On Haiti
(A Selection of Articles)

by George Saunders


More than a week has passed since the catastrophic destruction caused by the Jan. 12 earthquake in Haiti. As of Jan. 20, it was estimated that over 200,000 Haitians have been killed by the quake and its aftermath, and the toll keeps mounting.

In the “reflections” by Fidel Castro reproduced below, readers will find illuminating facts and figures about the earthquake, and about the effective efforts to save lives, being carried out by one of the poorest countries on earth, Haiti’s neighbor Cuba. (On Jan. 19, two articles on Michael Moore’s web site—articles from the U.S. mainstream media—confirmed the outstanding efforts made by the Cubans and their allies, including Haitian student doctors trained in Cuba, one of them even a Haitian exile from New Jersey. Go to these links: http://www.michaelmoore.com/words/latest-news/cuban-run-hospital-performs-amputations> and http://www.michaelmoore.com/words/latest-news/medical-workers-tend-haitis-wounded-collection-dead-continues

Bill Onasch has written an excellent, brief review of the events surrounding the Haitian earthquake, taking a quick look at the historical and socio-economic background that contributes to the intensified suffering and loss in Haiti. He also pays tribute to the thousands of union nurses in the U.S. who have offered their services to help Haitians. Onasch’s article follows the “reflections” by Fidel Castro, below.

Jamaican author John Maxwell has given a more detailed account of Haiti’s historical background, and does not hide his anger and contempt at the crimes that capitalist imperialism has inflicted on the Haitian people. Maxwell’s article appears below, after Onasch’s.

Maxwell’s article is followed by another on Afro-Caribbean themes. Scott McLemee, an authority on the life of C.L.R. James, quotes with telling effect from C.L.R. James’s Black Jacobins, which vividly brings to light Haiti’s revolutionary history.

Following McLemee’s article is one by Tom Whitney, who writes further about racism, revolution, counterrevolution, and historical parallels between Black people’s struggle for freedom in Haiti and in Cuba.

It is now becoming clear that the occasion of this ghastly natural disaster is being used, vulturelike, to advance the interests of the imperial U.S. military machine, which is presided over, for now, by the pro-military Democratic Party administration headed by Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, & Co.

U.S. military forces are dominating Haiti’s main airport, having brought in 12,000 U.S. troops, and are giving priority to their own military flights over relief flights from France, Brazil, and other countries.

Regardless of the terrible suffering and need of Haiti’s impoverished people, the U.S. military machine is taking the opportunity to consolidate its presence there as a center of power ultimately aimed against the rest of the Caribbean and Latin America. This fits in with a pattern begun last year under the Obama administration.

First, in June 2009 there came the pro-U.S. military coup in Honduras, where a major U.S. base has existed since at least the 1950s. (The continued presence of that base could have been threatened if the popular demand for an assembly to rewrite the country’s constitution had been realized. The coup prevented that.)

Then came an agreement with Colombia for seven U.S. military bases in that country—to make up for one U.S. military base in Ecuador that was closed thanks to the upsurge of mass struggles in that country.

Also last year, after a millionaire was elected to office in Panama, that country permitted U.S. military bases to be reestablished there (after they had been closed decades ago, under President Carter). The election of a billionaire in Chile this week could similarly open the possibility for U.S. bases in that country.

All these military moves are aimed against the left-leaning, self-proclaimed “socialist” regimes in Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Nicaragua, which are united with Cuba in ALBA, the Bolivarian Alternative for the Peoples of Our America (i.e., Latin America and the Caribbean).

These countries, and allied movements of the oppressed and exploited masses in Latin America and the Caribbean, seek to break free of U.S. corporate power, which came to dominate the region especially after the Spanish-American War of 1898. The steady rebuilding of the U.S. military presence in the region is clearly aimed at stopping the Latin American and Caribbean peoples’ break for freedom.

By moving in and establishing a reinforced military presence in Haiti—with cold indifference to the infinite horrors Haitians are undergoing after the earthquake—U.S. imperialism reveals its totally inhuman nature. It shows that this system, based on its endlessly expanding lust for profit, can offer no way out for the human race.

Only the replacement of the imperialist capitalist system by a society based on human solidarity and production for human needs, not profits, can put an end to disasters like the one in Haiti. And the grisly, Inferno-like scenes in Haiti are only a foretaste of what humanity faces if capitalism persists, bringing with it the calamities of global warming which it has created and which it refuses to take measures to stop.

In relation to all this, we were reminded of an article about another Caribbean natural disaster of a century ago, in 1902. This article by Rosa Luxemburg is about a volcanic eruption on the island of Martinique (follow this link: http://marxists.org/archive/luxemburg/1902/05/15.htm). It shows that there is nothing new in the crocodile tears and self-seeking of the imperialist powers when they pretend to offer “charity” to those struck down by nature.


The Lesson of Haiti

by Fidel Castro Ruz (Jan. 14, 2010)

Translation by Granma International, edited for republication here.

