Haiti’s Utility

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The people of Haiti find themselves in a peculiar struggle. Their democratically elected government was overthrown by Haitian exiles from Miami in February of 2004 with the support of the Canadian, French, and American governments and was subsequently placed under the mandate of the United Nations five months later. Today, the country is in a chaotic state. Supporters of the overthrown government are being silenced, all too often through violence.[1]

It is difficult to criticize the international community’s involvement in Haiti because the occupation now has the stamp of the United Nations on it. I would suggest, however, that international intervention in Haiti is symptomatic of the re-ordering of global politics since the American led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

What does Haiti have to do with Iraq?

The United States’ doctrine of “pre-emptive war” was the impetus for their decision to invade Iraq in March of 2003. The invasion of Iraq created perhaps the largest political schism the world has witnessed since World War II. Although governments have publicly opposed foreign led wars in the past (recall Korea, Vietnam, Iraq I, Yugoslavia, and Afghanistan II), this opposition has largely been voiced by countries in the underdeveloped world (with the exceptions of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait). The impending war on Iraq in 2003 was different because governments within the western world publicly opposed it. France and Germany were perhaps some of the loudest voices against an invasion. Canada, in the face of immense pressure from the United States and England, decided not to invade. Furthermore, public opinion throughout the world was overwhelmingly against war. Many countries saw massive demonstrations. For example, London was the site of the largest public demonstration against war in England’s history (over 1 500 000 people).[2] The convergence of both state and popular opposition to the war on Iraq had an insularizing effect on the United States. Campaigns such as the “Freedom Fries Bill” became quite popular, as did notions of an “Old Europe.”

The U.S. administration, admitting that Iraq posed no threat, have changed their rationale for waging the war from something tangible, i.e. finding “weapons of mass destruction,” to something theoretical, ‘promoting democracy’. As a result, the concept of the “failed and failing state” has been (re)introduced into the lexicon of global politics. The “failed state” is controversial not least because its defining characteristics are open to interpretation, but also because questions of who have the authority to label countries as “failed” are not addressed. However, the utility of a “failed or failing state” is that it provides a justification for “pre-emptive warfare” and America, it seems, “is now threatened less by conquering states than by failing ones.”[3]

It is in this context that the American, Canadian, and French invasion of Haiti in 2004 becomes relevant.

The invasion of Haiti was rationalized by it being declared a “failed state.” Examinations of the post-invasion alliances, which have formed in its wake, indicate a political rapprochement of Western countries. Haiti provided a venue for France, Canada, and the United States to reconcile their differences over Iraq. In the case of Haiti, this alliance was somewhat natural, at least historically, as Haiti was at one time a colonial possession of France and has long been regarded by the United States as being in America’s “backyard” (because of its location in the Caribbean). Canadian ties to Haiti, in the form of economic interests, are quite intricate. For example, there are several Canadian textile and mining companies either present or attempting to establish a presence in Haiti.[4] Furthermore, by extending the invasion to include the United Nations, the United States has allowed the U.N. to reassert its relevance on the global stage, albeit under the shadow of the United States.

The inclusive nature of this invasion has paid some dividends to the United States. The governments of France and Canada and the Secretary General’s office of the United Nations have ceased to publicly criticize the American occupation of Iraq. But, perhaps most importantly, the invasion of Haiti has silenced those Western countries that opposed the concept of “pre-emptive war.” Pre-emptive warfare is an important feature of American foreign policy. It allows for the removal of those governments and societies that pose a “threat” to the United States, the nature of that threat being undefined.

What is the Political Backdrop to the conflict in Haiti?

The crisis dates back to Haiti’s elections in 2000 (the same year the U.S. experienced a contested election of their own).[5] In Haiti, election observers contested the winners of seven senate seats (out of 7,500 total positions).[6] The contested seats were eventually resigned and had no impact on the presidency, which was not being voted on at the time. However, the discrepancy was enough for a small segment (one per cent) of the population to demand the presidents’ resignation.[7] Examining the reasons why such a small segment of Haiti’s population had such a loud voice when opposing a popular president is beyond the scope of this article; I would suggest that readers browse Haiti Watch [8] to familiarize themselves with the class and racial structures that have existed in Haiti since colonization.

I would further suggest that Haiti represents a test for the application of the “failed state” theory. Haiti is but one underdeveloped country led by a government not close to Washington. A successful and unchallenged occupation and transformation of Haitian society will likely make it more palatable for the invasion of countries like Venezuela, Cuba, and others who find themselves labelled as “failures.”[9]

Notes:

[1]. “Haiti’s Human Rights a Disaster, UN says”: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20051014.
whaiti1014/BNStory/International/

[2]. “Million March Against Iraq War”: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/2765041.stm

[3]. “The Failed States Index”. Foreign Policy; Jul/Aug 2005; 149; pp. 56-65

[4]. Engler, Yves and Anthony Fenton “Canada in Haiti” Red Publishing/Fernwood Publishing (2005); p. 99

[5]. “Operation Zero In Haiti”. New Left Review (27) May-June 2004 p. 28

[6]. “Haiti –” Insurrection In The Making” (ZNET)

[7]. Engler, Yves and Anthony Fenton “Canada in Haiti” Red Publishing/Fernwood Publishing (2005); p. 20

[8]. http://www.zmag.org/lam/Haitiwatch.cfm

[9]. “CIA Classifies Venezuela as Top Potentially Unstable Country”: http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/articles.php?artno=1378

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