From Haiti to Africa, US Owes More Than a Trump Apology

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Donald Trump’s racist “shithole” comments offer the US a new opportunity to reckon with its longtime destabilization and plunder of the countries he insulted, says Haitian writer Jean Saint-Vil

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Story Transcript

AARON MATÉ: It’s the Real News. I’m Aaron Maté. The fallout continues from news President Trump referred to Haiti, El Salvador and African nations as quote, “shithole countries.” Trump made the remarks at a meeting on immigration with a bipartisan group of lawmakers. The UN Human Rights Office, African Union and the Haitian and El Salvadorian governments have all condemned Trump’s racist comments. It came on the eve of today’s eighth anniversary of Haiti’s devastating earthquake.

Trump’s racist statement has called attention to the US relationship to the countries he insulted and why he felt entitled to do so. In the case of Haiti, it goes back to its country’s origins. Haiti is the world’s first Black republic and the Western Hemisphere’s first free country of free people, liberated by a slave revolt. Because of that, it has been targeted by the West since its founding in 1804, first by France and over the past century, mainly by the US.

Jean Saint-Vil is a Haitian writer, author and radio host. He joins me now from Ottawa, Canada. Welcome, Jean. Let’s start. Your reaction to President Trump’s comments?

JEAN SAINT-VIL: Yeah, so first of all, I was very shocked, of course, like everybody else, that he uttered those words. But, of course, I cannot say that I was surprised because Trump has given a lot of signs that he really is the American President who has really espoused the principles under which the United States of North America was established. That is white supremacist racism that is overt and as vicious and barbaric as we will allow it to be.

The second thought that I had was that there’s a danger here of trying to isolate this as Trumpism, it’s Trump that did this, whereas people need to ask themselves why is Haiti a country that is financially, economically deprived? And why in 2017, over 3000 Africans were trying to cross the Mediterranean and died? These are serious questions and I don’t think the fact that Trump has addressed it in that kind of racist language should just give people license to simply identify this as Trump said the wrong thing.

Trump is a mirror and Trump is an accurate mirror of what is wrong with world leadership. We are also mindful that, I saw an article in the New York Times saying that Trump is the lowest of the whites. Well, if he is the lowest of the whites, we are mindful that a large majority of Americans, in the richest country in the world, chose him as their leader.

AARON MATÉ: Jean, let’s get into some of that history you allude to in terms of the question of why Haiti is in the position that it is in. I mentioned that it’s the first free country of free people in the Western Hemisphere. It’s also played a huge role in the US’ origins, as well, in the sense that the Louisiana Purchase, in which the US bought from France the territory from the Canadian border down to Louisiana. That was enabled because France was getting beaten so badly by a slave revolt in its colony, Haiti, which put it in the position where it had to sell that territory to the US at a pretty low price. Even the US has a lot to owe Haiti right there. After Haiti was freed and became the first Black republic in the world, the first free country in the Western Hemisphere, it paid a price for it. First by France and then by the US. Can you talk about that?

JEAN SAINT-VIL: Yes, and, again, you will see there, a connection of the cousins. Because, when Haiti took its independence, the French Charles Talleyrand wrote to James Madison at the time and said the existence of the negro people in arms is a terrible threat for all white nations and Thomas Jefferson imposed an embargo on Haiti. That ransom that France collected from Haiti from 1825 to 1947 is a collective ransom. In fact, much of that money was collected while Haiti was under US tutelage after the 1915 occupation. The United States would collect the money in Haiti and it would transit through US banks before it goes to the French treasury. You have a situation of white supremacy as exemplified by states.

The government of France, it’s the state that collected the ransom, a total of 90 million gold Francs. You just referenced the Louisiana Purchase, which represents more than 22 times the territory of the island of Haiti for 15 million that they sold Louisiana, whereas they collected 90 million from Haiti. Obviously, this was something that was done by design.

As we’re talking about Donald Trump, who is obviously a racist, a criminal, in terms of what his words are impacting people around the world. Because, of course, these things are not without impact. There are people who are going to think that, well, it’s open season. You can just have all kinds of attacks on people of African descent. On top of that, we need to remember people like Thomas Jefferson, when the United States was being created, was a pedophile. He impregnated Sally Hemming and enslaved his own children. This is not the sin of Donald Trump this is what President Barack Obama was referring to when he was talking about a most imperfect union.

The rich environment in which white Americans are living today, and some Black Americans, the environment that Europeans are enjoying today while you see thousands of Africans trying to cross the Mediterranean, all of that was built on a crime. It wasn’t an individual crime. It was a collective crime. It was the crime that helped build those empires that were fueled by slavery. When Trump says that, it’s also because he knows he’s going to get away with it. He’s not going to get any kind of punishment. I hear that there’s been condemnation by words. I really would like to see evidence that the rest of the world leadership is in disagreement with Donald Trump. That would mean those thousands of Africans who are crossing to Europe would have a different reality facing them when they get to Europe, that the Canadian government that has welcomed a few Haitians crossing the border would have a reaction that shows the difference between Trump’s United States and Canada. If we don’t see that evidence, that means that Trump knows exactly what he is doing and that he is allowed to do it.

