Manne Charlemagne, Haiti's Iconic Troubadour: 1948-2017

By: Kim Ives - Haiti Liberte 

Joseph Emmanuel “Manno” Charlemagne, Haiti’s most beloved and
controversial folk singer, died in a Miami Beach hospital on Dec. 10
at the age of 69, after a struggle of several months with lung cancer
which had spread to his brain.

His rich baritone voice, trenchant lyrics, and graceful melodies
inspired the generation of Haitians which rose up against the
three-decade Duvalier dictatorship in 1986. Sometimes called the
Haitian Bob Marley or Bob Dylan, Manno’s huge popularity won him
Port-au-Prince’s mayor’s office in 1995, but his lyrical idealism soon
dashed against the rocks of Haiti’s difficult political realities, and
he was all but chased from that office. In recent years, he had
withdrawn from Haiti’s political scene, except for some ill-fated
sorties which he regretted.

Born on Apr. 14, 1948, Manno was raised mostly by his aunt in
Port-au-Prince’s Carrefour neighborhood and came of age under the
brutal dictatorship of François “Papa Doc” Duvalier, who rose to power
in 1957. Both his aunt and mother were singers. His father, whose
identity Manno only learned from his mother in 1985, was also a
musician. When Manno traveled to New York to finally meet him, he
learned his father had died two months earlier.

Manno, who said he was from Haiti’s “lumpen proletariat,”  started
playing guitar and singing at the age of 16, and in 1968, at age 20,
he launched a mini-djaz called Les Remarquables. But he soon moved in
the direction of the traditional twoubadou music, a form of Haitian
folk song, and launched the group Les Trouvères with singer Marco

After Papa Doc died in 1971, succeeded as “President-for-Life” by his
son, Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, a democracy movement began to
grow in Haiti. Manno wrote politically suggestive songs about the poor
and exploited, among whom he’d grown up, and the duo began to sing at
small underground events of students and intellectuals in the late
1970s. In May 1978, the duo played their angaje (politically engaged)
songs on the airwaves of journalist Jean Dominique’s Radio Haiti
Inter, championed by deejay and station manager Richard Brisson, who
in January 1982 would be captured and killed after a failed overthrow
attempt against Duvalier.

The duo became a sensation, and later that year, musicologist Raoul
Dénis recorded their songs which were released in an album entitled
simply “Manno et Marco” by Marc Records in New York. Over the next
eight years, until Baby Doc’s overthrow on Feb. 7, 1986, the album
became the soundtrack for the pro-democracy movement both in Haiti and
its diaspora.

In 1980, the Duvalier regime stepped up its repression of democracy
activists. Manno slipped out of a concert and sought exile in the U.S.
on Jul. 4. While in Boston and New York for most of the next six
years, he became  a fixture at anti-Duvalierist rallies and marches.
Along with composer Nikol Levy, he composed much of the music for
Haiti Films’ 1983 documentary Bitter Cane, which also helped propel
the anti-Duvalierist movement and Manno’s renown.

During this time, he released his first solo albums, Konviksyon (1984)
and Fini les Colonies! (1985) to worldwide acclaim.

After Duvalier’s 1986 fall, Manno returned to Haiti and became one of
the most prominent artistic and political voices of the emerging
pro-democracy lavalas movement, which brought President Jean-Bertrand
Aristide to power in February 1991. In 1990, Manno had released the
album Òganizasyon Mondyal, which cemented his fame as Haiti’s
preeminent anti-imperialist singer.

A Washington-backed coup d’état in September 1991 sent Aristide into
exile, and Haitian police arrested Manno at his home on Oct. 11. After
Hollywood stars and Amnesty International protested, he was released a
week later. Manno eventually sought refuge in Argentina’s Embassy,
where a human rights delegation, headed by former U.S. Attorney
General Ramsey Clark, met him in December 1991 (as depicted in the
1992 documentary Killing the Dream by Crowing Rooster Arts, which
played nationally in the U.S. on PBS). After the delegation raised
$3,000 for his release from the country, Manno was accorded safe
passage to the airport and flew once again into exile in January 1992.

During the next three years of his and Aristide’s exile, Manno
traveled the world playing at demonstrations, fundraisers, and
political rallies. When he returned to Haiti in 1994, he successfully
ran in 1995 for mayor of Port-au-Prince against Evans Paul, a former
ally who had indirectly supported the 1991 coup.

Once in Haiti’s third most important executive office (after President
and Prime Minister), Manno, who had just months earlier publicly
declared himself a Communist, faced many of the intractable problems
of corruption, violence, and chaos that confront any Haitian
politician. Although once allies, he ended up at odds with both
Aristide and President René Préval. When Manno’s gun-toting deputies
brutally evicted illegal vendors (mostly market women) from
Port-au-Prince’s central Champ-de-Mars square, it evoked particular
consternation among even his most loyal supporters. He finally stepped
down from the office in 1999, a few months before the end of his term.

Manno moved to Miami and dropped from view for about two years, but
then in 2002, he began playing twice a week at Tap Tap Restaurant in
South Beach with Richard Laguerre (bass guitar), Damas Jean-François
(electric guitar), and Jocelyn Egourdet (tenor sax). The new band’s
music was released on CD as Manno at Tap Tap (Crowing Rooster Arts,
2004), and the band often played to a packed house over the next 15

Following the 2004 coup d’état against Aristide (then serving a second
term), Manno again spoke out against the coup but also made several
provocatively critical remarks about Aristide (then exiled in South
Africa) on Haitian radio (as was his wont), which earned him the ire
of the anti-coup Lavalas masses.

