As Ties Emerge Between The US Government And The Suspected Assassins Of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse, Scholar Jemima Pierre Analyzes Moïse’s Legacy And Murder Within The Long History Of Neocolonial US Intervention In Haiti.
A growing number of suspects in the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse have US ties. At least one is a former DEA informant and several have received U.S. military training. Scholar Jemima Pierre of The Black Alliance for Peace discusses the unfolding mystery surrounding Moïse’s killing and the context of longtime US, foreign intervention and neocolonialism in Haiti.
Guest: Jemima Pierre. Haiti/Americas Coordinator for The Black Alliance for Peace and Associate Professor at UCLA.
Aaron Maté: Welcome to Pushback. I’m Aaron Maté. Joining me is Jemima Pierre. She is the Haiti/Americas Coordinator for The Black Alliance for Peace and an associate professor at UCLA. Dr. Pierre, welcome to Pushback.
Jemima Pierre: Thank you for having me. Happy to be here.
Aaron Maté: As we’re speaking, it’s been over a week since the assassination of Haitian president Jovenel Moïse. I’m just wondering what you think is important for people to know right now, as details remain unclear about what exactly happened.
Jemima Pierre: Yeah, so there’s an assassination of the sitting president in Haiti. One of the first things I want people to know is that the last time there was an assassination of a sitting president in Haiti was in 1915, and right before the US invasion and occupation of Haiti for 19 years, from 1915 to 1934, so that people know this history. And one of the first things that has emerged is, this assassination should not lead to more foreign intervention and meddling, especially from the US in Haiti. So, that’s the first thing.
And then I can talk about Moïse. To think about the assassination of Moïse in Haiti, we have to go back to talk about the last decade, how Moïse came to power. Because Moïse’s presidency was without much mandate. Moïse had been ruling by decree for the past 18 months. There was no sitting parliament, he let all their mandates… he did not organize elections, so there are no members of parliament. There are only 10 elected officials who’ve been left in Haiti. Judges have not been… mandates have been unfinished. And so, in Haiti, the man was ruling by decree.
And right before, towards the end of his life, Haiti was marred by a lot of violence, especially gang violence. In fact, the week before Moïse’s assassination there was a major massacre on June 30 in this neighborhood called Delmas 32 that killed about 19 people overnight, including a young activist and a journalist. And so, there’s been rising violence but also rising protests against Moïse, who was not a popular candidate at all. And he hasn’t been popular from the very beginning because his election was marred by irregularities from the very beginning, in 2015 and ‘16, and he was handpicked by the previous government. But under Moïse the protests kept going. I know they’re hardly covered in the US mainstream press, but there had been ongoing protests against Moïse in 2016. The largest ones came in 2018 and ‘19 and as recently as March, when Moïse, for example, did not step down when his presidency ended.
And so, there was discussion, there were conflicting… not conflicting, [rather] but Haitian civil society and the Haitian constitution and the bar association of Haiti all said constitutionally his term ended February 7, 2021. He refused to step down and said his term ended February 7, 2022, and then proceeded to maintain power. And in that process, from February through June, there were massive protests against him, the Haitian people calling for him to step down, and the major protests really came in March and April. And then soon after that you had a rise in gang violence which really curtailed protesting, and which is why a lot of people think that violence was state sponsored.
And so, there’s a lot to know about Moïse. The other part is, the only reason Moïse could stay in power and could rule by decree for as long as he did, despite the years-long massive protests against him, was because he had the support of the so-called international community. And this is the important part. Nothing happens in Haiti without the international community.
And by the international community, I mean the United Nations stabilizing group [UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH)] which is still in Haiti, it’s been in Haiti since 2004. The Core Group, which is a self-identified, so-called group that has representatives from the European Union, the US, Canada, several European countries, and a couple of countries from South America, and the Core Group basically makes all decisions about what’s going on in Haiti. And then you have the US State Department. So, these are the people that decided that Moïse, for example, could stay in power for an extra year. So, the protests, especially marches from Haitians and underground in Haiti, and in the diaspora, have been against this imperialist control of Haiti.
