Haiti: Open for Business since 1915



This past weekend, Kenneth Cole opened a boutique in Petion-Ville. And for that, we got quite the puerile reaction from social media, the Haitian press and members of the Martelly-Lamothe tandem. A reaction, upon closer inspection, that is rather preposterous if not downright troubling, given the minuscule significance of, you know, a f**king Kenneth Cole store opening in Petion-Ville

Hey, on second thought, the Martelly-Lamothe tandem does remind me of William Holder’s Lord of the Flies, a government of little boys, for little boys, by little boys.

Here hoping that in the waning years of this administration, the propagandist arm of the Tèt Kale regime, in shoring up legacy points for the collective memory of an ever-forgetful nation, does not list the opening of a Kenneth Cole boutique as an accomplishment. Because both the opening and the reaction fit the narrative and the motto of that government: Haiti is open for business. 

Not only is Haiti open for business, but that boutique is the sounding horn of the raucous train of social progress speeding through the decaying city of Port-au-Prince. A train, to be certain, that only accommodates the few, as evidenced by the few stops it made, you know, like the Oasis stop, the Best Western stop and the Caracol stop.

Haiti has long become something akin to an old, dusty vinyl record with a stuck needle, and the listener having to hear the same s**t over and over. But only, the listener never seems to get annoyed and enjoys the repetitiveness and sometimes even sings along.

Michel Martelly and Laurent Lamothe keep telling us Haiti is open for business, because open for business means investments, investments, investments. And investments, investments, investments mean jobs, jobs, jobs for millions of impoverished Haitians, who have all been promised that poverty will be done away with soon. Very soon. 

Michel Martelly will probably be disappointed to learn that Haiti has been open for business since 1915 and that he’s hardly the first one to pioneer this foreign investment idea that he seems to hold so dear.

Vilbrun Guillaume Sam held just such ideas one hundred years before, and the post signs of history seem to suggest that the holding of such ideas was the harbinger of his demise: the population of Port-au-Prince rose up against him, split his skull with a machete and then paraded his mutilated corpse through the avenues and boulevards of the capital. 

In learning of the downfall of their collaborator, Washington did not waste a breath. It cabled Admiral Caperton, whose ship, the U.S.S. Washington, had been poised off the shores of Port-au-Prince for quite some months, stalking the island from afar like a tiger stalks its prey, chancing on the opportune moment to attack. For Caperton, the lynching of Sam was quite the golden opportunity to gut the prey which had been stalked for decades now by his Washington bosses.

Caperton ordered the landing of 330 US marines in Port-au-Prince. They were here to preserve law and order. They were here for humanitarian concerns and for the protection and well-being of the Haitians and all the other s**t they said when Bush invaded Iraq. 

With the best military of the world at his disposal, Caperton proceeded to open the country for business. He seized all the customhouses of the island, leaving him in complete control of the country’s finances. That bad white dude even had power over the salaries of the Haitian government. Say a government official did not wish to sign a particularly treaty into law because he felt the law insulted Haiti’s sovereignty, then Caperton simply froze his salary until he ratified the damn treaty. Don’t believe me? Ask Sudre Dartiguenave, Pauleus Sannon, hell, ask the entire chamber of deputies of 1915.

An American financial adviser was appointed to play big daddy to the Haitian government; it could not spend a dime of its own monies without consulting with its big daddy . 

And then, feeling that Haiti’s doors were not opened wide enough, because if you are open for business, your doors have to be wide open, (heck, forget open, they might as well tear them apart completely as to ensure they never close again!) they came across a particular article in the Haitian constitution explicitly barring foreigners to own land.

It would appear that Dessalines, dead for over 100 years, had the last laugh. He had been the architect of that article and by such maneuver, had managed to protect the black citizens of Haiti from the wretched jaws of an ever marching capitalism. 

That article proved a dilemma to the Americans. How could Haiti be open for business with that god-forsaken article? Of course they could have gone the way of the Germans to circumvent the law but oh no! That meant marrying Haitians! Marrying Haitians meant marrying negroes and having negro children! The horror! 

So they opted to dissolve that law by holding a mock plesbicite in which they forced Haitians to vote yes on amending the article.  

Then you can bet the country was open for business my friend. Everyone and their mother wanted to come to Haiti and open a business. 

Then came the grand promises of investments, of improving the economic life of the country, of improving the lives of the peasants, of doing away with poverty.

We heard such promises from the Haitian-American Sugar Company, from the American Pineapple Company, Dyewood of Boston, the Hamburg American Atlas Lines, the French West Indian Steamship Company, the Haitian American Electricity Company. The list goes on. The flooding of these companies of course meant the seizure of mass amounts of land from the peasants who had been on such lands for generations, espousing a spiritual connection to them. But what did it matter, it was a time of modernization, so spirituality and ancestral ties now had to make way for the sepulchral work of factories.

It should be noted that history has been on repeat ever since, you know, that stuck needle on the vinyl, because Stephanie Vildrouin has been at the forefront of modernizing Ile-à-vache to make way for more hotels while vacating families from their lands with assurances that this is being done for them and for their tomorrows. 

We have now been open for business for an entire century, waiting forlornly for the materialization of the grand promises of the Occupation. For one hundred years, we have been made destitute, left to starve, clinging on to vain hopes that foreign investments will improve our lot. Now, one hundred years later, with Caracol, Oasis, Best Western, sitting on lands which hold the rust and bones of our ancestors at their bosom, ancestors who passed on waiting to consume the fruits of the Occupation, we are again told that Haiti is open for business and that foreign investments will work miracles for Haiti. 

I say we screw the doors back on their respective frames, lock them up and hand the keys to Dessalines.


Alain Martin



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