A Point Being Overlooked In The Trump-Haiti “Shithole” Controversy

By   /   January 15, 2018  /   15 Comments

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[Author’s Note: Due to some confusion derived from people not reading beyond the first few lines, it’s probably necessary to include a disclaimer at this point – I’m NOT defending Trump here. Read the whole thing before angrily writing in to suggest otherwise, please.] 

[Author’s Note: Due to some confusion derived from people not reading beyond the first few lines, it’s probably necessary to include a disclaimer at this point – I’m NOT defending Trump here. Read the whole thing before angrily writing in to suggest otherwise, please.] 

Controversial Opinion: Trump’s rather .. pungent choice of phrasing aside, it’s really not that controversial to characterize Haiti as pretty wretched – a state that it’s been in for quite some decades now, along with [funnily enough] the vast majority of the Caribbean and neighbouring states, with the important exception of Cuba, for much of the past century.

But what makes Trump’s utterance controversial – again, other than the decidedly undiplomatic phrasing – is not so much what was said, but precisely who it was that was saying it.

The President of the United States of America.

Now, this is not about an issue of ‘decorum’ – so don’t get me wrong. Instead, it’s a frank question of culpability.

You see, if you look at those aforementioned armful of ‘basket-cases’ strewn across the Caribbean, and under broadly American suzerainty for the most part since the Monroe Doctrine was first promulgated – and with a considerable deepening of US ‘interference’ and neo-colonial ambitions over the course of the 20th Century – it becomes rather rapidly apparent that the two single-most important factors in these countries’ ongoing malaise are American “influence” [whether in the form of invasions, embargos, the doling out of weapons to bloodthirsty dictators with which to kill “communist” peasants who dare question corruption and iniquity in their homelands, economic dumping-actions, and the supporting of US corporate interests against domestic sovereignty and wellbeing, among many .. MANY other things] , and as an additional consideration, the repeated & pervasive efforts at enforcing neoliberal economic “reforms” onto these countries by Washington Consensus-inf(l)ected international bodies like the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and other such [often heavily American dominated] institutions. [For a tangible case-study of this, perhaps examine exactly what happened to Jamaica when it adopted the strictures of a ‘structural readjustment’ package put forward by these organizations]

It is not coincidental, of course, that some of the principal beneficiaries of such economic hara-kiri tend to be those American corporate interests we seem to keep running into over the course of the Western Hemisphere’s sadly benighted history.

*Lovely* thing having a semi-literally captive market!

Now, the plain reality here is that America choosing to run these various countries as ersatz-“colonies” [i.e. with all of the economic-extraction value of the more traditional imperialism .. with very little of the actual state-building that tends to go with the more ‘hands on’ approach – unless it’s US companies over-charging to facilitate same] has been pretty great for a number of Americans and their corporate enterprises. I’m not entirely sure, for instance, how the United Fruit Company would have handled itself were it not for ‘little things’ like getting out of paying a legitimate tax-bill to the Government of Guatemala thanks to a CIA-organized coup against Jacobo Arbenz.

But at the same time, very *very* bad for the subject peoples who’re actually *living* in the neo-colonial ‘possessions’ in question. I mean, that point above about US material & financial support for murderously repressive dictators just because they happen to claim to be killing “Communists” [the quotation from Apocalypse Now about anybody who runs being a communist AND anybody who remains still being a ‘well-disciplined’ communist seems to be of direct application here] is not simply idle rhetoric.

Instead, it’s *literally* what happened with Haiti under the “Doc” regimes, amidst many and many other examples throughout the region.

Further, in those instances wherein the US *hasn’t* been backing a particular iron-fisted President-For-Life as its local semi-pliable puppet-regime, it has instead generally chosen to rather actively undermine democracies with a view to ensuring that no country in the area it considers its own “back yard” , is capable of putting together a Government with enough domestic clout, staying power, or longevity to actually mount serious challenge to US diktates and looting/profiteering.

It is plainly obvious that fostering a climate of serious political instability in these countries is not going to make for efficient, practicable Government – and that’s just the point.

Which, of course, means that in many instances wherein natural disaster or other challenging circumstances eventuate in these places, the responses are at best lackluster and at worst, actively harmful [not least because there’s often a curious scope for American corporate interests to be making a buck on hurricane or earthquake relief and reconstruction efforts]. [although again, with the notable exception of Cuba – for SOME REASON. Comparing the Cuban response to Hurricane Katrina with that of New Orleans is an interesting exercise, perhaps. Certainly there have been direct side-by-side comparisons of Cuba with the Dominican Republic which appear to suggest there are some distinct advantages – even *despite* the Embargo -to not being in the US orbit].

So all things considered, Trump – or anyone else seriously involved in US politics – expressing some sort of condemnatory surprise at the present state of Haiti , is perhaps rather akin to a Britisher or American airman going to Dresden in the late 1940s and being altogether taken aback that for some reason all the pre-modern architecture that they’d seen in travel-guides from some decades earlier no longer seemed to exist.

And while some might look in frank askance at me apparently expecting Trump to have some sort of cogency in his possible grasp of international affairs and political-economy/history … it is worth noting that on the campaign trail, Trump was quite vocal about how American interventions in countries like Iraq only seemed to make things worse – and, in point of fact, gave rise to ISIS.

And to be fair, the quotes of his own from the early 2000s he was citing, concerning the rolling of Saddam Hussein setting the stage for a vacuum that would inexoraby lead to horrors in his place … are genuine. Trump actually *did* say [and presumably, mean] those things.