And so, I’ll stop here for now. And if you have any questions, because part of the thing is, we have to go back to talking about Moïse’s predecessor and before him the coup d’état that actually opened up this Pandora’s box for Haiti.
Aaron Maté: So, before we go to Michel Martelly and the period before even that, let me just ask you, do you have any speculation as to what happened here with Moïse? There’s been a lot of conflicting reports, video of people being arrested inside Haiti, including alleged Colombian mercenaries. What I never got about that is, that if there was a plot to assassinate the president, and especially if they’re foreign mercenaries, it would seem to me that they would probably escape the country right afterwards.
Jemima Pierre: Right.
Aaron Maté: Yeah. And also, there’s one more detail I want to ask you about, which is that there is a suspect according to Haitian authorities who the DEA, the Drug Enforcement Administration of the US, just acknowledged was a former informant who is reportedly a suspect in the killing.
Jemima Pierre: Right. So, first of all, it’s fascinating to me that to carry out an assassination you need 28 people to storm a presidential residence, right? And so, part of that is, I have to say, most people I talked to in Haiti, no one believes that. Everyone believes that this wasn’t… so let me just first say that we’re all speculating. So, I want to say that. A lot of people believe that this was an internal… an inside job, especially because none of the presidential security—and some people say there were about 20 security people around the president in the evening—no one got shot, no one got hurt, none of them were out. The only two people that were shot were Moïse and his wife. And so, there’s also speculation as to who is the one that took Moïse’s wife to the hospital, including to also take his daughter.
And then the Colombian mercenary question is really interesting because there’ve always been mercenaries. They’ve been under Moïse. We know that there are mercenaries hired, for example, during protests, and mercenaries hired to protect the presidency, to protect his people, to protect some of the elites. So, there could be any number of reasons why you’ve had all these Colombians there.
There could also be reasons to believe that there’s a bigger mastermind that we won’t know about because some people pointed the finger at the elite. So, there’s speculation going everywhere. But what is concerning to me is that the prime minister who was appointed as interim prime minister, he had already resigned the day before, and the day of the assassination there was supposed to be another appointed prime minister sworn in. This prime minister names himself president, calls a state of siege, which literally means martial law for the next 15 days, and then asks for US military protection for infrastructure and stabilization. And so, we have to worry about that.
And then, also, the person leading the investigation, Léon Charles, the Haitian chief of police, is not being questioned even though he has a long history of human rights violations. So, after the coup d’état in 2004, he was the Haitian chief of police that worked at the UN, who massacred a whole bunch of people, especially in the impoverished areas in the city. He was so brutal that there were human rights reports about him. And then he left; he basically was forced out of Haiti and was attached to the US embassy from 2006 later. So, he was not brought in until the fall of 2020, which also raised a lot of concerns for people in Haiti around human rights. And in fact, his first week in office was when he really repressed a lot of protests against Moïse on November 18.
And so, to have these people running the investigation–these are the people who are in charge of Moïse’s security—it just seems extremely convenient for some of these stories that are coming out. Because I’m wondering why no one is questioning the head of the presidential security, why are none of the guards being questioned, and how did they know, for example, it was already exactly, what, 26 or 28 Colombians, where they were and so on? I can speculate, too, as there are a lot of unanswered questions, and also, the people who could be implicated are running the investigation. And it’s really fascinating to me that the first thing that this de facto-now president would do was call for US military intervention.
Aaron Maté: Which the US has reportedly denied, right?
Jemima Pierre: Denied, and then this morning they opened up room for this intervention, right? So, they denied it, and then this morning it was reported that Biden would provide critical support for Haiti in the form of support with gangs, help with dealing with the gang situation, which, as you know, the gangs have been in Haiti for a while. But the elite sometimes hire gangs, people hire gangs, the state sometimes works with gangs. What’s been happening in the past few months, the past couple of years, is the fact that these gangs are extremely well-armed with expensive automatic weapons and ammunition. And so, the Biden administration said it would help with the gang situation but also secure elections, which the Haitian people have been protesting against for the longest time, because they were saying that this is a de facto president with no elected officials. A de facto president cannot then name an election commission because none of that is valid. And so Haitian people have been saying, “How could you have elections when you have a completely undemocratic situation?” But the US is pushing on these elections, and so this idea that they will provide election security opens up this space for potential… well, for more intervention, because what the US has been doing in Haiti is continuous intervention, but this would just be more military officials there in Haiti.
