Haiti: Nation of slaves

To understand Haiti’s poverty, one must understand its history. It is often said that Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. It is—and it’s not even close. This is because Haiti is also one of the most exploited countries in the world.


For an excellent history of Haiti, I recommend Paul Farmer’s The Uses of Haiti.

It started with massive genocide wrought by Spanish “explorers” in the 1500s. Virtually none of the natives survived. After that, the French took over the Haitian side of the island. Ships came from Africa loaded with slaves and left for Europe and the US filled with timber and sugar. Haiti was deforested by the 1700s. At the same time, it became the dominant trading partner of the US and Europe.

In 1803, the unthinkable happened. The slaves revolted, kicked out their French masters, and declared independence. This made Haiti just the second independent nation in the Western Hemisphere at the time, after the US. Europe and the US (where slavery was still legal) reacted with fear and condemnation and refused to recognize the upstart slaves. They cut them off, finally agreeing to let Haiti participate in world trade if they would first compensate the French for the loss of their plantations and slaves. So the slaves were made to pay compensation to their masters. The US regarding Haiti as a renegade slave state and did not recognize its independence until after the Civil War, a full sixty years after their independence.


Isabel’s Allende’s historical fiction is set during the Haitian revolution.

Ever since then, Haiti has been indebted to the US and Europe. The US has invaded or intervened over 40 times. In the 1800s, this often meant sending a military vessel to Port-au-Prince, demanding a large sum of cash from the national treasury, and sailing away. In 1910, the US precursor to Citibank simply purchased the Haitian national treasury. To protect its investment, the US military occupied the country from 1915 to 1934, in the process creating the Haitian military, whose sole purpose was and still is to repress its own people. Eventually, the US installed dictator François “Papa Doc” Duvalier, whose reign of terror kept Haiti safe for US businesses.

Haiti’s primary natural resource is no longer timber or sugar or coffee, but cheap labor. The US helped create this new slave economy by exporting, with approval from US-sponsored dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, cheap (and subsidized) agricultural products. These were sold for less than what local Haitian farmers could sell for. Unable to compete, they abandoned their farms and moved to the cities to work in factories—factories owned by the Haitian elite (often US citizens living in Florida) or US companies, paying slave wages.


Aristide survived four assassination attempts. As one Haitian elite described, “Everyone who’s anyone is opposed to Aristide, except the people.”

The Haitian poor finally found a champion in the diminutive priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who was elected twice in landslides (despite the US funding $70 million to the opposition). See American doctor Paul Farmer’s article for the story of Aristide’s struggles with the Haitian military and its US supporters. Aristide had called for a cancellation of Haitian debt; for the French to reimburse Haiti, with interest, for the compensation to slave masters extorted from it in the 1800s (a total of $27 billion), for a clampdown on government corruption; for investments in health care and education; and for an increase in the minimum wage. This was too much for the West, and Aristide was driven from power by US-orchestrated coups both times. He was also the subject of an intense media campaign by Haitian elites opposed to him. (Reviews of books about Aristide on Amazon will either have a one-star or five-star rating, depending on who submitted it.) He lived in exile for years.


France only sold the Louisiana Purchase (in brown– all red states today) to the US after facing bankruptcy from losing Haiti to a slave rebellion, a debt that Alexander Hamilton acknowledged with gratitude.

Since then, Haiti has been under a United Nations military occupation, whose role it is to keep from power both Aristide and right-wing military leaders involved in drug trafficking.

Today, Haiti is a de facto vassal state of the US, pressured by US trade and military policy to be nothing but a pool of cheap labor. 214 years after independence, it is still a nation of slaves, making t-shirts and cheap toys for US consumers.

Here, a Haitian pop star Mikaben plays an ode to his homeland:

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Trump guts Migratory Bird Treaty Act

Years ago, Chevron came out with a series of commercials showing them going out of their way to protect wildlife and the environment. These ads would invariably conclude with a question like, “Do people stop work on an oil pipeline so the Barn Owl nearby can finish raising its young?” and conclude with, “People do.”

