolution, that Blackness became something that meant that you would fight against oppression irrespective, ultimately, of your race, whether you were light-skinned, dark-skinned, whatever. Or even a Polish guy could become that. So that's a very interesting phenomenon. I may have been talking too much. I don't know if I should stop or let you ask other questions. 'Cause there is plenty of stuff to talk about like the indemnity of France, so I don't want to monopolize the discussion.
0:16:03.9 JC: Well, thank you. That's very helpful grounding for the conversation historically. And I'd like to pick up on that with a question for Millery, whom I should welcome back virtually to the University of Michigan where you did your doctoral work. And I'd like to talk about the connections between Haiti and what was happening in the United States where, of course, slavery still existed. And I wonder if you could walk us through the early period of Haiti's independence and how African-Americans related to Haiti or to how the Haitian Revolution reverberated within the United States at a time of continuing slavery.
0:16:48.0 PP: No, that's a great question. I think it's important to remember what Haiti symbolize when Dessalines and his people, the Haitian people, gained their independence in 1804. Haiti became this symbol. The symbol to all, to people of African descent within the Americas, not just the United States but also within the Caribbean, other parts of the Caribbean, and Latin America, South America. And so this symbol of strength, this symbol of independence, of sovereignty, of power, potential power, of this idea of governing oneself, became quite important in the minds of particularly African-Americans and people of African descent throughout the Americas. And obviously, during this time of an era of slavery, then you have a White backlash. It's been documented that a number of places within the US South there arrived a tremendous sort of backlash against any type of organization or assembly of Black folks in fear of another revolution or resistance happening within the US South. So Haiti became sort of this lingering sort of a symbol of power and of a threat to the white supremacist structure, too.
0:18:32.1 PP: So African Americans in the 19th century were drawn to it. They began to... Those who were free, whether it be in the late 1820s or in the 1840s and 1850s, began to respond to Haitian calls for migration, specifically from President Boyer and Geffrard. You had US Blacks who were inclined to leave the United States because of US state violence and discrimination, obviously, in addition to being encouraged to leave by organizations like the American Colonization Society and the President Lincoln himself, who were saying... Who were trying to figure out what can we do with Blacks who are already here. And it's clear that this is a place in which, whether it be within the US South or a problematic "liberal" North, "liberal" in quotes, are they welcome here? And so you definitely had between 5,000 to 8,000 Black folks who were free, who were considering a move to Haiti during this time period, who were welcomed in, given land, there were some initial, without a doubt issues and problems on the island once they arrived. Whether it be sickness from smallpox or issues with gaining property, but there was a significant sort of migration during this time period. And so that's one sort of early movement that's happening within the United States.
0:20:33.6 PP: In addition you have sort of the black protestant influence with reverends, Episcopal priests and reverends, like James Holly who established the Holy Trinity Church and some schools in Haiti. Obviously, you have Frederic Douglas who's serving as a US minister to Haiti. So Douglas is doing this delicate balance of trying to maintain Haitian sovereignty but also wanting a very much a US style modernization development, politically and economically to take shape at the same time. So that gives you a little bit of sense like in the 19th century, what's happening and during this era of slavery, what's happening with African-Americans in the United States and their relationship to Haiti.
0:21:21.3 JC: Thank you. And of course, back in Haiti, as Robert mentioned, there's a government trying to lead within structures established during the French colonial period that were authoritarian and exploitative. Some unrest eventually in 1915, you have a president killed, the United States intervenes and stays for almost two decades to occupy Haiti. I think that this is particularly relevant to think about today in light of the recent assassination of Moise in Haiti and the instability that has followed. If I go back to Robert for this one, could you tell us a little bit about the motivations for the US Intervention in Haiti in 1915, about the conduct of US occupiers during that period, particularly with regard to our theme of race and its role in foreign interventions and what lasting imprints that occupation has left in Haiti?
0:22:25.1 PF: Well, the American occupation is... You have to put it in the context of the emerging super power of the United States and the capitalist industrialization of the country. You also have to put it in the context of what was happening as a result of the so-called indemnity debt from Haiti to France. Because what happened is that eventually, the Haitians paid that enormous debt. But in order to pay it, they had to incur more debts and some of those debts were actually to American banks. And before the US officially quote unquote occupied Haiti on July 28, 1915, there was a significant event in December of 1914. The US sent Marines to Haiti and they literally went into the Central Bank of Haiti, they seized the reserves of the government of Haiti, put it on a military boat and transported it to New York, where it went to National City Bank.
0:23:44.7 PF: You are talking about all the reserves of Haiti at that point, it was about half a million. So you have really the notion of the connection between economics, finance, imperial rule, the fact that The Monroe Doctrine now can be fully implemented. The US was worried about the influence of the Germans and the French in the area, so they decided that that Haiti was going to be occupied. And the other areas of the Carribean were occupied. Dominican Republic was also occupied, so Haiti was not the only one. But there was a very very strong racism at the time, I mean, not surprisingly so, because ultimately the President of the United States at that the time was, Woodrow Wilson... Was a very [laughter] deep racist background, you can't avoid that reality.
