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On Haiti’s Navassa Island: Will the US Return it to its Duly Owner?


Haitian Diaspora, Culture, Haiti

Article By: Rodrigue Vital

Several centuries ago, Thucydides wrote, “Justice is what is decided when equal forces are opposed, while possibilities are what superior impose and the weak acquiesce to.” The Haitian government then and now has reluctantly and nonchalantly given up a piece of Haitian territory named Navassa that they should reclaim sooner than later.

The island could turn into a bonanza for Haitian fisheries and wildlife conservation, providing jobs and new opportunities for thousands of needy Haitian families. But first, let’s review briefly the Navassa issue, which stills pends in the UN among the known territorial disputes. The seizure of Navassa island by the US, following a bogus claim of discovery made in 1857 by a US naval officer, Captain Duncan, illustrates the point that Thucydides had made. This is a lot of land situated thirty-three nautical miles off the southwest coast of Haiti and which has been inhabited by Haitians randomly due to a chain of obstacles and events that befell Haiti since independence.

Nonetheless, Navassa has been part of Haiti under an old foreign policy principle known as “UTI POSSIDETIS”, which allows for all French territories adjacent to Haiti following the Haitian Revolution to automatically become Haiti’s. As I argued in my book “The Years of Haiti in the Shade of the American Empire”, there is no ground, legal, nor moral, for the US to claim and retain this island. The Guano Act enacted in the United Stated cannot justify this encroachment of another, yes weaker nation’s land. Do most Haitians know about Navassa? Do they even care?

Rodrigue Vital
Rodrigue Vital

After high school and before immigrating to the US in the late 80s, Rodrigue Vital worked as a reporter for a local Haitian newspaper. He attended briefly the University of Linguistiques in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. A former Fellow at the International Institute of Journalism in Berlin, he later enrolled at Georgetown University in Washington D.C., where he completed both his undergrad and graduate studies in Public Policy and International Affairs. His professional experience includes positions as an Analyst at Georgetown University, Program Specialist at the US Dept of Commerce Commercial Law, Program Director at the Maryland Dept of Labor, and currently Communications Coordinator for Montgomery County in Maryland. Rodrigue’s previous articles have appeared in the Haitian Times in NY and MSNBC’s the Root. He is the author of the book “The Years of Haiti in the Shade of the American Empire.”

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