Aaron, I’ll make a connection here. The world had an opportunity, a golden opportunity in September 2001 at the Berlin, sorry, at the Durban Conference in South Africa. At the time, the question was raised how the slavery-built societies are going to repair a portion of the crimes they have committed against the native people of Africa and of the Americas. What happened? Well, all of the world leaders of the time who had that responsibility to take the stance so that these countries that are rich in minerals but that also inhabit the poorest people on the planet would get some means to repair their infrastructure. It did not happen. They boycotted the Durban Conference.

We have to put what Trump is talking about in this context. All of the leaders of Europe and white North America are preoccupied with building walls so that they can keep the wretched of the earth away from all of the resources that they have stolen from those same countries. The Congo today is one of those countries that probably Donald Trump considers to be a threat because people are coming from the Congo to the United States. But the Congo is one of the richest places on the planet. All of the computers that we are using are using minerals that are coming from the Congo. Why don’t we address the core issue, that is to make sure that the Africans, the Haitians, get access to their natural resources? To me, that’s the most important question, then the fact that Americans have elected a bigot at their head.

AARON MATÉ: You know, Jean, speaking of countries across the world demanding justice, demanding reparations for what was done to them and taken from them, I can’t think of a more striking example than Haiti, going right to the present. Around the same time as the Durban Conference in 2001, you had Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the President of Haiti. He was overthrown first in the early 1990s in a US-backed coup. But after he came back, he ran again and won in 2000. It was during that second term of his when he began demanding from France the repayment of that something, of that 90 million Francs you referenced.

JEAN SAINT-VIL: That’s right.

Aaron Mate: The equivalent of something like 19 billion dollars. It was after he did that, when he was demanding that, when the US, and France and Canada all partnered up to destabilize his government further, leading to a second coup against him in 2004, helping put Haiti in the place where it is today, where unable to, or finding it very difficult to run a self-sustaining government. And very much reliant on the foreign countries that have been involved in its politics for so long.

JEAN SAINT-VIL: Exactly. Exactly. That’s why we say that Haiti is an international crime scene. That meeting you referenced to prepare the coup took place in my city, right here in Gatineau. January 31, February 1, 2003. A whole bunch of white people, you know, we have to emphasize that it was white people who met, and they had titles as diplomats. And they decided that the President of Haiti needs to be overthrown, Haiti needs to put under UN tutelage and then they would reinstate the brutal army in Haiti. A year later, they conducted the coup. White soldiers, which we don’t have in Haiti, entered the residence of the President, kidnapped him and his wife, and he spent several years in South Africa. In fact, when the earthquake happened, President Aristide was in South Africa with his family.

This is not an isolated case in history. The same way that they assassinated Patrice Lumumba of the Congo, they assassinated Thomas Sankara and imposed puppets like Mobutu Sese Seko, installed puppets like Duvalier, and then they come back and say that, well, you have bad leadership. This trick needs to end and we need to have a new relationship between the societies that were built on the sweat and blood of Africans, including the breast milk of African women, and the people who survived the crimes of Elizabeth I, of Leopold, of Washington, Jefferson and all of them criminals.

So, what we need is courage to address what Donald Trump is putting in our face here. It’s not sufficient to just pretend that we are offended and that what he is saying is racist. What he is saying is racist and it is in a tradition of racism, of white supremacy at a global scale. Let’s take this opportunity to fix what needs fixing. Because the sad reality is that the situation that Haitians are living today is one that doesn’t require distraction. Today, the eighth anniversary of the earthquake, we still don’t have an investigation that has been conducted to identify where the 10 billion dollars that were collected in the name of Haitians after the earthquake has gone. The Clinton Foundation is very rich today. It wasn’t when the earthquake took place.

And the Clinton Foundation was collecting a whole lot of money. Hillary Clinton got directly involved in imposing a Trump-like character in Haiti called Michel Martelly, who was very similar with Trump in his behavior. It wasn’t the Haitian people who chose Martelly, it was Hillary Clinton. In return, Hillary Clinton’s brother, Tony Rodham, got access to Haitian goldmines. What we need today is to ask the question where did the money go? It obviously did not go to Haitians or to build Haitian infrastructure, as we can see if, eight years after the fact, after the earthquake, Donald Trump can refer to the country as a shithole.

On top of that, the UN troops that they brought to conduct, to consolidate the coup in 2004 contaminated the waters in Haiti in October 2010. Over one million have suffered cholera, disease out of cholera, and over 30,000 died. To this day, the United States and all of the countries that made the decision to send the UN troops there refuse to pay reparations to the victims. So, of course, we have to ask ourselves, yes, if they’re referring to Haiti as a shithole, we need to ask whose shit and whose hole?

AARON MATÉ: Jean Saint-Vil, we’ll leave it there. Jean Saint-Vil is a Haitian writer, author and radio host. Thank you very much.

JEAN SAINT-VIL: Thank you, Aaron. And thanks for keeping it real in The Real News.

AARON MATÉ: Thank you, Jean. We appreciate that. Thank you to our audience for joining us on The Real News.