An Immigration Case for Intervention in Haiti

By David North on July 13, 2021

The U.S. has been asked by at least one of Haiti’s prime ministers to send troops to that battered country.

We should do so, and much more, to rescue that nation, to save lives, and, not incidentally, to prevent another Western Hemisphere refugee/illegal alien crisis.

Parallels with our interventions in Vietnam and Afghanistan are misleading. In both of those cases we were seeking to preserve western democracy in places where there were existing powers that had no interest in anything like that, the governments of North Vietnam and the Taliban. We were also a collection of white faces telling different brown-skinned populations what to do.

While we tried very hard to win in WWI and WWII, and did so, we never (perhaps appropriately) put the same kind of effort into either Vietnam or Afghanistan. We wanted our side to win, sent in our troops and our high-tech know-how and lots and lots of our money, but never enough to win either war. The numbers of refugees were huge in the case of Vietnam, and probably will be again in the case of Afghanistan. In the latter case, perhaps particularly among women.

Haiti is different; it is extremely poor, has too many people for its soil, and is full of corruption, but there is nothing like the Taliban there. We would not be sending our troops into Haiti to grapple with a well-organized, deeply committed foe. While the mission would not be either easy or pleasant, it would not be a war.

Further, we could avoid inflaming racial sensitivities by, for example, asking Colin Powell, the son of Jamaican immigrants, to take on one more task for his country and serve as de facto governor-general of Haiti to help it evolve gradually into something like a working democracy. Some of Powell’s chief deputies could be recruited from within the large Haitian diaspora in the U.S. and from Black Americans of other Caribbean backgrounds.

We should be prepared to spend years in that country, restoring its never-robust economy by boosting its exports to the U.S., of such things as clothes and tropical fruit and maybe coffee. We should encourage a sensible utilization of the waters around that island nation: Haitians are not known for their interest in fishing. We should find some high-tech work that can be off-shored to that place. And some of our troops should be there.

Further, all of this should be done in full partnership with two other Western nations that have an interest in that country, Canada (where there is a large Haitian community) and France, the one-time colonial power. There are lots of French speakers in the civil service of both countries.

And while we are engaging in some nation-building with the help of both of those countries, we should either strengthen or renew our relationships with the Royal Bahamas Defense Force, essentially the coast guard of that nation (and its army and navy, too).

One flees from the Northern Triangle via Mexico on the way to Texas. The route for Haitians, traditionally, is through the Bahamas to Florida, in not very secure wooden vessels. The BDF, for example, might be happy to acquire some Coast Guard or Navy vessels that are about to retire. It has been a staunch ally in the past, making many interceptions of would-be illegal entrants to the U.S.

Personal Note: I spent three days in Port-au-Prince once, about 30 years ago, the most depressing three days of my life.

I was then working for a fine outfit (TransCentury) that concentrated on USAID projects, and one of our people had a connection with a cabinet minister in a post-Duvalier government. He visited there and left behind a variety of proposals, largely about the rural economy. Nothing happened for months. We thought all had failed until the member of the cabinet called my colleague and said that a proposal I had written (about tapping into the resources of the Haitian diaspora for the homeland) had been funded, and he had the check to TransCentury in his desk drawer.

I flew into the nation’s shabby airport and rented a car. It was the most beat-up rental car I had ever seen in my life, and the rental agent and I spent five minutes recording all the dents and damaged parts, so that we could agree on the extent of the existing damage before they let me drive away.

The level of poverty was appalling. There were beggars everywhere, some with small children, some with open wounds. Grown men, stripped to the waist, were playing the roles of beasts of burden, pulling half a ton of cargo on giant wheelbarrows. The buildings were mostly falling down. Everything was dirty.

There was one old man in the cabinet minister’s office whose sole task (a bit of Haitian featherbedding) was to open and close the outer door of the minister’s rather seedy office.

I am reminded of some of my ideas at the time — never implemented because our friend lost his job in the next coup — which may still be useful, and will be the subject of another posting.