Aaron Maté: Well, this brings up what you mentioned before, the installation of Michel Martelly, who ended up basically choosing Jovenel Moïse as his successor. So, let me ask you to talk about the critical role of the US in installing Martelly and, thus, leading to Jovenel Moïse.
Jemima Pierre: Right. So, Martelly was installed in the 2010-2011 election. We have to remember in 2010, January, Haiti suffered a devastating earthquake that some said killed hundreds of thousands, a couple hundred thousand people, with leaving a million people unhoused. And then soon after that, because we can talk about 2004 later, under UN occupation you have the UN troops bringing cholera to Haiti, which caused a cholera epidemic that people say killed between 10,000 and 30 000 people, which we’ll never know because a lot of people were in the rural areas that were not counted, but also sickening almost a million people.
So, while Haiti’s suffering from no housing, it’s still dealing with what was left over from the earthquake and the losses that happened with the earthquake, and cholera, the US was insisting on getting rid of the sitting president at the time which was René Préval, and insisted that the Haitians have elections. And the US put forth about $38 million to force the elections and handpicked the people running, except for one guy, I think Jude Célestin who ran, who the US did not support.
So, the first round of the elections, Martelly does not make the cut to go to a runoff. And Hillary Clinton, this is like at the beginning of the so-called Arab Spring in early 2011, Hillary Clinton flies from the Middle East to Haiti—and WikiLeaks files will demonstrate this—and basically threatened the sitting president of Haiti, René Préval at the moment, that they could put him on a plane to Africa the way that they did to Aristide if he doesn’t agree with the OAS and the US view that Martelly should be in the runoff.
So, this tells us first of all that Haiti has no sovereignty, but second of all it tells you that Martelly did not even make the first round, and he was forced onto the ballot for the second round which had some of the lowest turnout because the electoral commission, which the OAS helped to vet, completely banned the largest political party, which is Aristide’s original party Fanmi Lavalas. So, there’s very few people voting, there are all kinds of claims of electoral fraud and so on, and this is how Martelly, who also came with a lot of controversy—for example, there’s speculation that he was not even a Haitian citizen, and right before these elections Haitian passports showed up, and he was living in Florida, he had gone bankrupt, he had been foreclosed on with his house—but this is the guy that then becomes the president. And this is when the latest set of troubles begin for Haiti, because Martelly was a neo-Duvalierist who really celebrated Duvalier, and we know Duvalier was a brutal dictator that really terrorized the Haitian people, and Michel Martelly was all about “Haiti’s open for business,” which meant opening up Haiti for all kinds of neoliberal policies for the fleecing of Haiti by both the Haitian elite—the light-skinned Haitian elite—as well as the international business elite.
And so, Martelly was great for the US government. But in the end, he also started ruling by decree in 2015, and he finally relented and stepped down, and handpicked Jovenel Moïse as his successor. And so, then we know that this PHTK [Parti Haïtien Tèt Kale], this political party really started in 2010, 2011 with Michel Martelly. And under this party, and we’ll see this through Moïse, is that’s when it was revealed that, for example, they sold $2 billion of the PetroCaribe funds which Venezuela had set up to help Haiti with development projects, by basically giving, when oil prices were high, it gave Haiti oil very cheap, as a loan with, like, one percent interest, and Haiti had 25 years to repay. And so that way they would be able to use this money for development. And the US was very upset by the PetroCaribe, which is one of the reasons they were mad at René Préval, the president before Martelly, because they wanted Haiti to not be part of this PetroCaribe fund, PetroCaribe program.
And so, what ends up happening, we realize that Moïse and Martelly, the whole PHTK, all became extremely wealthy in embezzling all this money from the PetroCaribe fund, money that would be for development of Haitian infrastructure.
