“How many different ways are you gonna ask the same fucking question, Mark?” Chris Christie asked me. We were seated in the dining room of the Hay-Adams hotel. It’s a nice hotel, five stars. Genteel.
Christie’s sudden ire was a bit jolting, as I had asked him only a few fairly innocuous questions so far, most of them relating to Donald Trump, the man he might run against in the presidential race. Christie, the former governor of New Jersey, was visiting Washington as part of his recent tour of public deliberations about whether to launch another campaign.
Color me dubious. It’s unclear what makes Christie think the Republican Party might magically revert to some pre-Trump incarnation. Or, for that matter, what makes him think a campaign would go any better than his did seven years ago, the last time Christie ran, when he won exactly zero delegates and dropped out of the Republican primary after finishing sixth in New Hampshire.
But still, color me vaguely intrigued too—more so than I am about, say, former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson. If Christie runs again in 2024, he could at least serve a compelling purpose: The gladiatorial Garden Stater would be better at poking the orange bear than would potential rivals Ron DeSantis, Mike Pence, and Nikki Haley, who so far have offered only the most flaccid of critiques. Over the past few months, Christie has been among the more vocal and willing critics of Trump. Notably, he became the first Republican would-be 2024 candidate to say he would not vote for the former president again in a general election.
Christie makes for an imperfect kamikaze candidate, to say the least. But he does seem genuine in his desire to retire his doormat act and finally take on his former patron and intermittent friend. Which was why I found myself having breakfast with Christie earlier this week, eager to hear whether he was really going to challenge Trump and how hard he was willing to fight. Strangely, he seemed more eager to fight with me.
It was a weird breakfast. Shortly after 8 a.m. on Wednesday, Christie strolled through the ornate dining room of the Hay-Adams, where he had spent the previous few nights. He was joined by his longtime aide Maria Comella. We sat near a window, with a view of the White House across Lafayette Square, and about 100 feet from the historic St. John’s Episcopal Church, where Trump had staged his ignominious Bible photo op three springs ago.
I started off by asking Christie about his statement that he would not vote for Trump, even if the former president were the Republican nominee. “I think Trump has disqualified himself from the presidency,” Christie said.
So what would Christie do, then—vote for Joe Biden? Nope. “The guy is physically and mentally not up to the job,” Christie said.
Just to be clear, I continued, this hellscape he was currently suffering under in Biden’s America would be as bad as whatever a next-stage Trump presidency would look like?
“Elections are about choices,” Christie said, as he often does. So whom would he choose in November 2024, if he’s faced with a less-than-ideal choice? “I probably just wouldn’t vote,” he said.
Interesting choice! I’m not sure I’ve ever heard a politician admit to planning not to vote, but it’s at least preferable to that cutesy “I’m writing in Ronald Reagan” or “I’m writing in my pal Ned” evasion that some do.
I pressed on, curious to see how committed Christie really was to his recent swivel away from Trump, or whether this was just his latest opportunistic interlude before his inevitable belly flop back into the Mar-a-Lago lagoon. Say Trump secures the nomination, and most of his formal “rivals”—and various other “prominent Republicans”—revert to doormat mode. (“I will support the nominee,” “Biden is senile,” etc.) What’s Christie going to be saying then, vis-à-vis Trump?
We were exactly seven minutes into our discussion, and my mild dubiousness seemed to set Christie off. His irritation felt a tad performative, as if he might be playing up his Jersey-tough-guy bit.
“I’m not going to dwell on this, Mark,” Christie said. “You guys drive me crazy. All you want to do is talk about Trump. I’m sorry, I don’t think he’s the only topic to talk about in politics. And I’m not going to waste my hour with you this morning—which is a joy and a gift—on just continuing talking, asking, and answering the Donald Trump question from 18 different angles.”
I pivoted to DeSantis, mostly in an attempt to un-trigger Christie. Christie has made a persuasive case that DeSantis has been a disaster as an almost-candidate so far, especially with regard to his feud with Disney. But would Christie support DeSantis if he were to somehow defeat Trump and become the nominee?
