Last week, onlookers in the US and around the world were horrified to see US Border Patrol’s inhumane treatment of Haitian refugees attempting to cross the US-Mexico border to seek asylum. Committing “human rights violations” that have been condemned worldwide, US Border Patrol and the Biden administration are denying thousands of Haitians their internationally recognized right to seek asylum and utilizing a despicable Trump-era policy to mass expel refugees—with truly dizzying scope and speed—back to the same country it marked for Temporary Protected Status only months ago. This whole saga has made clear once again that the cruelty of US “immigration policy” and enforcement is unabashedly bipartisan. Moreover, it is a reminder that Haitians will continue to be denied basic humanitarian support from countries like the US which are directly and indirectly responsible for many of the crises plaguing Haiti.
To discuss these issues, TRNN Editor-in-Chief Maximillian Alvarez speaks with Dr. Ron Daniels, founder and president of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century and founder of the Haiti Support Project.
Maximillian Alvarez: Welcome everyone to The Real News Network. My name is Maximillian Alvarez. I’m the editor-in-chief here at The Real News, and it’s great to have you all with us. Last week, onlookers around the US and around the world were horrified to see US Border Patrol’s inhumane treatment of Haitian refugees attempting to cross the US-Mexico border to seek asylum. Just months ago, in May in fact, the Department of Homeland Security designated Haiti for temporary protected status, meaning that the US government under President Joe Biden officially considers the Caribbean nation too unsafe for people to return there by their own definition.
Since that announcement was made, Haiti’s former President Jovenel Moïise was assassinated in Port-au-Prince by foreign mercenaries, which has deepened the continuing political turmoil. COVID-19 and the global vaccine apartheid have exacerbated a public health crisis, and another devastating earthquake shook the battered nation in August. If anything, the compounding crises facing the people of Haiti have only gotten worse since May, prompting the mass flow of asylum-seeking refugees to the US-Mexico border.
And yet, the United States has responded to the tremendous human pain and need of Haitian refugees with the same unfathomable cruelty our country is renowned for. Committing human rights violations that have been condemned worldwide, US Border Patrol and the Biden administration are denying thousands of Haitians their internationally recognized right to seek asylum, and they’re utilizing a despicable Trump-era policy to mass expel refugees with truly dizzying scope and speed back to the very same country that the US government had marked for temporary protected status months ago.
The whole saga has made clear once again that the inhumane cruelty of US immigration policy and enforcement continues to be unabashedly bipartisan. I don’t want to call this a border crisis because it is more truthfully a crisis of humanity, and to discuss this crisis and what can be done about it, I’m honored to be joined by Dr. Ron Daniels. Dr. Daniels is the president of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century and the founder of the Haiti Support Project. Dr. Daniels, thank you so much for joining me today.
Dr. Ron Daniels: Well, I’m delighted to join you. Delighted is probably not the appropriate word, but certainly eager to discuss a topic of this magnitude.
Maximillian Alvarez: Absolutely, and we couldn’t have asked for a better guest to help us navigate this and help our viewers navigate what they’re watching and probably very horrified by. And before we get to the border itself and the scenes that we’ve been witnessing over the past week, I wanted to make sure that viewers have a full understanding of just how much pain and turmoil Haiti and the people of Haiti have been experiencing. I was wondering if you could kind of give viewers some sort of context there, deepening some of the details that I mentioned in the intro.
Dr. Ron Daniels: I actually thought you did a quite good job outlining the context of what has been going on in Haiti. And, of course, Haiti under ordinary circumstances is a country that has been impoverished. And I use my words deliberately because it’s not that Haiti is any different than anyone else, ask any other country. Actually it has great resilient people, energetic, and has achieved some remarkable things historically, but it’s been impoverished. It’s been held back, not only by US policy, by the policy of many other nations who meddle and conspire with a corrupt elite and a political class that unfortunately does not hold the interests of Haiti first.