Two days ago, at almost six o'clock in the evening Cuban time and when, given its geographical location, night had already fallen in Haiti, television stations began to broadcast the news that a violent earthquake—measuring 7.3 on the Richter scale—had severely struck Port-au-Prince. The seismic phenomenon originated from a tectonic fault located in the sea just 15 kilometers from the Haitian capital, a city where 80% of the people inhabit fragile homes built of adobe and mud.

The news continued almost without interruption for hours. There was no footage, but it was confirmed that many public buildings, hospitals, schools, and more solidly constructed facilities had reportedly collapsed. I have read that an earthquake of the magnitude of 7.3 is equivalent to the energy released by an explosion of 400,000 tons of TNT.

Tragic descriptions were transmitted. Wounded people in the streets were crying out for medical help, surrounded by ruins under which their relatives were buried. No one, however, was able to broadcast a single image for several hours.

The news took all of us by surprise. Many of us have frequently heard about hurricanes and severe flooding in Haiti, but were not aware of the fact that this neighboring country ran the risk of a massive earthquake. It has come to light on this occasion that, 200 years ago, a massive earthquake similarly affected this city, which would have been the home of just a few thousand inhabitants at that time.

At midnight, there was still no mention of an approximate figure in terms of victims.High-ranking United Nations officials and several heads of government discussed the moving events and announced that they would send emergency brigades to help. Given that MINUSTAH (United Stabilization Mission in Haiti) troops are deployed there—[i.e.,] UN forces from various countries—some defense ministers were talking about possible casualties among their personnel.

It was only yesterday, Wednesday morning [Jan. 13], when the sad news began to arrive of enormous human losses among the population, and even institutions such as the United Nations mentioned that some of their buildings in that country had collapsed, a word that does not say anything in itself but could mean a lot.

For hours, increasingly traumatic news continued to arrive about the situation in this sister nation. Figures related to the number of fatal victims were discussed, which fluctuated, according to various versions, between 30,000 and 100,000. The images are devastating; it is evident that the catastrophic event has been given widespread coverage around the world, and many governments, sincerely moved by the disaster, are making efforts to cooperate according to their resources.

The tragedy has genuinely moved a significant number of people, particularly those in whom that quality [of compassion] is innate. But perhaps very few of them have stopped to consider why Haiti is such a poor country. Why does almost 50% of its population depend on family remittances sent from abroad? Why not analyze the realities that led Haiti to its current situation and this enormous suffering as well?

The most curious aspect of this story is that no one has said a single word to recall the fact that Haiti was the first country in which 400,000 Africans, enslaved and subjected to trafficking by Europeans, rose up against 30,000 white slave masters on the sugar and coffee plantations, thus undertaking the first great social revolution in our hemisphere. Pages of insurmountable glory were written there. Napoleon's most eminent general was defeated there. Haiti is the net product of colonialism and imperialism, of more than one century of the employment of its human resources in the toughest forms of work, of military interventions, and the extraction of its natural resources.

This historic oversight would not be so serious if it were not for the real fact that Haiti constitutes the disgrace of our era, in a world where the exploitation and pillage of the vast majority of the planet’s inhabitants prevails.

Billions of people in Latin America, Africa, and Asia are suffering similar shortages, although perhaps not to such a degree as in the case of Haiti.

Situations like that of Haiti should not exist in any part of the planet, where tens of thousands of cities and towns abound in similar or worse conditions, by virtue of an unjust international economic and political order imposed on the world. The world population is not only threatened by natural disasters such as the one in Haiti. That disaster is just a pallid shadow of what could take place on the planet as a result of climate change, which was in fact made the object of ridicule, derision, and deception in Copenhagen.

It is only just to say to all the countries and institutions that have lost citizens or personnel because of the natural disaster in Haiti: we do not doubt that, in this case, the greatest effort will be made to save human lives and alleviate the pain of this long-suffering people. We cannot blame [other countries] for the natural phenomenon that has taken place there, even if we do not agree with the policy adopted with regard to Haiti.

But I have to express the opinion that it is now time to look for real and lasting solutions for that sister nation.

In the field of healthcare and other areas, Cuba—despite being a poor and blockaded country—has been cooperating with the Haitian people for many years. Around 400 [Cuban] doctors and healthcare experts are offering their services free of charge to the Haitian people. Our doctors are working every day in 227 of Haiti’s 337 communes. On the other hand, at least 400 young Haitians have trained as doctors in our homeland. They will now work with the reinforcement brigade who traveled there yesterday to save lives in this critical situation. Thus, without any special effort, up to 1,000 doctors and healthcare experts have been mobilized, almost all of whom are already there willing to cooperate with any other state that wishes to save the lives of the Haitian people and rehabilitate the injured.

Another significant number of young Haitians are currently studying medicine in Cuba.

We are also cooperating with the Haitian people in other areas within our reach. However, there can be no other form of cooperation worthy of being described as such than fighting in the field of ideas and political action in order to put an end to the limitless tragedy suffered by a large number of nations such as Haiti.

The head of our medical brigade reported: “The situation is difficult, but we have already started saving lives.” He made that statement in a succinct message hours after his arrival yesterday in Port-au-Prince with additional medical reinforcements.