Manno continued to visit Haiti, mostly to form youth chorales in
remote corners of the Haitian countryside, like Camp Perrin and
Pignon. The sting and humiliation of his political failure and his
naturally provocative style caused him to occasionally make
intemperate declarations on Haitian radios, which added to his
political marginalization.

But it was the rise of neo-Duvalierist politician Michel Martelly
which did the most damage to Manno’s reputation. Although he had been
a member of the Duvalierist paramilitary force, the Tontons Macoute,
Martelly, who also grew up in Carrefour, had known and admired Manno
as a youth. When he became Haiti’s President in 2010, Martelly courted
Manno, giving him an office and a salary as an “advisor” in the
National Palace. Citing outrageous corruption, Manno eventually quit
the job but remained on cordial terms with his “friend” and fellow
musician “Sweet Micky” Martelly, even as popular rage against the
latter grew.

Following controversial October 2015 elections, Manno agreed to serve
on an investigative commission convened by Martelly, although it was
generally viewed as a rubber-stamp body.

Following that final foray into politics, which provoked great dismay
among many, he returned to Miami, where he resumed his biweekly
performances at Tap Tap.

Last year, Manno was diagnosed with and began treatment for a fungal
lung infection, which affects many Haitians who’ve had tuberculosis.
He visited Haiti in the summer, during which time President Jovenel
Moïse’s officials tried to entice him, with money and favors, to
participate in the government’s “Caravan for Change,” a sort of
traveling political circus. Manno refused.

In late July, Manno began to have dizzy spells and speech problems.
Fearing a stroke, he quickly returned to Mt. Sinai Hospital in Miami
Beach, where doctors found a huge malignant tumor in his brain which
had mestastacized from cancer in his lungs. On Jul. 31, he underwent a
successful 10-hour operation to remove most of the tumor, but it was
followed by grueling radiation and chemotherapy sessions, which left
him weak. In early November, Manno suffered several seizures and
strokes, which sent him first back to Mt. Sinai Medical Center, and
then, briefly, the Miami Jewish Health Systems nursing home in Miami’s
Little Haiti. Just after Thanksgiving, he developed a high fever and
was rushed from the nursing home to Mt. Sinai, where they discovered
he had a pulmonary embolism. Doctors were unable to dissolve it, and
the cancer in his lungs and brain continued its inexorable march.

In his final days, surrounded by a half-sister, former wife, two sons,
a daughter, and occasional visitors from Tap Tap, Manno slipped in and
out of consciousness. When a journalist from Haïti Liberté visited his
bedside on the evening of Dec. 6, Manno suffered from tremors and had
difficulty speaking and controlling his movements, but was lucid and
humorous reminiscing about old times. “You wouldn’t understand what
we’re talking about,” he said, turning to his son, Ti Manno, who was
also in the room. “That was before you were born.”

In the final three days of his life, he was mostly unconscious, with
the hospital providing only palliative care: an oxygen mask and heavy
doses of morphine to ease his pain.

He finally died shortly after 4:00 a.m. on Sun., Dec. 10. Although
expected, the news of his death sent a shock-wave through Haitian
communities for which Manno had been a symbol of resistance to the
Duvalier dictatorship, and an authentic voice and representative of
Haitian popular culture, critical of U.S. imperialism and its misdeeds
both in Haiti and around the world.

There are several books about the musician, including Manno
Charlemagne: 30 Years of Songs published by Fondation Connaissance &
Liberté (FOKAL, 2006) , and Nicole Augereau’s graphic comic book Quand
viennent les bêtes sauvages published in 2016. Among the films about
him are Frantz Voltaire’s Konviksyon (2011) and Dans La Gueule du
Crocodile (1998) by Canadians  Catherine Larivain and Lucie Ouimet.
The last album of his music, entitled Les Inédits de Manno Charlemagne
(The Unpublished Songs of Manno Charlemagne), was released in 2006.

After a private viewing for his family, there will be a public viewing
of Manno’s body on Thu., Dec. 14 at 5:30 p.m. at Notre Dame d’Haïti
Catholic Church on 62nd Street in Miami’s Little Haiti. Although Manno
was a devout atheist, there will then be a funeral mass at 7:30 p.m..
His body will be flown to Haiti on Sat., Dec. 16 and exposed on Tue.,
Dec. 19 at the Museum of the Haitian National Pantheon (MUPANAH) on
Port-au-Prince’s Champ-de-Mars. The funeral is scheduled to take place
on Fri., Dec. 22.

Meanwhile, in Brooklyn, the community group KAKOLA and Haïti Liberté
are organizing a traditional veye patriyotik (patriotic wake) to pay
homage to Manno on Fri., Dec. 15 from 7-11 p.m. at Haïti Liberté, 1583
Albany Avenue, Brooklyn, NY. At the same time in Miami, former
friends, comrades, and associates will be holding a similar tribute at
the Little Haiti Cultural Center on NE 2nd Avenue.

Although his final years were compromised by political missteps,
unseemly associations,  and outbursts, Manno Charlemagne earned a
permanent place in the hearts and memories of the Haitian people for
his revolutionary, anti-imperialist, and pro-democracy songs of the
1970s, 80s, and 90s.