0:24:46.2 PF: So the occupation was... Started and the pretext for it was the killing of one of the former presidents of Haiti, a fellow by the name Jean Vilbrun Guillaume Sam. And he was dismembered in an attempted revolution. And at that time, Haiti was not centralizing power points, you have all kinds of provincial areas where you had leaders and they had their... Literally their own military apparatus. And that led to the collapse of the regime and United States intervened and occupied the country till l934. Now, as I've said, it was a very racist occupation, many of the generals, colonels who were part of that operation, had been to other areas in the Philippines, etcetera and they tended to be sojourners, so you had that feeling that Haitians were incapable, that they were all essentially uneducated and that they needed to be civilized, so that was part of the occupation.
0:26:02.3 PF: The other part was that there was some significant resistance in the first few years of the American occupation on the part of some Haitians, in particular, peasants. And eventually, the insurgency in Haiti was put down, one of the iconic figures of Haiti is a fellow by the name of Charlemagne Péralte, was taken and killed, and there is a statue of him like Christ actually, that is very famous in the Haitian psyche, but it was a symbol of resistance. On the other side, you have members of the elite, which tended to be also quite racist vis-a-vis the rest of the population, the light skin Haitians are the complex of superiority vis-a-vis [chuckle] the vast majority of Haitians. And in particular, vis-a-vis the peasants through which they conceived of really incapable of... Almost sub-human. So you had that cooperation between the occupiers and that elite, it was an easy cooperation because in the minds of the Americans, even the light-skinned elites was Black so therefore, they were not really quite educated either, so there was tension. Now, the major impact of the American occupation was the centralization of power in Port-au-Prince.
0:27:35.2 PF: And what I mean by that is that it led to control... Bureaucratic control from the center and the creation of the Haitian military, and that institution became quite critical in the future of Haiti and in terms of the politics of Haiti. So, centralization of power and real racist type of occupation, the occupation ended eventually in 1934, and President Roosevelt and the so-called, "Good Neighbor Policy." The other bad if you wish, element of that occupation was the so-called "Corvée", which was an institution that was used by the Americans, whereby they would use the peasantry to build roads, but it was essentially forced labor, and that led to very... A significant amount of resentment on resistance on the part of the Haitians. So, I'll let Millery if he wants to add to that, I probably forgot [chuckle] a lot of things too.
0:28:49.9 JC: Sure, Millery maybe I can follow up with a question as Robert mentioned, the occupation occurred at a time of waxing American strength of explicit imperialism in the Philippines and elsewhere, and part of an idea of a kinda Pan-Americanism that was founded on American leadership or hegemony and you've also written about another strand of Pan-American... Pan-Americanism that continue to develop during this period across North, Central, South America and the Caribbean. I wonder if you could tell us how the occupation of Haiti between 1915-1934 contributed to that intellectual development and how this sort of Black Pan-Americanism rose during the 20th century.
0:29:49.3 PP: Yeah, I think it's important to start a little bit in the 19th century too, but we can get through the... A little bit through the occupation is that sort of 19... Pan-Americanism is really an idea that starts in the 19th century, and it's sort of a US style Pan-Americanism, it's sort of multiples sort of strains or ways to interpret it, but a US style Pan-Americanism is really centered on these ideas of mutual cooperation, non-intervention, egalitarianism between nation states. But as I was saying in terms of the 19th century, it's built upon this idea or the premise of the Monroe Doctrine. So that had inevitably sort of states that the nation states in the hemisphere are part of Washington's backyard, right? So, this sort of US style Pan-Americanism centers whiteness in the US and among Latin-American elites. At the same time, you have Latin-American elites, Latin-American states, excuse me, they also have a rich tradition of thinking on and the formation of their own sort of style Pan-Americanism as they become independent from Spain or Portugal.
0:31:11.2 PP: They are thinking about ways in which to foster international solidarity, economic and cultural strength, and things of that nature. At the same time, keeping their sort of interdependent, but sovereign nation states. You have people like José Martí, who's the Cuban revolutionary and thinkers, who's talking about these ideas of solidarity. At the same time, he is also thinking about ways in which to dissolve or eradicate any sort of racial or color divisions in order to sort of crystallize international solidarity. But you also have, as you mentioned earlier, in terms of what I was... My research, my first book was really about ways in which African-descended peoples and Americas were very much in support of the core tenets of Pan-Americanism, the mutual cooperation, egalitarianism, non-intervention, right? But they also weren't... They also sort of decided not to de-center or eradicate blackness, they wanted to embrace...
0:32:25.3 PP: These histories of migration, of diplomatic relations of missionary and cooperative entrepreneurial ventures and anti-imperial campaigns that were central components to them to this idea of Pan-American. And so when you have US intervention in Haiti you have a moment in which... Very interesting, you have some Black folks in the US who are very much in support of US intervention, who are part of thinking about this sort of civilizing mission, that Robert was talking about. Even folks like James Weldon Johnson who was a writer and a thinker and then also was a diplomat, he was consul to Venezuela. Early on, he was in support of US intervention, very much elitist in his own, US style way of thinking about modernization and development.
