President Trump should apologize to the Haitians

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Why does President Trump always shoot himself in the foot?

His policies of lower taxes and decreased regulation has the economy on a tear and the stock market booming. He has destroyed ISIS, forced NATO to pay its fair share and kept many of his campaign promises.

So why insult African Americans – whose unemployment has plummeted because of his policies – by calling Haiti and Africa a “s***hole?”  President Trump should apologize and allow the 58,000 Haitians given temporary legal status after the earthquake to remain in the United States.

As a young man, I spent a volunteer year as a physician in Haiti with the Missionaries of Charity, Mother Teresa’s order.  I learned the language, culture, diseases and history of these wonderful people. Haiti is a disaster, with massive unemployment, high infant mortality rates, starvation and punishing poverty. But once one understands the history of these proud people, it is hard not to sympathize with their plight.

Haiti was created by the only successful slave revolt in history. During the 1600s and 1700s when the slave trade flourished, Africa consisted on numerous tribes – some more peaceful than others. The slaves that were brought to Haiti by France came from West African regions of Dahomey and Benin. These tribes were fierce warriors who did not take kindly to being enslaved.

Thus Haiti had constant slave revolts. This culminated in the late 1700s with the Haitians seizing control of their country and killing all their enslavers. It became an independent republic in 1804, but was ostracized by the international community. Napoleon sent an armada to Haiti to crush the revolt. This armada was supposed to then continue to New Orleans and protect the Louisiana Territory. The Haitians destroyed the armada, forcing Napoleon to sell the Louisiana Territory to the United States for a cheap price.

But the ungrateful United States did not recognize Haiti until after the Civil War, for fear that the slave revolt would spread. Thus, Haiti never developed the democratic and legal institutions that allow countries to flourish. Ironically, countries like Barbados and Bermuda – whose enslaved ancestors descended from more docile tribes – tolerated colonialism long enough to become thriving democracies.

Haiti was slowly improving until the earthquake hit in 2010. Over 200,000 people died and millions were left homeless. The country has yet to recover.  As a humanitarian gesture, 58,000 Haitians living in the United States illegally were offered Temporary Protected Status (TPS), giving them work permits and legal status. But recently, President Trump revoked this status.

President Trump is reported to have speculated that many Haitian have AIDS. This, too, is unfair. When AIDS became an epidemic in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta came up with four risk groups known as the 4 H’s – homosexuals, heroin addicts (through IV drug injection), hemophiliacs (through blood transfusions) and Haitians. But further research revealed that there was no racial reason for Haitians to have AIDS. The disease was brought to Haiti by gay American tourists. Yet the entire country was ostracized. I will never forget listening to a Haitian business man angrily describe the indignity of having a customs agent use tweezers to open his passport when he visited his family in Florida.

President Trump should do the right thing – apologize to the Haitian people and let those granted temporary status remain in the United States. Haitians are polite and forgiving people. They will accept the President’s apology and get on with their lives.

Joe Bentivegna is an ophthalmologist in Rocky Hill.


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