This September U.S. border patrol agentsThe Rio Grande Rio Grande was the site of an attack that violently took hostages from Haitian refugees. This incident attracted fierce criticism and international attention. Officers riding on horses trotted through families, using their reins as whips, and chased migrants with their meager possessions packed in plastic bags. After scandalizing the public opinion President Joe Biden deemed the operation “outrageous” and promised that the border agents “will pay.”
His administration has deported him quickly, however. thousands of Haitians. Authorities often use Title 42 (Public Health Services Law) to expel refugees seeking asylum. “We are doing this out of a public health need,” claims Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. “It is not an immigration policy.” In practice, the legal subterfuge has allowed Customs and Border Protection (CBP)to turn away the historic number of migrants. Recently, the U.S. special representative to Haiti, Daniel Foote, resigned in protest, denouncing the “inhumane, counterproductive” policy.
Since then, the humanitarian crisis only got worse. Haitians, who are currently prevented from reaching America, now make up a majority of the population. the second-largest groupMexico is a country that offers protection. The border is just the latest part of a long and tiring continental journey. Many traveled across Latin AmericaWith swollen ankles, they fought discrimination and overcame unimaginable adversity. They now wait.
Observers routinely cite Haiti’s recent earthquake, grinding poverty and political upheaval for the immigration crisis, but neglect an essential factor: While U.S. officials jealously guard the Texas border, they have not hesitated to violate Haiti’s. In many ways, the U.S.’s latest interventionism is evident in the immigration crisis.
The U.S. has shaped Haitian affairs for more than a century. Woodrow Wilson was afraid of political instability sent Marines in 1914 to relocate the Haitian National Bank’s holdings to New York. They invaded Haiti a year later to protect the investments made by Western creditors. This began a two-decade occupation that saw the suppression of dissent as well as the wholesale transfer of assets to U.S. companies.
The U.S. left behind a legacy of militarism that shackled the island with an overworked army that resorted to politics. The law that reorganized the military was approved by Haitian legislators under U.S. pressure. “The constabulary shall be organized and officered by Americans,” the act crisply stated.
Racism inflamed fears of political instability, ostensibly “justifying” U.S. intervention, and indelibly shaped the occupation. Commander Smedley Butler waxed paternal, later claiming that occupiers were “trustees of a huge estate that belonged to minors.” As Butler filled the army with Haitian recruits, he called his subordinates “little chocolate soldiers” and, elsewhere, described himself as the “chief of a n***** police force.”
1934 saw the withdrawal of the U.S. Marines. The Haitian military maintained a dominant influence over island politics, however. 1957 saw the army sweep. François DuvalierBy manipulating elections, they were elected to office. The Duvalier family held power until 1986 by creating a paramilitary force for themselves and making the army a privileged group. As a former political prisoner Robert Duval observed, “traditionally, the army of Haiti was always the one that gave and took political power.”
After Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s 1991 election as president, U.S. military intervention was back. The Salesian priest was a prominent figure during the Duvalier dictatorship. He was known for his advocacy of the poor. The United States was alarmed by his liberation theology and reformist agenda, as well as his critical independence. They supported his removal in September 1991. Aristide was reelected to power in 1994. Clinton administrationTo protect officers from prosecution, paramilitary and army records were slipped out of the country.
Haiti disbanded its military the next year. However, in 2004, former officersThey are poised to once again expel Aristide. Guy Philippe, a former officer who commanded a CIA-backed execution squad, was one of their leaders. Their main goal was to reestablish and strengthen the military.
The Bush administrationThe coup was completed with crude finesse. In February 2004, a delegation of U.S. diplomats and soldiers arrived at Aristide’s house. They warned him that rebels were coming to his house and would kill his family if he didn’t board a U.S.-chartered aircraft.
The U.S. delegation refused protection to Aristide despite its authority and abundance of arms, which is remarkable. “They had not only the force of the embassy but the Marines with them,” Congresswoman Maxine WatersExplained. “They made it clear that he had to go now or he would be killed.” Indeed, the U.S. embassyHe obstructed his own security personnel.
After hurrying to get Aristide to airport, the delegation refused him entry without submitting a resignation letter. After escorting Aristide to the airport, the U.S. Navy SEAL held him incommunicado for almost 24 hours. He denied him access to a phone and then spirited him out of America. Aristide called the drama “a modern-day kidnapping.”
His overthrow signaled a new turning point in the spiral toward militarism. The U.S. military mission ended the coup. However, the Bush administration encouraged the occupation. It was the leader of the UN Stabilization Mission to Haiti (MINUSTAH) two months later. This formidable force included 9,000 Blue Helmets. The only country in the hemisphere that was not under foreign occupation was Latin America’s first independent country.
While militarizing Haiti’s political crisis, the United States supported the ruling class that previously identified with the Duvalier dictatorship and bitterly resented Aristide. Both sides mobilized to stop his return.
According to a secret cable Chief Edmond Mulet of MINUSTAH “urged US legal action against Aristide to prevent the former president from gaining more traction with the Haitian population and returning.” Former U.S. Ambassador James Foley agreed in a telegram with the terse title: “Aristide Movement Must Be Stopped.”
As leftists rode the “Pink Tide” into office across Latin America, the Bush and Obama administrations deemed the “red priest” a threat to the island’s pliant ruling class and neoliberalism. A special U.S. team created a dossier on Aristide and searched his past for criminal activity to ruin his reputation.
They understood that their agenda required military strength. “A premature departure of MINUSTAH would leave the [Haitian] government … [vulnerable to] resurgent populist and anti-market economy political forces,” Ambassador Janet SandersonIn 2008, it was warned. The occupying forces were “an indispensable tool in realizing core USG [U.S. government] policy interests in Haiti.”