0:33:32.1 PP: But then his ideas radically changed once he began to investigate what was happening with regards to these racist soldiers who were in Haiti and Woodrow Wilson's policy, the use of state violence. And he did his own investigative important reporting for the Nation at the time, that really showed many Black folks what was happening on the ground. And so you see a shift in many Black folks reactions to US involvement. And not only Haiti, but also in other parts as Robert mentioned in the Caribbean, Dominican Republic, they were in Nicaragua, earlier in Cuba. And so you basically see this sort of shift at the time.
0:34:30.0 JC: Great. And obviously that involvement continued throughout the Cold War in the era of the Duvalier's, but I wanna fast forward a little bit to talk about the more recent string of interventions in Haiti's governance since the early to mid-1990s. In particular, since 1994, when the United States multinational force went to Haiti, and then soon after it the UN Mission in Haiti and a series of other US or UN-led missions. And maybe I'll go back to you, Robert, to ask, it's a broad question, but in what ways have those, particularly the multi-national missions, the UN-authorized or UN-led missions, in what ways have they helped, if at all, to mitigate Haiti's structural subordination in the international system? In what ways do you see them as having simply reinforced it, reinforcing dependency, reinforcing a subordination on racial as well as other grounds?
0:35:36.5 PF: Well, in my mind, those multi-national interventions were to a large extent interventions that were led by the United States, whether you talk about the '90's or the more recent period after the second departure of Aristide in 2004 or after the earthquake. Those interventions really are interventions that to a large extent funded and led by the United States. They give to some degree some cover, so multilateral cover. And there were tensions at different times within that coalition, but basically the United States was driving the situation. Whether you talk about the first coup of '91 when Aristide was overthrown and the long period of negotiations, which were essentially negotiations between the United States and the military junta and the government of Aristide in exile, the United States was really the power and this is not surprising.
0:36:57.1 PF: On the other hand, there were tensions, as I've said, between for instance, Brazil, Chile at different times and the United States. How do you deal, for instance, in particular, in the second period with the slums in Haiti where you had a lot of gangs and the Brazilians didn't know exactly how to deal with it. There was an attempt ultimately to use significant force to quote/unquote "Pacify" the area. And it was a very uneasy relationship. But we can't understand ultimately those multilateral interventions without looking at the period of the Cold War and the immediate departure of Duvalier. Duvalier was clearly not liked by the US, but as we like to say he was from the American perspective, "Our son of a bitch," to put it crudely. And this was the Cold War, you had Cuba so you needed to put up with it and Duvalier knew that.
0:37:58.6 PF: When Jean-Claude arrived there was a period of liberalization, if you wish, but it led to eventually the self-destruction of the regime, corruption was rampant, and the regime fell on its own face. Then you had the period of the military and here again, the US was critical. The military, we were trained by the United States. So you have a heavy involvement of the United States during that whole period. We cannot look at the contemporary accurately the history of Haiti without looking at the significant power of the United States in the internal affairs of Haiti, it's impossible to understand Haiti without looking at that.
0:38:45.1 PF: Sometimes it helps, sometimes it really was very destructive and some of the programs in particular in the 1990s and after the earthquake were not helpful, they led to the destruction of the Haitian state, they didn't improve the political system, and they didn't solve the issues of corruption. And eventually, they fed a very unhealthy dependence on the part of the Haitian political class vis-a-vis the United States. And we see it now, everything that is decided in Haiti now has to be decided in conjunction with the US and the different US missions to Haiti. Since the assassination of Jovenel Moïse, we've had seven missions of the United States to try to reach a compromise. There was one two days ago, but it's not resolving anything. And so multilateralism in the context of Haiti is really American power in my mind.
0:39:57.3 JC: Thank you. And of course, a part of this series of interventions has been a legitimating narrative, one that paints Haiti as a failed or failing State, as a place of chaos and violence and disruption. And Millery, you've written about these narratives, and how international media and other portrayals of Haiti feed into these types of policy responses. I wonder if you could tell us a little bit more about that, as well as telling us how Haitians have tried to counteract that and whether they may have been successful in presenting a more holistic or accurate picture of the country.
0:40:34.0 PP: Yeah, yeah. In terms of starting with the Haitians, there's several ways to examine these portrayals that you're talking about. You have from a Haitian perspective you have, in terms of looking at a complicated Haitian life, they often do that within a very much a three-dimensional lens, from the comedic, the historic, sexual, religious, economic and political dimensions, although Haiti could do a lot more with regards to the LGBTQ+ community in terms of the portrayals there. But I think about the important films of Raoul Peck that has brought about important examinations of not only Haitian life, but also US-Haiti relations. The films of Arnold Antonin, and even just recently, an important film about Haitian migration or potential migration by Gessica Généus, this new film that was premiered at Cannes called Freda. So definitely important films that have been coming out, particularly films that have been coming out that speak to a complicated three-dimensional Haitian life, that looks at a Haitian life through a very particular historical context, too.