So, we’re here because of the original intervention by the US, by forcing these presidents on us, but there’s also the other intervention in 2004, where the US, Canada and France led a coup d’état against the elected president of Haiti.
Aaron Maté: Let’s talk about that. The coup against Aristide in 2004, the US played an instrumental role, basically forcing Aristide to leave the country on a plane, flying him to the Central African Republic. And before that, I guess, for people who don’t know that period, before that happened, the US and its allies suspended some millions of dollars of aid to Haiti which the Aristide government was relying on for basic services, and I’m just wondering if you could talk about that in the context of how vulnerable Haiti has been to external intervention, and how even things like foreign aid have been used to undermine its sovereignty.
Jemima Pierre: Yes, definitely. The US never liked Aristide because he was the popular government. This is the first time we had elections where you had almost 70 percent of the people who voted for this poor priest who practiced liberation theology. Poor priest of the people, and the people loved him. And if you look at the WikiLeaks files—and I have to say Kim Ives and Ansel Herz, they did the whole special issue in The Nation on WikiLeaks and Haiti [“WikiLeaks Haiti: The Aristide Files,” 8/5/11]—and even the Vatican was talking about Aristide, how much they hated him, how much they hated this liberation priest and how he was into voodoo and so on and so forth.
So, the first time Aristide won, which is four years after the Duvalier dictatorship ended and he had this rising, a mass movement of peoples, first time the Haitian masses felt empowered, and the candidate that the US supported did not win. So, Aristide surprised everyone, and within nine months he was deposed, and that was 1991, the first US-backed coup d’état against Aristide. And then he was in exile, right? And then he was in exile in the US, and he was deposed and in exile in the US.
People won’t remember this, and I’m going to date myself, but when Aristide was in exile, there’s all this propaganda how crazy and unstable he was, and they were doing all these psychological readings of him and how he’s some unstable priest. And so, there was a lot of propaganda already around Aristide being unstable and crazy and doing all kinds of things. So, people don’t remember this. But because Aristide being deposed caused so much protest and so much response by the Haitian masses, and then also because the repression after the coup d’état was so brutal that Haitian people started fleeing the island and then, of course, causing an immigration problem for Bill Clinton and the US when they started coming over by the boatloads soon after this coup d’état.
So then Clinton decided that with the US Marines—and this was another invasion—they would come back and reinstall Aristide, while in the meantime providing a nice plane for the dictator, I think [de facto leader of the Haitian Military Junta] Raoul Cédras was there, and sending him into exile in South America, in luxurious exile in South America [Panama]. So, he brings back Aristide, and this is where a lot of people actually had a falling out with Aristide because Aristide accepted some of the conditionalities of bringing him back, and the fact that he came back with the US invasion, of the US Marines and so on, but also the fact that he agreed finally to pass some neoliberal policies. And I think he lost a lot of support from leftist organizers when he took that, and I think the Haiti people might say that was a big mistake. But then when he came back after he’d been in exile for three years, the US insisted that he could only serve the last, I think, nine months of his term, which meant that he never fully served the first term.
And so, he finished out the term, but then would come back and run again and win again by a landslide, and it was during his second term that the US really used different sorts of tactics. So, this is where we talk about the National Endowment for Democracy.
An important side note here is that Claude Joseph, the self-proclaimed, now former interim prime minister and now self-proclaimed president of Haiti, was part of the student movements in 2000-2001 that were funded by the National Endowment for Democracy against Aristide. We can find this information in WikiLeaks. And so, part of that is, you have this funding of young people, funding of opposition groups in Haiti, and then, you’re right, what ends up happening is aid to Haiti was shifted from the state to the NGOs, which are international NGOs. So whatever Haiti got was sent directly to the NGOs, basically starving the US state, and they knew exactly what they were doing—starving… not the USA, [rather] starving the Haitian state—which also then created more poverty for local people.
I mean, we think about the embargo against Cuba, it’s really similar to what they were doing, George W. Bush in particular, what they were doing to Haiti throughout this time. And so, by the time then 2003 comes up, the state had been decimated, there was rising protests and rising discontent, people disappointed with Aristide, but people not realizing that this state was completely starved. Aid was held up, NGOs, the international NGOs that had all the power, the student groups were being funded and trained by the National Endowment for Democracy, the CIA was funding paramilitary troops who were being funded and trained in the Dominican Republic.