To give a taste of his genius and to what he dedicated his life and
art, it is fitting to close his obituary with his own words, extracted
from two classics, Fini le colonies in French, and Konviksyon in

Tu me prends tout, tu me prends tout, pour deux sous,
Toujours faudrait dire merci à genoux,
Tu m’as eu, tu m’as eu, tu m’auras plus,
C’est fini les colonies, fini le temps de mépris.
Ça va changer un jour, ça va changer bientôt, ça va changer un jour!

You take everything me, you take everything me, for two cents,
I must always say thank you on my knees,
You got me, you got me, you’ll get me more,
It’s over, the colonies, no longer the time of contempt.
It will change one day, it will change soon, it will change one day!


Se konviksyon w ki pou kenbe w
Sa li ka fè w reyalize kòm malere
Tout vye chimen velekete
Se lite tout bon pou lite pou sa chanje

It’s your conviction that has to sustain you
That can allow you achieve to something as a poor person
On all the old treacherous roads
One must really struggle for things to change.

State Department could be paving way to deport 50,000 Haitians by Thanksgiving

Miami Herald - Staff Reports
A letter from the U.S. State Department could pave the way for deporting 50,000 Haitian residents enjoying a reprieve from certain immigration rules that were waived after the 2010 earthquake, the Washington Post reported Friday.

The ruling that conditions have improved enough in Haiti and in Central America to resume normal immigration rules in those regions comes days before the Department of Homeland Security is expected to announce whether to renew the special status. Political leaders in Miami-Dade, home to the largest concentration of Haitians protected by the special status, have urged President Donald Trump to continue the waiver. But the State Department decision could be a prelude to that status being lifted.

More than 300,000 Central Americans and Haitians living in the United States under a form of temporary permission no longer need to be shielded from deportation, the State Department told Homeland Security officials this week, the Post reported.

On Tuesday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson sent a letter to acting DHS secretary Elaine Duke to inform her that conditions in Central America and Haiti that had been used to justify the protection no longer necessitate a reprieve for the migrants, some of whom have been allowed to live and work in the United States for 20 years under a program known as Temporary Protected Status (TPS).

Tillerson’s assessment, required by law, has not been made public, but its recommendations were confirmed by several administration officials familiar with its contents. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity.

DHS has until Monday to announce its plans for roughly 57,000 Hondurans and 2,500 Nicaraguans whose TPS protections will expire in early January. Although most arrived here illegally, they were exempted from deportation after Hurricane Mitch devastated Central America in 1998. Their TPS protections have been renewed routinely since then, in some cases following additional natural disasters and resulting insecurity.

DHS must also decide what to do with about 50,000 Haitian TPS recipients by Thanksgiving Day. The Haitians, who are concentrated in South Florida, received TPS after the 2010 earthquake that killed 200,000.

Congress established TPS in 1990 to protect foreign nationals from being returned to their countries amid instability and precarious conditions caused by natural disasters or armed conflict.

Trump administration officials have repeatedly noted that the program was meant to be temporary — not a way for people to become long-term residents of the United States. Officials said that long-ago disasters should not be used to extend provisional immigration status when the initial justification for it no longer exists.

Tillerson’s assessment is consistent with broader administration efforts to reduce immigration to the United States and comply with legal restrictions that it maintains have been loosely enforced in the past.

“It is fair to say that this administration is interpreting the law, exactly as it is, which the previous one did not,” an administration official said.

The official acknowledged that the countries in question continue to suffer from problems of poverty, corruption and violence that, in many cases, have spurred illegal migration. But, the official said, those conditions should be addressed in other ways.

“The solution is going to require working with Congress and these countries,” the official said. “We are equally committed to finding that. There is no lack of empathy here.”

But “with this particular law,” the official said, “it is very clear to this administration what needs to be done.”

Administration officials have also said that the return of tens of thousands of migrants could benefit the Central American nations and Haiti, because their citizens will return with job skills, democratic values and personal savings acquired from living long-term in the United States.

Many of the immigrants have homes, businesses and U.S.-born children, but if the protections expire, they could be subject to arrest and deportation. “We understand this is a very difficult decision,” the administration official said.

DHS officials declined to say Friday what the agency planned to do, or when an announcement would be made.

“The acting secretary has made no decision on TPS,” said Tyler Houlton, a spokesman for the agency.

Tillerson’s letter does not amount to a recommendation. But DHS is required to seek the agency’s input, and officials said the State Department’s position carries significant weight.

The largest group of TPS recipients — about 200,000 — are from El Salvador, and DHS has until early January to announce its plans for them. At least 30,000 of them live in the Washington area, according to immigrant advocacy groups.

When the Obama administration last extended TPS for the Salvadorans, in July 2016, it said that they were eligible because conditions justifying it continued to be met.

“There continues to be a substantial, but temporary, disruption of living conditions in El Salvador resulting from a series of earthquakes in 2001,” Homeland Security officials said at the time, “and El Salvador remains unable, temporarily, to handle adequately the return of its nationals.”

Advocates say removing TPS would be a cruel blow to long-standing, law-abiding immigrants, forcing them to decide between remaining in the country illegally or leaving their homes and families. According to a recent study by the left-leaning Center for American Progress, TPS recipients have nearly 275,000 U.S.-born children.

If recipients lose their protections but defy orders to leave, it would not be difficult for immigration enforcement agents to find them. The provisional nature of their status requires them to maintain current records with DHS; the agency has their addresses, phone numbers and other personal information.