One of the things that have been happening for the past couple of years is essentially a rule by decree by the president that was assassinated, Jovenel Moïse. So you’ve had massive demonstrations taking place, trying to discuss the issues of democracy and development. You’ve had, in that period, because there has been no real government in the sense that Moïse was governing by decree, you had only a handful of people in the Senate who were elected. Elections were not held, and quite frankly, let me just be blunt. The elections that were held that even brought him to power were kind of a makeshift any-election-will-do election. And that’s a problem because, over and over again, the United States and the Western countries somehow want to impose their candidates through a flawed democratic process that leaves the underlying contradictions in place. And so there were demonstrations taking place.
In the meanwhile, COVID strikes, and of course COVID has its own impact on an already stagnating economy. And so you now have people who are desperately poor, even more desperately poor. And in the middle of this, you have the emergence of gangs, and by the way, the gangs are not just generic. They are used by various people in the political class and the elite as kind of their force, their paramilitary forces, fighting each other and fighting for turf. And it’s cruel really in a very, very sinister kind of way. In the middle of that, kidnapping. I mean, people being kidnapped for ransom and whatever, but just the violence in and of itself making people feel terribly insecure.
And then you have in the middle of that then… because no matter what the opposition was, there has never, ever been except in one instance perhaps shortly after 1915, a Haitian leader who has been assassinated. I mean, you’ve had coups, you have people replaced and all that. So even the opposition was shocked that you had this mysterious assassination of Jovenel Moïse in a situation where he has massive protection. So people will say, “How did this happen?” So that was another shock.
And then, of course, there’s the perennial issue of the weather that’s deepening and worsening because of the policies of countries that do not respect the earth, will not, in fact, deal with the reality of climate change and global warming. And so Haiti, because it’s poor, the denuding of the forest means that mudslides happen when you have tropical storms and then hurricanes. And so shortly after the assassination of the president, before you could even recover from that and COVID is afflicting the country, an earthquake, 7.2 on the Richter scale. Haiti hasn’t recovered from the last earthquake of some 10 years or so ago, which was bungled and not done, was not handled appropriately by Western powers as well. But then after the earthquake, then comes a hurricane, and behind that hurricane another tropical storm.
And so now you have just this horrible, miserable conditions that people are living in. And so people, of course, are fleeing. They don’t know about the politics. They don’t know about the geopolitical anything. All they know is that they’re living a terrible life and that the United States of America, and other countries for that matter, but particularly the United States of America, should be welcoming them. And, in fact, they got a signal when President Biden was elected that there would be a different policy, other than agent orange and the orange man. I refuse to call him anything else other than that, because he was brutal, the caging of children, the separation of families as a disincentive. And there was a conscious effort to discourage people from coming to this country.
And so people are coming, knocking at the gate, knocking at the door, saying, “Let us in under international law.” And people are supposed to be received. They’re supposed to be treated humanely, and they’re supposed to have their day in court, so to speak, in terms of their status. But as you also already noted, Haiti had already been designated for temporary protective status. So there should have been no question about them being able to be admitted. There’s Haitian communities all over the country, where people can be absorbed and treated fairly and whatever in this regard.
And then we get these images of something that I have never ever seen before. I was never aware of this, by any human beings. Haitians being run down, herded like cattle, and they say they weren’t whipped. But there’s the impression of being whipped by Border Patrol agents. Now, I mean, this is the most horrific, outrageous thing I have ever seen. I am not aware… I mean, any human being, I was not aware that there was such a policy that you ride horses and so forth. And people might not be able to grasp this. It is particularly a phenomenon of the oppressed, Black and Brown and red and yellow people who have suffered through trauma.
And so this struck a nerve across the Black world and among other people because it was like the slave patrols who were chasing down runaway slaves within the era of enslavement, the Fugitive Slave Act and all that kind of thing. It was like water hoses being unleashed on children protesting in Birmingham or the Edmund Pettus Bridge, where people are riding, trampling on people who were fighting for voting rights. I mean, it universally struck a nerve in Black America, and the outrage was just palpable in terms of people demanding that this outrageous behavior be changed.