“I have to see how he performs as a candidate,” Christie said. “I really don’t know Ron DeSantis all that well … I’m going to be a discerning voter,” Christie added. “I’m going to watch what everybody does, and I’m gonna to decide who I’m gonna vote for.” (Reminder: unless it’s Trump or Biden.)
I had a few more follow-ups. “So, I know you don’t want to talk about Trump …”
“Here we are, back to Trump again,” Christie said, shaking his head.
Trump, I mentioned, has been the definitional figure in the Republican Party for the past seven or eight years, and probably will remain so for the next few. Not only that, but Christie’s history with Trump—especially from 2016 to 2021—was pretty much the only thing that made him more relevant than, say, Hutchinson (respectfully!) or any other Republican polling at less than 1 percent.
This was when Christie lit into me for asking him “the same fucking question.” Look, I said, at least 40 or 50 percent of the GOP remains very much in thrall to Trump, if you believe pollnumbers.
Christie questioned my premise: “No matter what statistics you cite, what polls you cite, that’s a snapshot in the moment, and I don’t think those are static numbers.”
“It’s been true for about seven years,” I replied. “That’s pretty static.”
“But he’s been as high as 85 to 90 percent,” Christie said, referring to Trump’s Republican-approval ratings in the past. There will always be variance, he argued, but those approval ratings would be much smaller now. Christie then accused me of being “obsessed” with Trump.
At this point, Christie was raising his voice rather noticeably again, an agitated wail that brought to mind Wilma Flintstone’s vacuum. I was becoming self-conscious about potentially disturbing other diners in this elegant salle à manger.
A waiter came over again and asked if we wanted any food. Christie, who was sipping a cup of hot tea, demurred, and I ordered a Diet Coke and a bowl of mixed berries. “What a fascinating combination,” Christie marveled.
I told Christie that I hoped that he would in fact run, if only because he would be better equipped to be pugilistic than the other milksops in the field. Obviously, it would have been better if Christie had taken his best shots at the big-bully front-runner seven years ago instead of largely standing down, quitting the race, and then leading the GOP’s collective bum-rush to Trump. But he has grown a lot and learned a lot since then, Christie assured me.
“I certainly won’t do the same thing in 2024 that I did in 2016,” Christie said. “You can bank on that.”
“Well, I would hope not,” I said. This seemed to reignite his pique.
“What do you mean, I hope?” Christie snapped. He took umbrage that I would question the sincerity of his opposition to Trump: “How about just paying attention to everything I’ve said over the last eight weeks?”
I told him that I had paid attention to what he said about Trump over the past eight years. Christie nodded and seemed to acknowledge that maybe I had a point, that some skepticism might be warranted.
I asked Christie if he had any regrets about anything.
“I have regrets about every part of my life, Mark,” he said.
“And anybody who says they don’t is lying.”
That said, Christie added, he would not change anything about his past dealings and relationship with Trump. He is always reminding people that he and Trump were friends long before 2016; that they went way back, 22 years or so. Christie told me that he and Trump have not spoken in two years. Did he miss Trump?
“Not particularly,” he said.
Do you think he misses you?
“I do,” Christie said.
“Has he called, or tried to reach out?”
“No, that wouldn’t be his style,” Christie told me. “That would be too ego-violative.” (I made a mental note that I’d never before heard the term ego-violative.)
“But I do think he misses me, yeah. I think he misses people who tell him what the truth is. I think he misses that.”
Christie had another meeting scheduled at nine at the Hay-Adams, this one with Congressman John James, a freshman Republican from Michigan. From Washington, he would head to New Hampshire, where he had a full two-day schedule planned—a town hall, a few campaignlike stops, some meetings. He told me he would make a decision in the next few weeks whether to run.
Before I left the hotel, I asked Christie whether his wife, Mary Pat, thought he should run. “My wife affirmatively wants me to do it, which is different than 2015 and 2016,” Christie told me. “She thinks I’m the only person who can effectively take on Donald Trump.”
That’s kind of what I think, I told him—that he could at least play the role of a deft agitator. Good, Christie said, but Mary Pat’s vote counted for more than mine. “I sleep with her every night,” he explained. I told him I understood.