“Terminating TPS at this time would be inhumane and untenable,” a group of Catholic charity leaders wrote to Duke in a recent letter, arguing it would “needlessly add large numbers of Hondurans and Salvadorans to the undocumented population in the U.S., lead to family separation, and unnecessarily cause the Department of Homeland Security to expend resources on individuals who are already registered with our government and whose safe return is forestalled by dire humanitarian circumstances.”

If DHS ends the TPS protections, it is expected to grant recipients a grace period of at least six months or more to give them time to prepare for departure.

In May, then-DHS Secretary John Kelly extended TPS for Haitians for six months, far less than the 18-month waivers granted by the Obama administration.

Kelly, in a statement at the time, called the six-month window a “limited” extension whose purpose was to “allow Haitian TPS recipients living in the United States time to attain travel documents and make other necessary arrangements for their ultimate departure from the United States.”

Haiti is the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country and remains gripped by a cholera epidemic triggered by United Nations troops who were sent after the earthquake.

Advocates of reduced immigration say the Haiti decision will be a key test of the administration’s willingness to follow through on its by-the-books rhetoric.

Immigration experts believe many of the Haitians could attempt to seek refuge in Canada, particularly French-speaking Quebec, to avoid arrest and deportation.

Miami Herald staff writer Douglas Hanks contributed to this report.

Statement of the Network for the Critical Study of Global Capitalism on the U.S. Blockage of Cuba

The Network for the Critical Study of Global Capitalism (NCSGC) held its Fourth Biannual Conference in Havana, Cuba on November 1-3 of 2017. The NCSGC wishes to thank our Cuban hosts and our co-sponsors from the Asociación de Historiadores Latinoamericanos y del Caribe (Association of Historians from Latin America and the Caribbean).

In these times of renewed U.S. aggression towards the Cuban people and their government, the NCSGC wishes to express its friendship and solidarity with the people and the government of Cuba. We demand that the U.S. government immediately lift its illegal economic, financial, and commercial blockage of Cuba. We add our voices to those of the 191 nations that on November 1 voted in the United Nations to condemn the blockage as a violation of international law.

Havana, Cuba
3 November 2017

Declaración de la Network for the Critical Study of Global Capitalism (Red para el Estudio Crítico del Capitalismo Global) Sobre el Bloqueo Norteamericano contra Cuba

La Network for the Critical Study of Global Capitalismo (NCSGC, Red para el Estudio Crítico del Capitalismo Global) realizó su 4ra Conferencia Bianual en La Habana, Cuba, entre el 1 y el 3 de noviembre de 2017. La NCSGC desea agradecer a nuestros anfitriones Cubanos y nuestros co-patronizadores de la Asociación de Historiadores Latinoamericanos y del Caribe.

En estos momentos de renovada agresión norteamericana contra el pueblo y el gobierno de Cuba, la NCSGC desea expresar nuestra amistad y solidaridad con el pueblo y el gobierno de Cuba. Exigimos que el gobierno norteamericano levante de inmediato, el ilegal bloqueo económico, financiero y comercial contra Cuba. Sumamos nuestras voces a las de las 191 naciones que el pasado 1 de noviembre en la Organización de las Naciones Unidas condenaron dicho bloqueo como una violación de la ley internacional.

La Habana, Cuba
3 de noviembre de

How the U.S. Crippled Haiti's Domestic Rice Production

By: Leslie Mullin - Haiti Solidarity 
We are all living under a system so corrupt that to ask for a plate of rice and beans every day for every man, woman and child is to preach revolution– Jean Bertrand Aristide, Dignity 1990.
    The basic right to eat is at the very heart of Haiti’s struggle for democracy.  Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the radical voice of Haiti’s poor, aptly characterized slavery when he wrote, “The role of slaves was to harvest coconuts, and the role of colonists was to eat the coconuts.” [i]To Aristide, those who have food and those who don’t marks the vast chasm separating Haiti’s wealthy elite from millions of impoverished citizens:
The rich of my country, a tiny percentage of our population, sit at a vast table covered in white damask and overflowing with good food, while the rest of my countrymen and countrywomen are crowded under that table, hunched over in the dirt and starving. It is a violent situation, and one day the people under that table will rise up in righteousness, and knock the table of privilege over, and take what rightfully belongs to them.[ii]
It’s no wonder that Haiti’s most popular party, Fanmi Lavalas, chose the image of Haitian people seated around a dining table as its emblem, signifying the overthrow of privilege and the right of every Haitian to share the nation’s wealth. This is not mere symbolism. In its 1990 program, the Lavalasparty recognized the right to eat as one of three basic principles, along with the right to work and the right of the impoverished masses to demand what is owed them.[iii]In a very concrete way, Aristide, Haiti’s first democratically elected president, illustrated this commitment on the day of his February 7th, 1991 inauguration, when he invited several hundred street children to join him for breakfast in the Palace garden.
Haiti’s hunger crisis is no accident – it is the direct result of US economic policies imposed on rural Haiti beginning in the 1980s. The story of how the US undermined Haiti’s domestic rice industry explains why a nation of farmers can no longer feed itself.

