AIDS, the racist blame game and Haitian resistance

Haiti’s calendar is emblazoned with glorious dates of popular victory over slavery, racism and foreign occupation. Jan. 1 of this year was the 211th anniversary of the Haitian people’s triumph over the French empire and their colonial allies who attempted to reestablish slavery in Haiti. July of this year will mark the 100th anniversary of the U.S. occupation of Haiti and the steadfast resistance of the Haitian masses led by the Caco leader Charlmagne Peralte. April 20 marked the 25th anniversary of a massive movement that erupted in the Haitian American community in 1990 after the Center for Disease Control published a study blaming Haitians, homosexuals, hemophiliacs and heroin users for the transmission of AIDS in the United States.

The anti-imperialist, national-unity newspaper Haiti Liberte hosted an evening of commemoration in Brooklyn to remember the mass movement that came into the streets 25 years ago to demand that Haitians be removed from this list. A passionate panel of speakers remembered the intensity of the April days and the campaign to unite everyone against the prevailing racism at the time which equated Haitians with AIDS. According to the research of medical anthropologist Dr. Paul Farmer and others, AIDS was introduced from the U.S. into Haiti, but this was never convenient for the mainstream news long-accustomed to unscientific claims which scapegoated African and African-descended peoples for the spread of disease. [1]

Half a million Haitians and their supporters came into the streets on April 20, 1990, marching through their Flatbush neighborhoods in Brooklyn to City Hall making the Brooklyn Bridge shake as it had never shook before. Due to the massive mobilization, the CDC was forced to retract their racist claim. Racism was turned back by the power and unity of the people.

Community leader and journalist Berthony Dupont reminded the crowd: “We are at war. Haiti is at war. They have never stopped waging war against us. They cannot forgive us for overthrowing their rule and demanding our freedom.” He drew a parallel to the introduction of cholera into Haiti by UN troops who today illegally occupy Haiti. The outbreak of cholera has thus far left over 4,000 Haitians dead and the UN has yet to recognize its role in polluting the Haitian water supply and spreading this disease.

Haitian women leaders who were in high school at the time remembered the intense anti-Haitian sentiment that they confronted on a daily basis. One Haitian nurse exclaimed: “They made us ashamed to be Haitian. They said HBO stood for Haitian Body Odor. Haiti was only mentioned in association with coups, violence, hunger and disease. We had to learn to love ourselves. We had to stand up. This mobilization was a key part of our learning to love ourselves and be proud of our identity when we were attacked from all angles.” Waving her fist defiantly, she concluded, “Again we had to teach our detractors: You don’t mess with Haitians!”

April 20 and all of Haiti’s history reiterates the timeless adage that has rung true from Belfast to Port-au-Prince to Ho Chi Minh City: “Repression breeds resistance. Resistance brings freedom.” The Party for Socialism and Liberation salutes the Haitian people for all that they have sacrificed and won for oppressed people everywhere and pledges to stand strong against our common enemy here in the belly of the beast!


[1] Aids and Accusations: The Geography of Blame. 2006

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