“Have fun in New Hampshire,” I said as Christie shook my hand and pirouetted out of the dining room. He seemed to be no longer mad, if he ever was.
The comment prompted a phone call the following day with Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign policy chief, who pledged the bloc would “do its utmost to deliver, and deliver fast.”
At the core of the ongoing dispute is the ideal of “strategic autonomy,” a policy concept that posits the European Union should become more independent and self-reliant, particularly in matters of defence, where an alliance with the United States has for decades set the terms.
This concept, which for the time being remains a theoretical aspiration rather than a political reality, has made its way into the €1-billion procurement scheme Brussels devised earlier this year to collectively purchase 155mm-calibre artillery shells, and possibly missiles, to help Ukraine resist the advance of Russian troops.
Ukraine has asked the EU to provide over 250,000 rounds of this kind per month, whose cost ranges between €2,000 and €4,000 per unit.
The initial EU deal foresaw that participating countries, together with Norway, would buy the ammunition only from defence companies based across the bloc, effectively excluding the arms industry of democratic partners such as the US, the UK, Israel and South Korea.
But in recent days, the exact contours of this “Made in Europe” label have caused a split among member states, who are required by law to agree by unanimity on any foreign policy measure.
Speaking on condition of anonymity to express their opinions in a franker manner, diplomats painted a picture of conflicting narratives with one country at the epicentre: France, one of the fiercest, if not the fiercest, proponents behind the concept of “strategic autonomy.”
According to the version described by several diplomats from different member states, France is asking for the supply chain of ammunition production to be entirely European, including the sourcing of key components needed to build the artillery shells.
“They want 100% EU supply chain,” one diplomat told Euronews, regretting what was described as “French never-ending amendments.”
But these claims have been described as “rubbish” and “impossible” by another diplomatic source who insisted no such plan to renege on the current agreement that takes into account the current limitations of European industry in terms of supply chains has been brought forward.
Instead, they point the finger at Poland, a country known for its hardline stance against Russia, as one of the hold-outs behind the blockage, an accusation that Warsaw vehemently denies.
The diplomat also suggested that some member states may be trying to go back on the original deal to buy only from EU manufacturers.
France’s position remains ambiguous in the eyes of other capitals but is said to have gained the tactful backing of Greece and Cyprus, although their support is not absolute, Euronews understands.
“The majority of member states are for speed, in contrast to ‘buy only in EU’. It’s more about France, with Greece and Cyprus, against all others, with some small exceptions,” said a third diplomat.
In response to the alleged French demand, countries from Northern and Eastern Europe are making the case for pragmatism so as to deliver artillery shells to Ukraine as fast as materially possible.
Although there is a general consensus that European industry should be prioritised, the diverging views on value chains, which in many cases entail materials imported from countries like South Africa and Australia, are complicating the drafting of the final legal text and forcing lawyers to attempt different wordings that can please all 27 states.
“We don’t have an agreement and that’s disappointing,” said a senior diplomat, who noted the opposition stemmed from “one or three countries who are not happy with the text.”
“In a broader sense, it’s crucial that we strengthen the European defence industry. But we should not lose sight of what we’re doing here and that is to help Ukraine. Everything else is secondary.”
The French-led faction contests these claims, pointing to the original political agreement that introduced the EU-based requirement for defence contractors and bemoaning “elements of dramatisation” that suggest the bloc will fail to deliver the promised ammunition on its own.
“This ‘self-defeatism prophecy’ is always the thing that some Europeans like to indulge in, saying we’re never going to get there,” said a senior diplomat, insisting the “European war economy” will not only provide Ukraine what it needs to defend itself but would bring benefits for all 27 member states.
“Let’s believe in ourselves, please.”
The European Commission, which designed the joint procurement scheme, has said that, as things stand today, the gap between placing an order for weapons and the actual delivery is around 12 months due to an intricate combination of supply bottlenecks, lack of access to raw materials, insufficient skilled personnel and slow permitting processes.
