By Janine Jackson / Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR)
Janine Jackson interviewed CEPR’s Jake Johnston about US intervention in Haiti for the November 4, 2022, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.
Janine Jackson: In July 2021, the Washington Post editorial board declared that the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse put the country “at risk of anarchy,” which, the paper explained to its readers,
poses an immediate humanitarian threat to millions of Haitians and an equally urgent diplomatic and security challenge to the United States and major international organizations. Swift and muscular intervention is needed.
In October, the Post ran an editorial headlined “Yes, Intervene in Haiti—and Push for Democracy.
A lot of seventh grade government students would pause at that point, and wonder how other countries’ “intervention”–a remarkably unexamined term–in a sovereign nation, much less their “muscular intervention,” could lead to democracy.
But the idea that the US, or an international community presumably guided by the US, is the monitor, arbiter and exemplar of something called “democracy” is a corporate news media staple.
And media observers know that once this country is at something it calls war, dissenting, critical views are ignored or worse.
So while the US is deciding how to involve itself in Haiti’s hardships right now, it’s important to think about what we know, what we should know, and what maybe we aren’t hearing about what would actually help Haitian people right now.
We’re joined by Jake Johnston, senior research associate at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, and lead author for CEPR’s Haiti Relief and Reconstruction Watch blog. He joins us by phone from DC. Welcome back to CounterSpin, Jake Johnston.
Jake Johnston: Thanks for having me.
JJ: I just want to let you go with this. We’re very much in medias res as we record on November 3. There was a letter signed by CEPR and some 90 other groups, including the American Friends Service Committee, Church World Service, Haitian Bridge Alliance, Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti–and folks can also read Jane Regan’s piece on FAIR.org that points to opposition to foreign military intervention by many civil society and grassroots groups in Haiti.
So let me just start you with a big-picture question: Why are we seeing so many calls for Haiti’s problems to be addressed like a nail that can only be solved with a hammer? And why are corporate media so invested in that response?
JJ: Yeah, look, I think when you look at the situation in Haiti today–and make no mistake, the situation on the ground is extremely dire, right? People are facing serious hardships, from food insecurity, from violence and insecurity, a lack of fuel and basic supplies.
And I think there’s an approach that you see in the media, often, which treats this all as a recent development. The Washington Post editorial is a good example, saying that the assassination of the president last year is what has caused this situation, right? And so it’s looking at it in terms of a very short timeline.
And I think it’s far more useful to see this as a much larger phenomenon, something that has slowly developed and transpired over many, many years.
I think this is really key to understanding this call for foreign intervention as well, because the reality is, it’s easy to look at the situation and say, “Oh, Haiti must be this failed state that needs outside help.”
But if you take that longer view, you realize that the situation today on the ground is the situation because of so many prior interventions, right? We can’t separate these things, and you have to have that understanding to look into the future and say what’s necessary for the next steps.
JJ: This letter also notes foreign intervention has led to very concrete and documentable problems in Haiti caused by US troops. There’s a reason to just say, first of all, maybe this isn’t the first thing that we want to do, right?
JJ: Of course. And if you look at that legacy, you can look at some of the more concrete things, right?
The introduction of cholera by UN peacekeepers after the earthquake in 2010. You could look at many decades of sexual abuse, of rape, of extrajudicial killings, right?
I mean, the list goes on. But I think it’s also important to look at a different aspect of that foreign intervention, which is the political effects of it.
And looking at the situation in Haiti today, I think everyone agrees that many of these problems are at their core political. And so if we consider that, we look at the political situation, it is what it is largely because of the role of foreign powers controlling Haiti and Haiti’s democracy, right?
It’s not because the Haitian people have had a say in how their country has been governed for many, many years. And so that’s really important in terms of determining what comes next, and looking at what might be the implications of an intervention today.
And I think this is especially important, and you mentioned the piece from Jane Regan: I think it’s an excellent analysis, and making a key point, right? The request for foreign military assistance is coming from a de facto prime minister who has no real legitimacy or popular mandate, but, in fact, was made prime minister after a tweet from foreign embassies urging him to form a government, weeks after the assassination of the president.
And so this is a really important dynamic to understand. And I think it’s one reason why you’ve seen such opposition to this request for military intervention, is that it’s seen as an effort to continue to prop up this unelected de facto prime minister.
JJ: I feel like there are a lot of folks who are trying to be critical, progressive leftists in the US, and they just don’t know what the heck to think about Haiti. And it has to do with this idea of “The US must intervene, the US must do something, because of course the US has to do something.” And the idea of the US not doing something is completely off the page.
And I just wonder, what would a conversation look like about allowing Haiti to be Haiti? What would that even include? Whose voices would that include? Who would we hear that we’re not hearing? Who would we stop hearing from that we’re hearing?
JJ: I think you can go two ways with this. On the one hand, when we’re talking about this question of military intervention, I think there’s an assumption by those folks saying, “Well, the US must act.”
There’s also an assumption behind that that the US can act successfully, right? That they’re motivated for the right reasons, and doing this for the right reasons, and can succeed at what they’re saying those reasons are. But that takes a lot of assumptions that we’re making.
And I think it’s important to, first off, assess those assumptions. So when we look at the history of foreign intervention in Haiti, when does that usually happen? Yes, the situation might be chaotic and difficult on the ground, but it’s usually the elite calling in foreign troops to basically protect their interests.
And so we have to understand those power dynamics in terms of what’s motivating this today, and what’s motivating the situation on the ground. And I wrote a piece about this, but I think it’s naive to think that there aren’t actors in Haiti stoking violence and this humanitarian crisis in order to justify a foreign military intervention, which they see as their best way to maintain their power, status and influence over the political and economic system in Haiti.
Now, what’s at the root of so much of what we’re seeing in Haiti, and it gets to your second question, this question of who has this say and who’s actually included in that state. And I think for a very, very long time, you’ve had a Haitian state which has not actually been inclusive and incorporated the vast majority of the population.
The most visible manifestation of this is just the turnout in the last presidential election, the last couple, which were 20% or lower.
But you also just look at what the government actually provides the citizens: The government’s not active in people’s lives.
And so, again, if you’re looking at what would a real Haitian solution look like, that’s what you want to see, is the majority of the population actually being included and listened to and incorporated into that state apparatus, in order to actually have a representative government.
And I think one real big concern is that the presence of foreign military troops makes that process much less likely. Rather, it would be there to basically provide the bandaid to continue with business as usual.
And I think, you talk to folks in Haiti, a solution is not a solution going back three months, before the fuel blockade and before cholera reemerged, right? That’s not a solution. That might be a temporary reprieve, but that’s not a solution.
And I just want to make one other point here, too, because I think there’s an assumption as well that, well, this is a situation in Haiti, and the US must act to help that situation.
Now, the other assumption there is that the US is not actively engaged in this situation today, already. And they are: politically, diplomatically, economically, any number of ways, right?
And so I think US action is necessary, but moving in a different direction. Not action to intervene further, but action to remove themselves from the situation, because their intervention is actively destabilizing the situation, right?
It is making that path forward less likely. And so it is important to call on the US to act, but they need to act in a very different way than what they’re discussing right now.
JJ: I’m going to end it right there. We’ve been speaking with Jake Johnston, senior research associate at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, and lead author for CEPR’s Haiti Relief and Reconstruction Watch blog.
Please do find their work at CEPR.net. Thank you so much, Jake Johnston, for joining us this week on CounterSpin.
JJ: Thanks so much for having me. Always a pleasure.