Many Americans of Haitian descent grew up learning the courage and resiliency of the Haitian people, who rose up against their French enslavers and eventually won their independence in 1804. I remember learning how the now free African people came together to create a new language, Haitian Creole, which we continue to use today. And I remember how proud I felt proud when I heard that Haitians fought in the American Revolutionary War, helping a young United States win the war.
But on July 7, this pride of being a Haitian American turned to sadness when we woke up to the news that President Jovenel Moise had been assassinated and that his wife was in critical condition. I experienced disbelief, pain, and outrage as I attempted to make sense of the news. True, the Haitian community had been divided in its support of Moise, but we agreed that no foreign powers, mercenaries, bourgeoisie, or military personnel had the right to assassinate the de-facto Haitian president.
As we continue to seek the truth behind the assassination, the real fear among Haitians is over what might happen next. Especially because we have seen how Western powers repeatedly use periods of Haiti’s “destabilization” as a pretext for exploiting the nation’s resources and people.
After a similar crisis in 1915, following the assassination of Haitian President Jean Vilbrun Guillaume Sam, the United States justified military intervention of Haiti by citing concerns about Haiti’s instability and a fear of rising German influence on the island. Nearly two decades of violent U.S. control followed, during which, according to U.S. State Department’s Office of the Historian, the U.S. “gained complete control over Haitian finances,” “forced the election of a new pro-American President,” and tried to “strong-arm the Haitian legislature into adopting a new constitution.” At the end of this period, more than 15,000 Haitians had been killed. The U.S. went on to back the brutal Duvalier regime, which killed an estimated 60,000 Haitians in the name of preventing the spread of communism.
The destabilization of Haiti by Western powers fostered fertile ground for corporate exploitation. President Ronald Reagan was a champion for American corporations setting up shop in Haiti. The companies took advantage of a people desperately struggling to make it in a fragile economy by hiring them at some of the cheapest rates in the world.
From 2004 to 2017, the United Nations sent peacekeepers to help Haiti deal with political instability, organized crime, and — following the devastating 2010 earthquake — a natural disaster. These so-called “peacemakers” set up a child trafficking ring and sexually abused women and children, often fathering children and abandoning the children’s mothers. A sewage leak from the peacekeepers’ camp caused a cholera outbreak that has led to the death of at least 10,000 people; a decade later, human rights advocates are still seeking justice for the victims.
Time after time, we hear that Haiti is the most impoverished nation in the Western Hemisphere, but rarely do we hear of the island’s natural resources, including gold and oil, or its hardworking people. Haiti is not poor; we must redirect resources away from foreign nations and powerful corporations and back to the people.
During times of great chaos, those who suffer the most are the most vulnerable. People in dire poverty often become more desperate. Amid economic insecurity, institutions will not be able to provide services for families who desperately need them. When people do not trust the military, police, or government officials, they will find alternative ways of seeking justice. Sadly, political infighting can increase the bloodshed of innocent people on the streets.
As Christians, we must support Haiti and the Haitian people, but not in a way that advances a U.S. foreign policy of exploitation, control, and extraction. Throughout the world, the United States has maintained its dominance through military force, always prioritizing U.S. interests over the interests of people in less powerful countries. So far, the U.S. has not ruled out sending troops at the request of Haiti’s interim government. The White House is saying that the request for military intervention is still under review.
Jesus calls Christians to be true peacemakers (Matthew 5:9), people who advance harmony, safety, and justice in chaotic situations. The Haitian people need our love, partnership, and support as they continue calling out their corrupt government officials, challenging their economic elite, and resisting foreign intervention. We can provide meaningful support by demanding Congress creates a select committee to investigate U.S. intelligence and law enforcement involvement in President Jovenel Moise’s assassination. The U.S. Senate carried out a similar investigation in 1975, producing a report that revealed U.S. involvement in the assassination of heads of state in the Dominican Republic, Chile, and Vietnam. We can support the local media who is using limited resources to bring us the stories of people who are directly impacted by the crisis. And we must support the Haitian youth and students demanding a #FreeHaiti.
It is also the job of the Christian community to use our prophetic voices to stand against powers that deprive people of their human rights and dignity, including the U.S. government. We must be vocal opponents of unnecessary military intervention and push the United States to advance a peaceful foreign policy, especially towards nations like Haiti, where the U.S. has had a hand in dismantling their government and economy.
Haiti needs the love of the church more than ever, but they do not need charity rooted in paternalism, exploitation, and hidden agendas.