The executive is working to pool EU funds to ramp up the production of artillery shells by the bloc’s defence industry, estimated to be spread across 15 facilities in 11 member states. The plans, including a concrete amount of cash, are expected to be unveiled in the coming days.
”We understand (Dmytro) Kuleba’s anxiety and the incredible pressure he’s under, but his tweet doesn’t reflect the reality of EU military support,” said a senior EU official, who spoke of ”lively” discussions among member states.
“A solution is very near. We’re all interested in helping Ukraine.”
If diplomats fail to resolve the issue over the weekend, the debate on “Made in Europe” will be passed on to foreign affairs ministers themselves, who are scheduled to meet in Luxembourg on Monday.
“What happened to the Creole pigs is a cancer for Haiti,” a woman explains in “Poto Mitan: Haitian Women, Pillars of the Global Economy,” a documentary from 2009. Creole pigs—animals indigenous to the island of Hispaniola, which is home to both Haiti and the Dominican Republic—once served as bank accounts for Haitian families. By raising and selling a healthy, fattened pig, the woman says, a family could pay for food, clothing, and education. This all changed in 1981. An outbreak of swine fever in the Dominican Republic had spread to Haiti, and U.S. officials feared that the disease, which is harmless to humans but highly contagious and deadly among pigs, might reach the United States. A powerful consortium of foreign governments and institutions, including the U.S.D.A. and the International Development Bank, required Haitian farmers to kill every pig in the country. Farmers were promised compensation through U.S.A.I.D. and replacement pigs from North American farms.
“They could have saved a small reserve of pigs,” Yolette Etienne, of the National Campaign Against Violence, a Haitian nonprofit, says, in the film. “But the American government demanded total and complete eradication of the entire race of pigs that we had.” Foreign pigs arrived in Haiti, but they were vulnerable to disease and ill-suited to the climate, and proved unable to survive. The country’s pork industry was effectively destroyed, and the Creole pig went extinct. The effect of all this on the country was profound. Many rural families, facing starvation, flocked to Port-au-Prince to seek scarce factory jobs. The population of the capital swelled, causing mass unemployment and a housing crisis. Many Haitians became consumers rather than producers of food, relying on imports from abroad for sustenance.
Sign up for This Week’s Issue
The week’s must-read stories, delivered every Monday.
Governmental interventions in Haiti have a terrible track record—even ones that respond to natural disasters, such as the 2010 earthquake that devastated Port-au-Prince. That year, the United Nations sent two thousand troops and fifteen hundred police officers to Haiti to support the nine thousand peacekeepers already on the ground and help provide emergency relief, including food, water, and medical care. But some of those troops brought cholera with them, creating an overlapping disaster when an outbreak killed at least ten thousand Haitians and sickened hundreds of thousands more. The mission was also plagued by allegations of rape and sex trafficking; during the same period, U.S. families hastily adopted more than a thousand Haitian babies and children, as the U.S. government temporarily did away with routine screening protocols. Foreign N.G.O.s operating in Haiti have not fared much better. In 2018, media accounts revealed that Oxfam Great Britain covered up an investigation into the hiring of sex workers for orgies by its staff. The Haitian government responded by banning Oxfam from Haiti. A few years earlier, an investigation by ProPublica showed that the American Red Cross, which raised a half billion dollars for aid in Haiti after the quake, had squandered the money, building only six permanent homes.
Today, we’re again talking about intervention in Haiti. Since the assassination of the country’s President, Jovenel Moïse, in July, 2021, armed groups have taken over its capital and brought daily life to a standstill. Gangs have repeatedly cut off access to roads, the airport, and fuel supplies; they have also kidnapped for ransom numerous prominent members of Haitian society, and are charged with murdering people indiscriminately, with babies and children sometimes caught in the crossfire. Schools have closed, and travelling to hospitals, banks, and markets has become treacherous, if not impossible. Food and water are increasingly hard to obtain, and doctors are seeing a dangerous resurgence of cholera.