The Story of Rice     The story of Haitian rice begins in Africa, where rice has sustained African peoples for centuries.  Rice was so basic to the West African diet that it was an essential provision on slave ships, accompanying captive Africans to Brazil, the Caribbean and the southern United States.[iv]Today, testament to 10 million souls kidnapped from their homeland, every region touched by the African diaspora has its own unique version of rice and beans. [v]
Rice cultivation in the United States is deeply rooted in slavery. Black Rice author Judith Carney writes, “Few Americans identify slavery with the cultivation of rice, yet rice was a major plantation crop during the first three centuries of settlement in the Americas… By the middle of the eighteenth century, rice plantations in South Carolina and the black slaves who worked them had created one of the most profitable economies in the world.” [vi]European settlers knew nothing about the complexities of growing, harvesting and threshing rice. But enslaved Africans did.A basic staple of the Haitian diet, rice has been cultivated in Haiti since its 1804 independence. Until the 1980s, Haitian farmers produced most of the rice consumed in Haiti. Under the US-backed dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier and the brutal military regimes that followed, domestic rice cultivation began to plummet. In the space of a few decades, Haiti became the world’s fourth largest market for American rice. By 2004, the value of US rice exports to Haiti amounted to $80 million. How this colossal tragedy came about is a story of foreign intervention, government corruption, and corporate greed backed by ruthless repression.
1984: Growth of US Food Aid Undercuts Haitian FarmersFood aid played a key role in undermining Haiti’s domestic rice production. President Aristide observed, “What good does it do the peasant when the pastor feeds his children? For one night, he is grateful to the pastor, because that night he does not have to hear the whimpers of his children, starving. But the same free foreign rice the pastor feeds the peasant’s children is being sold on the market for less than the farmer’s own produce. The very food that the pastor feeds the peasant’s children is keeping the peasant in poverty, unable himself to feed his children.” [vii]
Ronald Reagan’s 1984 Caribbean Basin Initiative prompted a major increase in US food aid to Haiti. In 1984, Haiti received $11 million in food aid; from 1985-1988, Haiti received $54 million in food aid.[viii]The Caribbean Basin Initiative called for integrating Haiti into the global market by redirecting 30% of Haiti’s domestic food production towards export crops, a plan that USAID experts systematically carried out. The United States fully recognized that this would lead to widespread hunger in rural Haiti, as peasant land was converted to grow food for foreigners. Food aid was supposed to compensate rural Haitians for this attack on their livelihood.[ix]Food aid benefits the big American companies who grow and transport it, but wrecks local economies. As cheap American food undersold Haitian farmers’ produce, domestic agriculture became even less sustainable. In effect, food aid created a dependence on foreign imports.
How was the United States able to impose its will on rural Haiti? At the time, Jean-Claude Duvalier, the son of Haiti’s infamous dictator, Francois Duvalier, ruled Haiti. Like his father, the younger Duvalier held onto power by controlling Haiti’s repressive security forces. He received millions in US aid intended to maintain US influence in the Caribbean as a bulwark against Cuba. The Reagan administration conditioned US aid on Duvalier’s support for the plan to restructure Haiti’s economy. Thus began the most massive foreign intervention in Haiti since the 1915-1934 American occupation.
1986: The Game is Rigged - Miami Rice Invades Haiti“We cannot sell our rice…rice is coming in from Miami, and now we cannot live," said Emanuel Georges, manning the barricade at L'Estere. LA Times, Dec 21, 1986 In February 1986, a popular uprising forced Baby-Doc Duvalier out of power. After he fled Haiti, raiding the treasury as he left, a military junta headed by General Henri Namphy took power. Predictably, the United States aligned with the junta and intensified measures to restructure Haiti’s economy. In 1987, Namphy received IMF loans valued at $24.6 million in exchange for agreeing to slash rice tariffs from 150% to 50%,[x]the lowest in the Caribbean.[xi]He opened all of Haiti’s ports to commercial activity[xii]and agreed to stop what little support the government had offered Haitian farmers. Meanwhile, Haiti’s military elite saw an opportunity to make a profit smuggling American rice.
In the United States, the passage of the 1985 Farm Bill significantly boosted subsidies to American rice growers. By 1987, 40% of American rice growers’ profits came from the government.[xiii]Heavily subsidized American rice could sell at prices far below the market value of Haitian rice. Haitian farmers never stood a chance against this unfair competition.
In Haiti, imported American rice is called “Miami rice” because it is shipped from Miami in sacks stamped “Miami, FLA.” By December 1987, Haiti’s rice production had shrunk to 75% of Haitian needs.[xiv]Outraged Haitian peasants barricaded highways and ports for three months to protest the cheap American rice that had begun to flood Haitian markets. They attacked truckloads of Miami rice with machetes, picks and clubs, dumping rice onto the earth.
The late Fr. Gerard Jean-Juste, a Haitian priest and human rights advocate, later recalled this era: "In the 1980s, imported rice poured into Haiti, below the cost of what our farmers could produce it. Farmers lost their businesses. People from the countryside started losing their jobs and moving to the cities. After a few years of cheap imported rice, local production went way down." [xv]
