This Photo was taken from the Seattle Times article “Biden said Border Patrol agents ‘will pay’ for treatment of Haitian migrants. Texas Gov. Abbott offered them jobs.”
This week, like many others, my feed became flooded with grim images of border patrol officers on horseback chasing Haitian migrants. At first, I was unsure what I was seeing, as I scrolled through images of what appeared to be a smiling white cowboy chasing black people with a whip. I soon learned that a wave of approximately 10,000 Haitian nationals were attempting to migrate to the United States through the Mexican border. In the face of such jarring images of a widely covered developing situation, it becomes easy to make hasty opinions. Some might cite such photos as proof of mistreatment and crimes against human dignity, while others will focus on the sheer number of potential migrants and vouch for added border security.
I believe that it is necessary to understand the context of such a nuanced circumstance, and in this piece, I would like to take a historical approach while forming an opinion.
To get us started, it is important to examine the question: what causes a Caribbean nation blessed with extensive natural resources to become the poorest country in the western hemisphere?
Off the top of my head, I remember Haiti suffering numerous natural disasters in my lifetime, ranging from earthquakes to heavy flooding. Additionally, I know that earlier this year the Haitian President, Jovenel Moïse, was assassinated in a potential coup attempt. After additional research, however, I learned that Haitian political and financial struggles have a much deeper history, pointing back to racialized roots. In fact, it appears that Haiti’s contemporary struggles stem from its conception as a former French plantation colony.
After decades of French rule, in 1804, Haiti became the first Black Republic on the back of a successful slave rebellion led by Toussaint Louverture. However, after gaining its independence, largely due to manipulation from western powers, it became almost impossible for Haiti to recover from its traumatic history of slavery. In 1825 France demanded reparations (equal to $21 billion modern American dollars) for its lost property (slaves), plunging the country into a century-long debt. This debt owed from a former slave colony to its oppressor, prevented Haiti from developing effective infrastructure, and hindered the establishment of a stable government. This debt in conjunction with a deeply hierarchical society, developing out of decades of institutionalized ownership of other humans, brought with it a legacy of political instability and corruption.
Following the decline of French influence in the Caribbean, the United States has also long had its fingers in Haiti, often manipulating Haitian politics and at times outright occupying the island. These interventions have yielded few positive results. Following a coup of the Haitian president in 1915, the United States marines seized control of the country, “disbanding the Haitian military and installing Phillippe Sudre Dartiguenave (NationsOnline.org).” This occupation lasted until 1934, and was followed by decades of instability and corruption until the father and son Duvalier dictators came to power in 1957, and ruled until 1971. This era of dictatorship resulted in greater financial instability, and the creation of a secret police force (Tontons Macoutes) infamous for their reputation of civil abuse.
This is the context under which the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere exists, and the island “never really recovered, and it has remained mired in economic underdevelopment and insecurity (nytimes.com).” Haiti’s legacy of instability and poverty serves as the backdrop for the current border crisis, as thousands of Haitian nationals seek refuge and opportunity in the United States. Yes, Haiti suffered a devastating earthquake in 2010, but the effects of its numerous natural disasters have been magnified by historic barricades to developing effective infrastructure or a stable government foundation.
Yes, the United States is not solely responsible for Haiti’s current instability, but as the dominant power of the western hemisphere, and the economic epicenter of the world, the United States has a responsibility to provide security to these people.
In 1904, under the Roosevelt Corollary, the United States identified itself as the police and protector of the Americas. This title was used to justify American intervention throughout the Caribbean and Central and South America through Operation Condor and beyond, and is a title many Americans hold on to. If the American people truly believe we hold or deserve this role, the United States should also face the responsibility to support the people negatively affected by its actions. Existing as the western political and financial hegemon should not give the United States a license to kill, exploit, and manipulate across the Americas, but should rather indicate an obligation to offer safety to those suffering within our radius of influence and offer assistance where instability exists.
Following the assassination of President Moïse, the White House publicly indicated its intention to support the Haitian people in any way it can, with President Biden stating, “we stand ready to assist as we continue to work for a safe and secure Haiti (Axios.com).” Yet, when the situation came to a head, and desperate Haitian nationals sought refuge in the United States, they were driven away by border guards on horseback, who seem to enjoy the opportunity to chase away migrants with whips in hand. Rather than offering a fresh start in the United States, these peoples’ long journey ended with the United States government “running removal flights to Haiti, Mexico, Ecuador, and Northern Triangle countries (Axios.com).”
I would not necessarily advocate for an entirely open border, with residency being granted to anyone who arrives in the U.S. without any form of background check or naturalization process. However, I do believe that the position of power the United States holds on the global stage attaches to it a responsibility to act in the face of suffering. Additionally, I do not believe a history of occupation constitutes a legitimate effort to stamp out injustice or to improve these peoples’ situation. Had the United States acted to develop a stable political and financial base, rather than dissipating the existing military and government, and taking conservatorship of what remained, it seems possible to me that this border crisis would not exist. The United States should invest in development throughout the Americas with an emphasis on citizen-based leadership to improve the standard of living in these struggling nations, rather than investing in border security to capture and punish struggling individuals seeking a better life. Rather sinking $9.8 billion into a border wall, we should offer resources, such as education and job opportunities, to those who arrive at the U.S. border, so they may improve their own life and contribute to American society.
Alex is a senior Political Science major and Hispanic Studies minor at Davidson