In October, the Biden Administration helped draft a U.N. resolution authorizing the deployment of international troops to Haiti. In an attempt to distance itself from the previous U.N.-led occupation, the resolution proposed a non-U.N. mission led by a “partner country.” António Guterres, the U.N.’s Secretary-General, had earlier proposed the dispatch of a multinational “rapid action force.” The resolution that was ultimately adopted by the U.N. makes no mention of foreign troop deployments. Still, the Canadian government has not ruled out participating in a foreign deployment, if there’s “a consensus across political parties in Haiti.” Ariel Henry, the acting Prime Minister and acting President of Haiti, and eighteen top-ranking Haitian officials (most of whom are no longer in office), previously requested the deployment of foreign troops, too.
But Haiti’s government is not a proper stand-in for its people. Headlines such as “Haiti calls for help” are misleading. Thousands of Haitians across the country have protested the idea of foreign intervention, rejecting Henry’s request and demanding his resignation. “Life is not going to get better with an international force,” Marco Duvivier, an auto-parts manager who took part in the protests in Port-au-Prince, told a reporter for the Associated Press. Widlore Mérancourt, the editor-in-chief of the Haitian news outlet AyiboPost, was more measured when he told me that, though sending foreign troops to Haiti might halt violence and temporarily restore basic governance, it would only be “a Band-Aid, not a long-term solution”; such an intervention, he said, wouldn’t address the “root causes” of a “social structure” that cyclically produces gang leaders who lead mass uprisings that largely comprise Haiti’s youth, resulting in government overthrows that lead to the deployment of foreign troops.
Haiti appears to be stuck between two bad options. To many foreigners, and to those in power in Haiti, intervention seems necessary to halt the current gang violence—and yet history and the Haitian people themselves tell us it’s a bad idea. Meanwhile, international intervention is already occurring without foreign soldiers, both discretely—the United States and Canada have repeatedly sent armored vehicles to the Haitian police—and through an ongoing process of economic and political interference. How can Haiti, and the world, move forward and out of the present crisis without repeating the mistakes of the past? How can the world do right by a nation it’s so often wronged?
The current crisis began in 2018, when Haitians took to the streets to protest the theft, by Moïse and other members of his political party, of money from a development fund linked to PetroCaribe, a now defunct Venezuelan program that sold oil to countries in the Caribbean and Central America. An investigation by the Haitian senate found that 1.7 billion U.S. dollars disbursed over eight years had been grossly mismanaged or stolen. Moïse faced criticism through the rest of his term, which, according to Haiti’s constitutional calendar, should have ended in February, 2021. But, instead of holding an election, he stayed in office, leading to further protests. Amid the chaos, armed gangs sidelined the Haitian National Police, jockeying for position while terrorizing the populace.
After Moïse’s assassination, the confusion and the conflicts deepened. Ordinarily, Claude Joseph, the acting Prime Minister, would have assumed power after Moïse’s death. But just a few days before his assassination, during his fifth year in office and after his term had technically expired, Moïse appointed Ariel Henry, a seventy-one-year-old neurosurgeon, to the position. Since Henry hadn’t yet been officially sworn in, Joseph prepared to take office, with the backing of the Haitian military and national police. But the Core Group—a body comprising ambassadors from Germany, Brazil, Canada, Spain, the United States, France, and the European Union, and representatives from the United Nations and the Organization of American States, who are supposed to promote democracy in Haiti—intervened by issuing a statement, urging Joseph to step down and Henry to take power. Many Haitians and Haitian Americans decried the statement, which resulted in Henry’s ascension, as yet more international interference.
There was a viable alternative to the Core Group’s solution. In August, 2021, community and institutional leaders representing disparate parts of the Haitian population, with the shared mission of finding a “Haitian solution to the crisis,” drafted the Montana Accord. Writers of the accord insisted that the international community refrain from intervening in their country’s politics, and called for elections to be held no later than 2023. They also demanded that the United States, the Core Group, and the U.N. cease all support for Henry’s government, because of its ties to the PetroCaribe scandal and other forms of corruption. In collaboration with more than four hundred civil and political bodies in Haiti, the writers of the accord identified an interim President and Vice-President who could preside over the government until elections could be held. “The Haitian people want to redefine their future outside of this state administered mainly by local and foreign actors,” they declared. The next month, Daniel Foote, the U.S. special envoy to Haiti, resigned, citing ongoing U.S. support for Henry’s administration. “The hubris that makes us believe we should pick the winner—again—is impressive,” Foote wrote. “This cycle of international political interventions in Haiti has consistently produced catastrophic results.”
