Haiti's Problems Can Be Blamed in Part on the West's Hostility
Gary Younge, in the Guardian (Feb. 23, 2004):
As civil war encroaches, civil society implodes and civil political discourse evaporates, one of the few things all Haitians can agree on is their pride in Toussaint L'Ouverture, who lead the slave rebellion in Haiti that established the world's first black republic."The transformation of slaves, trembling in hundreds before a single white man, into a people able to organise themselves and defeat the most powerful European nations of their day is one of the great epics of revolutionary struggle and achievement," wrote the late Trinidadian intellectual CLR James in his book The Black Jacobins. The transformation of that achievement into a nation riven by political violence, ravaged by Aids and devastated by poverty is a tragedy of epic proportions.
The nation's 200th anniversary this year looks back on 13 coups and 19 years of American occupation, and now once again looks forward to more bloodshed and instability. The country's political class must bear their share of responsibility for where they go from here. Western powers, particularly France and the United States, must also take responsibility for how they got to this parlous place to begin with. If Haiti shows all the trappings of a failed state, then you do not have to look too hard or too far to see who has failed it....
But if the bicentennial offers a bleak backdrop for the immediate fate of the first black republic, it also offers the opportunity to place these events in some historical perspective. For ever since Haitian slaves expressed their desire to breathe freely, western powers have been attempting to strangle its desire for democracy and prosperity at birth.
"Men make their own history," wrote Karl Marx."But they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under given circumstances directly encountered and inherited from the past."
From the outset Haiti inherited the wrath of the colonial powers, which knew what a disastrous example a Haitian success story would be. In the words of Napoleon Bonaparte:"The freedom of the negroes, if recognised in St Domingue [as Haiti was then known] and legalised by France, would at all times be a rallying point for freedom-seekers of the New World." He sent 22,000 soldiers (the largest force to have crossed the Atlantic at the time) to recapture the"Pearl of the Antilles".
France, backed by the US, later ordered Haiti to pay 150m francs in gold as reparations to compensate former plantation and slave owners as well as for the costs of the war in return for international recognition. At today's prices that would amount to £10bn. By the end of the 19th century, 80% of Haiti's national budget was going to pay off the loan and its interest, and the country was locked into the role of a debtor nation - where it remains today.
Any prospect of planting a stable political culture foundered on the barren soil of economic impoverishment, military siege and international isolation (for the first 58 years the US refused to even recognise Haiti's existence). In 1915, fearing that internal strife would compromise its interests, the US invaded, and remained until 1934.
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