And so there’s been a demand that this happened, that you cease and desist having these border patrols. And by the way, last week, finally, the president who kind of initially didn’t say much, I mean, some other people spoke out. He finally spoke out and talked about the fact that these people will be punished and so forth. And, by the way, let me just say this. If this was the policy then why are you… I mean, you need to just discontinue to policy. Because it looked bad, you should not necessarily… They’re the scapegoats in that regard.
Now, I mean, hopefully you have a certain humanity. You wouldn’t want to do this. That troubles me, but I don’t want to scapegoat people who were doing a policy that should never have been in the place in the first place. So it should not be temporarily halted. It should be permanently halted. Never ever should human beings be chased down and whipped or even the impression or image of that happening. And then equally important is the question of changing the policy.
I mean, this whole notion of implementing what Trump was implementing as a way of trying to do this disincentive for people to come. And even Kamala Harris, our vice president, who stood at the border saying, “Don’t come here.” Well, that’s not what we’re supposed to be saying. This is not a political question. This is a moral, ethical, human rights issue and on this one, we cannot play politics. We should never play politics with human lives in the first place. So I’m saying that it’s outrageous, it must change. The policies must change, and we must keep the pressure on in order to see to it that this never ever happens again. But not only does it not happen again, that there is the unfolding of a policy that really is humane but also accepting and welcoming to these United States of America.
Maximillian Alvarez: I think that’s beautifully put, and it really does underscore what I wanted to kind of focus on in this next question, right? As you said, I think we were all rightly shocked and horrified by the images that we were seeing, and I really don’t know who people think they’re convincing when they say, “Oh, the Border Patrol agents didn’t have whips. They were just using their riding reins, the horse reins, to like whip people.” I was like, “Well, that’s kind of semantics here. They’re treating them like less than human.”
Dr. Ron Daniels: Like cattle, this is horrible.
Maximillian Alvarez: Right, and it just really punched you in the gut. And I think that, yes, people were rightly horrified by the images they were seeing at the border itself. But as you mentioned, there’s a deeper kind of injustice here, a systematic kind of injustice of interlocking cruel and inhumane immigration policies that we also need to highlight here. Because I imagine folks watching would be even more horrified if they understood how and why the US is denying the right to seek asylum, as well as the scope, speed, and severity of the mass expulsion of refugees that is still taking place. And we’re now seeing even more horrifying images of refugees who were dumped off in, I think, the airport in Port-au-Prince, left to kind of rummage through unmarked luggage like they were just dropped off without a second thought.
I wonder if we could talk just a bit about the kind of deeper terrain of injustice here, including, as you mentioned, the kind of Title 42. A Trump era policy, which is being used by the Biden administration to mass dispel and take this many Haitians, use kind of COVID-19 fears to just expel thousands of Haitian immigrants back without processing them, hearing their cases, or what have you. I guess, can we zoom out a bit and show how this is not just the horrifying images at the border, but a larger system that treats Black and Brown migrants like less than human?
Dr. Ron Daniels: Well, and with the COVID piece, this was an easy solution. I mean, you just vaccinate people. You give people the right to be vaccinated. I mean, this is a frivolous excuse. I mean, obviously we want people to be protected, but also let me just say, it’s also an example of vaccination apartheid. Because out of Haiti, only 1% of the Haitian population, 1% has been vaccinated. Why is that? Because the Western nations have been hoarding vaccination, talking about second and third shots, while the vast majority of the world, which are Black and Brown and yellow and people of color, have not received shots at all.
And, quite frankly, that’s self-defeating. Because as we understand the nature of this virus, this is truly a thing where an injury to one is an injury to all. We cannot escape this. These variants can develop and unless you stop it globally, then there may be a monster variant that will develop that will crash through all of these vaccinations by the way. So that’s an easy one. That’s simple, but there is a bigger question here. And that is in reality, historically, America has always wanted to see itself as a white man’s land, and I used the word man’s deliberately because frankly it’s been patriarchy and the exclusion of women, even in terms of the earliest days when women could not vote. Women could not participate and whatever. Now, there’s a class dimension to it, obviously, because obviously the rich and the super rich will exploit poor white working class people and so forth, but the infusion of race into the analysis makes it easier to therefore exploit people of color.
