author of several books, including The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks, The Reckoning: What Blacks Owe to Each Other and Quitting America: The Departure of a Black Man from His Native Land. His most recent is An Unbroken Agony: Haiti, from Revolution to the Kidnapping of a President. He is the founder and past president of TransAfrica and is currently a visiting law professor at Pennsylvania State University.
Haitian organizations are calling for a demonstration today outside the offices of Immigration and Customs Enforcement here in New York to call on the Obama administration to immediately grant Temporary Protected Status to the 30,000 undocumented Haitians in the United States who are currently threatened with deportation back to Haiti. We speak with author, activist and TransAfrica founder, Randall Robinson. His most recent book is An Unbroken Agony: Haiti, from Revolution to the Kidnapping of a President. [includes rush transcript]
Haitian organizations are calling for a demonstration today outside the offices of Immigration and Customs Enforcement here in New York. They are calling on the Obama administration to immediately grant Temporary Protected Status to the 30,000 undocumented Haitians in the United States who are currently threatened with deportation back to Haiti.
Earlier this year, the Bush administration refused to grant Haitians the status, which allows them to live and work legally in the country. The request was made to delay the deportations until Haiti recovers from a string of deadly summer storms.
Meanwhile, in Haiti, a UN Security Council delegation recently praised the party of ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide for fighting to overturn the disqualification of its Senate candidates. The Haitian government had barred members of the Lavalas Party from running in next month’s Senate elections for largely technical reasons.
The ruling came days before the fifth anniversary of the US-backed coup that led to Aristide’s ouster. Several thousand Haitians staged a protest to mark the day and to call for the return of Aristide to Haiti without conditions. Aristide has been living in exile in South Africa since 2004.
We’re joined now by author and activist Randall Robinson. He’s the founder and past president of TransAfrica. He is currently a visiting law professor at Pennsylvania State University, the author of many books. His most recent is called An Unbroken Agony: Haiti, from Revolution to the Kidnapping of a President. He joins us from State College, Pennsylvania.
Welcome to Democracy Now!, Randall Robinson.
It’s very good to have you with us. On this latest news of the protest that will take place here in New York, the threatened deportation of 30,000 Haitians living here, your response?
Well, it’s a matter of simple justice. There are some 560,000 people who have been named, targeted for deportation. Thirty thousand have been given a certain priority status to be deported immediately. Those 30,000 are Haitians. We automatically protect Cubans who are in the United States without status. They’re automatically allowed to stay. We have granted Temporary Protected Status to 300,000 Nicaraguans, Hondurans and Salvadorans.
Haiti suffered devastating hurricanes in the last season, and floods, so that sending these people back, who present no security risk to the United States, no safety risk to American communities, who are industrious workers, and targeting them in this way, it is unjust and unfair, and a conspicuous unfairness. One is hard-put to see why the Department of Homeland Security would want to continue a Bush administration policy of singling out only the Haitians for this immediate deportation.
And, Randall Robinson, is there any indication from your contacts that the Obama administration will be more responsive on this issue than the Bush administration has been?
Well, I’m troubled that my understanding is that the Justice Department will leave this to the Department of Homeland Security and will not intervene. I am deeply troubled by that. This is a profound unfairness and continues this egregious discrimination against Haitians. When compared with our treatment of other people who enjoy the same status in the United States, it makes absolutely no sense.
The New York Times editorial page has criticized this continuation of the Bush policy. And we would invite the administration to change course and to instruct the Department of Homeland Security to grant TPS to these Haitians who are in the United States, and we would invite Americans to call the White House to do this. This will wreak havoc not only in the lives of these people, but it will wreak havoc for Haiti trying to recover from last season’s devastating hurricanes.
Randall Robinson, I wanted to get your reaction to the Secretary of State’s husband, to the former president, Bill Clinton, in Haiti last week, along with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, to promote an anti-poverty initiative there. This is some of what former President Clinton had to say on his visit.
BILL CLINTON: I have followed Haiti for more than three decades. This is the first time I have ever really believed that the country had a chance to slip the bonds of poverty and escape the heritage of oppressive government and misgovernment and abuse of people that have held people down too long.
That is former President Clinton in Haiti last week. Randall Robinson, your response?
I think his approach is wrong, fundamentally wrong. He is supporting an idea, a campaign to bring in 5,000 sweatshop-type jobs. These are the kinds of jobs that leave no capital investment in the country. Haiti needs infrastructure. Haiti needs help in turning its rice bowl into a food-producing capacity that can feed eight-and-a-half million Haitians, as it once did before the devastation, before the United States invaded Haiti and overturned the democracy headed by President Aristide. Haiti needs capital investment that leaves in the country.
The kinds of jobs that President Clinton is talking about are the jobs that — in which minimum wage is not protected, environmental standards are not protected, health standards are not protected, a minimum wage in which the worker produces this enormous profit for investors who come in and honor no local laws and leave and, in their wake, leave slums like Cité Soleil. That is not the kind of investment that Haiti needs. It needs capital investment. It needs investment so that it can be self-sufficient. It needs investment so that it can feed itself. That’s not the kind of investment President Clinton is talking about. He’s talking about investment that overwhelmingly favors the interest of those businesses who want to invest in Haiti only because its labor is desperate and very cheap.
And how would you assess the role that the United Nations has played in these past years, when there were UN-authorized troops in Haiti, in terms of being able to help the country be able to progress and get out of the spiral of violence that followed the second overthrow of President Aristide?
