What is the History of US - Haiti Relations?

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Answered by: Eric, An Expert in the US Liberal Politics - General Category
The History of US - Haiti Relations

In the wake of January, 2010's 7.0 magnitude earthquake, the troubled nature of US - Haiti relations has come under increased scrutiny. Following a rare, albeit brief, episode of relative stability, Haiti is once again faced with the prospect of US military occupation, the fifth such occupation in the past century, in order to fulfill the task of massive infrastructure rebuilding that could help regain some semblance of democratic political rule and the possibility of future prosperity and peaceful relations between the US and Haiti.

The history of US - Haiti relations is closely tied to America's own relationship with regretable aspects of its own past. Following a slave insurrection that successfully overthrew French colonial rule in 1804, Haite failed to gain recognition from other soveriegn nations, including the US who feared a similar insurrection in southern states. The following decades saw worldwide embargoes placed on Haitian exports, strongly inhibiting the economic growth of the first black republic in the western hemisphere. At the outset of the Civil War in 1861, the US officially recognized Haiti as an independent republic. The final decades of the nineteenth century were marked by US commercial interests dominating the fate of US - Haiti relations, including a high interest loan that subjigated the Haitian economy. Among the world's largest producers of sugar, Haiti was eventually forced to import most of its sugar by the late twentieth century.

US - Haiti relations were further strained by American military interests at the turn of the twentieth century. Faced with the task of protecting commercial interests in the Carribean prior to, and following, the Spanish-American War, the US sought to gain control of the key port of Mole St. Nicolas, only to be denied by a skeptical Haitian government. Following a punitive embargo, economic despair and political instability led to a nineteen year occupation by the US military beginning in 1915. The military class created during this period, and supported by the Haitian elite, would control Haiti and dictate US - Haiti relations for the better part of the twentieth century, fostering the brutal military governments led by "rulers for life" Francois (Papa Doc) Duvalier, and his son Jean-Claude (Baby Doc) Duvalier, and their dissention crushing, Tontons Macoute, a corrupt and loosely organized policing group.

The effects of cold war imperialism and the worldwide trend of insurrection and revolution following WWII, deeply affected US - Haiti relations. During this period, the US viewed the presidencies of the Duvaliers as a solid defense against the type of revolution that overthrew the government in Cuba. Although the commercial disparity in Haiti's trade continued to cause upwards of 80% of the Haitian population to live in extreme poverty, and clear human rights violations continued to persist in Haiti, it took several decades for US - Haiti relations to reflect any aspect of such an acknowledgement. The presidency of Jimmy Carter began to place a greater emphasis on human rights in terms of US foriegn policy, and the subsequent "war on drugs" led by the presidency of Ronald Reagan, focussed a new light on the amount of drug trafficking that took place into, and from, Haiti. Due to these factors, the US supported the overthrow of Jean-Claude Duvalier and the subsequent democratic elections that brought Jean Bertrande Aristade to power as the nation's first democratically elected leader.

Economic conditions and retaliation from former military leaders caused continued instability in Haiti, although US - Haiti relations continued to favor US commercial interests, and consequently would not support the massive amounts of Haitian refugees attempting to enter the US. Nearly a half a million Haitian Americans pleaded for Haitian refugees to gain the type of preference Cuban refugee had enjoyed for decades, but the nature of US - Haitian relations, and the Haitian constitutional provision preventing Haitians from seeking dual citizenship, inhibited the emmigration of thousands of Haitian "boat people" to the shores of America.

Unfortunately, instability continued to affect the governments and ensueing democratic elections in Haiti. The 1990's, and early 2000's saw US - Haiti relations continue to revert to the parentalism and economic inhibition that has marked the past century and a half. In the wake of Haiti's devestating earthquake, the need for aid from the US may be paramount, but it might also serve of an opportunity for US - Haiti relations to progress toward mutual autonomy and future prosperity for Haiti.

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