Later that night, he reported that Cuban doctors and ELAM’s Haitian graduates [ELAM is the School of Medicine for Latin America, located in Cuba] were being deployed throughout the country. They had already seen more than 1,000 patients in Port-au-Prince, immediately establishing and putting into operation a hospital that had not collapsed and using field hospitals where necessary. They were preparing to swiftly set up other centers for emergency care.

We feel a wholesome pride for the cooperation that, in these tragic instances, Cuban doctors and young Haitian doctors who trained in Cuba are offering our brothers and sisters in Haiti!


Spirit of Cooperation Being Put to the Test in Haiti

by Fidel Castro Ruz (Jan. 16, 2010)

Translation by El Habanero, edited for republication here.

The news reported from Haiti describes a great chaos that was to be expected, given the exceptional situation created in the aftermath of the catastrophe.

At first, a feeling of surprise, astonishment, and commotion set in. A desire to offer immediate assistance came up in the farthest corners of the Earth. What assistance should be sent—and how—to a Caribbean nation from China, India, Vietnam, and other countries that are tens of thousands of kilometers away? The magnitude of the earthquake and the poverty that exists in that country generated at first some ideas about probable needs, which gave rise to all types of pledges about possible resources, which people then tried to bring to Haiti through every possible way.

We Cubans understood that the most important thing at that moment was to save lives, and we are trained not only to cope with catastrophes like that, but also to cope with other natural catastrophes related to human health.

Hundreds of Cuban doctors were working there, along with quite a number of young Haitians of humble origin, who had become well-trained health professionals, an area in which, for many years now, we have been cooperating with that neighboring sister nation. Some of our compatriots were on vacations, while other Haitians were being trained or studying in Cuba.

The destruction caused by the earthquake exceeded all calculations: the humble clay and adobe houses—in a city with almost two million inhabitants--could not withstand [the shock]. The solid government facilities collapsed; entire blocks of houses crumbled over their tenants who, at that time of the day—almost at dusk—were inside their homes; and they were all buried, dead or alive, under the rubble. The streets were filled with people clamoring for help. The MINUSTAH—the UN contingent—the government and the police were left without leaders or headquarters. Soon after the earthquake, the main task of those institutions made up of thousands of personnel was to know who were still alive and where they were.

The immediate decision adopted by the dedicated Cuban doctors who were working in Haiti, as well as by the young health professionals from Haiti who had graduated in Cuba, was to establish contact among them, know about each other’s fate, and figure out what were the resources available to assist the Haitian people in the midst of that tragedy.

The Cuban doctors who were on vacation in Cuba as well as the Haitian doctors who were taking specialized courses in our homeland immediately readied themselves to leave for Haiti. Other Cuban surgery experts, who had accomplished difficult missions, volunteered to accompany them. Suffice it to say that in less than 24 hours our doctors had already assisted hundreds of patients. Today, January 16, only three and a half days after the tragedy, there are thousands of injured people who have already been assisted by them.

Today, Saturday, at noontime, the head of our medical brigade reported to us, among other data, the following:

“…[T]he work that is being done by our comrades is really commendable. The general opinion is that the Pakistani earthquake has been put in the shade—that was another huge earthquake, and some of these doctors worked there. In that country, many a time our doctors assisted patients with fractures, including poorly consolidated fractures, or patients who had been crushed. But here reality has exceeded the imaginable: amputations abound, surgeries are being performed virtually in public. This is the image one would envisage of a war.”

“The ‘Delmas 33 Hospital’ is already operational. It has three operating rooms, its own power generation plants, doctors’ consultation rooms, etc., but it is absolutely full.”

“…Twelve Chilean doctors have joined in. One of them is an anesthesiologist. There are also eight Venezuelan doctors and nine Spanish nuns. It was expected that, at any moment, 18 Spaniards, to whom the UN and the Haitian Public Health authorities had handed over the control of the hospital, would come, but they lacked some emergency supplies that had not arrived, so they have decided to join us and start working immediately.”

“…Thirty-two Haitian resident doctors were sent in; six of them were going straight to Carrefour, a place that was totally devastated. Traveling with them were also the three Cuban surgical teams that arrived here yesterday.”

“…[W]e are operating the following medical facilities at Port-au-Prince:

The Renaissance Hospital.

The Social Insurance Hospital.

The Peace Hospital.”

“…Four Comprehensive Diagnostics Centers are already working.”

This information gives only an idea of the work that is being carried out by the medical staff from Cuba and those from other countries working with them, who were among the first to arrive in that nation. Our medical personnel are ready to cooperate and join forces with all other health specialists who have been sent to save lives in that sister nation. Haiti could become an example of what humankind can do for itself. The possibility and the means exist; but willingness is missing.

The longer it takes to bury or incinerate the corpses and to distribute food and other vital supplies, the higher the risks of epidemics and social violence will be.

Haiti will put to the test how much the spirit of cooperation can endure before egoism, chauvinism, petty interests, and contempt for other nations prevail.

The whole of humankind is now threatened by climate change. The earthquake at Port-au-Prince, hardly three weeks after the Copenhagen conference, is reminding all of us how selfishly and arrogantly we behaved then.

