In the reporting on the earthquake that struck Haiti on January 12, 2010, the country is described as the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and we are reminded of the corrupt leaders that the country has been subjected to over the centuries. While there is truth in these observations, we also have to raise the question – how did Haiti become so poor and corrupt?
A historical outline is in order. Haiti committed an unpardonable crime against its European enslavers, the French, at the end of the eighteenth century. They took off their chains, organized themselves into one of the most feared fighting forces of the time and finally defeated one of Europe’s military giants at the Battle of Vertière in November 1803. The slave holders who were not slaughtered were driven off the island. The brilliant General Jean-Jacques Dessalines was humane in allowing Rachambeau to leave with his defeated forces. Independence was declared on January 1, 1804.
Haiti from its slavery beginnings was a hell-hole for Africans. The then colony was noted for its ability to “break recalcitrant slaves.” Bookman Dutty was sent from Jamaica to Haiti to be broken, but this giant of an African was responsible for organizing and continuing the war of liberation which started back with ancestors whose names we have no record of and others like Mackandal. In August 14, 1791 Bookman Dutty held a conference and the word went out and the fighting started in the north plains.
Much is said and written about the contributions of Toussant L’Ouverture and his brilliance on the battlefield; rightfully so, but he was a disaster off the field which led to his betrayal and capture and death by the cunning French.
Now how did the country become so poor? European arrogance and greed know no limits. France demanded and received reparations from Haiti to be accepted as a free nation. The US never recognized the nationhood of Haiti until after the Civil War in 1865 and Frederick Douglass, the great orator and freedom fighter against slavery in the US was its first diplomatic representative in Port-au-Prince. It took the US over 60 years to recognize the Africans of Haiti freeing themselves.
Yes, the victors had to pay their enslavers for having defeated them. In the late 1940s President Estime was still paying money on bank loans raised to pay off the reparations. He was overthrown.
I hope President Barack Obama knows that the US does not come to the table with clean hands. In 1915 the US invaded Haiti and looted their treasury of all the gold and stayed and looted the country for the next 18 years before they left in 1933. More recently, the US and the Canadian government, not to be outdone, kidnapped Aristide and flew him out of the country in February 2004.
Sarkozy is planning to visit the French Caribbean shortly. He also says he will be working with Obama to put together a donor’s package to assist Haiti. For starters, let’s have the gold and all the money stolen from Haiti returned; that should amount to hundreds of millions of today’s francs/dollars. This stolen wealth has led to the underdevelopment of not only Haiti but most of the French colonies. This is standard French policy of colonial exploitation.
Most of what has been written of and on Haiti and its history are by the defeated detractors and opponents of Haiti and its fight for freedom and independence. A work that is recommended for its superb analysis is The Irritated Genie by the late Dr Jacob Carruthers of Chicago.
Although nothing is mentioned about the genocide committed by the French and the not so holy Roman Catholic Church on the people of the land, a passing reference must be recorded and in place.
Noted Uruguayan journalist and writer Eduardo Galeano, author of Open Veins of Latin America – 500 years of Pillage of a Continent, notes: “Not even Simón Bolívar recognized Haiti, though he owed it everything. In 1816, it was Haiti that furnished Bolívar with boats, arms, and soldiers when he showed up on the island defeated and asking for shelter and help.”
Long live the Haitian revolutionary spirit, they will die fighting and standing and never on their knees!