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"Disinformation," "slavery" narratives used in Del Rio to distract from imperialism

This essay was originally published at jonathansalinas.substack.com on 1 October 2021, reformatted for this publishing.

A view of Mexico, from the northern bank of the Rio Grande in Laredo, Texas, near Justo Penn Las Palmas trail, February 2020. Photo by Jonathan Salinas

By Jonathan Salinas

A makeshift camp in Del Rio, Texas which held tens of thousands of Haitian migrants for almost two weeks was announced “cleared” by mayor Bruno Lozano last Friday. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas blamed “disinformation” spread online, supposedly communicating that Biden would grant protective status to all Haitians, for the surging of Del Rio from Ciudad Acuna, Nuevo Leon, Mexico, just across the Rio Grande. He claimed drug cartels seeking profits from human smuggling were responsible. Reports quoting such videos did not link to clips. Sure, the smuggling industry may be publishing such disinformation, but this is really an expedient excuse to deflect attention from the economic and social crises created by capitalism and imperialism in Haiti, the Caribbean, South and North America—in other words, the actual “root causes” of mass migration.

Many Haitians interviewed by the press said they had until recently lived in South American countries, like Chile and Brazil, having left Haiti after the disastrous 2010 earthquake and the ensuing political instabilities, but were forced to make the trek to America after being laid off work due to pandemic “restrictions” designed to maximize profits for the bosses. Brazil’s capitalist government, for example, declared a “state of disaster” which allowed employers “most affected by the pandemic” to slash employees’ hours and salaries in half.

Thousands of delivery workers protested July 1 in Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and other Brazilian cities which, at the time, were the largest demonstrations in the world against pandemic measures. Whether Latin/North America, Europe or Asia, capitalist regimes used the pandemic to crush wages and small businesses. Despite tenuous welfare protections in European and Latin American social democracies, they could not hold back social eruptions against capitalist governments’ seizure of civil liberties under guise of combating COVID-19.

Others fled Haiti after the recent assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in July. The situation has only worsened, as reports alleging involvement by the ruling Prime Minister in Moise’s assassination have surfaced. PM Ariel Henry recently fired two top investigators looking into the assassination, leading to the resignation of a third. Not long after Moise’s assassination, ties between those involved and the U.S. government emerged. One a former Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) informant, the others trained by the U.S. during their time as soldiers in the Colombian army, funded through American “aid” programs.

100 years have gone since a Haitian president was assassinated, the last time being 1915 when a U.S. occupation of the country followed until 1934, from Woodrow Wilson to the equally overrated Franklin Roosevelt, setting the stage for the tyrannical rule of the Duvalier dynasty in 1957, overthrown in 1986 by a popular revolution. Before Moise’s assassination, he ruled by decree, allowing the Parliament and Judiciary’s terms to expire without elections. He exceeded his own presidential term in 2020. Mass demonstrations erupted against his usurpation, which in turn led to state-sanctioned gang violence against protestors. Moise was backed by the U.S. the entire time. On top of all this, nothing was done to repair damage from the 2010 earthquake. Another earthquake struck in July. These are merely recent events.

Ever since Haitian slaves rebelled against Napoleon's French empire in 1804, and the U.S.’s invasion some 111 years later, imperial powers like the U.S. Canada, and more recently Brazil and the United Nations have controlled Haiti’s political and social life through military invasions, introducing disease and coup d’etats of elected governments. Haiti is a strategic base for U.S. imperialism on the Caribbean against socialist movements throughout Latin America (Cuba, Nicaragua, Grenada, etc.) And yet, right-wing and even some liberal commentators, from Fox News on, wonder why Haitians arrived on the southern border and what responsibility this country owes them. As if the U.S. never laid hands on Haiti, or meddled in her affairs.

View of Rio Grande from Chacon Park in Laredo, Texas, December 2019. Photo by Jonathan Salinas

Biden’s deported hundreds, using a Trump-era policy, leading to the resignation of his Special Envoy and outcry from migrant advocacy groups and former civil rights leaders. Some crossed back to the Mexican side, heading northwest to California. Thousands have been released by U.S. immigration agencies into the country to await asylum hearings while thousands more are processed in detention centers. I’m old enough to remember a time when brutal assaults on the humanity of migrants on the southern border led to mass demonstrations. This, however, is not the case, if done by the lesser evil. Despite their cries at the recent treatment of Haitian migrants on the border, Congresswoman Maxine Waters going so far as to say it was “worse than slavery,” Biden’s views on Haitians were expressed in a lucid and candid 1994 interview with Charlie Rose: “If Haiti—Godawful thing to say—but if Haiti sunk into the Caribbean or rose up three-hundred feet,” Biden prefaced, “it wouldn’t matter a whole lot in terms of our interests.” And yet, multinational corporations and imperial economies extract Haiti’s resources as if it was a desolate island.

