Randall G. Shelden


Haiti: Another Example of “State Crime”

In every class I teach, I review two important words: “power and control.” I then explain that most of our problems (crime being one among many) stem from the attempts of a person, group, class or nation to maintain power and control over another person, group, class or nation. I define “power” as the “ability to impose one's will on others.”  This applies to the rapist as well as to the head of a corporation or a nation like the United States.  “Control” refers to attempts to dominate command, keep in check, regulate.

I also note that the imposition of a negative label (e.g., “criminal,” “communist,” “terrorist”) is an exercise in power.  Those with the most power are most likely to successfully resist; those with the least are not.

One of the best illustrations can be seen when we consider “state crime” - offenses committed by governments and/or their agents. Some criminologists choose to call it “state-corporate crime,” since corporations are often directly involved.

            During the past 100 years or so, the United States government has intervened in the affairs of foreign countries ostensibly to “make the world safe for democracy” by eliminating “communists” (a favorite label the U.S. government uses to discredit leaders of social movements; I’m sure King George would have used it to describe the leaders of the American Revolution if the term had been popular in the late 18th century) or other “trouble makers.”  What really occurred is that the residents of these foreign countries, in an attempt to control and benefit from their own natural resources and achieve a decent standard of living, have tried to form a democratic government.  When this attempt is usually made, it has not been too long before being in conflict with American corporations (who were already there) and their investors who have found a source of immense profits. These corporations get the backing of the U.S. in the form of either the military or the CIA or both (plus a U.S. supported dictator and his own military, often trained by the U.S.) to bring “law and order” and a “stable business climate” (meaning, a good place to exploit the cheap labor of that country's workers). 

There are numerous examples of this, such as Guatemala (1950s), Dominican Republic (1961-62), Indonesia (1960s-1970s), Chile (1973), and Nicaragua (1980s), to name just a few.  In each case, the U.S. helped install a puppet government headed by brutal dictators. (A complete catalog of such interventions is found in William Blum’s book Killing Hope.)

            Now we come to Haiti, the most recent example.  The story of Haiti goes back centuries, as it was originally the scene of the landing of Columbus in 1492 (called Hispaniola in those days - Haiti and the Dominican Republic). During the 18th century Haiti was a French colony and leading port in the slave trade, until a revolt begun in 1791 led to their eventual freedom in 1804. Their slaveholding neighbors to the north (the U.S.) refused to recognize Haiti’s independence. Soon, however, Haiti was faced with the problem of trying to sell its major crops (sugar, coffee, cotton, etc.) and in 1825, under the threat of another invasion by the French, signed an agreement with that country that resulted in a nation burdened with debt.  This was largely the result of what the Haitian anthropologist Jean Price-Mars called the “incompetence and frivolity of its leaders” which turned “a country whose revenues and outflows had been balanced up to then into a nation” that was trapped by financial obligations “that could never be satisfied” (quoted in Paul Farmer’s “Who Removed Aristide?” – Znet.org, April 13, 2004).

In the modern era the turning point for U.S. involvement in Haiti was in 1915 when the Wilson administration was worried that Germany might take advantage of the political turmoil in that country and set up a military base.  More important, however, there were some very important economic reasons (as usual).  Haiti was valuable property for the National City Bank (which controlled Haiti's national bank system plus its railroads) and, of course, the “sugar barons.” We stayed there until the mid-1930s.

Much later, an avid anti-communist Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier was installed (with the help of the U.S.) as Haitian dictator in 1959, on the heels of the Cuban revolution.  In time Duvalier enjoyed the full diplomatic and economic support of the U.S. while he ruled with an iron fist.  When he died in 1971, his son, 19-year-old Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier was sworn in to become President for life, with continued support from the U.S. During all these years of rule by the Duvalier family, an economic program supported by the U.S. was in place, one which included private investments from major U.S. corporations, with the help of no-customs taxes, a low minimum wage, suppression of those always pesky labor unions and, most important, “the right of American companies to repatriate their profits.” Even the New York Times could not overlook the torture, noting that it stemmed from "the United States' automatic backing of the Duvalier dictatorship because it was anti-Communist."

Eventually a grass-roots movement resulted in the election of a local Catholic priest, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, as President in 1990, the first democratically elected President in Haitian history. This apparently was too much for American business interests, for his government was overthrown in September of that year in a military coup, led by ex-CIA employees Emmanuel Constant and Raoul Cedras, killing at least 1,000 people.  Eventually the repression was too much and the Clinton administration helped return Aristide to power in 1994, promising about $500 million in aid for the suffering people.  But this aid was never delivered, since the Aristide government did not do exactly what the U.S. (read: corporate interests) wanted.

Then history repeated itself and another military coup (one source says this is the 33rd coup in Haitian history) led to the overthrow of Aristide's government in February, led by some of the same actors as before (e.g., Constant).  While the U.S. government claims that Aristide “voluntarily” agreed to go into exile, he and others claim he was in effect “kidnapped.”

This situation is still unfolding as I write these words (April 21, 2004) and every day brings something new.  There are, of course, many conflicting reports between the government/mainstream press and alternative news sources.  Such conflicting evidence was presented during a recent Congressional hearing where several members of the Black Congressional Caucus (e.g., Charles Rangel and Maxine Waters) charged that the U.S. and the CIA were involved in what they called a traditional “coup >d etat.” It is strange that such a serious charge does not make the headlines and that this entire event has been relegated to the back pages of the mainstream press. You will read constant updates in Znet.org, among other sources.  Here you will learn, for instance, that some 3,000 have been killed in what Tom Reeves (“Return to Haiti,” Znet.org, April 15) calls a “reign of terror by the Haitian military.” The poor (85% of the population) who wanted Aristide apparently don’t count, as small elite are starting to reap the benefits of a “neoliberal” economic plan that guarantees “to enrich the few and further impoverish the many” (Anthony Fenton, “Plan Haiti Emerges,” Znet.org, April 20).   This is “democracy,” however, as defined by U.S. leaders. Roger Noriega (of Iran-Contra fame) is quoted as saying that “Haitians deserve democracy” and “a government that looks out for their interests”  Of course, “democracy” in this case means “democracy for the few” (to use Michael Parenti’s book title), namely, those with all the power and resources,  meaning the top 1% of the population. In the final analysis, it is all about “power and control” – by the few over the many.


© 2005 by Randall G. Shelden. No part of this may be reproduced without permission from the author.