0:42:08.3 PP: But as you say, there's this history of Haitian representation, particularly in the US, by the White American press and media, and for the most part from filmmakers to evangelicals, they continue to show this bare life, a one-sided display of violence and chaos and economic despair, filled with poor migrants, cinematic zombies, irrational religious fervor, ahistorical sort of despotism. And there are ways in which that's with the White Anglo-American media for the most part, then you have on the other side, African-Americans who oftentimes tend to still live in this 1804 moment of radical abolitionism, and that's often their first go-to when thinking about or referencing the country in the Black media. And so, even there you have... Even within the Black church, Black Protestants still don't have a very much educated grasp in my opinion on Haitian religion and Voodoo, and still mock it and disparage it, and many times in church services. And so you have these portrayals and ways in which Haitians have tried to counteract it, has been, you find a lot within the Haitian diaspora within the US, who are doing their part, whether it be through the cultural realm, or whether it be through song and through film, through art.
0:44:08.0 PP: And Haitians within Haiti, something quite similar through film, through the cultural realm. And so those actions are very important in this sort of movement to paint Haiti anew... So that... Because oftentimes you can see the ways in which these disparaging images or narratives that continue to repeat those same old lines about what Haiti is within the hemisphere has this larger impact upon... Within the world of aid and assistance and US foreign policy.
0:45:00.9 JC: Right. And that's actually a very nice segue to our audience questions which are beginning to come in, and so I'll shift to some of those. The very first of which is about the assassination of President Moïse last July and asking for each of you to comment on the US government's position on the crisis, as well as how Haitians are processing the assassination, the ensuing investigation, and the political uncertainty that stems from it. Perhaps we'll keep going in the same order and start with Robert and go to Millery.
0:45:32.7 PF: Yeah well, the assassination of President Moïse was a shock to all Haitians. On the other hand, Moïse was not a popular president. At the time of the assassination, he was quite unpopular. He was perceived as very corrupt. He was perceived as becoming increasingly authoritarian. There was the issue of the length of his term as president. He extended it by a year against the constitutional order. So there was a lot that was really extremely negative about Moïse. But the assassination, on the other hand, was absolutely shocking to Haiti. The last president who had been assassinated was the fellow that I mentioned before, Guillaume Sam, and that was more than 100 years ago. And he was killed in his own house, in his own bedroom. And so far, it's not at all clear who were the intellectual architect of the assassination. And we have a very peculiar combination of Colombian military, Haitian Americans, people who work with the drug administration in the United States. And then we have, clearly, Haitians themselves in the security apparatus of Jovenel Moïse.
0:47:05.6 PF: So far, we can't establish, really, a clear path in terms of who are the main individuals responsible for engineering that assassination. We know a few things. That, supposedly, the Colombians were going to initially try to capture Moïse and then use some kind of order from a Supreme Court Justice saying that he was no longer president. And at the last moment, apparently, the orders changed. You had to kill the President. And we don't exactly why and how. Some people talk about drug money. Others talk about some very wealthy Haitians who might have been angered by Moïse decisions about electricity and who was going to control it, about gas and oil. So we don't really know. Now, in the aftermath of his assassination... And again, here you can see the influence of the international community because the Prime Minister, who was at that time the Prime Minister, was supposed to exit the position because Jovenel Moïse had just announced... Nominated that Ariel Henry was going to be the next Prime Minister. But immediately after the death of Jovenel, the international community said, "No, no, no, no, the Prime Minister is going to be Claude Joseph." And that created a lot of problems for Joseph himself. And eventually, two days afterward, they said, "No, no, no, no. You have to quit." And Ariel Henry became Prime Minister.
0:48:57.6 PF: The whole thing lacked any type of legitimacy. And this is one of the fundamental problems that Haitians are facing now. The current government is not legitimate. The opposition is deeply divided but has no legitimate power either. And we have significant interventions from the foreign community, from the Canadians, the French, and obviously from the US. And the problem is that we can't get a compromise between the different factions. And at the same time, the US wants to be neutral, but it is really giving legitimacy to Ariel Henry as Prime Minister. So we have that tension. So the situation is really reaching a point of an impasse. And the security situation in Haiti is now a disaster. You've had the proliferation of gangs. The country is, to some extent, cut. From Port-au-Prince... If you want to go from Port-au-Prince to the south of the country, you have to literally drive through the gang areas. And that is extremely difficult. Kidnappings have become extremely significant in the situation in the country now. And the economy is obviously falling apart. And we've had those natural disasters that have exacerbated the economic and political situation. And we are facing food insecurity for probably something like 40% of the population. So we are at a moment of extreme crisis, probably the most acute crisis since the departure of Jean-Claude Duvalier in 1986 or the earthquake of 2010.
0:50:48.4 JC: Yes, Millery, would you share some thoughts?
0:50:52.6 PP: I mean, Robert has said a lot that's really important, and really has outlined some of the major issues that are going on right now. I doubt that we will actually find out who has murdered President Jovenel Moïse, and so that is just so disconcerting and problematic in terms of that investigation.