Countries are taking a close look at all that is happening in Haiti. The world’s public opinion and people’s criticisms will be all the more harsh and unforgiving.


Haiti: Acute Emergency, Chronic Disaster

by Bill Onasch (Jan. 18, 2010)

On a good day people in Haiti die from malnutrition, lack of clean water, and from easily treatable health problems. Now a major earthquake has killed tens of thousands outright and left both grand institutional structures and flimsy shantytowns destroyed. An infrastructure already failed prior to the natural calamity is leading to deadly delays in rescue and relief efforts. That’s why the ultimate death toll will be many times greater than similar past major quakes in California and Japan.

The founding father of the Christian Majority, Rev. Pat Robertson, attributed Haiti’s suffering to their making a “pact with the Devil” two centuries ago. Other like-minded men of the cloth have objected to that unsubstantiated allegation, instead viewing Haiti’s people as simply unable to care for themselves, an example remaining of the Nineteenth Century concept of “white man’s burden.” In lock step with corporate-dominated U.S. foreign policy, the charity industry, the missionaries, and the media ignore or suppress the true history of the Haitian people that led to their present plight.

The former French West Indies colony of San Domingo saw the first successful revolt of African slaves, who went on to take state power. They renamed their new nation Haiti. They were motivated not by Satanic promises but by the slogan of the French Revolution—Liberty, Equality, Brotherhood. For more than twelve years they battled white masters and military incursions by Spanish and British forces. After Napoleon Bonaparte reversed many of the French Revolution’s gains he sent one of his top generals to restore rule in Haiti. The French and all the others were thoroughly whipped—not by the Devil but by self-liberated slaves. Their proud story was well documented by CLR James in The Black Jacobins.

Over the next century the first Black-governed country in the Western Hemisphere maintained a sustainable agricultural society. Haiti’s long decline into abject poverty did not begin until U.S. imperial expansion reached the area one hundred years ago. In 1910, the U.S. government, in partnership with the ancestral forerunner of CitiBank, cut a deal with the Haitian government to essentially buy out its entire financial system. They maintained direct control over every loan and investment in Haiti for the next 37 years.

In 1915, Woodrow Wilson, who later won the Nobel Peace Prize, sent in the Marines to occupy Haiti to protect growing U.S. investments–-and they stayed for nearly twenty years. When “civil unrest” started rising in the late 1950s the CIA installed the ruthless dictatorship of Papa Doc Duvalier, who was succeeded by his even more brutal son, Baby Doc, a dictatorship spanning nearly three decades.

But even this gangster-style rule was not as devastating as the neoliberal economics that largely destroyed Haiti’s sustainable agriculture in the 1980s. North American agribusiness giants started dumping cheap food onto the Haitian market. Haitian farms–-specially their staple rice crop—collapsed and a mass exodus of peasants and farm workers into Port-au-Prince began. Others, who could, emigrated to North America.

The U.S. congressional passage of the HOPE Act in 2006, and HOPE II in 2008, opened up opportunities for American sweatshops, mainly in apparel. This production offshored from the USA accounts for two-thirds of Haiti’s meager exports but has provided relatively few jobs at even the standard HOPE wage rate of 28 cents per hour. Two-thirds of the Haitian workforce is outside the formal economy. One-quarter of the entire GDP is supplied by remittances sent back home from Haitians working in the U.S. and Canada.

The Haitian government, essentially dependent on the USA and United Nations blue helmets to keep it in power, has done its best to pay the interest on Haiti’s enormous foreign debt and follow IMF guidelines for squeezing even more out of Haiti’s long suffering working people. If you want to incarnate Pat Robertson’s deal making Devil you can find him inside Washington’s Beltway.

It is true that Haiti’s history and current status of relations with global capital has nothing to do with the tectonic shifts that started shaking the island Tuesday. But they determine how many will live and die in the coming days and weeks—and also impose an unacceptable definition of “recovery.”

In the 2008 hurricane season four storms killed more than 800 in Haiti. In nearby Cuba, the same storms, inflicting great property damage, resulted in four deaths—and the government in Havana demanded detailed reports as to why those four were lost. It seems every life is precious to these “godless communists.”

A substantial part of the woefully small number of physicians in Haiti were trained, at no cost to them, at the ELAM medical school in Cuba. Within a few hours of the first shock on Tuesday, Cuba was dispatching the first of a contingent of hundreds of Cuban doctors prepared to stay in Haiti as long as needed. This is no small effort for a country with a population about the size of Ohio, facing many serious material shortages of their own because of the U.S. embargo.

The first efforts coming from the USA were waves of planeloads of television news staffs—along with their technical support numbering in the hundreds. They engaged in a morbid competition to exploit Haiti’s suffering in ratings wars that determine advertising revenue. In the process, of course, they required food, water, fuel, security, and parking space on the crowded airport tarmac. (Prior to the quake there was only one American correspondent based in Haiti.)

