Recent news coverage of U.S. Border Patrol agents on horseback chasing asylum-seekers from Haiti who tried to enter the United States at Del Rio, Texas, is disturbing. The images harken back to a time when white slave patrols used horses and dogs to capture enslaved Africans who tried to escape the brutalities suffered from white capitalists who stole their bodies and labor to produce the wealth that funded the United States.
The deeper history of white people to the people and place now called Haiti is even worse.
Haiti is about the size of Maryland. It is found on the western third of Hispaniola in the Caribbean. The eastern two-thirds of Hispaniola is the Dominican Republic. Hispaniola was home to Taino/Arawak people for thousands of years before Christopher Columbus stumbled upon it in December 1492.
Spanish colonizers enslaved their Taino hosts and forced them to work in gold mines. Hunger, violence, disease and harsh working conditions decimated the indigenous enslaved people, so King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain licensed the colonizers to enslave Africans to replace the work force. The enslaved Africans worked on plantations to grow sugar cane, coffee, tobacco and other raw crops for export to Europe. French colonizers replaced the Spanish in the western part of Hispaniola and continued the plantation system until San Dominque (the name the French gave that part of Hispaniola) became the most profitable French colony in the world.
Enslaved Africans waged a violent revolution against French colonizers that forced France to abolish slavery in 1794. Napoleon Bonaparte responded by invading San Dominique with the largest fleet then assembled and thousands of French soldiers. However, African resistance to the French invasion over the next 10 years was so fierce that Napoleon lost 50,000 soldiers, including 18 generals.
The Africans defeated the French invaders in 1804. The war also led Napoleon to negotiate the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, a land deal that brought what is now all or part of the states of Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Iowa, Colorado, Wyoming, Minnesota, the Dakotas and Montana into the United States.
Their successful revolt made Haiti the first Black republic, the only nation where enslaved people overthrew their oppressors, and the second nation in the Western Hemisphere (after the United States) to declare independence from its colonizers.
Their successful revolt made Haiti the first Black republic, the only nation where enslaved people overthrew their oppressors.
However, the United States refused to recognize Haiti until 1862. Politicians from pro-slavery states opposed recognizing and having a harmonious diplomatic relationship with a nation that had overthrown white enslavers. White Americans worried that the existence of Haiti challenged the slave-driven U.S. economy and would encourage slave revolts in the U.S.
Instead of being a good neighbor to Haiti, the United States sided with France and Britain in imposing an economic embargo against Haiti. The U.S. supported France in its demand that the government of Haiti pay reparations to the white enslavers covering the cost of land, the value of enslaved persons, livestock, commercial properties and services the enslavers claimed were lost due to the successful revolt. Even Haitian officials were assigned a monetary value — as former enslaved persons — which the French (with U.S. support) demanded be repaid. However, no reparations were paid by the enslavers to the formerly enslaved persons.
The U.S. sided with the French to force Haiti to take out a loan for 150 million gold francs with a designated French bank to cover the cost of “reparations” to French enslavers for the loss of their “property.” The value of that loan was 10 times that of Haiti’s total revenue in 1825 and twice the price the United States paid France for the Louisiana Purchase, which covered 74 times more land than Haiti.
In 1915, the United States invaded and began a military occupation of Haiti that lasted until 1934 — almost two decades. Over the years, the U.S. has supported insurrections against Haitian political leaders, propped up corrupt and ruthless Haitian leaders, sponsored the assassination or forced removal of Haitian leaders, and been complicit in fomenting greed and discord among Haitians. Also, Haiti — the most impoverished nation in the Western Hemisphere — has suffered earthquakes, hurricanes and other catastrophic natural disasters.
Now the U.S. refuses to welcome Haitians who seek asylum from atrocities, inequities, poverty, disease, catastrophic natural disasters, centuries of white supremacist-sponsored and financed internal strife, and other hardships. Instead, Border Patrol agents on horseback chased and brutalized asylum-seekers. In addition to that despicable conduct, the Biden administration has forced asylum-seeking Haitians onto planes and returned them to Haiti rather than process their petitions for asylum.
Haitians who trek across Central America to seek asylum in the United States are survivors of a failed state, gang violence, political turmoil (including the assassination of the most recent Haitian president), natural disasters and centuries of white supremacist schemes to punish Black people for overthrowing white enslavers. They have the right, under U.S. law, to seek asylum in this country. And they have the right to protection from abuse and oppression — in the United States — when they seek asylum.
What Haitian asylum seekers are now experiencing is the latest instance of more 200 years of white supremacy, brutality, greed, hypocrisy, disregard for the rights of Black, brown, indigenous and other people of color, and deliberate U.S. policy decisions. The suffering produced by those decisions, past and present, is worse than despicable. It is worse than outrageous. It is damnable.
No sensible person who believes in justice should expect a just God to bless a nation that behaves this way. A nation that mistreats vulnerable Haitians and other desperate people who seek asylum does not deserve to be blessed. That nation deserves to be damned as an enemy to God and justice.
It is time to say so.
Wendell Griffen is an Arkansas circuit judge and pastor of New Millennium Church in Little Rock, Ark.
We cannot now close our border to those fleeing the horror we helped create | Opinion by Chris Conley