It’s likely a lot of what Chevron was doing was mandated by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA). In a memorandum quietly issued on December 22, 2017, the Trump administration essentially gutted it. Based on their new interpretation, “incidental take” is no longer prohibited. They re-interpret the Act to prohibit only the direct intentional killing of birds, such as shooting a robin with a gun.


Salt-encrusted Bufflehead from Searles Lake, where hypersaline water is discharged across four square miles of the desert.

They specifically exonerate those responsible for birds killed by cars, windows, power lines, cats, and various other non-point sources. The memo, however, is silent on the obvious and no doubt intended beneficiaries of this change in the law:

These have powerful lobbies that no doubt led to this decision. In fact, their lawyers probably wrote it.  Actually, the memo was written by Daniel Jorjani, deputy solicitor at the Department of the Interior and personal adviser to billionaire Charles Koch.

[ADDED Jan 16:  MBTA is being attacked on a second front: H.R. 4239, the SECURE American Energy Act, which includes an amendment exempting energy industries from the MBTA. This would potentially include even oil spills (although other laws, such as the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, are generally used to pursue damages in those instances). H.R. 4239 has already cleared the House Natural Resources Committee, though it has not yet been voted on in the full House of Representatives nor has there been action in the Senate. For more information, see Audubon’s Action Center.]


Ivanpah solar array, which kills between 2,500 and 5,700 birds each year.

It’s not clear what the full ramifications of this will be. It will be up to states to apply state laws to protect birds– but these are variable and notoriously weak in red states.

On the one hand, the MBTA was notoriously poorly enforced– it’s easy to think of many bird mortality events, usually through gross negligence (like hosing off a barge filled with hundreds of flightless Elegant Tern chicks), where the MBTA was never enforced. On the other hand, all the bird monitoring done at construction sites to protect bird nests is motivated by MBTA. Will all that now go away?  Will people cut down trees with nesting Yellow-billed Magpies to build shopping malls?  Now, people can.


Added January 11– copy of a letter to DOI Secretary Zinke from former DOI/USFWS executive managers and leaders: 

January 10, 2018

The Honorable Ryan Zinke

Secretary of the Interior

1849 C St., NW

Washington, D.C. 20240

Dear Secretary Zinke:

We are all conservation professionals who have formerly served the Department of the Interior, from 1971 to 2017: Deputy Secretaries, Assistant Secretaries, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Directors, and Migratory Bird Conservation Chiefs. We are former Senate-confirmed political appointees, of Republican and Democratic Presidents, and we are former career civil servants. We are, each and all, very concerned by the Interior Department’s December 22, 2017 announcement of a new legal memorandum (M-37050) reinterpreting the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

This legal opinion is contrary to the long-standing interpretation by every administration (Republican and Democrat) since at least the 1970’s, who held that the Migratory Bird Treaty Act strictly prohibits the unregulated killing of birds. This law was among the first U.S. environmental laws, setting this nation and continent on the enviable path to conserving our natural resources. It was passed to implement the first of four bilateral treaties with countries with which we share migratory bird populations (Canada, Mexico, Japan, and Russia). Its intent, and your obligation in enforcing it, is to conserve migratory bird populations. Therefore, we respectfully request that you suspend this ill-conceived opinion, and convene a bipartisan group of experts to recommend a consensus and sensible path forward. We would be pleased to work with you, involving the public, toward this end.

The Solicitor’s opinion takes 41 pages to turn the MBTA’s straightforward language — “it shall be unlawful to hunt, take, capture, kill … by any means whatever … at any time or in any manner, any migratory bird” (emphasis added)— into a conclusion that the killing of migratory birds violates the act only when “the actor [is] engaged in an activity the object of which was to render an animal subject to human control” (emphasis added).

This is a new, contrived legal standard that creates a huge loophole in the MBTA, allowing companies to engage in activities that routinely kill migratory birds so long as they were not intending that their operations would “render an animal subject to human control.” Indeed, as your solicitor’s opinion necessarily acknowledged, several district and circuit courts have soundly rejected the narrow reading of the law that your Department is now embracing.