One scene missed by the major networks was the regularly scheduled docking of a 4,300-berth cruise ship operated by Royal Caribbean at the harbor and resort they lease just sixty miles from Port-au-Prince. As usual, passengers were encouraged to jet-ski and party on the company’s exclusive private Labadee Beach. Passengers could securely eat, drink, and be merry in a compound enclosed by a twelve-foot high wall, closely monitored by armed guards.

The official charity of Big Business and the military brass, the American Red Cross, immediately sprung into action—providing a text message keyword to send them money via mobile phone.

But our side also responded and we are proud of them. The RN Response Network of National Nurses United already had 700 nurse volunteers signed up to go to Haiti the morning following the quake. By the next day they announced,

“With some 4,500 U.S. nurses signed up to volunteer for a Haiti disaster relief mission—and more than 1,800 of them participating in a national conference call joined Thursday—National Nurses United (NNU) today announced it will set up a command center in Miami to prepare the first team for deployment.

“The first team of nurses to go is expected to include NNU Co-president Deborah Burger, Haitian American RNs, and nurses who have worked in previous disaster relief programs following Hurricane Katrina and the South Asia tsunami organized by the NNU’s Registered Nurse Response Network.”

By last report the number of volunteers now stands at about 10,000.

For most of us the only practical concrete expression of emergency solidarity with Haiti is financial contribution. Early on I posted a link to Oxfam’s Haiti relief effort because they have a good reputation for honesty and competence and were already on the ground in Haiti. Since then Labor Notes published a list of labor-based efforts. Certainly the Nurses need and deserve support for their effort as well.

We should all pitch in during this acute emergency. But let’s not forget the working people of Haiti when things return to the “normal” chronic disaster. We need to strengthen the solidarity ties between our countries and help get the North American bosses, bankers, and governments off their backs.


No, Mister! You Cannot Share My Pain!

by John Maxwell (Sunday, January 17, 2010)

If you shared my pain you would not continue to make me suffer, to torture me, to deny me my dignity and my rights, especially my rights to self-determination and self-expression.

Six years ago you sent your Ambassador Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to perform an action illegal under the laws of your country, my country and of the international community of nations.

It was an act so outrageous, so bestially vile and wicked that your journalists and news agencies, your diplomats and politicians to this day cannot bring themselves to truthfully describe or own up to the crime that was committed when U.S. Ambassador James Foley, a career diplomat, arrived at the house of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide with a bunch of CIA thugs and U.S. Marines to kidnap the president of Haiti and his wife.

The Aristides were stowed aboard a CIA plane normally used for “renditions” of suspected terrorists to the worldwide U.S. gulag of dungeons and torture chambers.

The plane, on which the Aristides were listed as “cargo,” flew to Antigua—an hour away—and remained on the ground in Antigua while Colin Powell’s State Department and the CIA tried to blackmail and bribe various African countries to accept (“give asylum to”) the kidnapped president and his wife.

The Central African Republic—one of George W Bush’s “Dark Corners of the World”—agreed for an undisclosed sum, to give the Aristides temporary asylum.

Before any credible plot can be designed and paid for—for the disappearance of the Aristides—they are rescued by friends, flown to temporary asylum in Jamaica, where the Government cravenly yielded to the blackmail of Condoleezza Rice to deny them the permanent asylum to which they were entitled and which most Jamaicans had hoped for.

Meanwhile, in Haiti, the U.S, Marines protected an undisciplined ragbag of rapists and murderers to allow them entry to the capital. The Marines chased the medical students out of the new Medical School established by Aristide with Cuban help and teachers. The Marines bivouacked in the school, going out on nightly raids, trailed by fleets of ambulances with body bags, hunting down Fanmi Lavalas activists described as “chimeres”—terrorists.

The real terrorists, led by two convicted murderers, Chamblain and Philippe, assisted the Marines in the eradication of “chimeres” until the Marines were replaced by foreign troops, paid by the United Nations, who took up the hunt on behalf of the “civilized” world—[and the bankers of] France, Canada, the US, and Brazil.

The terrorists and the remains of the Duvalier tontons and the CIA-bred FRAPF declared open season on the remnants of Aristide’s programs to build democracy. They burned down the new museum of Haitian culture, destroyed the children’s television station, and generally laid waste to anything and everything which could remind Haitians of their glorious history.

Haitians don’t know that without their help Latin America might still be part of the Spanish Empire and Simón Bolívar a brief historical footnote.

Imagine, Niggers Speaking French!

About 90 years ago when Professor Woodrow Wilson was president of the USA, his secretary of state was a fundamentalist lawyer named William Jennings Bryan who had three times run unsuccessfully for president.

The Americans had decided to invade Haiti to collect debts owed by Haiti to [National City Bank, predecessor of] Citibank.

General Smedley Butler, the only American soldier to have twice won the Congressional Medal of Honor, described his role in the US Army:

“I helped make Mexico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half-a-dozen Central American republics for the benefits of Wall Street. The record of racketeering is long.”

General Butler said: “I suspected I was just part of a racket at the time. Now I am sure of it.…My mental faculties remained in suspended animation while I obeyed the orders of higher-ups. This is typical in the military service.” Butler compared himself unfavorably to Al Capone. He said his official racketeering made Capone look like an amateur.

