Reflections on the Past and Possible Future of Haiti’s Foreign Policy

by Jacques Nési (Haiti Liberte)

The influence
of what is called, with deceptive ease, the “international community”
determines Haitians’ present and future, largely due to the deficit of national
sovereignty and legitimacy that taints the Haitian authorities which act as
intermediaries. This “international community” supposedly accompanies Haiti on
its quest for democracy, sharing her concerns and uncertainties. But its
overbearing influence is troubling. Is it not a little contradictory for Haiti,
supposedly under the control of United Nations troops, to think about defining
its own foreign policy? Is it not a phony posture, in this context of moral
decay, to talk about formulating a foreign policy that takes into account
Haiti’s interests and aspirations?

            Could this be nationalism? For a
country which is completely financially dependent on the “international
community,” wouldn’t it be utopian obstinacy for Haiti to think of forging new
relations with it? Would Haitian authorities be ungrateful to think of solving
their people’s  problems by insisting on
a sovereign and autonomous approach?

            Haitian nationalism, although in
crisis, exists; it has always asserted itself despite the preponderance of the
“international community.” Like Haiti, the “international community”
talks about the values of freedom, equality, and independence throughout the
world and in international fora. But the burdensome influence of the “international
community” erodes any capacity for endogenous development. Haiti grows
nostalgic for its status as a pioneering state with a reputation for defending
the oppressed.

            The “international
community,” which is guided by powerful nation-states, gives itself the
right to impose its notion of democracy on societies. It pretends to be
committed to restoring the rule of law through using the United Nations, the
embodiment of international legitimacy. And Chapter VII of the UN Charter is
explicit on the conditions under which the “international community”
can legitimately use force in a territory where threats to international
security exist. The “international community” violated these rules and
principles when the United Nations member states authorized their own foreign intervention
in Haiti in 1994 to bring back a legitimately elected president who was
overthrown by a coup d’etat. They then broke the rules again in 2004 to
terminate the mandate of this same president, violating international law and
the Haitian Constitution by deploying the military force known as the United
Nations Mission to Stabilize Haiti (MINUSTAH).

            But it must be recognized that UN
was acting on behalf of the U.S. government. We note that the United States’
supposed defense of democracy is accompanied by an hegemony which smothers
Haiti. One cannot deny the importance of some U.S. contributions to democracy
in Haiti since the 1980s when there was a dynamic movement of local and
external socio-political forces. However, the North American contribution was
diluted and negated by its underlying policy of colonization. If the the
“international community” and the United States remain engaged in
Haiti, we must rethink how to counter their influence.

            Sovereignty and independence were
central elements of Haiti’s foreign policy from 1804 to 1915. Haiti’s founders’
speeches defined the broad lines of Haitian diplomacy. Haiti, until the 1915
U.S. occupation, defended itself, paid for its own army, to used this power to
implement far-reaching economic reforms. But by 1890, there was an urgent need
to modernize traditional society. There was “the concomitant failure of
the start of the modernization process,” which Lesly Manigat analyzed.
This was a multi-dimensional crisis: “an agrarian and agro-food crisis, a
crisis in the organization of the unmastered and non-integrated national space,
an export crisis, a financial crisis, a partially exogenous crisis, a social
crisis, a psychological and moral crisis, and a political crisis. (Lesly F.
Manigat, The Contemporary Haitian Crisis
or Haiti of the 1990s: A Grid of Intelligibility for the Present Crisis
Port-au-Prince, 1995, p.141). There was also the global crisis of 1890-1893,
which entailed the bankruptcy of banks, the collapse of Haitian coffee’s price,
the disappearance of the most famous companies of European origin, and
increasing poverty, forcing people to emigrate to Cuba and the Dominican

            Haiti resigned itself to renouncing
its sovereignty, if we give any credence to the words of Tancrède Auguste and
Justin Dévot. The former said: “We will inevitably fall into the hands of
the Americans; so let’s just do it now. We might be able to hold on for another
dozen years, but why prolong our agony? (October 1, 1896). The latter said:
“This country must have a foreign master.” (1914). (Manigat, Id.