0:51:28.3 PP: This dilemma, this conundrum that the state is in with regards to... And sort of its relationship to United states, whether or not, how much can the US actually say or do at this particular moment, becomes a really interesting and important issue right now. Because in some ways it's about... We need to find a sustainable path that can emerge to address insecurity, whether it be physical insecurity or food insecurities in the country. They're thinking about, okay, what's an appropriate sort of time table, electoral time table that can happen. And in what ways should the US... How much should they say, and when they do say something, oftentimes the Haitian state and Haitian state officials will go along with that, and then it just becomes sort of that the Haitian State is seen as in the back pocket of the United States. And thinking about constitutional reform, and what are the ways in which the United States can play a role in providing... Maybe another way to look at it is what are the ways in which the Haitian state can adequately provide for its people? But we know at this moment that is very, very, very difficult for them to do so.
0:53:16.6 PP: And so what are the ways in which they can reach out to the international community to help with that. And so these are some of the major issues that have, sort of, happened before Moise's death, but will continue as we try to find a resolution to that investigation, but also to who will become the next president. Because that election cycle, that electoral time table needs to happen.
0:53:53.0 JC: And there's a sort of vicious cycle that both of you are describing, in which Haiti is incompletely sovereign, therefore it's government lacks legitimacy. As a result of its lack of legitimacy, the international community gives assistance through NGOs rather than through the government leading to the so-called NGO republic. I wonder if you have thoughts on strategies that, and this relates to one of the audience questions, strategies that the international community can use to strengthen local governance capacity in Haiti, be that through the formal sector or be that through non-governmental organizations. What went wrong, especially in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake? And what ways of providing international assistance might be more conducive to eventual full exercise of sovereignty in Haiti? Maybe we'll start with you Robert.
0:54:52.0 PP: Go ahead.
0:54:54.9 PF: Well, I think one...
0:54:57.0 PP: I'll give really quickly in terms of mine. Go ahead.
0:54:57.0 PF: Okay. Go ahead.
0:55:00.1 PP: Just to switch it up a little bit is that... This is gonna be a very long process in terms of thinking about strategies and thinking about what needs to happen next for helping the Haitian people in addition to, sort of, building, say, stronger transnational networks. One thing that needs to happen is sort of this consistent and transparent diplomatic relations and what's happening with regards to the US-Haiti relations, whether it be are US ministers and consuls to Haiti and who represents American interests, and making sure that, that is transparent, and making sure that is consistent. We still need to... It's very important to produce educated travelers and students and state officials, people who are reading important academic literature to discuss the relevance of Haiti and Caribbean and Latin American history in our own US History schools. It's important to not underestimate the power of buttressing local, as you mentioned sort of the local and national aims and projects in order for us to be open to extend oneself to on egalitarian terms.
0:56:44.0 JC: If asymmetrical power relations already exist, then an effective US-Haiti relations or projects seem to be doomed to fail or not live up to its potential because it's not sustainable if it lives on that of a symmetrical sort of foundation that it exists and so as I mentioned, so this is going to be a very, very long process. So many things need to happen. And as I mentioned, you know, this electoral timetable is one important piece, and if something similar to maybe in El Salvador, what you have. Sort of this young charismatic leader that doesn't scare the business elite can please the United States, someone who can do many different things, not scaring the business elites in Haiti, it's palatable to the United States, but also has a focus on the Haitian people and their services, that's gonna be important. There's so many different things, it could be from the decentralization of power in Port-au-Prince, as Robert, sort of, alluded to earlier to the emphasis on agricultural production. So all these things need to happen, but it's gonna take... It's a decades long project.
0:58:13.6 JC: Thank you.
0:58:15.8 PF: I think that Millery has pointed out several really important issues. One that I would emphasize is the rural sector, agriculture. The country used to be essentially autonomous in terms, for instance, of rice production, of sugar, and that disappeared. And it disappeared not because there were crisis in those sectors, although there were, but there were not the main reasons why those sectors collapsed. Those were the result of policies of the World Bank, of USAID. In other words, they were telling the Haitian government why don't you open up your economy completely and you import rice, which is cheaper, and that will be much better. The problem is that once you did that, the rice sector collapsed, and with the collapse of the rice sector, people in the rural areas had no means of livelihood.
0:59:25.2 PF: So what did they do? They moved to the different towns and eventually to [0:59:30.4] ____ or to Port-au-Prince. And what we have now are mega slums in Port-au-Prince. If you go to Port-au-Prince, you have slums downtown, even in the areas that used to be considered the privileged areas in Petion-Ville, if you look at the hills, it's really essentially a slum that was repainted in very colorful ways by the government of Martelly to hide the fact that those were actually slums. There's no electricity, no running water, no clinics, very poorly equipped schools, so this is a real problem. One has to really rethink those issues, and this is a very... This is something that is beyond really the control, to put it bluntly, of Haiti because this is under the control of the World Bank, the IMF and the major Western powers while espoused the new liberal idea.