Secretary Bryan was dumbfounded by the Haitians. “Imagine,” he said, “Niggers speaking French!”

Smedley Butler and Bryan were involved in Haiti because of something that happened nearly a hundred years before. The French slave-masters, expelled from Haiti and defeated again when they tried to re-enslave the Haitians, connived with the Americans to starve them into submission by a trade embargo. With no sale for Haitian sugar, the country was weak and run-down when a French fleet arrived bearing a demand for reparations. Having bought their freedom in blood, the Haitians were to purchase it again in gold.

The French demanded, essentially, that the Haitians pay France an amount equivalent to 90 per cent of the entire Haitian budget for the foreseeable future. When this commitment proved too arduous to honor, the City Bank [in the U.S.] offered the Haitians a “debt exchange,” paying off the French in exchange for a lower-interest, longer-term debt. The terms may have seemed better but were just as usurious and it was not paid off until 1947.

Because of the debt the Americans invaded Haiti, seized the Treasury, exiled the president, their Jim Crow policies were used to divide the society, to harass the poor and finally provoked a second struggle for freedom which was one of the most brutal episodes in colonial history.

Long before Franco bombed Guernica, exciting the horror and revulsion of civilized people, the Americans perfected their dive-bombing techniques against unarmed Haitian peasants, many of whom had never seen aircraft before.

The Americans set up a Haitian Army in the image of their Jim Crow Marines, and it was these people, with the alien and alienated elite and with some conscripted blacks like the Duvaliers, who have ruled Haiti for most of the last century.

When I flew over Haiti for the first time in 1959 en route from New York to San Juan, Puerto Rico, I saw for the first time the border between the green Dominican Republic and brown Haiti.

First-world journalists interpret the absence of trees on the Haitian side to the predations of the poor, disregarding the fact that Western religion and American capitalism were mainly responsible.

Why is it that nowhere else in the Caribbean is there similar deforestation?

Haiti’s Dessalines constitution offered sanctuary to every escaped slave of any color. All such people of whatever color were deemed “black” and entitled to citizenship. Only officially certified “blacks” could own land in Haiti.

The American occupation, anticipating Hayek, Freedman, and Greenspan, decided that such a rule was a hindrance to development. The assistant secretary of the U.S. Navy, one Franklin D Roosevelt, was given the job of writing a new, modern constitution for Haiti.

This constitution meant foreigners could own land. Within a very short time the lumberjacks were busy, felling old growth Mahogany and Caribbean Pine for carved doors for the rich and mahogany speedboats, boardroom tables seating 40, etc. The devastated land was put to produce rubber, sisal for ropes, and all sorts of pie in the sky plantations.

When President Paul Magloire came to Jamaica 50 years ago Haitians were still speaking of an Artibonite dam for electricity and irrigation. But the ravages of the recent past were too much to recover.

As Marguerite Laurent (Ezili Danto) writes: Don’t expect to learn how a people with a Vodun culture that reveres nature and especially the Mapou trees (the oak-like ceiba pendantra, of the bombax family) and other such big trees as the abode of living entities and therefore as sacred things, were forced to watch the Catholic Church, during Rejete—the violent anti-Vodun crusade—gather whole communities at gunpoint into public squares, and forced them to watch their agents burn Haitian trees in order to teach Haitians their Vodun Gods were not in nature, that the trees were the “houses of Satan.”

In partnership with the U.S., the mulatto President Elie Lescot (1941-45) summarily expelled peasants from more than 100,000 hectares of land, razing their homes and destroying more than a million fruit trees in the vain effort to cultivate rubber on a large plantation scale. Also, under the pretext of the Rejete campaign, thousands of acres of peasant lands were cleared of sacred trees so that the U.S. [corporations] could take their lands for agribusiness.

After the Flood

Norman Manley used to say “River Come Down” when his party seemed likely to prevail. The Kreyol word Lavalas conveys the same meaning.

Since the Haitian people’s decisive rejection of the Duvalier dictatorships in the early 90s, their spark and leader has been Jean-Bertrand Aristide, whose bona fides may be assessed from the fact that the CIA and conservative Americans have been trying to discredit him almost from the word go.

As he put it in one of his books, his intention has been to build a paradise on the garbage heap bequeathed to Haiti by the U.S. and the [Haitian] Elite.

The bill of particulars is too long to go into here, but the destruction of the new museum of culture, the breaking up of the medical school, the destruction of the children’s television station gives you the flavor. But the essence is captured in the brutal attempt to obliterate the spirit of Haitian community; the attempt to destroy Lavalas by murdering its men and raping its women, the American-directed subversion of a real police force, the attacks on education and the obliteration of the community self-help systems, which meant that when Hurricane Jeanne and all the other weather systems since have struck Haiti, many more have died than in any other country similarly stricken. In an earthquake, totally unpredictable, every bad factor is multiplied.

The American blocking of international aid means that there is no modern water supply anywhere, no town planning, no safe roads, none of the ordinary infrastructure of any other Caribbean state. There are no building standards, no emergency shelters, no parks.