And then you come to the fall of 2003 where you have a meeting in Ottawa, Canada. It’s called the Ottawa Initiative; you can look that up, just type into Google “Ottawa Initiative,” where you have the representatives from France, Canada, and the US meet, basically, to say, “We need to find a solution to the situation in Haiti,” and this is where they concocted the coup d’état against Aristide. So, they meet, I think in November and December, and by February 28-29, US special forces landed in Aristide’s home, told him to get in the truck, the US ambassador showed up at his house, said he has to go right now, took him to a plane and flew him and his family, him and his wife, to the Central African Republic.
Aaron Maté: And let me just read—you mentioned the WikiLeaks cables where there’s so much informative stuff in there about Haiti—but just let me read for people who aren’t familiar with it, just some of the documents which give a window into the bitter hatred of Aristide amongst these so-called diplomats who were working in Haiti, and how not just the US, just how so many of them were determined to prevent Aristide from returning because, as they recognized, he was the most popular politician in the country.
So, one cable says, “For most of the 1990s, the Lavalas movement [which is Aristide’s movement] represented the (poor) majority of Haitian voters, and Lavalas/FL could run on its own.” They go on to say that Fanmi Lavalas has more Haitian support “more than any other single party,” and one poll “showed that Aristide was still the only figure in Haiti with a favorability rating above 50%.” And another cable is written by the US ambassador and recalls that ambassador’s conversation with Edmond Mulet, who was a top UN official in Haiti, and the sub-header of the section about their conversation is this, “Aristide movement must be stopped.” “Mulet urged U.S. legal action against Aristide to prevent the former president from gaining more traction with the Haitian population and returning to Haiti.”
So, that’s when you have this UN official telling the US to take legal action against Aristide to prevent him from returning from exile in South Africa back to his home country, because, as the cable warns, he’s just too popular with his own people.
Jemima Pierre: Right. And that’s why they could not. And the WikiLeaks cables also show Jamaica tried to offer Aristide asylum when he was on the plane, when the US took him out. Because P.J. Patterson was prime minister at the time and was completely disgusted by the fact, and he released a major statement saying that you don’t do this to the head of state, this is a coup d’état, a foreign-run coup d’état. And Condoleezza Rice threatened Jamaica and any place in the Caribbean with sanctions, or whatever, with the US wrath, if they offered asylum to Aristide, and in the WikiLeaks cable it says having his presence anywhere in the western hemisphere will cause a destabilizing situation for the US and others.
So, that tells you that they hated him, but they were afraid of him. And they also didn’t want to kill him because he would be a martyr, unlike Moïse, right? You see the difference, right? So, they didn’t want to kill him, so they sent him to the Central African Republic. This president at the time [General François Bozizé] who accepted Aristide and was shocked that Aristide was there, but did it because he said he wanted some aid from the US, because he himself had taken power and he wanted some aid. And then it wasn’t until later that [South African President] Thabo Mbeki offered Aristide asylum, and so he stayed. He was in exile in South Africa for seven years.
And the hatred of Aristide does not end with George Bush. It continues with Obama because right in the middle, Michel Martelly, during his fight, once he became president, immediately Jean-Claude Duvalier, “Baby Doc,” the dictator, returns to Haiti and no one stops him, right? So, Jean-Claude Duvalier returns to Haiti and is attending official events with Michel Martelly. This is the guy that Haitians want to prosecute for massacres, between him and his dad [François “Papa Doc” Duvalier], 29 years of brutal dictatorship. And I have a picture, and I think you’ve seen it, Bill Clinton on stage shaking hands with Baby Doc right next to Michel Martelly.
So, Jean-Claude Duvalier was brought back to Haiti, rehabilitated by the Martelly administration, and soon after, this is 2011, Aristide says he wants to come home. And so, WikiLeaks cables shows the US government, the Obama administration, Barack Obama himself, calls Jacob Zuma twice to try to stop South Africa from sending Aristide back, basically demanding that South Africa keep him in South Africa, and Zuma says no.