1:00:28.4 PF: On the other hand, they don't do what they preach because of Haitian... I mean, US rice is subsidized in the United States. The agricultural sector is really subsidized in the European community, but they tell to countries like Haiti, don't do that, it's bad. Well, you can't. If you do that, you're exposing yourself to the destruction of your local production. And with all of the negative consequences that this entails, slums and growing poverty, and obviously that causes the pattern of migration towards the United States or towards Canada or even towards some better off Caribbean countries. And that is unsustainable in the short, medium and long term. So some really very hard decisions have to be made. Otherwise, I don't see how we can extricate ourselves from the current crisis.
1:01:29.7 PF: That's the same thing with the political system. What we are seeing now is really a repeat of the last 40 years. Elections that are not legitimate, then the opposition is in the streets, the government in power starts to collapse and we have massive disorder, so it's like a catch-22. The policies have been bad and they've led to bad results, but in a weird way, we are continuing the same policies expecting a different result, and that is very unlikely.
1:02:07.5 JC: Right, and there's been a rising sense of criticism within the diplomatic ranks recently of these policies that haven't yielded strong results, the most public was the resignation of Ambassador Daniel Foote, and my colleague, Ambassador Susan Page has a question which is, maybe we can start with Millery, what should we read into the apparent dismissal or disregard within the Biden administration for the advice of some people like Ambassador Foote who have extended experience with Haiti? If the administration isn't taking advice of people who have spent a lot of time around the country, in what way should that trouble us? What might be really driving US policy in that case?
1:02:56.8 PP: That's a great question. Many ways. And it shows the difficulties. I always go back to think about Frederick Douglas and sort of the difficult position that Douglas was in and trying to talk to those in power in Washington about Haiti, dealing with his own feelings about the country and where he wanted, where he believed it should be, what it represented to Haitian people. But in terms of the Biden administration, I think it's problematic and obviously problematic, but it reaches down to fundamental understanding about policy or US foreign policy that is built upon this notion of extractivism, right. And that policy, maybe there are ways to get around it, but we see ways in which, as Robert just mentioned with regards to Clinton's policy on rice, and whether it be to democratically elected officials. If we think about the private sector in terms of the current situation with gold mining in Haiti and many mining companies who are in Haiti and we know that the leadership, for the most part, they're not creating a new generation of engineers and thought leaders who are working on this issue in which there's a possibility where billions of dollars of resources beyond gold will be extracted out of the country.
1:04:55.3 PP: And this goes on to think about sugar and to labor, labor situations which labor is being extracted or brain drain, so that's the hill, the obstacle that we're fighting against is a policy, a relationship that's been rooted in this notion of we must take and we must extract from a nation so that regenerates or that builds... Not using the right adjective... But that just... That impacts, it replicates many different problems and traumas within the nation.
1:05:45.4 JC: Right. Robert, maybe if I could ask you another question from the audience, one of our listeners asked, can you speak about the relationship between the Dominican Republican and Haiti in what way is that a relationship of interdependence, in what ways it is a conflictual or antagonistic relationship?
1:06:01.8 PF: It's a very complicated relationship. If you read the news in the last few weeks, you'll have found out that the Dominican Republic is actually building a wall between the Dominican Republic and Haiti and that is essentially the result of the pattern of migration of Haitians going to the Dominican Republic. And then you had also the Supreme Court of the Dominican Republic saying that Haitians who had migrated some 50, 60 years ago, who were born in Dominican Republic, were not actually part of the Dominican Republic and they are to be expelled from the Dominican Republic, so we've had seen that too. So you have a conflictual relationship.
1:06:54.1 PF: On the other hand, whether the Dominican Republic likes it or not, they need cheap labor and the Haitians, unfortunately, provide that cheap labor. Because the Dominican Republic as a booming tourist industry, it's a much more advanced economy than the one in Haiti. So Haitians migrate where they can to find a better life. So you have that conflict. Then you also have an issue of race. Many of the Dominican people have an idea that they are not Black, that they are closer to the Hispanic world. And that dates back from Trujillo, the former dictator. And at that time there was what was called a [1:07:44.6] ____ was when Trujillo essentially killed thousands of Haitians who were working on the plantations in the Dominican Republic. But that form of racism persists.
1:07:57.2 PF: Now there have been on the other hand, movement between civil society organizations of women, of workers, trying to bridge the gap. And there was some of that during the earthquake, immediately after the earthquake, and all of Dominicans went to Haiti in order to help. On the other hand, the Dominican Republic really, to put it crudely, benefited economically from the earthquake because a lot of the imports that went to Haiti came from the Dominican Republic. So we have tensions between those two nations and they date back even further when Haiti had the Dominican Republic under its control and eventually the Dominicans got their independence. So there is a historic reason for that tension and the unequal economic development has also aggravated that tension.
1:09:00.9 PF: On the other hand, a lot of fairly very wealthy Haitians have moved into Dominican Republic in other words, and they are accepted because they tend to be light skin, they have money and they're investing in the Dominican economy. So it's not all Haitians who are not welcome. Some Haitians are quite welcome and they have businesses there. So there is inevitably some form of economic interdependent at the top and the bottom, and not surprisingly, those at the bottom are usually those who suffer the consequences, unfortunately.