So, when I write about mothers unwittingly walking on dead babies in the mud, when I write about people so poor they must eat patties made of clay and shortening, when I write about people with their faces “chopped off” or about any of eight million horror stories from the crime scene that is Haiti, please don’t tell me you share their pain or mine.

Tell me, where is Lovinsky Pierre Antoine and ten thousand like him?

If you share my pain and their pain, why don’t you stop causing it? Why don’t you stop the torture?

If you want to understand me, look at the woman in the picture, and the children half-buried with her. You cannot hear their screams because they know there is no point in screaming. It will do no more good than voting.

What is she thinking: perhaps it is something like this—No, mister! You cannot share my pain!

Some time, perhaps after the camera is gone, people will return to dig us out with their bare hands. But not you.


History, the Devil’s Scripture

by Scott McLemee  (January 15, 2010)

One hesitates to refer to a “rational kernel” in any statement coming from Pat Robertson, of course. But his recent venture into explaining the earthquake in Haiti does contain a small, heavily distorted, yet recognizable fragment of historical reality.

That kernel has passed through his system without giving him any nourishment, but I’ll try to pluck it out of all the batshit craziness.

C.L.R. James wrote The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution (1938) after about ten years of research, having been inspired, it seems, by a condescending biography of Toussaint that irritated him so much that he decided he needed to do something better. About halfway through the process, he discovered Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution. I won’t go into all the consequences now (it is among the topics discussed here <http://www.vimeo.com/5807291>) except to note that reading Trotsky had a big effect on his own effort to write revolutionary history.

The first three chapters of Black Jacobins analyze the economy, social hierarchy, and governance of the island, situating the slave system in the context of global capitalist accumulation. This tracks pretty closely to how Trotsky begins. Then we come to chapter four, “The San Domingo Masses Begin,” with its distinctive twist on the question of how to characterize the class position of the slaves:

The slaves worked on the land, and, like revolutionary peasants everywhere, they aimed at the extermination of their oppressors. But working and living together in gangs of hundreds on the huge sugar-factories which covered the North Plain, they were closer to a modern proletariat than any group of workers in existence at the time, and the rising was, therefore, a thoroughly prepared and organised mass movement. By hard experience they had learnt that isolated efforts were doomed to failure, and in the early months of 1791 in and around Le Cap they were organising for revolution.

This is interesting as an example of what Trotsky had called combined and uneven development.

But with an eye to topicality, let’s get instead to [a passage from Black Jacobins that relates to] the bee buzzing in the fundamentalist bonnet:

Voodoo was the medium of the conspiracy. In spite of all prohibitions, the slaves travelled miles to sing and dance and practice the rites and talk; and now, since the revolution [in France], to hear the political news and make their plans. Boukman, a Papaloi or High Priest, a gigantic Negro, was the leader. He was the headman of a plantation and followed the political situation both among the whites and among the Mulattoes.

James had provided, in earlier chapters, an analysis of the gradations of Haitian society along the color line. This plays itself out in complex ways throughout the rest of the book. What matters at this point in the narrative, however, is that the people at the very bottom of the structure have both a medium to communicate amongst themselves and a leadership willing to seize the moment:

Carrying torches to light their way, the leaders of the revolt met in an open space in the thick forests of the Morne Rouge, a mountainside overlooking Le Cap. There Boukman gave the last instructions and, after Voodoo incantations and the sucking of the blood of a stuck pig, he stimulated his followers by a prayer spoken in creole which, like so much spoken on such occasions, has remained. “The god who created the sun which gives us light, who rouses the waves and rules the storm, though hidden in the clouds, he watches us. He sees all that the white man does. The god of the white man inspires him with crime, but our god calls upon us to do good works. Our god who is good to us orders us to revenge our wrongs. He will direct our arms and aid us. Throw away the symbol of the god of the whites who has so often caused us to weep, and listen to the voice of liberty, which speaks in the hearts of us all.” The symbol of the god of the whites was the cross which, as good Catholics, they wore around their necks.

Naturally this god—like any of the loas presumably also invoked before the uprising began—would not count as a “devil” in the eyes of the believers. But then you can’t exactly expect Rev. Pat to be that interested in the nuances of Voodoo theology.

After the uprising began, Boukmon was captured and executed—his head mounted in public with a placard announcing that he was the chief of the rebels. But it was too late. Leadership passed to Toussaint.

Rather than discuss the later phases of the revolution, let me just recommend that anyone who has not done so yet read the book. I’ll end with a passage assessing the initial phase of the revolt, in the aftermath of this torchlit meeting on the mountainside:

The slaves destroyed tirelessly. Like the peasants in the Jacqueries or the Luddite wreckers, they were seeking their salvation in the most obvious way, the destruction of what they knew was the cause of their sufferings; and if they destroyed much it was because they suffered much. They knew that as long as these plantations stood their lot would be to labour on them until they dropped. The only thing was to destroy them. From their masters they had known rape, torture, degradation, and, at the slightest provocation, death. They returned in kind. For two centuries the higher civilization had shown them that power was used for wreaking your will on those whom you controlled. Now that they held power, they did as they were taught…Yet in all the records of that time there is no single instance of such fiendish tortures as burying white men up to the neck and smearing the holes in their faces to attract insects, or blowing them up with gun-powder, or any of the thousand and one bestialities to which they had been subjected. Compared with what their masters had done to them in cold blood, what they did was negligible, and they were spurred on by the ferocity with which the whites in Le Cap treated all slave prisoners who fell into their hands.