We recognize that, at the margin, reasonable people can disagree about the extent to which prosecutions under the MBTA are appropriate for activities that are not intended to kill birds, but which are reasonably likely, and indeed, quite likely to kill them. That is why, over the course of our collective careers, significant progress has been made in defining the limits of this law through refined interpretations, court decisions, and common sense. Over the years, career professionals and political leadership in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), the Department of the Interior, and Department of Justice have adapted to ensure that the enforcement of this law fairly balances the goal of economic progress with the impact of that progress on bird populations.

Birds are, quite literally, the proverbial “canary in the coal mine.” How birds fare in the world indicates how all wildlife and habitat, and by extension human populations, will fare. It is not just poetry that led Rachel Carson to title her seminal work, Silent Spring. All the past administrations for which we have worked have struck a balance and worked diligently and in good faith with industries that had significant impacts on birds, such as oil and gas, coal, electric utilities, commercial fishing, communications, transportation, national defense, and others to reasonably address unintended take. It can be done. In fact, it has been done.

Successes in applying this law to minimize the incidental killing of birds are numerous. For example, we worked with oil producers to ensure that exposed crude oil waste pits were covered with nets to keep birds from landing in them. We worked to improve the techniques of commercial fishing to reduce the drowning of seabirds in fishing lines and nets. Additionally, government has used the law to work with wind energy companies to improve the siting of turbines to avoid and minimize the killing of birds. It has never been the goal to entirely eliminate the unintentional killing of birds, but when we find techniques and technologies that can be used at reasonable cost to protect bird populations, we had a responsibility to do so. Although the proximate reason for the passage of the MBTA may have been to protect migratory birds from unregulated market hunting (we note the absence of oil waste pits and wind farms at the time of bill passage), the ultimate reason was the protection of migratory birds.

The MBTA can and has been successfully used to reduce gross negligence by companies that simply do not recognize the value of birds to society or the practical means to minimize harm. Your new interpretation needlessly undermines a history of great progress, undermines the effectiveness of the migratory bird treaties, and diminishes U.S. leadership.

In a world where connections to nature are becoming ever more tenuous, birds are the wildlife that Americans encounter daily. Whether we are conservationists, birdwatchers, hunters, or just citizens who enjoy the natural world, conserving birds is a common interest. In addition, we must consider how our treaty partners in Canada, Mexico, Japan and Russia will view this new interpretation. Only a few years ago, the U.S. exchanged formal diplomatic notes with Canada reaffirming our countries’ common interpretation that incidental killing of birds was prohibited by the treaty.

Just as Theodore Roosevelt declared and demonstrated, we, as Federal officials, endeavored to strike a balance between development and conservation. We recognized that strict liability must be tempered with common sense notions of reasonable foreseeability and readily available alternatives. We are anxious to explore this balance and provide you with an approach that we can all support, and one that will continue the proud record of U.S. leadership in conserving birds.

We await your response.


Lynn Scarlett
Deputy Secretary of the Interior
President George W. Bush

David J. Hayes
Deputy Secretary of the Interior
Presidents William Clinton and Barack Obama

Nathaniel Reed
Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Fish and Wildlife and Parks
President Richard Nixon

Donald Barry
Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Fish and Wildlife and Parks
President William Clinton

Lyle Laverty
Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Fish and Wildlife and Parks
President George W. Bush

Lynn Greenwalt
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director
Presidents Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and Jimmy Carter

John Turner
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director
President George H. W. Bush

Jamie Rappaport Clark
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director
President William Clinton

Steve Williams
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director
President George W. Bush

Daniel M. Ashe
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director
President Barack Obama

John Rogers
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Chief, Migratory Bird Management (1972-84)

Rollin Sparrowe
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Chief, Migratory Bird Management (1984-89)

Tom Dwyer
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Chief, Migratory Bird Management (1989-93)