And by the way, what’s happening is so therefore the idea is we don’t want too many Black people in the country. You don’t want too many Brown people in the country. We all know the subtext of the browning of America, and even sometimes when they start talking about American values, they’re really talking about Eurocentric European values. They’re not talking about the values that come out of the broad diversity of the rich mosaic, as Mayor Dinkins used to say, of the people who have contributed to the possibilities of a new kind of nation here. And so we have to always keep that in mind.
Now, they will do it selectively in a way if they want to embarrass Cuba, for example, they will allow Cubans who are fleeing the wet-foot, dry-foot policy if they arrive because that’s designed to score political points. You see what I’m saying? On behalf of the right-wing gusanos and so forth and so on. But by and large, that is the question of really, really, really trying to keep Black and Brown people out of the country. And here’s the larger point, and it’s difficult because, I mean, at the level of people who are working to make a living every day and people who don’t want to think about these issues–Which is a problem because in a democracy we should be discussing and thinking about these issues–In a real sense what we’re experiencing is people knocking at the door of the country which is responsible for their under development.
Let me say that again: it is the US policy historically of exploiting and ripping off the resources and using them to support US corporations and the maquiladoras and everything, exploiting workers. This has been a constant problem, and they have not, by and large, have not cared whether the countries were really democratic or not democratic, as long as they would support the interests of US corporate interest. And so they would align themselves with brutal dictators, like Duvalier and the Duvalier regime in Haiti and the others that we could name throughout the region. And, in so doing, underdeveloping these countries.
And at the end of the day, two other ironies, quite frankly, you’re coming across, quote-unquote, the Mexican border where there should have been no border because but for the war in 1848, the United States seized the territory of Mexican people and took and lied to them. And lied to the Mexican people about what was about to happen. So this whole, I mean, it’s like people coming back home. And people historically need to understand that when they start talking about all those people this and those people that so forth and so on. This country’s wealth was built on the exploitation and the under development of other peoples.
And as it relates to the Haitians, I should say. Contrary to having a negative association, Haitians should always have a special relationship with the United States. Why? Because in the Revolutionary War, Haitian troops, under Henri Christophe, General Henri Christophe, stood beside the US with the revolutionaries in Savannah to defeat the armies of the British. There is a statute, there’s a monument in Savannah that testifies to that.
And then it was the Haitian Revolution. The only revolution in the history of the world where an enslaved people overthrew their slave masters to create an independent republic that really forced Napoleon to throw up his hands. You have Napoleon Bonaparte who has, at this point, is supposed to be the greatest general this side of Hannibal. And I say that deliberately, because Hannibal was one of the greatest generals of all time as well. His armies were shattered, were defeated by the forces under the leadership of Toussaint Louverture and Dessalines and Henri Christophe and Petion. People don’t like to talk about voodoo, but under the leadership of this Black, this African Boukman, who gave the inspiration that people could fight and turn back these forces.
Napoleon threw up his hands. I can’t do anything with these folks, these crazy Haitians. What am I going to do? He gave up the Louisiana Territory for a pittance, expanding these United States of America. My point is there should be a special relationship between Haitians and this country, which on the contrary has not been the case. Indeed, what has happened is the constant marginalization, stigmatizing of Haiti, because it shattered the myth of white supremacy at the height of the propagation of this nonsense about white superiority. It was not supposed to be that enslaved Africans could defeat the superior race in fact, but it happened, and they were punished [in] every sense, and that punishment really continues to this very day.
So this is like 70,000 feet looking down, but analyzing it in a way that I think is important for people to understand that. And so when you zoom in to where we are now, we need to be fighting for an equitable immigration policy. And what has been shown time and time again is that immigrants do not detract from the development of the United States of America. They actually contribute to it and their cities. I’m in New York. In the State of New York, there are cities that have been revived that were dying, that have been revived by immigrants.