And so, then there’s a plane—and the person that covered this very well when they were a lot more progressive was Democracy Now! with Amy Goodman—where they fly back. So, she covers the flight back from South Africa to Haiti. Now, if you don’t know what popularity is, you have to watch the video of Aristide landing in Haiti when he returns, and the thousands and thousands of people that met him at the airport, that ran alongside his car caravan to his house and so on. And so, his popularity was still there even when he returned. And the US tried to keep him out, but remember, they didn’t do the same for Jean-Claude Duvalier, the brutal dictator who had returned a few months earlier.
So, they really truly hated this man, partly because he was for the poor, and he always said, “We want to live in dignity,” right? The Haitian people want to live in dignity. So, it’s really interesting to see what then the US supports, because the Martelly and Jovenel Moïse presidencies that come later on, that are forced upon the Haitians, so the US decided they would not have made the same mistake after Aristide, that it would have a hand in actually handpicking, removing people from ballots, removing people from the election, and handpicking and placing their own people there. But I have to say, that can only happen because after the coup d’état which George W. Bush led and then within a day of Aristide being taken out of Haiti, you have like 20,000 troops from US and Canada show up in Haiti that same afternoon. And so, then you have this US, Canadian and French forces in Haiti from March 1, and then they were able to convince the UN Security Council to send a UN peacekeeping force, a so-called stabilizing mission to Haiti under Chapter VII.
Now, for those people who don’t know, a Chapter VII UN deployment means that a country is at war, and UN soldiers are allowed to use arms and deadly force. Haiti was not at war; people were just protesting the removal of their president, but the UN signed off on that. And on June 1, 2004, you have thousands of UN troops show up and thousands of civilian networks under the auspices of the UN. And what’s fascinating about the second occupation, that’s what I call it—and this is in the WikiLeaks cables as well—the US, instead of doing it alone, was able to use the UN, and they said it was a cheaper way to protect their interests in the western hemisphere than them sending their own military forces. So, the UN occupation, the military wing of the occupation was led by Lula’s Brazil, which is a problem, right? And then you had the civilian force led by the Europeans and some South Americans, so this was a very multicultural UN occupation force that really lasted, that could establish the institutions that run Haiti right now, including the Core Group and bringing in the OAS as this key force, and making and rigging elections, and then also hiding the US State Department’s role behind this UN mission.
Now, they said that the UN occupation ended in 2017 with the withdrawal of most of the troops, but there’s a UN integrated office, the acronym is BINUH [United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti] and the representative is Helen La Lime, who basically still makes all the decisions in Haiti. So much so that when Claude Joseph, the same day of the assassination of Jovenel Moïse, when he declares himself president and a state of siege, everybody’s just like, “What? This is crazy.” Helen La Lime the next day proclaims that Claude Joseph will be Haiti’s president until elections. If you have a sovereign nation, how is it that this, if Haiti’s not under occupation, how can the UN representative in Haiti stand up and make this claim on behalf of Haitians, without our say.
Aaron Maté: And as you mentioned earlier, one of the other big lasting legacies of the UN forces in Haiti is introducing cholera, killing unknown numbers of people, because the UN doesn’t want to take responsibility for it or seriously investigate what they actually did.
Jemima Pierre: Yes, and so it’s important to think about what this means, because the other day I was thinking about the scale of death and misery that cholera brought to Haiti. And people don’t think about it; people don’t think about how horrible that is. They don’t think about that in terms of large-scale massacres because this is a war crime. So, if we think about Israeli planes bombing Palestinian homes, destroying buildings like they did in the latest illegal and horrible attacks, destroying buildings, destroying people, and then killing thousands, so, every time they attack, this last time they killed a few hundred, but the last big one where they killed like 2,700 or 3,000 people, that spectacular violence is etched in people’s memories and people are outraged. But then you have cholera that within a year killed 10,000 people, and it’s a dirty, stinking disease because all your orifices are just leaking, and it smells, and it’s like a disease that allows you no dignity.
