Start seeing Haiti


While our government debates again the merits of making flag burning illegal in the U.S., we continue to methodically and symbolically ‘burn’ the flag of a sovereign people, the people of Haiti.

Three years ago I knew nothing about the island Republic one and a half hours east of Miami.

Following my first trip to Haiti, less than three months prior to the Feb. 29, 2004, coup d’etat, I decided to learn as much as I could about the geopolitical relationships between Haiti and the U.S., and to seek out the largely invisible side of the Haiti story: the side almost never portrayed by either the U.S. government or our mainstream media.

It has not been an uplifting education about my own country’s role in systematically keeping democracy in a subordinate place in a supposedly free country. Despots like Papa Doc and Baby Doc Duvalier seemed to have been much more in our national interest, than a freely elected leader like Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

A place to start might be my own experience with U.S. official secrecy and deliberate manipulation of “facts” regarding a piece of recent Haiti history. It’s at “”: It represents only the tip of a pretty ugly reality, and is only one small example of official misinformation in action.

On May 15, the Star Tribune carried one of many accounts I’ve seen about the inauguration of new Haiti president Rene Preval. But there has been an almost complete silence about the preceding inauguration of the new Haiti legislature, the oft-delayed post-coup elections, as well as hundreds of other accounts of pre- and post-coup Haiti, and its former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Haiti is a small and poor country among the world’s 191 nations, but has a long history with the U.S. The May 15 article gave scarce context to the long and bitter story of U.S. interference in the geographically small (one-eighth the land area of Minnesota) Caribbean nation (which has a far greater population than Minnesota) .

Words do their dance, and if only one side of the dance is reported we lack context. And with Haiti, we in this country get almost no fairness or balance from which to develop context. Mostly we get silence about Haiti; when something is written, it represents, usually, the official U.S. preferred position. (Balance is available, but must be ferreted out scrap by scrap.)

Today is indeed Flag Day in Haiti. The beautiful Haitian Flag, on which is emblazoned the motto “L’Union Fait La Force,” is being celebrated today in Haiti. (A history of the flag of Haiti is “here”: )

Haiti’s flag conveys a history of blood shed by slaves since Christopher Columbus landed on its shores in 1492. The country was born over 200 years ago, when Dessalines adapted the French tri-color, and Haiti’s Betsy Ross, Catherine Flon, sewed together the blue and red sections to form a new Haiti flag.

The French had been the slave masters in Haiti for more than 100 years Haiti’s freedom from France came at an enormous and oppressive monetary cost—simple extortion by the French kept the new nation in desperate poverty for years—while the U.S. refused to recognize Haiti as a country for almost 60 years, and for all intents and purposes later simply replaced France as Haiti’s overseer.

The freeing of Haiti’s slaves and their formation of the Western Hemisphere’s second free republic (after the United States, and about the same time as the Louisiana Purchase) was not good news to our own slave-centric government. Our overall official behavior toward this struggling democracy has continued to be largely disgraceful ever since.

Pious words of our current “democracy” export business, like “freedom,” “democracy,” “ailed state,” “competition,” “civil society” and others take on new meaning in places like Haiti. (Words like “justice for all” do not seem part of the official lexicon of U.S. empire building.)

We can and do work to create “failed states” with alarming ease (states which we can then supposedly rescue), and we cover our exploits with dishonesty and supposed official support from institutions we dominate, like the United Nations, the Inter-American Development Bank and others. Our interest is and has been domination, not assistance.

Today, Haiti’s Flag Day, is a good day to start seeing Haiti and how our government relates to it, compared with how that relationship is portrayed to us.

And for another ‘take’ on whether or not Jean-Bertrand Aristide really “resigned” on February 29, 2004 take a look “here”: .

On this, Haiti’s Flag Day, start seeing Haiti.

“Dick Bernard” is a co-founder of the Haiti Justice Committee in the Twin Cities and is president of the Minnesota Alliance of Peacemakers.