Saturday, December 30, 2017
On December 24, the New York Times ran an article alleging that President Trump characterized all Haitians as having AIDS. The incident supposedly happened during a White House meeting last June about immigration. After the publication White House Spokeswoman Sarah Sanders called the allegation “sad and scandalous”. However, the mere printing of the article in the New York Times – which it should be noted did not source its information – did damage to the Haitian community evoking memories of the 1983 witch hunt in which Haitians were characterized as having an abnormally high incidence of AIDS and were barred even from donating blood. Whether or not the comment was made, the NY Times article made Haiti a pawn to fit the political narrative.
Facts about AIDS
In 1983 the Center for Disease Control (CDC) unscientifically dubbed AIDS “4H” for the four groups they said were at risk: heroin users, hemophiliacs, homosexuals and Haitians. This classification remained until 1985 when the CDC was forced to change the name under pressure by thousands of Haitians marching on the Brooklyn Bridge supported by various sectors of American society including civil rights leaders.
Because of the CDC fabrication, Haitians were outcast worldwide, causing irreparable damages to Haiti’s citizens, economy and its tourism industry that was booming in the Caribbean. Later, it was discovered that patient zero who brought the AIDS virus to Haiti was from the United States.
Today, AIDS is down more than two-thirds in Haiti. And, there is a higher prevalence of AIDS in Washington, DC than in Haiti.
Haiti, Viruses and Bacteria
The sad fact is that Haiti’s healthcare system is fragile and cannot withstand major diseases. The tolls are catastrophic. We were unable to handle the introduction of AIDS in the 1980s, swine flu from the U.S. in the 2000s, bird flu also from the U.S. in the early 2000s, or most recently the introduction of cholera by a UN peacekeeper in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake.
These diseases have done untold damage to the Haitian people and cost the economy $14 billion over 30 years. More than 9,500 Haitians have died from the U.N. cholera, and more than 900,000 are infected. Haiti fought five years for the United Nations to acknowledge their responsibility in spreading the epidemic. Finally, when Secretary General Ban Ki-moon admitted the UN responsibility, the UN mission was quickly closed in an effort to dodge paying reparations to family of the victims and $1.4 billion needed to eradicate the bacteria. The incensed Haitian parliament has refused to vote to legalize the presence of the current UN mission MINUJUSTH. Secretary Antonio Gutteres is playing a game of cat and mouse and avoiding being clear on when the UN will meet its obligations in Haiti.
Haitians and Election of Donald Trump
In the history of U.S. elections, Donald Trump was the first presidential candidate to meet with the Haitian-American community in little Haiti, Miami, Florida in 2016. He promised to be their “greatest champion.” Frustrated by the management of the reconstruction after the January 12, 2010 and faulting the Clinton’s, Haitian-Americans voted massively for Donald Trump in Florida. They were one of the three constituencies who put Trump on top in Florida. For the first time in U.S. political history Haitian-Americans who traditionally vote 9-1 democrats reversed their votes. Their loyalty was paid back when Trump reversed himself on TPS, ending the program for 59,000 Haitians and putting in jeopardy their 27,000 kids who are American Citizens and have never known Haiti.
With the latest allegations of his views about the Haitian people all being AIDS patients, it begs the question about whether or not the Haitian community will turn out for Mr. Trump again in 2022. Groups are taking sides. A scathing op-ed in the Washington Post cites Trump’s track record in Charlottesville as evidence that the NY Times story fits within a pattern of anti-immigrant and racist behavior by the President. The Haitian Round Table has already taken the position that they will never again support Mr. Trump based on these allegations.
Haiti and the United States
The contributions of Haitians to the United States and the world date back to the Revolutionary War in which Haitian soldiers – who had only recently secured their freedom from slavery – fought side-by-side the Americans for their independence. When British soldiers wanted to reconquer the United States in 1812, Haitian President Alexandre Petion sent Haitian soldiers to the Battle of Chalmette (known as the battle of New Orleans) to protect the independence of the United States. And, by defeating Napoleon’s army in Haiti, Haitians forced the French to sell Louisiana to the United States doubling the size of the country. You scarcely find this history in U.S. textbooks, however. Haitians contribution to the U.S. – which also includes the founding of Chicago -- to the various professionals in every sector of American life, is undeniable. In contrast to the Administration, the Congress’s the support for Haiti has been bi-partisan.
For years both Republican and Democratic Presidents have done their best to support their oldest neighbor in the Caribbean. We take very seriously any allegations of racism or degradation of our proud history and people. We’ve helped build America – and stood for freedom throughout the world including providing passports for Jewish people fleeing Nazi Germany and soldiers and arms to Latin American revolutions. Yet, we should also seize the opportunity to reignite this cooperation – rather than tear it apart based on an emotional response to an unconfirmed oped. Let’s seize this opportunity to reassess our relationship and open a dialogue and restructure this bilateral relationship.