Paul Schmidt
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Chief, Migratory Bird Management (1993-99)
Assistant Director Migratory Birds (2003-11)

Jon Andrew
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Chief, Migratory Bird Management (1999-2002)

Robert Blohm
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Chief, Migratory Bird Management (2006-11)

Brad Bortner
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Chief, Migratory Bird Management (2011-17)

The Honorable Rob Bishop, Chairman, House Committee on Natural Resources
The Honorable Raúl Grijalva, Ranking Member, House Committee on Natural Resources
The Honorable John Barrasso, Chairman, Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works
The Honorable Tom Carper, Ranking Member, Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works
The Honorable Lisa Murkowski, Chairwoman, Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources
The Honorable Maria Cantwell, Ranking Member, Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources
The Honorable Ed Royce, Chairman, House Committee on Foreign Affairs
The Honorable Eliot Engel, Ranking Member, House Committee on Foreign Affairs
The Honorable Bob Corker, Chairman, Senate Committee on Foreign Relations
The Honorable Ben Cardin, Ranking Member, Senate Committee on Foreign Relations
The Honorable Rodney Frelinghuysen, Chairman, House Committee on Appropriations
The Honorable Nita Lowey, Ranking Member, House Committee on Appropriations
The Honorable Thad Cochran, Chairman, Senate Committee on Appropriations
The Honorable Patrick Leahy, Ranking Member, Senate Committee on Appropriations
Mr. David Bernhardt, Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior
Ms. Aurelia Skipwith, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Fish and Wildlife and Parks, U.S. Department of the
Mr. Greg Sheehan, Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Acting)

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When the Gila River turned the Arizona desert green


The Gila River begins in the mountains of New Mexico. Today, it doesn’t make it past Phoenix.

With the waters of the Gila River under threat again, most articles about the river talk about the reminiscences of Aldo Leopold or the Coolidge Dam, which impounds most of the water at San Carlos on the storied San Carlos Indian Reservation.

But going back a little farther, to the mid-1800s, the truth is shocking. That barren sandy land between Phoenix and Tucson, where dust devils swirl on the slightest breeze and old airplanes are parked on the desert floor, was once a carpet of green agriculture and thriving communities.

gila1Using a thousand-year-old network of levees, weirs, canals, and irrigation channels (above), the the O’odom and Pee Posh (or Pima and Maricopa) re-engineered the Gila River, cultivating over two hundred square miles of rectangular fields. Hardly a drop of water was left unused. Soldiers, trappers, explorers, outcasts all stopped; many stayed. Among the thatched homes, Mexicans, French, Dutch, English, and Americans mixed with chickens and children. They rested and ate well, enjoying a bounty of wheat, corn, beans, pumpkins, watermelon, squash, peas, tobacco, and cotton.


A recent proposal is to divert water near the headwaters of the Gila, in the mountains of New Mexico, and pipe it to a reservoir created to hold water for irrigation.

In 1846, Lieutenant William Emory, surveyor and civil engineer, was impressed by their ingenuity and generosity. “To us it was a rare sight to be thrown in the midst of a large nation of what is termed wild Indians, surpassing many of the Christian nations in agriculture, little behind them in the useful arts, and immeasurably before them in honesty and virtue. During the whole of yesterday, our camp was full of men, women, and children, who sauntered amongst our packs, unwatched, and not a single instance of theft was reported.”

This all disappeared when white settlers began diverting water upstream. Now the Gila barely reaches these dry sands.

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An EPA separation letter from a major acid mine site

In the course of my work, I’m involved with the cleanup of a massive open pit mine that has been leaching acid mine waste into nearby rivers and streams for most of a century, killing everything in it. No fish, no bugs. A local tribe lost their primary gathering spot for a major cultural festival. For them, the contamination was like destroying the Sistine Chapel. The owner of the mine is a large oil company. Our job is to require the company to clean it up, restore the streams, and compensate the public for past injuries.

