You can’t mention Haiti’s struggles without explaining its complicated relationship with the US.
On Thursday, President Donald Trump expressed frustration about people coming to the United States from Haiti — one of several “shithole countries.” While he tried to dismiss the island nation in his remarks, history shows a long legacy of political and military intervention.
The US government’s interests in Haiti existed decades prior to US occupation in 1915. US President Woodrow Wilson sent Marines to Haiti to restore order — and the US occupied the island nation until 1934.
Natural disaster after natural disaster, Haiti became a place ripe with poverty, disease and lack of basic infrastructure and human services. And, with that, a regular recipient of US humanitarian aid.
Haiti has been under Temporary Protective Status since a devastating 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck the island nation in January 2010, killing up to 300,000 people and displacing more than a million. Relief efforts in the wake of that disaster, led by US organizations, were highly criticized and often ineffective.
Though plans to remove the country from TPS were announced last year, as of September 2017, almost 40,000 people remained displaced, living in temporary shelters and camps on the outskirts of the capital, Port-au-Prince.
From Columbus to US occupation
Christopher Columbus landed in Hispaniola — the island where Haiti is located — in 1492, giving way to the invasion of the French and Spanish to the Caribbean island.
Haiti gained independence from France on January 1, 1804, and became the second oldest independent nation in the Western Hemisphere after the United States. But US leaders would not officially recognize Haitian independence for nearly 60 years.
The US claimed it was the result of “slave revolt” and even provided aid to put down the rebellion during the revolution, according to the State Department’s Office of the Historian.
As the years passed, the US feared that Germany would control the island nation because it saw it as a potential naval site, the State Department said.
More than 70 different dictators ruled Haiti from 1804 to 1915.
By 1914, several Haitian presidents had been assassinated or overthrown and President Wilson sent troops to restore order but ended up occupying Haiti.
US intervenes in Haiti’s politics
American troops once again intervened in Haiti following a 1991 military coup that ousted Haiti’s first freely elected leader and led to an exodus of people to the US.
Then-President Bill Clinton sent a delegation in 1994 that reached a peace deal and restored Haiti’s president Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power.
By then, thousands of Haitians tried to flee to the United States by attempting the 600-mile passage to Florida in small, overcrowded boats just to be forced back into the country.
It wouldn’t be the last time that American troops would set foot in the country.
In 2004, violence and looting spread through Haiti as rebels opposed the re-election of Aristide.
In hopes of ending the bloody rebellion, US officials joined representatives from several countries in an effort that led to peace in Haiti. The US was so involved that when Aristide resigned, he was taken to the Central African Republic aboard a US military plane.
Mother nature hits the country, America helps
Mother Nature has punished Haiti over and over again in the past decade.
A 7.0-magnitude earthquake hit Haiti in 2010, killing more than 200,000 people and displacing hundreds of thousands.
Homes were shredded bare and roofs blown away when Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012 and in 2016, when Hurricane Matthew — the strongest storm to his Haiti in half a century — made landfall.
Thousands have died in floods and landslides. Crops, houses, livestock, and infrastructure were severely damaged and a cholera outbreak — still gripping the country — followed.
The US has sent at least $3.4 billion in assistance for disaster relief, reconstruction and development efforts, according to the State Department.
Nearly 60% of Haitians live in poverty, according to a World Bank report. Many do not have access to health care, power and or use of a toilet.
‘Made in Haiti’
Many of the clothes sold at Walmart, JCPenney, Gap, Old Navy and other well-known stores have been manufactured in Haiti.
The country’s garment manufacturing business has been up and running for decades and is currently employing 60,000 people, according to the Association of Industries of Haiti.
The apparel sector makes at least 90% of Haiti’s total exports and the US has made sure that it continues thriving.
In the aftermath of the devastating earthquake, most Haitian textiles began entering the US duty-free. The US Agency for International Development also built a power plant in the northern coast of the country to keep the clothing factories running despite the country’s continued electricity woes.