1990: Democracy Brings HopeBy 1990, the year Fr. Jean Bertrand Aristide was elected President in Haiti’s first democratic election, US rice imports outpaced domestic production.[xvi]Aristide was the candidate of Haiti’s popular movement Lavalas. He won with 67% of the vote. His February 1991 inauguration marked a victory for Haiti’s poor majority after decades of Duvalier family dictatorships and military rule, signaling participation of the poor in a new social order. The new administration began to implement programs in adult literacy, health care, and land redistribution; lobbied for a minimum wage hike; and proposed new roads and infrastructure. Aristide enforced taxes on the wealthy, and dissolved the rural section chief infrastructure that empowered the paramilitary force known as Tonton Macoute. He closed Fort Dimanche, the dreaded Duvalier-era torture center.[xvii]The Aristide government met with a large coalition of farmers’ associations and unions and proposed buying all Haitian-grown rice in order to stabilize the price, limiting rice imports during periods between harvests.
1992: American Rice Inc Profits from Haiti’s Bloody CoupJust seven months after his inauguration, President Aristide and the democratic government were overthrown in a bloody military coup led by General Raoul Cedras. Trained in the United States and funded by the CIA, Cedras commanded the Haitian Army. His regime unleashed the collective violence of Haiti’s repressive forces against its own people. From 1991-1994, nearly five thousand Lavalas activists and supporters of the constitutional government were massacred; many others were savagely tortured and imprisoned. Rape as a political weapon was widespread. Three hundred thousand Haitians were driven into hiding, while tens of thousands fled the country.
Around the world and in the United States, there was a massive outcry demanding the restoration of democracy and the return of President Aristide. Aside from the Vatican, few governments recognized the illegal Cedras regime, widely condemned for its sweeping human-rights abuses. This did not stop American Rice Inc from collaborating with the ruthless military regime to turn a profit. In September 1992, barely a year after the coup, American Rice Inc negotiated a nine-year contract with the illegal Haitian government, importing American rice under its newly formed Rice Corporation of Haiti. [xviii]
American Rice Inc is a subsidiary of Erly Industries, a powerful international agribusiness. The company holds an almost monopolistic position in Haiti’s rice market. [xix]In the 1980’s American Rice Inc imported rice under its brand Comet Rice, which constituted much of the Miami rice that ravaged Haitian rice production at the time.[xx]
In the 1990s, American Rice Inc supplemented its profits in “legal” rice imports by smuggling rice to avoid paying import taxes. Lawrence Theriot, the Washington lobbyist for American Rice Inc, was a former director of Reagan’s Caribbean Basin Initiative. He had powerful friends in Washington, DC like Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms (R-NC). In March 2000, the Haitian government fined the company $1.4 million for evading Haiti’s customs duties. Jesse Helms retaliated by withholding $30 million in US aid, and denying high-ranking Haitian officials visas to enter the United States. The American Securities & Exchange Commission later found Theriot and two other American Rice Inc executives guilty of corrupt foreign practices for smuggling rice into Haiti.
Bill Clinton’s Crocodile Tears“The dilemma is, I believe, the classic dilemma of the poor; a choice between death and death. Either we enter a global economic system, in which we know we cannot survive, or, we refuse, and face death by slow starvation. With choices like these the urgency of finding a third way is clear. We must find some room to maneuver, some open space simply to survive.” – Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Eyes of the Heart, 2000
Bill Clinton’s 1992 election took place during Haiti’s repressive Cedras regime, when President Aristide lived in exile in the United States. After Haiti’s 2010 earthquake, Clinton famously apologized for forcing Haiti to lower its rice tariffs during his administration. He acknowledged that he helped big Arkansas agro-businesses reap profits at the expense of Haiti’s rice farmers. But Clinton left a lot out of the story.
Clinton posed as mediator between the coup leaders and President Aristide to negotiate the return of Haiti’s democratically elected government. He took advantage of this role to use the threat of continued repression as a bargaining chip. While the US stalled, demanding more and more economic concessions - displaying not-so-covert support for Haiti’s military regime - the junta continued murdering supporters of the constitutional government. Within this coerced context, Aristide resisted the US neoliberal plan. He insisted that discussions demanded by the financial institutions for the proposed sales of state-owned enterprises include benefits for the poor – opportunities for co-ownership, funding for health and education, reparations to the victims of the coup.[xxi] Aristide would later refuse to move forward with privatization, disband the Haitian military over strong US objections, raise the minimum wage and bring paramilitary leaders charged with extra-judicial killings to justice.[xxii]
By the time President Aristide returned to Haiti, the collapse of the country’s rice production was a fait accompli, victim of a long and deliberate US campaign waged against Haitian farmers in collusion with successive Haitian dictators and military regimes. Imported Miami rice constituted 80% of Haiti’s domestic consumption.  Rice smuggling was common, enabled by the corrupt Cedras regime, which accepted bribes instead of enforcing tariffs.[xxiii]
Nothing changed after Clinton’s apology either. Haiti’s 2010 earthquake became yet another business opportunity for foreign corporations to overrun Haiti’s economy, while food aid, callously tossed off trucks to desperate Haitians, meant more revenue for US corporations. Nor should we let Clinton off the hook for forcibly repatriating thousands of Haitian “boat people” fleeing tyranny under the junta, and intercepting 12,000 other refugees who were illegally imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay.
Democracy and Reparations There are two opposing visions of Haiti’s future – one projected by Fanmi Lavalasbenefits the poor majority; the other imposed by the United States and wealthy foreign nations enriches international corporations and the Haitian elite. What is clear is that Haiti’s people must prevail over foreign profits and the wealthy elite. This means real democracy and respect for Haitian sovereignty.