Aristide, who had been exiled in 2011, returned to the country, but the government prohibited his party, Fanmi Lavalas from participating in elections. The prohibition was a backhanded tribute to the party’s influence. The U.S. State Department admitted that Aristide was the most beloved politician in Haiti.
His odyssey was instructive. Haiti has had 20 government in 35 years. Yet as Aristide’s career demonstrates, the island’s tumultuous politics and persistent poverty are in many ways the legacy of militarism and U.S. intervention.
The Colombian Connection
While Aristide was undercut, the United States aimed at the resurgent left of Latin America, most notably by underwriting Plan Colombia. Between 2000 and 2016, the U.S. CongressOver $10 billion was dedicated to the elimination of drug production and guerrilla forces from Colombia.
Like in Haiti, militarism led to economic stagnation. Colombia was named the “The Most Beautiful Country in the World”. third-largestThe recipient of military aid and the one that spends more money on defense than any other South American state. In eight years, the Aviation BrigadeIt tripled its air fleet. The military had grown from 20,000 to 83,000 by 2014. The buildup was a boon for many. U.S. defense contractorsSikorsky Aircraft provided the helicopters that cut the sky and Monsanto supplied the herbicide that inundated the countryside.
The U.S. has partnered with the Colombian conservative. Álvaro Uribe Vélez, despite intelligence suggesting he was “dedicated to collaboration with the Medellín [drug] cartel” and “linked to a business involved in narcotics activities in the US.” Ultimately, Uribe exploited the global “war on terror” to justify operations and guarantee the support of U.S. legislators. In the process, Colombia became the “Israel” of Latin America — a conservative proxy that projected U.S. power and repressed radicalism.
Plan Colombia was unable to stop drug production. The country remains the largest exporter of cocaineIn the world. War displaced over 10 percentof the population. The military buildup led to widespread human rights violations.
Officers systematically murdered civilians, targeting the poor and disabled to boost their kill scores: “4,000-4,500 innocent people … were assassinated in cold blood by personnel from the Colombian army throughout the country between 2002 and 2008 simply with the purpose of inflating … the combat casualty figures to give the false impression of success,” José Miguel VivancoHuman Rights Watch reported. After slaughtering civilians, soldiers decked the cadavers in uniforms — even depositing weapons.
The military continued its campaign for repression even after it signed a peace agreement in 2016. The military also constructed a spy networkto monitor journalists, activists and human right groups. During the pandemic, the chief of the UN mission warned against “an epidemic of violence against social leaders, human rights defenders, and former combatants.”
Violence reached its peak last spring when security forces fired live ammunition into protests. Naked repression exposed the country’s profound militarization. Defense Minister Diego Molano invoked the recent war, insinuating that a “terrorist threat” and “criminal organizations” organized the protests.
Plan Colombia is also known for its international legacy. Uribe’s followers have championed the export of military services, turning decades of war into a competitive advantage.
“Just as missions come from the United States to Tolemaida to teach you certain things, you will be able to go to other countries, and you will be much better paid, because you will have United Nations salaries to help them with their peacekeeping missions,” President Juan Manuel SantosThe military was promised. “That is the future of our Army.”
To increase its international appeal, Colombia became a NATO global partnership in 2018. “This is a very important accord for military officials because it will allow them to win legitimacy and prestige in the world,” political scientist Mauricio JaramilloHe argues. They currently offer military training to at most 47 countries.
Colombia is a top exporter of Colombian products. mercenaries. Retired officers and military contractors recruit aggressively, luring soldiers from the army for higher salaries. Private companies send combat-ready veterans to Afghanistan, Iraq and Yemen, as well as other conflict zones.
Unfortunately, Haiti was one of them.
The Latest Round
The two histories of interventionism intersected this summer. On July 7, a band of mercenaries assassinated President Jovenel Moïse of Haiti. Many were Plan Colombia veterans, and at most seven had received trainingFrom the U.S. CTU Security is a U.S.-owned firm. Antonio Intriago — a friend of the Colombian president and Uribe protégé, Iván Duque.
One leader Captain Germán Rivera García, recalled their chilling orders: “everyone had to be killed … the police, the president’s security, everything we encountered in the house.” Another participant explained that “there could be no witness.”
Haitian officials were shocked to learn that the assassination had occurred. Prime Minister Claude JosephThe request for U.S. and UN troops was met with widespread opposition. An organization representing retired military officials encouraged Haitians to reject the “humiliation” of foreign intervention.
Haiti was again struck by an earthquake on August 14. The U.S. sent Marines to Haiti as a response. They brought the USS ArlingtonMH-60 Seahawk helicopters, P-8A Poseidon aircrafts and other military equipmentObservers began to question their humanitarian mission.
The cycles of crisis in Haiti, Colombia and elsewhere shows that interventionism is more than a phenomenon. Incrediblely, the United States Southern CommandBoth train Colombian soldiers and oversee humanitarian aid in Haiti.
As the situation deteriorates, Haitians have sought refuge in the U.S. “No destination on earth is more attractive for a Haitian,” the island daily Le NouvellisteReports. Yet the refugees along the Texas border “all think that the USA is largely responsible for their hardship and the sad state of their country.”
The U.S.’s latest chapter in its history of interventionism is not tragedy nor farce. However, it defies literary convention. Yet, the immigration crisis is brutally poetic. Haitians are running to the source of violence and interventionism, fleeing their homeland.
The author would like Sarah Priscilla Lee, Learning Sciences Program at Northwestern University, to thank for reviewing this article. It combines academic scholarship, government documents, and U.S. news media.