If folks are still arguing that Obama does not have a clear “black agenda,” they may be missing the point. I actually believe that in addition to healthcare, which will help millions more black folks, Obama’s black agenda moves beyond our water’s edge here in the United States. Obama quietly signed into law last week legislation that would drop Haiti’s debt to the United States. The Debt Relief for Earthquake Recovery in Haiti Act was introduced by California representative Maxine Waters, and passed both houses of Congress, would put the United States in the lead with pushing other countries and international lending organizations like the World Bank to do the same.
The devastating earthquake that killed an estimate 200,000 people some months ago placed a spotlight for millions of observers on the crippling poverty that hobbles this island nation. Since its independence in 1804, the first black state in the western hemisphere that helped expedite the U.S. purchase of Louisiana from France, Haiti has been trying to survive by servicing its enormous debt while its people live on cents a day. The debt relief law would begin eradicating the over $800 million Haiti owes and mandate that any economic support to the country be in the form of grants, not loans. For Haiti, this has tremendous ramifications. This now means that the United States serves as a model for other nations, and sets a precedent for how we engage black countries who are suffering under bad debt and bad deals with foreign powers.
Further, this move also begins to alter the relationship between the U.S. and Haiti, which is a long and exploitative one. In the recent past, the U.S. has not been good to Haiti, supporting despotic governments and occupying at will. So this move by President Obama is a needed gesture of reconciliation toward a country that black America owes a debt of gratitude.