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The Haitian Problem


By Errol T. Louis

In the Carribean, we above all seek to protect those values and principles that shape the proud heritage of this hemisphere. --President Reagan,   1982 address to the Organization of American States

MORE THAN 2200 HATHAN refugees have been arrested and incarcerated over the last few years as illegal aliens in the United States and Pucto Rico--because the United States says they are the wrong type of refugee. Wrong in that they are poor and Black. Wrong in that the horror they flee in merely "economic," not "political" And wrong in that the immediate cause of their misery, the Haitian government, is militarily and economically maintained by the United States.

Jean-Clause "Baby Doc" Duvalier, Haiti's 30-year-old President for Life rules the poorest country in the western hemisphere. Unemployment and illiteracy have both been estimated at 30 percent of the population. In the capital city, Port as Prince, the average annual income is $275 a year, in the rural areas the figure falls below $135 a year. The infant mortality rate is 30 percent, and the average Haitian life span is 52 years. Amidst this squalor, Duvalier spent more than $1 million on his 1980 marriage ceremony.

The tontons-macoutes, Duvalier's security forces, control Haiti by means of arbitrary arrest, tontons, imprisonment without trial, and execution Victims of the tontons-macoutes include political leaders, unionists, journalists and civilians. According to Gerard Saint-Juste, director of New York's Haitian Refugee Center, some 30,000 people have been killed in Haiti over the last few years. In fact, he notes, there are 35 jails per school and 189 soldiers per teacher in Haiti. When the President-for-Life appears at public ceremonies, he carries a chrome-plated revolver in his hand.

Under Haiti's 1948 Penal Code, no group of more than 20 people can be formed without government permission. Some of the conclusions of a 1978 visit to Haiti of the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights have been published in Amnesty International's 1981 report and are consistent with Amnesty's findings on Haiti.

It has been proven that numerous persons are detained without having benefitted from any form of legal procedure, and without having access to an attorney. It may be said that freedom of inquiry, opinion, speech and dissemination of thought does not exist. There are taboo questions which cannot be discussed such as all matters concerning the President's family, the dictatorship the extra-budgetary revenues of the Regie du Tabac [state-controlled tobacco industry] etc. There is recourse to procedures such as warnings and admonitions of increasing severity to journalists, issued by the Ministry of the Interior, there is also prior censor ship, closing of newspapers, threats, assaults and incarcerations.

Haitians, fleeing from the nightmarish conditions in their own country, have headed for the United States in droves. Some 44,000 refugees were officially known to have arrived between 1972 (the year alter Duvalier took office) and 1981. The true number is almost certainly much higher. It was only in 1980, when 125,000 Cubans set out for the United States in the "Freedom Flotilla," that Haitians began to be refused entry to America in large numbers. Observers attribute the change in policy to an American fear triggered by the sight of thousands of Black Cubans and Black Haitians at the borders. As Newsweek put it, "The suspicion lingers that if 15,000 white Poles fleeing the crackdown showed up in New York Harbour, they would not be shipped off to Krone or Fort Allen [two Haitian detention campa]."

The Reagan Administration recently instructed Court Guard and Navy ships to stop boatloads of U.S. bound Haitians at sea and return them to Haiti; those that make it to America get detained Reagan maintains former President Jimmy Carter's position that Haitians do not qualify for asylum because they flee economic conditions, not political ones. This distinction, however, becomes blurred in light of U.S. support for the Duvalier regime.

In 1971, after a 14-year reign of server by Duvalier's father (Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier), the dictatorship passed without elections to a 19-year-old "Baby Doc." U.S. military ships in Fort-as-Prince Bay helped ensure a smooth transition. Today, U.S. ships still patrol Haitian waters, and Reagan plans to increase aid to Duvalier from $30 million to $50 million this year. The aid package includes helicopters and other weapons which end up in the hands of the tontons-macoutes.

PART OF THE AMERICAN friendliness toward the Haitian government stems from Reagan's wish to establish a military base in Haiti. Ambassador Vernon Walters (former CIA deputy director) has been negotiating for a site on Tortuga Island. Mole St. Nicolas, Gonave Island or Saint Marc Point. Apparently, Duvalier will allow a base in exchange for U S guns and dollars.

Last July, about 90 Haitians died from hunger, thirst and exposure while trying to reach America. Last October, the bodies of 26 drowned Haitians washed up on a Florida beach. Of the refugees that made it to the United States in 1981, 8023 were jailed. Meanwhile, as expressed in a pamphlet by a Boston-area Haitian organization.

Reagans does not propose to place sanctions on the Haitian government as on the Polish government. He does not educate the American people as to the connection between economic refugees and the political basis for poverty, hungry, joblessness, etc.

This sentiment, largely ignored in media discussions about Haiti brings out issues of foreign policy that have been consistently ignored, at the cost of thousands of lives

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