During the two weeks Haitian migrants camped underneath Del Rio’s port of entry, U.S. Border Patrol horsemen blocked some who attempted to leave.

USBP’s use of horses on the border is not unusual. On the 16 of February 2019 at the National Butterfly Center in Mission, Texas, USBP agents on horseback blocked westbound levy access to more than 100 protestors, including myself, who marched against Trump’s declared national emergency signed just one day before, and against the Feb 14 partial clearing of the La Parida tract of the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge for wall construction. Commanding horses to block the exits in Del Rio, in coordination with state and military agencies, reins/whips flung in the air. These images led to Democratic politicians, like Vice President Kamala Harris and others, to compare USBP’s treatment of migrants to treatment of slaves, leading to widespread outcry and calls for investigations and punishment of agents.

16 February 2019 protest against national emergency and border wall construction in Mission, Texas. Photo by Ava Leal

Although the images may evoke that period of history, as I instinctively thought of that, like so many, Harris and Biden’s comparing USBP (created 90 years after the civil war) to slave institutions is actually intended to blemish the historical fact that the defeat of chattel slavery, ensuing constitutional amendments and radical reforms in the U.S. were the results of revolutionary conquests by black and white workers. Moreover in 1804, Haitian slaves rebelled against their French oppressors and formed the first and still the only liberated slave republic in history. For this beautiful and historic example of revolutionary power, the empires of the world have never forgiven the Haitian people and never will.

Obfuscating the revolutionary history of the American working class has become commonplace on the liberal left. Many Democrats hold white workers who voted for President Donald Trump in contempt, in an attack on class solidarity between white, black and brown workers organizing against capitalist rule. They suggest “slavery never ended,” as in Ava DuVerney’s 2016 film, ‘13th,’ and the 2012 book, The New Jim Crow. Such takes airbrush the history of the Second American Revolution, as if it never happened. The Haitian Revolution, which placed Napoleon in a corner, where President Thomas Jefferson squeezed tiny Bonaparte into “selling” Louisiana, is also under-appreciated: If not for Toussaint Louverture’s independence movement, which coincided with the French Revolution, the U.S. would not be the country it is today.

Attack and take of the Crête-à-Pierrot (March 24, 1802) by Auguste Raffet

Surrounded by an ocean of enemies and false friends, the Haitian people have but one true friend: Cuba’s internationalist, revolutionary Marxist government, who sends doctors, teachers and professors to Haiti, not out of some “philanthropic” urge, but strictly out of solidarity with the most oppressed people of the world. Cuba and Haiti’s histories are similar: Cuba is a majority black country on the Caribbean which took control of its domestic and foreign production and trade, in defiance of the most powerful empire in history. Unlike Cuba, however, Haiti’s revolution (powerful as it was) was not socialist. An advanced theory of class struggle had not yet developed by 1804. Nevertheless, Haiti’s slave rebellion formed a capitalist government and small capitalist class, unable however to stave off the overwhelming economic and military pressures of nearby and more advanced imperialisms. No stable government in Haiti has ever existed, consequently. The powers of the Western Hemisphere and their international allies have never given Haiti a moment of peace, pillaging her natural resources, rigging her economy to benefit multinational capital.

A U.S. Border Patrol vehicle faces Mexico, along the Rio Grande, near downtown Laredo, December 2019.

Vladimir Lenin argued at the height of the First Imperialist War of 1914, that big capitalist government’s foreign policies are by definition imperial, in that they must exploit new markets in order to survive competition from rivals. “Imperialism,” Lenin wrote, is “the highest stage of capitalism.” The ensuing carnage inflicted on humanity in that conflagration, and its sequel 25 years later, proved Lenin correct. The U.S. government, under Republican and Democratic administrations, is the biggest obstacle to world revolution, its imperial army crushing socialist and independence movements everywhere since 1890, from Indochina to Guatemala, from Iran to Korea. A socialist USA, solidifying workers control of domestic production and the state, can join Cuba in being a true ally of Haiti and the world’s oppressed.


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