So what is “controversial”, to my mind – is that the very same man who campaigned so actively on how damaging American empire-building could be in the Middle East … hasn’t seemingly made the connection to just how damaging American empire-building *has already been* for *quite some time now*, in the Caribbean and related areas.

But, a calculated [and probably outright ‘enforced’ ] public face of ‘ignorance’ appears to be part-and-parcel of both the applicants and the holders of high office in America these days.

So perhaps I should not find Trump’s failure to mention just *why* Haiti might be in such dire straits [along with many of its neighbours for much of recent history], to be in any way surprising.

But the rush to condemn Trump’s *particular* choice of verbiage in expressing this observation risks detracting from, distracting from, and obscuring the *vital* conversation about how these countries *got* this way in the first place … and the overarching role of US power-projection and corporate influence – often directly through the Executive Branch which Trump now sits at the head of – in making them so.

If Haiti is, indeed, a “shithole” … I can only surmise that it has been successive US governments and American-inflected international institutions & corporations that have been the laxative.

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"Part Apache; Part Swede. Part Attack Helicopter; Part Kitset Furniture."


  1. Historian Pete says:

    A fine piece Curwen about a country that most people know little about.Haiti was a happy hunting ground for the enrichment of the Clintons.How to make a vast profit from disaster relief !!

    • Pete, much of what Curwen refers to pre-dates the Clintons. Using any one particular presidency is futile. American imperialism in the region has been long-term, over many administrations.

  2. Nitrium Nitrium says:

    Frankly, Haiti is a bit of a “shithole” though and a lot of it is their own making. And it has nothing to do with race. Remember the island is made of _two_ countries, Haiti and The Dominican Republic. A quick image search immediately shows a large part of Haiti’s problem: deforestation (which directly leads to erosion and mudslides):
    Now explain to me why one side of the island hasn’t partaken in clear felling but the other side has? Why weren’t the guys with chainsaws run out of town by the Haitian people? The answer, of course, is money and corruption. It’s hard to muster a lot of sympathy for a nation (not individuals who had no part in it of course!) whose problems are largely self-inflicted.

  3. In Vino says:

    I would like to believe that Trump is well aware of the points made, but is cynically behaving in his infantile way to keep his infantile fans happy. But I find him far too convincing: he really is stupid and wishful-thinking enough to believe his own blatherings.

  4. Observer Tokoroa says:

    Hi Curwen Ares Rolinson

    The only real fullsome shit in or near America is the President who maintains that Barack Obama is not an American.

    Which he does, as In Vino rightly says above:

    “Trump is cynically behaving in his infantile way to keep his infantile fans happy”.

  5. Sam Sam says:

    From the beginning of democracy carribian style. It was created as a factory for producing a docile, subservient, obedient, and often forced compliance, slave. When the first Europeans got there they immediately put the indigenous inhabitants in chains and beat them. And no one has thought to switch off this terrible conveyer belt after 200 years or so. Much rather it settles the feeble minds of those who would rather forget it all happened to secure there position in life. Ask any non westerner if they would describe this as a shithole and they would agree.

  6. Andrewo says:

    The awkward fact that progressives have to face is that with the notable exception of Singapore ALL of the former colonies of the old European powers have gone downhill since they gained their independence.

    Use any measure you like: health, political freedom, wealth or education – they’ve all failed their citizens to varying degrees.

    The irony is that post WW2 it was liberals in the USA that used their economic clout to force Britain & France to give up their colonies.

    • AndrewO – you haven’t read a single word Curwen has written, have you? Your comment clearly indicates that much.

      I suggest you read his article and consider it. It’s a well-written piece. If necessary, check his facts by doing some simple historical research on the internet.

      What you find may suprise you and shake your world-view.

      It certainly shook mind to the core in my 20s when I discovered that the US was not so much concerned with truth and justice in it’s own backyard.

    • Draco T Bastard says:

      The awkward fact that progressives have to face is that with the notable exception of Singapore ALL of the former colonies of the old European powers have gone downhill since they gained their independence.

      That’s probably because those countries were then attacked through the financial system for the profit of rich people in rich countries.

      • Andrew says:

        Sorry mate, you’re wrong.

        These countries didn’t have the maturity to manage their own affairs and slipped back into tribalism and thuggery for the most part. Most failed to sustain a real democracy and most of their leaders pocketing their nations wealth and hiding it offshore.

        (I spent 20 years in Africa and watched it happen)

  7. G.A.P. says:

    Thank you Curwen once again for a concise and honest summing up of the situation re. the export of democracy(and free enterprise) by that pillar of freedom the good old u s a.

  8. Andrea says:

    No mention of Puerto Rico – whose citizens actually ARE American (sort of) and who’ve been left in the long drop by DJ Trump. The best he could manage, post hurricane, was to literally throw rolls of paper towels at them.

    Still no power to many parts. No piped water. Infrastructure in tatters. Looks like Detroit…

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_e2igZexpMs The words still apply…

  9. The Weatherman says:

    Quite right, Curwen.

    The Americans (and the Brits) have been up to some shady mischief again in South East Asia this year but are roundly getting their asses kicked.

    They still have far too much influence in Burma along with that regime’s chief supplier of arms, the Israelis.

Authorised by Martyn Bradbury, The Editor, TheDailyBlog,