The cycle of interventions began at the country’s founding, in 1804, when Haiti declared independence from France. After the Haitian Revolution—a twelve-year-long struggle led by formerly enslaved people against their enslavers—Haiti determined its own form of government and enjoyed robust trade with Britain, the U.S., and other nations. But France continued to pursue reconquest, and President Thomas Jefferson, caving to pressure from the French, instituted a trade embargo. Economic sanctions against Haiti reached an apex in 1825, when France, under King Charles X, forced Haiti’s President, Jean-Pierre Boyer, to agree, under threat of invasion, to a disastrous indemnity of a hundred and fifty million francs; the amount was later reduced to ninety million, but after tariffs, interest, and other fees, Haiti ultimately paid a hundred and twelve million francs. Even after the agreement, the United States and other Atlantic slave powers refused to recognize Haitian independence.
The United States finally recognized Haiti in 1862, a year after the U.S. Civil War began. All the same, it repeatedly encroached on Haitian territory, using gunboat diplomacy to seek territory for naval bases. From 1915 to 1934, the U.S. staged a full-blown occupation of Haiti—its longest military operation until the Vietnam War. Although U.S. diplomats framed the occupation as a response to the assassination of Haiti’s President, Vilbrun Guillaume Sam, its fundamental goal was to force Haiti to pay loans and fees associated with the French indemnity, in which American banks had a fiduciary interest. The United States impounded all Haitian government revenue to insure that payments were made.
Haitians, naturally, protested the presence of U.S. forces. In 1919, the Haitian nationalist Charlemagne Péralte led a rebellion against the occupiers. U.S. soldiers responded with a harsh crackdown, killing Péralte and afterward circulating a picture of his body positioned in a crucified pose as a warning. During the occupation, more than fifteen thousand Haitians were killed by U.S. soldiers. The violent quashing of all protest was widely viewed by Haitians as a decisive turning point away from the country’s revolutionary principles of freedom and independence and toward autocratic rule. In 1929, the Haitian historian and diplomat Dantès Bellegarde told President Herbert Hoover that many Haitians now had a “general scorn” for the law, obeying it only “in order to escape its severe sanctions, decreed and applied by brutal force.” The economist Emily Greene Balch, who later received the Nobel Peace Prize, led a delegation to Haiti in 1926 and observed that “the Americans are training not police, but soldiers.” She wondered what the effect of such a force would be after American withdrawal. Haitians were soon to find out.
During the occupation, U.S. soldiers helped establish the puppet Presidency of the pro-U.S. politician Philippe Sudré Dartiguenave, paving the way for the United States to play a role in installing or deposing every subsequent Haitian President. François Duvalier, known as Papa Doc, was elected in 1957, allegedly by a landslide; as the writer Patrick Bellegarde-Smith has shown, however, four times as many Haitians voted for his opponent, Louis Déjoie. The U.S. supported the election because Duvalier was anti-Communist. In 1964, following another sham election, Duvalier declared himself “President for life.” The infamous brutality perpetrated by his henchmen, the Tontons Macoutes, is perhaps best summed up by Duvalier’s “Catechism of the Revolution,” widely circulated in the capital: “Our Doc who art in the National Palace for life, hallowed be Thy name by present and future generations. Thy will be done in Port-au-Prince and in the countryside. Give us this day our new Haiti, and never forgive the trespasses of those traitors who spit on our country each day. Lead them into temptation, and poisoned by their own venom, deliver them from no evil.”
Duvalier unleashed a reign of terror, censoring the press and imprisoning or killing his rivals along with journalists, academics, and students. When he died suddenly in 1971, his nineteen-year-old son, Jean-Claude, known as Baby Doc, inherited the dictatorship. Hardly less brutal than his father, he reigned until February, 1986, when a popular uprising known as déchoukaj, or uprooting, forced him out of office. As many as thirty thousand people were killed by the Duvalier regimes. Baby Doc fled to France, where he enjoyed protection and lived in exile for the next quarter century; meanwhile, a violent military junta came to power in Haiti. Most of its leaders had received U.S.-funded paramilitary training.