Democracy asks us to put the needs and rights of people at the center of our endeavors. This means investing in people. In investing in people means first of all food, clean water, education and health care. These are basic human rights. It is the challenge of any real democracy to guarantee them– Jean-Bertrand Aristide

References[i]Aristide, Jean-Bertrand. Haiti-Haitii? Philosophical Reflections for Mental Decolonization. Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, 2011, p37. [ii]Aristide, Jean-Bertrand. Dignity. Charlottesville & London: University Press of Virginia, 1996, p9. [iii]Sprague, Jeb. Paramilitarism and the Assault on Democracy in Haiti. New York: Monthly Review Press, 2012, p57. [iv]Harris, Jessica B. Iron Pots & Wooden Spoons: Africa’s Gifts to New World Cooking. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1999, p31.
[v]Hess, Karen. The Carolina Rice Kitchen; The African Connection. Columbia, So Carolina: University of South Carolina Press, 1992, p. 95
[vi]Carney, Judith A. Black Rice: The African Origins of Rice Cultivation in the Americas. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002. [vii]Aristide, Jean-Bertrand. In the Parish of the Poor: Writings from Haiti. New York: Orbis Books, 1990, p67. [viii]DeWind, Josh and Kinley III, David H. Aiding Migration: The Impact of International Development Assistance on Haiti. Boulder and London: Westview Press, 1988, p98. [ix]DeWind, p77, p98
[x]Emersberger, Joe. Kicking Away the Ladder in Haiti. [web page]. Telesur, February 20, 2015. http://www.telesurtv.net/english/opinion/Kicking-Away-the-Ladder-in-Haiti-20150220-0027.html
[xi]Gros, Jean-Germaine. Indigestible Recipe: Rice, Chicken Wings, and International Financial Institutions: Or Hunger Politics in Haiti. SAGE Publications, Inc: Journal of Black Studies, Vol 40, No 5 [May 2010], p981.
[xii]Wilentz, Amy. The Rainy Season: Haiti Since Duvalier. New York: Simon and Schuster,  1989 p279
[xiii]Aristide, Jean-Bertrand. Eyes of the Heart: Seeking a Path for the Poor in the Age of Globalization.  Laura Flynn, ed. Monroe, ME. Common Courage Press, 2000, p12. [xiv]Chavla, Leah. Council on Hemispheric Affairs [COHA]. Haiti Research File. Bill Clinton’s Heavy Hand on Haiti’s Vulnerable Agricultural Economy: The American Rice Scandal [web page]. April 3, 2010. http://www.coha.org/haiti-research-file-neoliberalism%E2%80%99s-heavy-hand-on-haiti%E2%80%99s-vulnerable-agricultural-economy-the-american-rice-scandal/ [xv]Quigley, Bill. The U.S. Role in Haiti’s Food Riots [web page]. Counterpunch. April 21, 2008. https://www.counterpunch.org/2008/04/21/the-u-s-role-in-haiti-s-food-riots/ [xvi]Georges, Josiane. Trade and the Disappearance of Haitian Rice [web page]. Ted Case Studies Number 725, June 2004. http://archive.is/20130830194250/www1.american.edu/TED/haitirice.htm [xvii]Stotzky, Irwin P. Silencing the Guns in Haiti: The Promise of Deliberative Democracy. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 1997, p28.
[xviii]Chavla, Leah. COHA.
[xix]Georges, Josiane. Ted Case Studies.
[xx]Corbett, Bob. Washington Office on Haiti: Special Issue Report. Rice Corporation of Haiti [web page]. November 1, 1995. [xxi]Aristide, Jean-Bertrand. Eyes of the Heart, p31-32.
[xxii]Myths About Haiti, by Haiti Action Committee, October 2001.
[xxiii]Sprague, p77.

After the Hurricane(s)

By: Kevin Edmonds - NACLA

Last week, a barrage of hurricanes hit the Caribbean with a frequency unrivaled in modern history. Hurricane Irma was the largest, causing the most damage to the Leeward Islands and Greater Antilles, particularly Antigua, Barbuda, Cuba, Haiti and the Virgin Islands.

After the hurricane, the media—disappointingly but unsurprisingly—crafted hyperbolic, racist headlines contrasting descriptions of the tourists as the real victims of the hurricane with locals characterized as a second life-threatening obstacle that had to be overcome. One British paper reported that “hungry locals on the islands have even started fighting each other for food and there have been reports of looters raiding hotel rooms to profit from the disaster. Tourists have broken down in tears as they have eventually been able to leave the islands devastated by the hurricane.” Several media reports upped the intensity, stating that St. Martin was “on the verge of civil war” after the hurricane passed. The reality was that people were just trying to get their hands on what they needed to survive.
Just as in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, we are seeing is a man-made disaster unfolding along several dimensions. While the media coverage of the hurricanes finally prompted many to admit for the first time that the climate change does exist and is the most visible culprit for explaining them, the seeds of this destruction have been cultivated over the past thirty years.

While it doesn’t make for catchy headlines, the reality is that as the Caribbean has been hit by stronger and stronger storms in recent decades, while state capacity to respond to natural disasters has diminished due to increased levels of debt, reduced government revenue and lower development aid. This has led to skyrocketing rates of food insecurity, poverty, and unemployment. On their own, the Caribbean cannot adapt fast enough to face the relentless destruction brought about when climate change is thrown into the mix.

This multitude of systemic challenges led to one of the region’s leading intellectuals, the late Norman Girvan, to remark in 2010 that the Caribbean faces “existential threats” on a number of fronts. Girvan went on to state that “30 years ago, one expected to deal with major disasters of this kind, say, once every ten years. Nowadays, most islands expect at least one, and possibly two or three, every year. In other words, this now has to be seen as a permanent, recurring phenomenon or integral feature of Caribbean development.”

