We Ain't No Shithole

Just eight years after the Léogâne Earthquake, Trump was once again spewing garbage about Haiti calling it, among other predominantly non-white countries, a “shithole.” Of course, it is no such place as Antony Stewart, chair of the Haiti Support Group, illuminates.
Antony Stewart

Since its revolutionary birth, Haiti has given the world so much in art, science and the pursuit of global freedom. Haiti, however, is a popular target. It is black and defiant, a direct challenge to the falsehoods of white supremacy. It is a nation that dared to be different and dared to be free. For that, it has been the target of two centuries of foreign malevolence (see original article below).

Trump’s recent attacks are often justified by pointing to Haiti’s reputation as a “failed state”. The poverty, poor health and instability that influence this conclusion are often caused, and greatly exacerbated, by the damaging actions of the USA, the UN, France and others. On the eighth anniversary of the earthquake, a disaster whose horrific death toll was made large by the consequences of human action,Trump’s racist outbursts seem even more cruel. The eye of Sauron sits atop Trump Tower. And his stare is fixed firmly on Haiti. According to US officials, Trump unhelpfully suggested that Haitian immigrants ‘all have AIDS’. These comments lack originality, yet they still wield a lethal power.

Donald Trump’s association of Haitians with HIV/AIDS fuels the nativism that forms the bedrock of his presidency. He fires this nonsense in every direction, suggesting that they pose an imminent health risk to white Americans. Such narratives conveniently allow him to court support for his anti-immigration, pro-deportation policies. Haitians, at home and abroad, have long fought this stigma, but outbursts like these are harmful and must be challenged.

Haiti is often uncritically tied to images of illness. These tactics, as shameless and lurid as they appear, are sadly nothing new. The fear of contagion has long been assumed an inevitable and unforgivable part of blackness. It feeds into the portrayal of Haiti as a place of death, disease and suffering – the proverbial White Man’s Grave. A threat to the so-called ‘civilised’ peoples of Europe and the US. Evidence of the alleged failure of black rule.


During the revolutionary period, it was yellow fever, Leclerc’s bane, that forged this image in xenophobic minds. One hundred years later, outsiders feared the spread of syphilis and leprosy. In recent years, the UN has exploited Haiti’s disease-ridden reputation to deflect attention from their role in introducing a devastating cholera epidemic to the country. Over one million Haitians were infected. Close to ten thousand have died.

Before the arrival of the UN, not one case of cholera had ever been reported in Haiti. The source of the outbreak was directly linked to a UN peacekeeping force throwing faecal matter into a local river. Many, however, deflected blame by implicitly and falsely suggesting that cholera had originated from Haiti’s weak infrastructure and poor sanitation.

Cholera is but the latest example of the destructive impact of foreign meddling in Haiti. The extractions of the gunboat diplomats and the US occupation slowly eroded Haitian infrastructure. As did a cycle of failed or temporary health interventions. The Duvalier kleptocrats (backed, lest we forget, by Presidents Nixon and Reagan), further impoverished the Haitian state. Rural health facilities were cut down to nothing, becoming increasingly dependent on external assistance often not even fit-for-purpose.

By the latter half of the twentieth-century, as health infrastructure stagnated, Haiti became increasingly vulnerable to the entrance of epidemics. As popular belief stands, in the 1970s Haitians introduced HIV/AIDS to the US. In reality, it was the other way around. Wealthy US holidaymakers – many of whom indulged in sex tourism – helped spread the deadly disease.

The rumours, however, mortally wounded Haiti’s flourishing travel industry, at one point far more successful than its neighbour, the Dominican Republic. In Miami, Montreal and New York, the diaspora was ostracised. Haitians unwittingly became the intouchables.

And so we come to the real story about Haiti and its association with disease. For years, foreign hands have stifled the development of the country, playing an active and harmful role in the creation of the health crisis we see today. Trump’s words strike at the heart of how images of poor health have fuelled racism against Haitians. To be Haitian is to be ill and contagious, they claim. This is not only grossly reductive, it also completely ignores the real reasons behind the development of this notion.

Here at the Haiti Support Group we will not let Trump’s comments go unchallenged. We must tear down the false legitimacy of his words and show them for what they are – yet another chapter in a shameless and racist effort to demonise the Haitian people.

Click below to view one of HSG's excellent breifings