The most offensive part about Trump’s comments is not the words themselves, but rather, the utter disregard of the fact that it was the US who has helped contribute to these countries’ ruin – specifically in El Salvador and Haiti.
Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere per capita, is the classic case of imperialism, colonialism, and interventionism.
For 300 or so years, Haiti was colonized by the Spanish and then the French. Around the mid 19th century, Haitians obtained tentative control of their country; however US commercial interests were still prevalent amongst many economic sectors in the country.
In 1915, Haitian rebels obtained full control of the government after seizing power from Villbrun Guillaume Sam. Woodrow Wilson, the president at the time, reacted harshly to this development and deployed marines to the coast of Haiti, seizing control of the government, and installing a leader in Senator Phillippe Sudre Dartiguenave. Three thousand Haitians were killed in lieu of this invasion. Indeed, General Smedley Butler, in the infamous book, War is a Racket, stated in his book that, “(the US) had invaded Haiti as a bill collector for the National City Bank of New York which underwrote the construction of a railroad connecting the sugar fields with the capital Port-au-Prince.”
From 1915 to 1934, US marines in Haiti seized control of the destitute country, and only in the mid 1930’s did FDR decide to withdraw the marines – however, the US did not relinquish fiscal control of the state up until 1947.
Amidst political turbulence during this time, in 1957, a murderous and corrupt tyrant in Francois Duvalier, who had ties to the military, seized control of Haiti, and ruled the country until 1971.
Haitians, who tried to overthrow the corrupt and brutal rule of Duvalier in 1959 were met by US marines, who, on behalf of the US government, were ordered to quell the uprising and keep Duvalier, their man in Haiti, in power. Support was provided to Duvalier furtively, throughout his entire reign as president (aside from a brief pause during the time of Kennedy), due to his anti-communist proclivities and his ostensible opposition to Castro.
When Duvalier, in 1964, held arguably the most fraudulent elections in the entire western hemisphere, which kept him in power – as he subsequently deemed himself “President for Life” until his death, Lyndon B. Johnson, met with the Haitian ambassador and stated that “this government looks forward to close cooperation and solidarity with the Government of Haiti.”
Following this pronouncement, the United States and Haiti, “agreed to expand the existing US naval mission, which had long been working with the Guardes-Cotes d’Haiti. The plan was to augment it with US Navy and Marine Corps officers and noncommissioned officers who would work with Duvalier’s newly designated FaD’H.”
According to sources, the US also “delivered an arsenal of weapons to the dictator and refitted Haiti’s bedraggled air force with jet fighters, while the Pentagon sponsored many military officers to study at the (infamous) School of the Americas.”
USAID and IADB also reinstated financial aid to Duvalier, which was being pilfered by him and his associates. He also received $15 million in grants from US institutions.
Let us note that Duvalier was one of the most murderous dictators in the western hemisphere at this time, murdering and torturing anyone, who he deemed a threat to power, while brandishing an anti-communist label, so as to keep his backers at the time in the US happy. He is said to have murdered 60,000 Haitians during his time, while being considered one of the most corrupt politicians, all the while, leaving many in Haiti illiterate, and broke.
When Francois Duvalier died in 1971, the US American Ambassador went into Haiti, to swear in the son of Francois Duvalier, in 19 year old Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, as the new president for life. US warships stood on the coast to ensure a safe transfer of power.
Following Duvalier exile in 1986, (who’s forces received training and arms during his entire reign) Haiti remained in financial ruin, and absolute economic misery.
According to William Blum, in the 21 months between Jean Claudes abdication and the scheduled election of 1987, “the successor Haitian governments were responsible for more civilian deaths than Baby Doc had managed in 15 years.” Not surprisingly, the US provided funding of $30 million dollars to the military government who ruled Haiti during this time.
Amidst this turbulence, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a priest in Haiti arose in political opposition to the military government and took power in 1991, only to be overthrown in a military coup d’etat several months later.
The US, amidst international pressure, instituted Aristide’s return in 1994, and he was re-elected president in 2000.