In Iowa, you have examples of the same thing. You now have people in the restaurant industry, for example. They’re being opportunistic, unfortunately, but they’re now begging, oh, we need more immigrants because we need workers in order to come in and… Because if it was true that the workers in fact debilitate and undermine, they wouldn’t be saying that. Now we need fair wages. We don’t want them to be exploited. That’s the reason why you need comprehensive immigration reform, because you don’t need unorganized labor undercutting organized labor. You need fair labor standards.
But at the end of the day, what we need is obviously for this to stop and we need, at this moment when Haiti is suffering, there should be an emphasis on investing in Haiti, making sure that all the humanitarian assistance that is needed is there. And that that humanitarian assistance is delivered at the behest of the civil society, and let me just make this quick point in this regard. One of the problems is paternalism, this whole notion that the Western nations, the United States, that they know best. So what has happened with Haiti, one of the problems why we keep having political crisis after political crisis is they keep having these fake elections.
First of all, there are different conceptual models of democracy. Democracy, it’s not a cookie cutter or one-size-fits-all that works based on people’s culture. And I happen to believe that a winner-take-all system is not a good system. It’s not a good system for at least, for most African people in the Caribbean and all. Because what you have is a situation where people are fighting to get into the public sector so they can distribute resources. And if you have a winner-take-all system, then those who are shut out are hostile and angry and they want to get in and they’ll… So we need to correct that, and you don’t correct it by having some fake elections in which you pick, oh, I think Ron Daniels will be a good president. He might do what we want him to do. And only a few people will vote, and yet it was fair because a few people voted, but it never solves anything.
There is a robust civil society movement in Haiti, robust, coming up from the grassroots, as we would say, and it’s not sectarian. It includes all sectors, and it’s reaching out to different sectors, including some elements of the elite and so forth, to create a consensus about what Haiti should look like, the new future. And by the way, it was referenced last week in the resignation of the special envoy, Mr. Foote, who’s talked about that. He said, “I’m tired of we telling Haitians what to do. I was here to listen and be a part of a Haitian-centered Haitian solution-oriented proposition.” That’s what needs to happen.
So I’m hoping that the Congressional Black Caucus, the Latino Caucus, the Progressive Caucus, [inaudible], will all rally around a proposition that the US government, France, Canada, the European Union, the UN, they will all focus on what the Haitian people say they need, who they say will be their leadership. And if that happens, Haiti is a nation of 8 to 10 million people. When it flourishes, it will, in fact, help to create prosperity throughout the region, and people won’t want to run to the United States.
I mean, Haiti is a beautiful country. Haiti is a beautiful country. It has remarkable culture. People only leave because of the pain that’s been inflicted. And some of that has to do with, again, climate change. And we can deal with that too, and all of the islands of the Caribbean are suffering in that way and we need to therefore have policies that also correct that. Forgive me for being a little bit long, but I just wanted to make sure we outlined as much as possible.
Maximillian Alvarez: No, man, you’re making my work easy. So I really appreciate it, and I know I got to let you go in a second. I just wanted to kind of underline what you were saying earlier, because I think it’s super important context for viewers watching. I think our amazing Real News executive producer and host of Rattling the Bars, legendary Black Panther Eddie Conway, I believe has kind of often said that a white society has never forgiven Haiti for having a society of uppity African slaves successfully revolt against white supremacy, overthrow their shackles. And they’ve been punished for centuries after that, and I think that what you said kind of makes that point excruciatingly clear. I can’t thank you enough for coming on. That is Dr. Ron Daniels, founder of the Haiti Support Project. Please go check out their work, support what they’re doing. Take what Dr. Daniels said to heart. Dr. Daniels, thank you so much for joining me today.
Dr. Ron Daniels: Appreciate it and, again, we have an extensive section on our website about Haiti, and that website is ibw21.org. That’s ibw21.org, and we are delighted to have done this interview with The Real News Network.
Maximillian Alvarez: This is Maximillian Alvarez for The Real News Network. Thank you all so much for watching and before you go, please head to therealnews.com/support. Become a monthly sustainer of our work. Thank you so much for watching.