Key to this job was the US EPA project site manager. She was tireless. Every week I received PDFs of notices, letters, studies, and requirements that she was sending to the states, to the other federal partners, to the tribe, and mostly to the company, requiring them to meet various deadlines. Her diligence was exemplary. After decades of stagnation, she accomplished more in her few years at this mine site than many of her predecessors. Then, in the summer of 2017, six months into the Trump regime, I got another PDF from her:

After much soul searching, it is with reluctance that I accept the early out offer from the USEPA. In my 20 years at the [name removed] office, I have served alongside the most committed and passionate of environmental specialists, and it has been extremely rewarding. However, important issues have made it untenable for me to continue working in the current environment.

On a program level, the cuts to Superfund have had their toll. Beginning in 2010, EPA has noted that there is no longer a ‘Fund” to fiscally support the program, and keep pace with the numerous new contaminated sites that are added to the list each year. Earlier cuts in staffing and budget have left scientists and engineers doing more with fewer resources, and rather than reinstating the pay-as-you-go fees on corporations, Scott Pruitt’s team is instead focusing on “streamlining the superfund program”. The 5 goals of the streamlining task force focus on eliminating steps and saving corporate monies, yet fail to mention the mission of the agency: to protect human health and the environment. During recent discussions with management, I was told that as the project manager of a superfund site currently under scrutiny, I should strive for compromise and try to be as “invisible as possible”.

On a philosophical level, the recent political pressures and bureaucracy have created an atmosphere that is at odds with our Agency’s stated mission. I fear that my talents, as well as those of many of my colleagues, will no longer be utilized in a positive manner and additional cuts will be experienced. My duty as a scientist calls for me to seek opportunities that are more in line with my personal and professional goals of addressing the challenges of a changing climate. It is indisputable that there are now 410 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere. Scientists’ warnings fall on the deaf ears of our legislators, while greenhouse gas emissions continue beyond a level to which human society can adapt unless something is done to reverse emissions and ensure a sustainable future.

I have savored our time together. My experience and knowledge have flourished over the years working in various programs (TSCA, EPCRA, RCRA, CERCLA/Superfund) and I have enjoyed the chance to ensure enforcement and community involvement, and to develop new programs (TRI schools & Tribes, Regional Science Council, Region [x] Climate/Energy Team, WasteWise, C2P2, Green Cities, and more!). We have fought diligently for science—and for our communities–and I will continue to do so in other capacities. My highest regard, respect, and thanks to all of the fabulous employees who believe in what we do!

My last day at USEPA is Thursday, August 31, 2017.

Thank you.
[name removed]
Environmental Scientist
Remedial Project Manager


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Standing Rock: Sophia Wilansky suing the FBI to get the shrapnel that used to be in her arm

sophiaSophia Wilansky, the college student who became the most seriously injured person in the Dakota Access Pipeline conflict at Standing Rock, is now speaking publicly. The FBI is still investigating her, and she is suing them to get the shrapnel the doctors removed from her arm, to prove it came from the militarized police attacking her.

Her father’s account of her injuries, described during an interview from a hospital a year ago, is here.

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Alcohol, suicide, and resistance at Pine Ridge featured in new videos

pineridge2.jpgFollowing the struggles of Lakota teenager George Dull Knife for four years, a new documentary examines recent protests of American Indian Movement (AIM) activists to shut down the four bars in Whiteclay, Nebraska. This town of fourteen people existed solely to sell alcohol to Natives from Pine Ridge across the border. The one-hour video, On a Knife Edge, is part of PBS’s America Reframed series and is available on-line.

The bars were enormous money-making ventures, with support from local sheriffs and county commissioners. They also fueled rapes, murders, and alcoholism. It’s bizarre to see police, who are protecting the bars, extorting money from teenage protesters who are trying to close the bars.

pineridge1The documentary alludes to an election at Pine Ridge where alcohol was legalized– this in fact never went in to effect. In April 2017, the bars at Whiteclay were closed by order of the state of Nebraska. The 12-minute clip below, from The Guardian, describes the continuing battle against alcoholism and suicide at Pine Ridge.

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