1:09:36.0 JC: Thank you. The next audience question also connects history to the present, and I'll ask this one of Millery. Given Haiti's status as the first free black Republic, in what ways does its revolutionary history and spirit influence culture and society today?
1:09:57.6 PP: Influence culture and society today. Well, I'm gonna have to work through this, I think when I think about today, I think about education, but what I've found and what... I guess what I said earlier, was that because of the strong academic research that has been going on for the past 30 or so years, 20 to 30 years that's been building on Haitian revolutionary studies. People have become much more educated about their that history and how important it was from my son learning in his class, which I didn't believe that he would, but thankfully, he has a really good teacher who talks about the ways in which Haiti resonates within US history during the colonial era and beyond. From Haitians fighting in The Battle of Savannah to the role of Haiti and its independence and the Louisiana purchase, and so you see ways in which people...
1:11:25.9 PP: Once the earthquake happened in 2010, various different groups of people, from entrepreneurs to politicians to church-going folks, everyone was referencing the revolution as a reason to participate in assistance, in aid, and often times saying that this was... We need to help because Haiti helped us at one moment in time. And so what's fascinating is the ways in which people are reflecting back on this importance of a 13-year war that resonates in terms of these ideas of liberty and freedom, and freedom to govern, but also a sense of pride and blackness. It's gotten to a point where I've been hearing a bit more about people wanting to learn Haitian Creole because it's seen as a revolutionary language. So you may have heard about Duolingo just recently, having Haitian Creole as part of its list of languages, and so more and more people are wanting to participate in that.
1:13:00.5 PP: So it really goes from art and music of the '50s and '60s within jazz, in which people have reference of Haiti from Charles Mingus and others, to Max Roach, to Jacob Lawrence in the '30s, and his revolutionary Haitian paintings. All the way up to today, in which people are advocating to remember in these importance of cultural symbols, whether it be from Soup Joumou, the Haitian soup of January 1st, that that has been a topic of conversation in different parts of the country, and people don't want to mess with that, in terms of how it's prepared and how it's talked about. And so films have been made, documentary films have been made that all sort of link and reflect upon this particular moment of Haitian revolutionary history, and you see ways in which it still sort of lingers today.
1:14:25.6 JC: Thank you. We've got time for about two more questions, and we've got two more good ones from the audience that I hope you'll each be willing to comment on, maybe starting again with you Millery. The next question is, what's the biggest misconception that you see here in the United States about Haiti that you try to address through your teaching and research?
1:14:51.9 PP: The biggest misconception... There's so many. [chuckle] I would probably say the biggest misconception about Haiti... I'm curious to hear what Robert has to say, but for me, it has to be the ways in which people understand the religion Haitian Vodou, and the way that's been portrayed within the media. And so that's an important piece to my teaching, and we see the early sort of representations of Haitian link to religion and religious fervor and the proliferation, depiction of Haitians within zombie films and horror films. And what that does on the psyche of those people who care for those types of films, I think is incredible, and how people have taken this trope of the zombie or this trope of... Or this idea of worship, and being a practitioner of this religion as something inherently negative, or something as othered or uncivilized. And for me...
1:16:28.0 PF: And for me working through that, through the important work of Haitian scholars who've done work on Vodou, and anthropologists and literary figures. To open up a space in which we talk about these connections between West Africa, the Caribbean elements and retentions within the US South to open up the space in which we can talk about the evolution and development of this religion and its relationship to Catholicism is really important. So for me, working through that is really important.
1:17:17.6 JC: Great, thank you. Robert?
1:17:19.2 PF: Well, to put it bluntly, I think it's ignorance. In other words, they don't know much about Haiti. They have opinions that are derived from fantasy, to a large degree. So I think ignorance is a very significant problem, it's not just Haiti, frankly. [chuckle]
1:17:39.1 JC: Right.
1:17:41.2 PF: It's about a lot of countries, unfortunately. I like to tell, today, to Americans... And they probably don't know that, but I always repeat it. If you look at the expansion of the United States, the Louisiana Purchase, which doubled the territorial area of Haiti, to a large extent is a result of 1804. Because 1804 destroyed Napoleon's army, which was supposed to go just there to control those territories. And they rather... The great irony is that the person who benefited from that was none other than Thomas Jefferson. And I'm at the University of Virginia, so it's a very paradoxical thing. [chuckle] But Jefferson used Haiti and called it The Republic of Cannibals. On the other hand, what might have been his greatest diplomatic accomplishment was exactly that, the Louisiana Purchase. And it's very much connected to the Haitian Revolution. So there is that kind of ignorance. And when I say that, the people usually look at me, "What the heck is he talking about?" And it is a very real phenomenon.
