Milne: Haiti’s poverty is treated as some ­baffling quirk of history…when in reality it is the direct ­consequence of " . . . colonial exploitation

Seumas Milne: “Haiti’s poverty is treated as some ­baffling quirk of history…when in reality it is the direct ­consequence of a uniquely brutal ­relationship with the outside world — notably the US, France and Britain — stretching back centuries.” (h/t

One of the many ways in which Aljazeera is superior to American news programs is that it has a frequent 5-minute History spot, in which reporters review some key historical turning point. In all the wall-to-wall coverage of Haiti’s earthquake that I have seen on US news channels, I cannot remember Toussaint L’Ouverture being mentioned even once. I cannot remember any extended consideration of the decades when the US Marines ruled the country or why FDR stopped that. I can’t remember a report on recent US history with Aristide.

It is as though a top executive actively ordered the reporters to avoid any context, any background, any history. The so-called “History Channel” has nothing about Haiti. The shows are “Sniper,” “Extreme Marksmen,” “Seven Signs of the Apocalypse,” and the “Nostradamus Effect.”

There have been a couple of good essays at the History News Network, but they are more impassioned op-eds than explanations of the history (see “Too Hard for the White Folks? Americans and the Haitian Revolution,” and Haiti’s troubled history with the US and France.

To paraphrase Jack Nicholson: “You can’t handle the History!”

Since MSNBC is positioning itself as a ‘progressive’ news network, couldn’t it do up some inexpensive short spots on historical background?

Milne continues:

“When the liberation theologist Aristide was elected on a platform of development and social justice, his challenge to Haiti’s oligarchy and its international sponsors led to two foreign-backed coups and US invasions, a suspension of aid and loans, and eventual exile in 2004. Since then, thousands of UN troops have provided security for a discredited political system, while ­global financial institutions have imposed a relentlessly neoliberal diet, pauperising Haitians still further.

Thirty years ago, for example, Haiti was self-sufficient in its staple of rice. In the mid-90s the IMF forced it to slash tariffs, the US dumped its subsidised surplus on the country, and Haiti now imports the bulk of its rice. Tens of thousands of rice farmers were forced to move to the jerry-built slums of Port-au-Prince. Many died as a result last week.”

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7 Responses

  1. Yes, many of the education and documentary channels seem to have stopped showing educational programs and documentaries. I remember 10-15 years ago the discovery channel was great, now it's all pseudo-science and ghosts, and the history channel seems to be going down the same road.

    Here's a quick 5 minute highlight of Haiti's history from "discover" through the end of the 20th century. I left off all the Aristide stuff since it's too recent. Asking why the "poor Haitians" couldn't manage their environment and economy better is pretty cruel when you consider the situation they have been in.

    link to

  2. I saw some clown on C-SPAN describe the two centuries of brutal oppression of Haiti as "some unfortunate incidents"

  3. I think the problem is that in the American school curriculum the rest of the world tends to receive an in-depth look on only a few subjects, and beyond that the world is just memorization of trivia and basic facts practically taken from the CIA World Factbook or some encyclopedia. Picture any school report that a kid would do on a country- all they would likely report is the population, what language that population speaks, and what the country's flag looks like. CNN tries to give some background every time a disaster or war happens, but they too fall in the trap of just giving a short report giving trivial demographic data.

    The problem, I suppose, seems to be how people view what is relevant in social studies and history. On one hand you have the in depth examination of events and social trends that is needed to understand the current state of a country (which you get in college and advanced high school courses), and on the other hand you have the focus on trivial information that the population at large seems to focus on. To illustrate my point, let me give an example. I remember a year or so ago telling someone that history was in one of my majors in college. Their response to this was "oh really? Who was the 17th president of the US? Did they make you memorize stuff like that?" I didn't know the answer off the top of my head because something like that I see as trivia that I could just look up. What is more important is knowing the correct period that the Presidents are in and then having the knowledge to be able to do something like comparing their different policies.

  4. Purely by serendipity (because it had been scheduled weeks in advance) our local PBS station reran a documentary, "Egalite for All: Toussaint L'Ouverture and the Haitian Revolution" shortly after the quake. The documentary is available on NetFlix.

    I did see one very short history lesson on one of the major channels (I think NBC) that did briefly discuss the Haitian revolution and its aftermath. But it was at most 3-4 minutes.

  5. Another good source on the historical roots of Hait's devastation is the great Barbadian historian of slavery, Hilary Beckles' commentary in the B'dos Nation-News, reposted at Chicken Bones: link to

  6. ref : “It is as though a top executive actively ordered the reporters to avoid any context, any background, any history [about Haiti, etc.] Not to worry! my friend professor Juan Cole says: “Reality is still more important than media depictions of it” in response to the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision enabling corporatism in America. As he puts it, "you can always look it up = real history writ and PULL it offa the internet ~ so what difference does PUSH media [e.g., narratives without proper historical context] make?" ie., if some “top executive actively ordered the reporters to avoid any context, any background, any history?” (^_^)

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