NYU (US)—International responses to rebuild Haiti after the January earthquake are unlikely to successfully transform the country, says New York University’s Millery Polyné,  because these measures do not consider power, politics, and Haitian history—especially its relations with the United States.

“The response to the earthquake in Haiti has produced another Pan-American moment within contentious debates between militarism and humanitarianism, and international cooperation, political intervention, and security,” says Polyné, author of the forthcoming From Douglass to Duvalier: U.S. African Americans, Haiti, and Pan Americanism, 1870-1964. The book considers a century of Haitian history and its implications today.

Polyné points to U.S.-based aid and credit organizations and programs that are ideologically rooted in U.S. Pan-American policies and institutions. These include Franklin Roosevelt’s Good Neighbor Policy, Harry Truman’s Point Four Program, the Organization of American States (OAS), NAFTA, the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB), and USAID.

“These institutions and assistance programs have made some improvements in Haiti and other Caribbean and Latin American countries,” says Polyné. “However, these same inter-American bodies are often reluctant to criticize U.S. foreign policy and structural loan programs.

“Moreover, they fail to consider the forces contributing to Haiti’s history of underdevelopment—U.S. occupation, military aggression, and political meddling in the Caribbean and Latin America since the turn of the 20th century.”

The country has long been both a source of immense pride—because of the Haitian Revolution—and of profound disappointment—because of the unshakable realities of poverty, political instability, and violence—to the black diasporic imagination.

During the post–Civil War period, the United States aggressively expanded its territorial holdings and commercial markets westward and southward, solidifying itself as a formidable force in the Americas and globally and thus shaping a U.S.-centered Pan Americanism that benefited U.S. interests.

However, many Caribbean and Latin American peoples questioned and actively challenged a U.S.-centered inter-American movement.

Drawing from the thoughts and words of American and Haitian intellectuals, artists, journalists, and activists such as Frederick Douglass, Walter White, Jean-Léon Destiné, Claude Barnett, and Lavinia Williams, From Douglass to Duvalier examines the creative and critical ways U.S. African Americans and Haitians sought to rebuild Haiti through diplomacy, business, education, and tourism from the late nineteenth century through the early 1960s.

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