By Max A. Joseph Jr.
Barely a month into the commemoration of its bicentennial on Feb. 29, Haiti awakened to a frightening reality which, 11 years hence, seems to have evolved into a permanent fixture. On that day, French and United States forces invaded Haiti and whisked away Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the country’s lawful president, to the Central African Republic, a de facto overseas territory of France — its former colonial master.
Being the architects and guardians of the present geopolitical order, France and the U.S. simply got the nod from the United Nations Security Council, which swiftly declared Haiti “a threat to international peace and security” and mandated the occupation of the country, now into its eleventh year and counting.
Surprisingly, this gross violation of international law is remembered or reported differently in the U.S. media and by AFP (Agence France Presse), the mouthpiece of the French government.
While the U.S. media’s mission in their creativity mentioned corruption, human rights abuses and even drug trafficking by the Lavalas government is seen as a legitimate cause for the invasion, AFP absurdly claimed that the U.S.-French force was tasked with restoring security and humanitarian aid after the ouster of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda minister, would be proud of the French.
While historians and academics would likely spend countless hours at conferences and lecture halls debating the callousness of the 2004 invasion of Haiti or, whether it could have been avoided, they may not have any troubles zeroing on the identities of the supporting cast. The treasonous collaboration of the local economic elite and political class in the endeavor notwithstanding, the actions of the Dominican Republic, Haiti’s next door neighbor, were spiteful and reprehensible. Hence leveling the score with the Dominicans must rise to the level of a patriotic duty for Haitians, who were denied the opportunity to acknowledge and honor the sacrifices of their ancestors.
Indeed the opportunity to level the score is only 29 years away. In the year 2044, the Dominicans will be commemorating their nation bicentennial and looking forward to that date with great anticipation, but should they?
In reality these people will be celebrating an anti-Haitianism (anti-Haitianismo in Spanish) that has become more virulent as time passes, rather than, a defining moment in the history of their republic. Given that on many occasions these people have offered themselves as vassals to countries as ethnically and linguistically diverse as Colombia, England, France, the U.S. and, of course, Spain out of an unfounded fear of Haitian domination, it is fair to conclude that the whole rationale of a Dominican nation rests not upon a common racial and cultural identity, but a twisted anti-Haitianismo that invalidates the legitimacy of their state.
During the period which coincided with the U.S. Civil War (1861-65), under the famous anti-Haitianismo Pedro Santana, the Dominican Republic willingly reverted to being a Spanish colony.
When the Americans objected, the Dominicans relented and, in 1870, offered their country to be annexed by Washington only to be rebuffed by the U.S. Senate due to the opposition of Senator Charles Sumner, the staunch abolitionist from Massachusetts. Unable to forge a nation on a shared cultural and ethnic identity, the Dominicans have since adopted the demonization of Haitians as their raison d’être, a surprisingly winning strategy that netted their country a parcel of Haitian territory in 1929 during the first U.S. occupation of Haiti (1915-34).
According to reliable scientific studies, 85 percent of the DR population is of African ancestry, yet 90 percent of the Dominicans see themselves as European or Indio; a self-loathing rooted in Haitianophobia that could conceivably lead to mass psychosis and genocidal frenzy. Ethnic groups as diverse as Armenians, Haitians, Jews, and Tutsis have fallen victims to misguided hatred before, particularly in the Ottoman Empire (1915), the DR (1937), Germany (1933-45) and Rwanda (1994.) Therefore complacency on our part is simply not an option.
Because history is a culmination of interconnected events that even the passage time cannot erase, the DR illegal attempt at denying citizenship to possibly hundreds of thousands of Dominicans of Haitian ancestry can be traced to the infamous 1929 border treaty. Haitian lives may not matter to the international community –the cholera epidemic and the UN refusal to own up to it is a blatant example– but their fellow compatriots beg to differ. The Dominicans may have the green light from the international community to do as they wish in matters relating to Haitians, but would never prevail unless the victims acquiesce.
We need a pro-active approach to neutralizing this dangerous Haitianophobia that threatens Haiti’s very existence. First and foremost, we must try solving the issue within the legal framework of the current geopolitical order by securing the status of a protected minority for those Haitians living in the DR. Taking the February 29, 2004 episode as a guide, Haitianophobia may have a greater audience than most of us Haitians would want to believe. Hence such request would likely be rejected by the international community and that may leave the expatriates with no other option but to choose the road of self-determination which entails defending their rights with any means at their disposal.
Haitians would rather have a peaceful relationship with the Dominican people as both the DR and Haiti’s future is irreversibly intertwined. But first the Dominicans need to jettison their irrational fear, which caused them to sabotage Haiti’s bicentennial. Come 2044 we Haitians will celebrate with them in a manner befitting our common history.