Shortly after The Black Jacobins appeared, James wrote a sort of overview or summary essay that Paul Le Blanc and I reprinted in C.L.R. James and Revolutionary Marxism. It is also available online here although without all the other material that made our book such a pleasure to His Satanic Majesty.


Racism and Counterrevolution: Cuba and Haiti

by Tom Whitney

“John Brown was born just as the shudder of Haiti was running through all the Americas,” writes biographer W. E. B. Dubois. Indeed, “The prospect of Cuban independence raised the specter of another black republic in the Caribbean,” states historian Louis A. Perez Jr. That worried Winston Churchill, in Cuba reporting on the second War for Independence: “A grave danger represents itself. Two fifths of the insurgents in the field are Negros. [They would] demand the predominant share in the government.”

“Those people are no more fit for self-government than gunpowder is for hell,” said U.S. General William R. Shafter from Cuba a few years later. “The insurgents are a lot of degenerates,” offered General Samuel Young of the U.S. occupation forces. For General Brodie: “The Cubans are utterly irresponsible, partly savage.”

Beginning in 1868, African-descended General Antonio Maceo fought to end slavery and win Cuban independence. After 1895, he and his rag-tag army were instrumental in ending Spanish colonialism. Like former Haitian slave Toussaint L’Ouverture a century earlier, he led Black soldiers to victory over a European power.

A government backed by U.S. military incursions kept the Cuban economy in U.S. hands. Not until 1959 would Cuban revolutionaries gain a second national independence. The use of racism as a tool of oppression would then end.

For Monroe Doctrine enforcers in Washington, Haitian independence in 1804 and the victory of the Cuban Revolution both represented big fish that got away. They took preventive steps, such as invading the Dominican Republic in 1965 with 42,000 troops and punishing Haiti in innumerable ways.

The U.S. government joined a multinational trade embargo against Haiti in the early nineteenth century and withheld diplomatic recognition for almost sixty years. In 1825 France forced Haiti to pay billions in gold francs for property losses, i.e. slaves. Payouts, including interest, lasted until 1947, inflicting a chronic open wound upon the Haitian people.

U.S. marines invaded in 1915 to settle other debts. They stayed until 1934 and ran the government. Former military officer Charlemagne Perault led a guerrilla insurgency requiring U.S. troop reinforcements. Display of his dead body roped to a door represented psychological warfare at its crudest.

Subsequently, U.S. backing of the Duvalier dictatorship, father and son, and use of economic tools to undo food sovereignty reinforced Haitian dependency. Rural people moved into cities, and topsoil disappeared. For Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the price of popularity and his message of social justice was U.S.-backed coups and exile, both in the 1990s under Bill Clinton and in 2004 under George W. Bush.

A week after the January 12 earthquake, U.S. media reports portrayed Haitian survivors as potentially violent. Like Afro-Cuban rebels before them, they were scorned. A New York Times columnist attributed Haiti’s misfortunes to a flawed “culture,” given over to Voodoo. “Responsibility is often not internalized,” he asserted. A U.S. radio preacher explained that Haitian independence came at the cost of a curse, presumably never to be lifted.

Haitians have long been portrayed as a dependent people, beyond hope. Racist disparagement is, of course, commonly used to try to block sympathy for the oppressed. People seen as lesser human beings require special rules, and do not need to be treated decently.

Thus, in post-earthquake Port-au-Prince, military power became the U.S. response, supposedly because of potential violent tendencies among the injured, starving, thirsty, wounded, bereft, and grief-stricken people. Doctors, disaster relief specialists, and humanitarian aid shipments from dozens of nations were on hold, waiting for guns, tanks, naval ships, and 12,000 U.S. troops to be deployed,

Interviewed on Democracy Now, Dr. Evan Lyon of U.S.-based Partners in Health stated: “There are no security issues…and there’s also no violence.” “Racism has slowed the recovery efforts of this hospital,” he concluded.

“Most Haitians here have seen little humanitarian aid so far. What they have seen is guns, and lots of them,” reported Al Jazeera’s Sebastian Walker. Community people were found to be forming cooperative recovery projects.

For racist oppressors, Black people’s yearnings for equality may be dangerous, and so too is organizing for social justice. Marco Rascon, writing for the Mexican newspaper La Jornada, suggested that the U. S. government in Haiti is looking uneasily at Cuba. “Before the Haitian disaster, powerful Cuban social organizing had begun to extend its networks, medical and educational institutions,” he wrote. “The force of solidarity goes beyond delivering supplies. It can generate what is feared most: social organization, where the spirit moving the people will be the people itself.”