            Neither the occupiers nor the elites
who favored the occupation had any clearly defined agenda in modernizing Haiti,
even if certain achievements in health and agriculture must be recognized.  But the Haitian peasantry paid a heavy price
for resisting and opposing the U.S. capture of Haiti’s national sovereignty.


A reconstructed diplomacy, in search of opportunities

From the U.S.
occupation up until the Duvalier period, Haitian diplomacy practically never
criticized the United States, France, or England. But when the decolonization
period began in the 1960s, there emerged a slightly more independent tone in
Haitian diplomacy, which criticized France’s colonial inclinations and
trumpeted the influence of Haiti’s example in Africa. François Duvalier’s
diplomacy, which was very anti-communist and concerned with the construction of
a patron-client relationships, was dictated by the quest for material resources
and survival, even as he demagogically used Dessalinien rhetoric of

            Duvalier’s welcoming Sékou Touré to
Haiti was the pinnacle of his critique of colonialism; the African spit in the
face of General de Gaulle by making a quote which was probably inspired by
Dessalines: “We prefer poverty in freedom to wealth in slavery.”
Guinea was the only member of the French Union to vote “no” in the
referendum of Sep. 28, 1958. It sought the support of the black rulers, and
François Duvalier took advantage of this to assert himself on the Caribbean
scene which changed after the Kennedy assassination and the fall of Juan Bosch
(November 1963). Duvalier then tried to circumvent President Lyndon Johnson’s
non-support of his regime by seeking aid from countries like Germany, Italy,
Nationalist China, and France.

            But since 1986, few Haitian
presidents have been able to forge an autonomous Haitian diplomacy.
Nevertheless, three have sent contradictory signals combining autonomy and the
exercise of unchallenged sovereignty with the United States (Lesly Manigat),
voluntarism (restoration of diplomatic relations with Cuba by Jean-Bertrand
Aristide) and René Préval’s policy of solidarity with Hugo Chavez towards the
peoples of the Caribbean and Latin America. René Préval made efforts to resist
Edmond Mulet, the representative of the UN Secretary General in Haiti, and the
U.S. Embassy, but U.S. domination was reinforced by the Organization of
American States (OAS) and the United Nations.

            As today’s new contested president
is about to come to power, let us venture proposing some priorities for Haitian
foreign policy. It is undoubtedly utopian.

            The first priority for Haitian
diplomacy is to regain our 19th century status: a sovereign nation. We are
certainly in a global world where there is interdependence between states and
the dependence of weak states on the “international community,” including the
United States. Thus, we must reflect on how restoring sovereignty will entail
reforms in the National Police, the Army, and Justice. We must think about how
to secure the national territory, control the borders, and control of the flows
of Haitians across the dangerous borders of neighboring states. We should
undertake negotiations at the United Nations, which is responsible for the
spread of cholera in Haiti. We should seek full reparations, preceded by an
extensive dialogue with diplomats from Latin America, Africa, and Asia, on the
need for Haiti to regain its sovereignty. The restoration of sovereignty is a
prerequisite to a sovereign foreign policy.

            It is a fact that Haiti is a weak
state with widespread institutional collapse. But weakness is not a fatality.
Other countries have had the courage to overcome the overwhelming influence of
foreign powers. This requires having responsible, courageous, and patriotic
elites. History is not erased, but it is subject to moments of rewriting.
Haiti, to ensure its survival, must take a new trajectory and redesign its
relations to the world through diplomacy on all levels. The freedom of ideas
and the freedom of Haitian elites’ movement in the age of globalization are
powerful guarantees for the emergence of autonomous thinking that corresponds
to the Haitian soul.

            The second priority is change the
relationships Haiti has had. Three priorities emerge: rethinking relations with
the United States of America without fear or rupture, rebuilding relations with
Africa and Europe in search of fruitful synergy, and revising relations with
the Dominican Republic which meet Haiti’s aspirations by safeguarding its
interests, and by reaching a moratorium on the expulsion of Haitian migrants.
To achieve this, Haitian intellectuals present in foreign universities,
adhering to Anglo-Saxon academic research centers, rebuilding civil society,
revitalizing peasant forces in Haiti, militating in Haiti’s diaspora, these are
the assets on which Haiti must rely.