However, Aristide was overthrown in another coup and this time, the coup was orchestrated by the US in 2004.
We should now direct our attention towards El Salvador, another country referred to by President Trump, as a “shithole”.
Indeed, US involvement, during the El Salvadorean civil war, no doubt has had an immeasurable effect on the people of El Salvador today.
Indeed the people of El Salvador have faced an unfortunate history.
They lived under military rule in the 30s and many were unhappy with the current situation, which essentially consisted of poverty for most people, along with consolidated control of the wealth amongst an extremely small amount of people (in the early 60’s around 75 individuals in 25 interrelated families controlled 90% of the wealth.) This fortune was mostly amassed by coffee exports, which in 1930, accounted for a staggering 95% of the country’s export earnings. Following a large protest in 1932, government forces massacred 30-40,000 El Salvadoreans and the event, forever woven in Salvadorean identity, served as a later portent for dire things to come in the 1980s, when US machinations contributed to a civil war that lead to the death of 75,000 Salvadoreans. Following the massacre, a military government ruled El Salvador, in the 40s, 50s and 60s, save a couple brief instances of civilian rule in 1944 and 1960.
Throughout the 1960s, according to William Blum, “multifarious American experts occupied themselves in El Salvador by enlarging and refining the state’s security and counter-insurgency apparatus: the police, the National Guard, the military, the communications and intelligence networks, the co-ordination with their counterparts in other Central American countries…”
Indeed, according to the New York Times, “American aid was (later) used for police training in the 1950’s and 1960’s and many officers in the three branches of the police later became leaders of the right-wing death squads that killed tens of thousands of people in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s.”
During the late 1970s, following the futility of achieving significant reform through elections, El Salvadoreans decided to try to achieve change through other means, only to be met with deadly resistance by the military government in power. By the 1980s, the conflict had escalated. Under the deadly rule of Roberto D’Aubuisson, thousands of innocent El Salvadoreans were killed amidst a waging civil war between the right-wing government, and the newly formed leftist coalition the FMLN.
Brutal civil war waged through the 1980s, where the right-wing death squads wrought utter brutality amongst the people of El Salvador. Rape, torture, kidnappings and violence were all commonplace during this time, and this behaviour was only encouraged and abetted by the fervent anti-Communist, Ronald Reagan.
During the civil war, which lasted from 1980-1992, aid to the right-wing government of El-Salvador is said to have totalled up to 6 billion dollars. This aid arrived in the form of weapons, planes and all forms of artillery which allowed the right-wing government to kill and inflict brutality with impunity.
Considerable support for these death squads was found in other avenues. For example, soldiers from the School of Americas, which was located in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, trained many El Salvadorean fighters, including the Atlacatl Battalion, who was considered one of the deadliest death squads in the civil war. According to a report, they were responsible for the El Mozote massacre – one of the most horrific and barbaric injustices in the country’s history, where 1000 innocent civilians, including women, children and the elderly were massacred. In 1989, they also broke into the University of Central America, where they dragged six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter from their beds and murdered them.
There is, no doubt that Reagan wanted to keep the El Salvadorean government in power. After billions of dollars in support, he succeeded, and it has resulted in the utter destruction of the country.
By the end of the civil war around 75,000 people were murdered, hundreds of thousands injured, a million people were exiled out of a population of 5 million and no doubt, the travesties of the civil war had all left a major imprint on the people of El Salvador.
When the civil war ended in 1992, ARENA, the right-wing government which waged war amongst its own citizens, allegedly rigged the 1994 elections and was the ruling party until 2009.
Only in 2009 has the FMLN took power, and following a brutal civil war instigated by the United States, El Salvador, is still trying to pick up the pieces of its broken country, which currently holds the second highest murder rate out of any country in the world.
It seems only right then, that following the role the US has played in destroying Haiti and El Salvador, Trump should not only apologize for the comments he made, but should also openly acknowledge how it was the US who has helped contribute to the country’s misery – leading to the ever-growing amount of refugees trying to escape the war-torn ravages of these countries, once plagued by military rule, murder and penury.