If you think about a disease that is brought in by a foreign occupation force that kills 10,000 people in a year, sickens a million, and then continues to kill people, and then they refuse to take responsibility for six years, people don’t see that because they don’t see the spectacular violence of it. But it is violent when you kill 30,000 people. That’s a war crime. And the UN has never taken responsibility. They apologized six years later, and just a few weeks ago the nerve of Ban Ki-moon to write a book and basically blame Haitians, saying they’re trying to extort the UN for trying to get justice for this cholera epidemic. It’s devastating, and it just makes you think people don’t care about Haitian lives, because to think about what it would mean to kill 30,000 people just like that, and nobody says anything about it.
Aaron Maté: Let me put to you something that I heard often from a white western audience back during the second coup against Aristide in 2004. So, I went to Haiti in December 2004, just to report on the aftermath of the coup. At that point it was being ruled by [Gérard] Latortue, who was basically installed by the US. And when I came back to Canada, where I was living at the time, and I was trying to share what I saw and talk to people about it, the most common response that I got—and I still get this now from people when I try to talk about just how much the US and its allies have been meddling in Haiti for decades—is that “why would the US want to meddle in Haiti? It’s the poorest country in the western hemisphere.” That’s a refrain I hear so often because that’s what people’s minds go to. So, I’m just wondering when you hear that, what’s your response to that?
Jemima Pierre: Well, it’s also the first revolutionary country in the freaking world, in the western hemisphere if not the world, and which is why the white people, especially Europeans and Canadians, want to point out that Haiti is poor. And so, I respond to that, Haiti is more than its poverty, but its poverty is the result of hundreds of years of foreign meddling, down to this indemnity that the French government still owes Haiti in the billions of dollars for forcing it to pay reparations to the white slave owners after Haiti defeated Napoleon’s supposed big-time army.
And so, there’s a major open racism when it comes to thinking about Haiti, and I think Haiti has never been forgiven for destroying, if only for a moment, the white supremacy, but for taking away this idea that white is right and white is might. And so, you have these black, formerly enslaved people who were able to defeat the largest European army basically putting fear in whiteness, in white people, in the people who were ruling the world at the time, so they’ve never been able to have been forgiven. And there also has been, as Gerald Horne always writes about, there’s been counterrevolution against Haiti ever since.
So, the thing I have always asked people, if Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere, why do these western nations, including Canada, spend so many millions and millions and hundreds of millions of dollars trying to destabilize Haiti, trying to go into Haiti and steal its resources?
So, when you went to Haiti you would see, for example, American Airlines has four flights to Haiti, at least it used to before COVID, out of Miami. If you get on one of these planes, it’s filled half with white businessmen and half with white missionaries. And it’s always interesting to me, if Haiti’s so poor, a lot of people are making money off Haiti. I mean, think about that. People make careers and lives and become wealthy off Haiti. So, part of that is the idea that they’re not forgiven for just the racism for Haiti, which has led to the Haitian revolution and so on, but the other thing is, one of the key missions, I think, is to destroy the remnants of the popular movement that first brought Aristide to power, and to really destroy the will of these people who continue over and over again to not die and not succumb to the continued repression, the continued intervention.
And I also think, this is back in the 1800s, Haiti geographically is a perfect position for US strategic geopolitical policies. Haiti has this tiny island called Môle Saint-Nicolas, which is in the northern part of Haiti that the US has been trying to have access to since the late 1800s. In fact, when Frederick Douglass, the great Frederick Douglass, was the US representative to Haiti, the US sent him to actually negotiate this island from Haiti for the US government, and I think if Haiti had relented, the base in Guantanamo Bay would actually be in Môle Saint-Nicolas. And up until last year the rumor was that Jovenel Moïse was actually going to allow the US to have a base or to use part of Môle Saint-Nicolas.