Well, I’m distressed to say, not very helpful. When we intervened in Haiti, when thirty American Special Forces went to the President’s home on February the 29th, 2004, and kidnapped the President and his American-born wife and secreted them off to the Central African Republic, we violated several international laws. We violated the United Nations Charter. And keeping the President out of the country now, at the behest of the United States, violates the treaty, the international covenant on civil and — the protection of civil and political rights. All people have a right, by law — and we are party to this convention —- to return to their own country. They cannot be barred from that. And so, the UN has not stood up against us on this, and so it has become a party.
The Caribbean nations asked for an investigation of what happened, into what happened to Haiti’s democracy. And the US, on the Security Council, squelched that. You cannot abide these kinds of egregious violations of international law and still have the sort of human rights project in the world respected by all, when the rest of the world -—
Randall Robinson, as you talk about this fifth anniversary of the second coup against President Aristide, I wanted to go back to that time. I saw you then. We went on that small plane from Florida halfway around the world through to the Central African Republic, where he had been, well, basically dumped with the First Lady of Haiti, Mildred Aristide. It was a remarkable trip. And on the way back, when this delegation, led by you, Randall Robinson, founder of TransAfrica, Maxine Waters, Congress member from Los Angeles, leading a small group of people to really take on the US government, call the bluff of the government, say, “If President Aristide is free to go, then we want to come and take him back. And I wanted to play a clip of when I interviewed President Aristide, as we were coming back on the plane over the Atlantic just days after his ouster as president, what President Aristide at the time had to say.
PRESIDENT JEAN-BERTRAND ARISTIDE: Those who want to invest in killing democracy, in bloodshed, they don’t accept you as an elected president. We had thirty-two coups d’état, plus the last one, thirty-three, in our 200 years of independence. Our goal was to move, not from coup d’état to coup d’état anymore, but from elections to elections, free, fair and democratic elections. That wasn’t their goal. They went back to coup d’état.
And here is what President Aristide said when I asked him whether he had actually resigned from office, as the Bush administration had contended.
PRESIDENT JEAN-BERTRAND ARISTIDE: I didn’t resign. What some people call resignation is a new coup d’état or a modern kidnapping.
He said it was a “modern kidnapping.” He said it was a coup that was backed by the United States. Randall Robinson, this is five years later, just after the fifth anniversary. There is a new president in the United States, the first black president in the United States. I’m wondering your thoughts on what you feel he should be doing with the first black republic in the Western world, Haiti, born in 1804.
Well, first, he has to stop American interference in the democratic process of Haiti. And I trust that he will do that. He has to make sure that Lavalas, the country’s largest party, can participate in the political process. He has to make sure that the tens of thousands of people who have demonstrated for President Aristide’s return will see their leader come home to them. That’s the democratic process. We’re not asking the President to do anything but be just and to ensure that democracy will survive and flourish in Haiti. That means that the Haitian people will get to choose their own president.
President Aristide was really banished from Haiti because he fought to have the minimum wage raised to $2 a day, and that offended the interest of the business community and foreign investors, the kind of investments and investors that President Clinton is encouraging, in this case, with 5,000 assembly workers or sweatshop workers. That’s not the kind of investment we need. We need a just society. We need a democratic society. We need a society in which the Haitian people will get to choose the leadership that they want, not the leadership necessarily that we want.
And, Randall Robinson, we have covered here on Democracy Now! the enormous changes that have occurred in the southern part of the hemisphere in recent years with so many populist governments coming to power in various parts of Latin America. Your sense of how this has impacted on Haiti’s political development and whether the prospects are for increasing radicalization or unity among the Haitian people?
We have to understand that since the Reagan years, there has been an enormous transfer of wealth in the world. We live in a world now where one percent of the world’s people control 40 percent of the world’s wealth. The United States alone controls 32 percent of the world’s wealth. And so, the poor have gotten poorer and more numerous, and the rich have gotten richer. And so, there is a great deal of suffering in the world because of that.
And when we foreclose to people the opportunity to ease their pain and continue to cultivate and profit from exploitation, we will get a blowback from that. And that’s happening in Latin America, a lot of it expressed in anger towards the United States, and in the actions we have often committed gratuitously, needlessly making enemies that we don’t have to have. Haiti and the Caribbean countries want to be friends of the United States. But it means that we have to have some kind of just reciprocity in trade and diplomacy and in the spirit of the United Nations Charter, in the spirit of human rights, in the spirit of all of the human rights treaties that have been embraced by the world to raise the poor and to give them a path to a just and fair life.
Changing topics, I’d like to ask you about the upcoming United Nations conference on racism and the position of the Obama administration, that it did not want the discussion of reparations or of the Israeli-Palestinian situation at the conference. You’ve been a long proponent of raising the issue of reparations in this country. Your reaction?
Well, I don’t think the principal impediment was the reparations issue. I think the principal impediment was the issue of Israel. I’m saddened by the decision that has been made by the administration. We should never be afraid to discuss ideas. When our ideas are defensible and strong, they will fare well, and we ought to always be willing to participate in discussion.
Some believe that it would be an Israel-bashing occasion. I don’t believe that, but one has to accept that there has been a consensus developed in the world, joined in by friends of Israel, traditional friends and traditional critics from all over the world, that what happened in Gaza, the indiscriminate killing of over 1,000 men, women and children, the destruction of Gaza wholesale, constituted an act that was morally repugnant. And one shouldn’t shrink from making an observation that is fair and honest. And that would be discussed.
And I don’t think the United States should not engage in a discussion in which criticism is raised against any country. We ought to be prepared to exchange our views. So I am unhappy about the United States’s decision not to participate in the Geneva meeting in April. I think we should. If we have ideas that are defensible, we ought to present them and exchange with others and listen to what the responses are.
Randall Robinson, we’ll leave it there. We thank you for being with us, author of An Unbroken Agony.