The junta left power in 1991, when Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a former priest, took office, winning nearly seventy per cent of the vote. Aristide, Haiti’s first popularly elected President, was known for sharp criticisms of the U.S. He accused Haiti’s economic élite of exploiting the poor, and took the military to task for its human-rights abuses. After only eight months in power, his administration was toppled by the Haitian military in a 1991 coup. Even as he took refuge in the United States, Aristide publicly blamed the U.S. and the U.N. for much of Haiti’s economic and political turmoil. At the U.N. General Assembly, he criticized foreign leaders to their faces in a famous “ten commandments” speech known as the “Diskou Aristide.” His fifth commandment: “What belongs to us is ours. Ours is not yours.”
Aristide spent three years under the protection of the U.S. government, until he was reinstalled in 1994, through an initially popular military mission called Operation Uphold Democracy. But Aristide’s sudden reliance on U.S. intervention signalled a change in his loyalties. He was reëlected in 2000 amid allegations of election fraud and soon began using armed groups called Chimè to threaten, silence, and kill his critics. His regime lasted until February, 2004, and was followed by a U.N. peacekeeping mission that continued until 2017. Depending on whose version of the story one believes, Aristide either asked the U.S. government for help fleeing the country when his ouster again seemed imminent or was kidnapped by a coalition from the United States, Canada, and France, who colluded to remove him from office.
Many Haitians believe that the French government orchestrated Aristide’s removal because, in 2003, he engaged an international cadre of lawyers to study the nineteenth-century independence indemnity. They calculated that France owed Haiti twenty-one billion dollars in reparations—a number recently confirmed by an independent investigation at the New York Times. Speaking to the Times, Thierry Burkard, who was France’s ambassador to Haiti in 2004, acknowledged that Aristide’s removal was effectively “a coup,” orchestrated in part by France. It was, he said, “probably a bit about” the Haitian President’s request for reparations.
This is the history of neocolonial Haiti. Kwame Nkrumah, the former President of Ghana, has defined neocolonialism as the “last stage of imperialism.” A country subjected to neocolonialism “has all the outward trappings of international sovereignty,” he went on, but “in reality its economic system and its political policy is directed from outside.” Neocolonial foreign policies create continuous cycles of dependency.
Without a doubt, neocolonial Haiti is a spectacularly failed state—a shadow Haiti, unable to provide the basic necessities of life for its people. At the same time, its economy and elections have largely been controlled by foreign banks and the world powers. This is why the Haitian historian and anthropologist Michel-Rolph Trouillot once referred to Haiti as “the longest running neo-colonial experiment in the west.”
Part of what makes neocolonialism so intractable is that, as a state fails, more neocolonialism becomes the only imaginable cure for the ills created by it in the first place. The United States’ Haitian policy has never been primarily directed toward the humanitarianism it touts; during the Cold War, the U.S. was first and foremost concerned with anti-Communism, and since the fall of Duvalier its main goal has been to prevent Haitian “boat people,” who flocked to Miami in droves during the Duvaliers’ dictatorships, from reaching the continent. Less than five per cent of Haitian asylum seekers in the U.S. are granted asylum, the lowest rate of any nationality for which data are available. More often, Haitian migrants have been brutally expelled. In September, 2021, for example, the U.S. began the process of deporting back to Haiti thousands of people sheltering near the Rio Grande—even as instability in Haiti, caused in large part by U.S. foreign policy, was the reason the migrants had fled.