The increase in natural disasters in both frequency and intensity is evident in Haiti, devastated by Hurricane Matthew in 2010, which left over 1,000 people dead, 55,000 homeless and an estimated 80 percent of food crops destroyed. The storm decimated critical infrastructure, leaving Haiti with no other option than to descend deeper into debt. After international politicians and NGOs collected and fraudulently diverted billions of dollars for relief efforts from their intended use, Haiti took out loans from the International Monetary Fund. To make matters even worse, Hurricane Matthew contaminated water sources across the island, triggering a spike in the cholera epidemic that Haiti has been fighting since its introduction by United Nations troops in 2010.

Beyond the destruction wrought by hurricanes, the region has faced a seemingly contradictory mix of both droughts and extreme hurricanes. These extreme variations in weather have wreaked havoc across the region. It has become increasingly vulnerable to water shortages, making sustaining agricultural and tourism industries nearly impossible.

The Other Side of Paradise: A Tale of “Riches to Rags”

Meanwhile, the region’s dependency on an unsustainable model of tourism is becoming increasingly visible. Tourism has now become the main economic engine of the region, providing much-needed employment and government revenue – and in many instances, but often at the expense of much needed diversification in other sectors. In Antigua and Barbuda, tourism contributed 60 percent to GDP in 2016. Given that tourism is an incredibly vulnerable industry, Caribbean economies have been restructured to balance on a knife’s edge.

Over the past 30 years, the Caribbean has been transformed from an agricultural producer with comparatively healthy domestic economies, to an archipelago of predominately foreign-owned all-inclusive resorts and offshore tax havens, in what has been called a tale of “riches to rags.” Decades of trade liberalization, structural adjustment policies, and the consequent economic crisis have destroyed the agricultural industry that was once the lifeline of so many islands. Alongside low and stagnant growth across the Caribbean, in combination with rising food prices, in 2014 the region now has an annual food import bill of $4.5 billion.

On social media, tourists and reporters covering the aftermath of the storm were alarmed that local people across the affected islands entered hotels for food and water in order to survive. But to those from the region, it was common sense. Water rationing has become commonplace across the Caribbean, as reservoirs are at record lows—and hotels supply bottled water to tourists.

Fueled by a mix of imported food, drinks and cheap, disposable labor where locals serve tourists in resorts as variations of domestic servants, from driver, chef, maid or security guard, the region’s economy has become overly dependent on an industry that is largely disconnected from the majority of the local people, and does not bring meaningful economic development.

According to the United Nations Environment Programme, the Caribbean leads the world in tourism “leakage”—meaning an estimated 80 percent of money spent by tourists ends up leaving the region via foreign-owned hotels, operators, airlines, imported food and drinks, and the like. A lack of regulation discourages the creation of much needed linkages with the local economy, for example through jobs for farmers, food processors, and artisans.

A 2015 survey of nearly 2,000 visitors to all-inclusive resorts in the Caribbean revealed that less than 20 percent had left the resort in order to patronize local restaurants, bars, or attractions. Combined with the fact that multinational corporations force islands into cutthroat competition with each other, resulting in resorts receiving 25-year tax holidays, all-inclusive resorts have had a negative impact on local economies.

The unhealthy dependency on tourism means that heavily damaged islands like Barbuda will take a double hit. Resorts will be closed for peak tourism season, leaving many unemployed and unable to reconstruct their homes. Once tourists have evacuated and the camera crews disappear, the Caribbean will be left alone once again to patch up the damage before the next “storm of the century” rolls up again, all too soon.

A 2008 report from Tufts University on climate change and the Caribbean stated that the combination of increased hurricane damages, loss of tourism revenue, and infrastructure damages will cost the region $22 billion annually by 2050—10 percent of the current Caribbean economy— and $46 billion by 2100—22 percent of the current Caribbean economy. Due to the repeat reconstruction of resorts, it could only be a matter of time before resorts decide that the Caribbean is too unstable and unprofitable due to extreme weather, killing the Caribbean’s largest industry, however problematic, and plunging it further into economic devastation.

It is worth noting that the Caribbean (aside from Trinidad) contributes a disproportionally low proportion of carbon emissions globally, yet exists on the front lines of climate change in a state of paralysis. As always, the poorest and most vulnerable are hit hardest by the actions of the wealthy. Evidence of climate change abounds. As Norman Girvan has said, “Caribbean leaders must take the fight to a higher level.”

The Philippines have filed a legal case against the world’s largest oil companies for violating the human rights of local people: carbon-based climate change was responsible for a 2013 storm that killed thousands and resulted in billions of dollars in damage. The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) could follow such an example. Furthermore, states that are major contributors to carbon emissions must be targeted and challenged in a similar manner.

Such a move is not without precedent in the region, as 14 Caribbean nations have launched a lawsuit against European colonial powers for their role in engaging in the enslavement and genocide of African and Indigenous people. This will no doubt have adverse repercussions in terms of economic and political retaliation. But, as the power and persistence of environmental disaster increases in the region, the status quo is killing the people of the Caribbean.

Kevin Edmonds is a PhD candidate and instructor at the University of Toronto, whose research examines the connection between trade liberalization, the decline of the banana trade and the rise of marijuana cultivation/trafficking in the Eastern Caribbean islands of St. Lucia and St. Vincent.