The other thing is, you also have to wonder, why is it that Haiti has the fourth largest US embassy in the world, right? So, what is it about Haiti that makes all these people who say it doesn’t matter, like Joe Biden is like, Haiti could drop in the sea and nobody would think about it. But they’re all in Haiti all the time. And why is it that Canadian mining companies are all over northern Haiti, mining for gold? Why is it that oil mining is happening? Because they know Haiti has these resources, but they also know that Haiti is strategically located in the Caribbean, because if there’s a base there, part of it is to use Haiti to control the Caribbean Basin in preparation, I think, for its impending attack on China. Because where Haiti is located, it’s near the Panama Canal, and you can go in there. And SOUTHCOM, once the US establishes a firm military base, you have SOUTHCOM, the [US] Southern Command, so that Haiti can really stop the growing leftist movements in Latin America, to try and stop Venezuela, Bolivia, and all these places. And so, Haiti is just geographically strategic for the US, and people don’t want to think about that.
But I think all of these come together to make Haiti significant. I do think they’re trying to basically, with the Haitian peasantry, complete what US imperialism started in 1915. Remove Haitians from their land because Haiti is one of the few places where people still own their agricultural land, but that’s been continuously taken away from them, and really to turn Haiti back into wage-labor so that they could become tourist havens for the west.
Aaron Maté: Yeah, that was Bill Clinton’s big legacy, where he—and he later apologized for it—years later when he acknowledged that his policies wiped out Haitian rice farming:
Former US President Bill Clinton: It has not worked. It’s maybe been good for some of my farmers in Arkansas, but it has not worked. It was a mistake; it was a mistake that I was a party to. I am not pointing the finger at anybody. I did that. I have to live every day with the consequences of the lost capacity to produce a rice crop in Haiti, to feed those people, because of what I did. Nobody else.
Jemima Pierre: But Bill Clinton is the classic abuser. You do the harm and then you apologize for it. Isn’t that what abusers do? And so, then we’re supposed to say, okay, so then you wiped out our rice farming, you made us kill all our pigs. Well, that was Ronald Reagan, made Haitians kill all the original Caribbean black pigs and replace them with white pigs from the southern US. And so, Bill Clinton to me is one of the biggest abusers of Haiti. That’s a whole other story right there. But part of that is to really shift Haitian self-determination and control of its own resources and production into this wage-labor because this is one of the few places that they haven’t been able to completely do that.
Aaron Maté: All right. Well, so, we’re going to wrap. Any final words for us, what we should be thinking about as developments unfold in Haiti over the coming weeks? There’s the power struggle now between different factions vying for power, confusion over who the actual interim prime minister is, and this investigation into who killed Jovenel Moïse. What are you looking for happening in the upcoming period?
Jemima Pierre: Well, what I’m looking for is that basically the US is gearing up to fully control the situation in Haiti. If anything, the US is already controlling the narratives around the assassination, because you have all mainstream media talking about the details of the assassination, the salacious details, and every day the story changes. And no one is talking about US imperialism and the fact that the US and the UN and the OAS have been meddling in Haiti.
So, everybody’s stuck in the trees, not seeing the forest. So, they’ve already controlled this narrative around what’s happening in Haiti. I can see that, and I also can see they’re going to force elections on Haitians. Even before Moïse died, Haitians said that we cannot have elections under these undemocratic conditions. And for the US, they want to say, well, we had elections and we brought democracy. And Haitians will not stand for that. And so, it will be interesting to see how they will use the Haitian police, which they trained. There’s a whole story about the NYPD training Haitian police and all of that, and we could talk about Haiti for a long time.
But look for people rebelling against these forced elections, and then look for repression by this guy who’s fully supported by the US government. But what you’re going to look for is protests, and I think the people in the US, what we need to be demanding is no more intervention, for the US, for the UN, for the OAS to just leave Haiti alone, allow Haitian sovereignty to self-determination. So those people who care about self-determination and sovereignty in Haiti need to really rally together and fight against the US State Department as it takes full control of Haiti. And if we remember in 1915, that’s exactly what it did, and my worry is that it will do it again and the protests will be met with much more repression. And so, we have to be prepared to fight against that.
Aaron Maté: Jemima Pierre, Haiti/Americas Coordinator for The Black Alliance for Peace and associate professor at UCLA. Dr. Pierre, thanks very much.
Jemima Pierre: Thank you so much, Aaron, for having me.