What Haiti needs, above all, is a definitive rupture from the cycle of forced dependency kept in motion by foreign governments and international institutions. How does a shadow state like Haiti achieve decolonization from neocolonialism? As a first step, the U.S. and other U.N. member states must stop hailing elections to be organized by Haiti’s current leadership as the best route to future stability and security. In the words of James North, a longtime political correspondent covering Haitian politics, the gangs running rampant over the capital today are “largely paramilitary allies” of Henry’s (formerly, Moïse’s) ruling party, which has “dominated Haiti for the past decade with a combination of election fraud and violence.” Second, and most important, the international community needs to commit to charting a new path. Payments are part of that path: Haiti should receive compensation from France, the U.S., and the U.N. for damages related to the indemnity, the U.S. occupations, and other abuses.
Skeptics and critics often cite the corruption of Haitian leaders in arguing that Haitians are not as worthy of restorative justice as other victims of mass atrocities. Yet this argument is another neocolonial fallacy. “Oppression justifies itself,” Jean-Paul Sartre wrote, in “Colonialism and Neocolonialism.” “The oppressors produce and maintain by force the evils which, in their eyes, make the oppressed resemble more and more what they would need to be in order to deserve their fate.” It would be the job of a freely and fairly elected Haitian government to take on the work of appropriately managing the rebuilding of Haitian infrastructure with any reparations awarded to the Haitian people.
How do we get from the current crisis to a scenario in which elections and reparations are possible? One critical step might be to move the government away from the overcrowding and structural problems of Port-au-Prince. Although Port-au-Prince is the capital of Haiti, it is not Haiti itself; meanwhile, nearly half of the country’s estimated two hundred gangs are concentrated there. As Vadim Rossman has shown in his book “Capital Cities: Varieties and Patterns of Development and Relocation,” new capitals can play an important role in conflict resolution. Establishing an interim government in Cap-Haïtien, for example, a city two hundred kilometres to the north, might destabilize the gangs by forcing them to physically disperse and divide. Okap, as Haitians call Cap-Haïtien, has an international airport and other existing infrastructure, such as hotels, for meetings between foreign officials and diplomats; it also has a large port capable of handling both imports and exports. The economist Tyler Cowen has cited moving the capital to Okap as a promising idea. It might encourage migration out of Port-au-Prince, a city built for two hundred thousand people, which is currently home to nearly three million. (Bernard Ethéart, the director of Haiti’s National Institute for Agrarian Reform, also suggested moving the capital after the 2010 earthquake, for seismological reasons.)
Moving the capital and decreasing the population of Port au-Prince will not eradicate the gang problem on its own—there are smaller gangs in other cities, including in Cap-Haïtien. But, coupled with infrastructure projects that will create jobs, it could play a key role in engaging the youth of Haiti in work, education, and even governance. Clarens Renois, a coördinator for the National Union for Integrity and Reconciliation, a nonviolent political party, insisted in an interview with the New Humanitarian that Haitians do not need a “military solution; the solution is social, economic, and it’s about justice.” One gang member who joined when he was just fourteen echoed this sentiment when he remarked that, if given the opportunity, “the youth would wake up to work—not fight—because they [would be] making money.” Removing neocolonial barriers placed in front of Haitian agriculture—such as subsidies for U.S. farmers that have put Haitian rice farms out of business—could help make the countryside a viable place for Haitians to thrive. Supporting small-scale farming and micro-lending programs, such as those utilized by Haiti’s famous Madan Sara—market women who bring food produced in the countryside into the cities—is essential for Haiti’s future economic stability, too.
January, 2023, marked the two hundred and nineteenth anniversary of the declaration of Haitian independence. The United States, like Europe, needs to finally attend to the gaping wounds created by its colonial crimes. These wounds must be exposed to an uncomfortably bright light, so that they can be properly treated. If the West continues to repeat the past—sending and then withdrawing foreign troops, and showering Haiti with vast amounts of ineffective “aid”—then true Haitian independence will never be restored, and the world will continue to be morally and materially culpable for a humanitarian and political disaster it has spent centuries creating. There must be, and there is, another way, and just as in 1804 at Haiti’s founding, it will be Haitian-led. The path that leads to a once again sovereign Haiti will not be easy, familiar, or common sense; it will require daring, imagination, trust, and respect on all sides. But it is the only path that can produce something good. If the world truly wants what is best for Haiti and Haitians, then there is no choice but to take it–