If, as CNN was reporting last week, some Haitians resent the presence of US troops in their country, it’s because US troops have been in Haiti before: in 1857, 1859, 1868, 1869, 1876, 1888, 1892, 1902, 1903, 1904, 1906, 1907, 1908, 1909, 1911, 1912 and 1913. Apparently not satisfied with just shocking and awing the Haitians with periodic displays of force to remind them who really ruled the Americas, the US also occupied Haiti in 1915, leaving the country only in 1934.
It hasn’t exactly been clear what US interests in Haiti are, apart from the political one of keeping everyone in the US backyard in line. Of course it’s been for Freedom and Democracy primarily — which is probably why the US supported the French when the latter tried to regain Haiti in the middle of the 19th century from its former slaves; for Freedom and Democracy that the US supported the brutal regimes of Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier and his successor-son Jean Claude (“Baby Doc”) from 1957 to 1987; for the same Freedom and Democracy that the US has sent in troops, the last time in 2004 so they could help oust the democratically elected Jean-Bertrand Aristide from the presidency of Haiti and install their preferred tyrant.
Barack Obama became the 44th President of the United States and the first black to assume that post on January 20, 2009. He was elected in November 2008 on a tide of hopeful support both at home and abroad. Both at home and abroad, many people thought that his term would be unlike that of his predecessor’s, and that, on the contrary, it would address and bring to a satisfying close some of the issues that had haunted the US for eight years, including the war of several fronts the fight against terrorism had become.
The hopes were understandable. The US economy was in shambles, with jobs lost, manufacturing plants shut and many facing uncertain futures. Worse of all, as Obama noted in his inaugural speech, while the economic and social indicators of the crisis were evident — “ Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet,” “less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land — a nagging fear that America’s decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights.”
Manila Archbishop Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales criticized the “excessive devotion” of millions of Filipino Catholics to the Black Nazarene. Living lives of simplicity and selflessness, said the Cardinal, would constitute real devotion, rather than the mad rush to get on or near the carriage bearing the statue of the dark Christ so one can kiss the image or wipe it with a handkerchief. Two people died and some 400 were injured in this year’s celebration of the Black Christ’s transfer from the old city of Intramuros to the Quiapo Church nearly 300 years ago.
The Cardinal’s advice to live simply couldn’t have been addressed to a less likely crowd. We can safely assume that only a very, very few, or even none, of the estimated two million devotees that braved the heat and crush of the five kilometer procession from Manila’s Luneta Park to Quiapo Church owned several mansions or fleets of cars, regularly went on vacations in the US to visit Disneyland, or feasted on $20,000 dinners at Le Cirque and Bobby Van’s Steak House.
It may have an ample supply of people with single-digit IQs and pronunciation problems. But the Arroyo regime has a genius for using Filipino misfortunes to its advantage.
When the Maguindanao massacre of 57 people including at least 30 journalists and media workers outraged the country and the world, then spokesperson Lorelei Fajardo admitted, and what’s more reaffirmed, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s continuing friendship with the suspected masterminds. But the less imprudent voices from Malacanang made it appear that Mrs. Arroyo had absolutely nothing to do with the Ampatuans. The ruling coalition’s expulsion of clan members did remind everyone that the Ampatuans were her political allies and had immeasurably helped deliver the presidency to Mrs. Arroyo in 2004 as well as 12 Team Unity candidates to the Senate in 2007.