1:19:10.7 PF: The other issue is obviously that Haiti is a completely failed state, which, to a large degree, it's true. One should not have fantasies about the nature of the political system in Haiti or about the really pervasive nature of poverty in the country. But when you transform that as the only thing that the country is, it's really problematic. And then it engenders those kinds of missionary conceptions that, "Well, we need to help them, but they don't know how to help themselves." So that precipitates all kinds of unhealthy polices and unhealthy relationships. I was reading, actually, fairly recently, a report by... How do you call it? The government... One of the government authorities that look at the expenses of the US in foreign assistance. And it was published last April. From 2010 to 2021, the US spent 3.7% of its foreign assistance on organizations that were controlled by Haitians, and that's in Haiti. When you have that disconnect between foreign assistance and the realities of the country, it's not surprising that we have, ultimately, failed policies.
1:20:41.3 PF: So we all need to really know a little bit more before dispensing judgment on certain issues and on many countries. And I think that this is a real problem, even the way we talk about Haiti in the press or our public officials. Haiti is the backyard. And actually, President Biden upgraded us. He called it the front yard. I don't know if that is really of great significance, but it gives you, to some extent, an idea of the mentality informing public policies.
1:21:19.0 JC: Thank you. One more question, and this comes from Dominique Adams-Santos, to whom I'm grateful for organizing the series. She, like others in the audience, are very interested in learning more from your work. And she'd just like to hear a little bit more about what you're working on currently and what we can look forward to in your latest research. Maybe Millery, you could start by telling us a few of the themes you're examining at the present, and then we'll close out with Dr. Fatton.
1:21:48.6 PP: Well, I'm working a lot of different things right now. I guess one that is connected to Haiti, I'm very much interested in aviation and airports and the establishment and development of airports within the Caribbean and West Africa, and trying to look at the idea, notion of infrastructure and the politics of infrastructure and when... And how airports get named, and in what ways have they been used. The roads that lead to these airports, and what are the sort of the social-political life of... Economic life of businesses that have sort of lined the streets that lead to the airport. If anyone's been to, whether it be to Port-au-Prince or to other parts of the Caribbean or West Africa, there's this... It's this fascinating world of, once you step out of the airport and you go down these roads and you see sort of the life that exists there, the informal economy, what have you, that exists. It says a lot about this sort of central piece of infrastructure that has, for some people, has aided the nation and, at other times, has been sort of quite problematic in terms of how the airport has been used.
1:23:30.3 PP: But this world of aviation is fascinating to me. And I find that, for West Africans and Caribbean people, once the invention of the airplane and aviation came to many of these places, it became an event in which people liked to take their pictures in front of airplanes. And so it's this conversation about modernity and aviation and Black life that hopefully I can get off the ground at some point.
1:24:02.5 JC: Great. And, Robert, what do we have to look forward to, from your research?
1:24:06.3 PF: Well, I just published a book, on exceptionalism in an attempt to compare Haitian and American except... Well, yep.
1:24:18.5 PF: And it is kind... I think it is kind of controversial, because what I seek to do is to demystify both American exceptionalism and Haitian exceptionalism. And my argument is that ultimately, exceptionalisms are narratives that are used by those who run the show, the rulers, to hide all kinds of really pretty, nasty things. So, I've just done that and I'm now working on the COVID pandemic. Because I was struck by the fact that if you look at Sub-Saharan Africa, you look at Haiti, some of the "poorest" quote unquote, nations in the world. Well, the death rate is significantly, I mean, significantly lower than in the United States or in Western Europe. And they don't have the infrastructure, they don't have the health system, and they were unable, because of their own economic situation, to have any significant lockdowns. And this is a fascinating thing, and they haven't been vaccinated either. In Haiti, I think it's less than 1%, in Sub-Saharan Africa, it's less than 2%. And yet, very few people have died compared to what has happened in the industrialized countries.
1:25:43.6 PF: And the question is, why? Because when COVID started, the assumption was that, we will have a completely catastrophic death rate in the third world. That has not happened. And there are certain things that explain that. One is the youth of the population in Sub-Saharan Africa and in Africa, this is one of the key elements. The other is obesity, and obesity accounts with age for something like 60% of death.
1:26:16.7 PF: And the population in Sub-Saharan Africa is extremely young, and in Haiti it's extremely young. And then you've had all kinds of other diseases, tropical diseases that might have contributed in one way or another and we don't really know to tame that beast of COVID. So, I'm just really looking at this and it's a fascinating thing because, my expectation when it started is that the calamity was going to happen in Haiti. I had visions of literally hundreds of 1000s of people dead in the streets, because we don't have the hospitals. And that has not happened and we don't wear masks. I mean in the middle of COVID last year, Haitians were dancing in carnival. And they're dancing and nobody is dying. What the heck is... It's a very paradoxical situation. And maybe we can learn something from what happens in those countries as compared to what has happened in the industrialized countries. And perhaps, there were policies that we are not aware of, that might have helped significantly to that fact.
1:27:31.3 JC: Sounds like a fascinating bundle of studies that you're both working on. We thank you very much Millery Polyné, Robert Fatton for sharing your insights with us today. For the audience, next week at the same time on March 17th, at 4:00 PM we will close out this series with a conversation about Transnational Advocacy and the Global BLM Movement. For now, thanks for joining us. Thanks again to our speakers, and we hope you have a good night.
1:28:00.4 PF: Thank you so much.
1:28:01.4 PP: Thank you.