African Americans and the Haitian Revolution


Book Explores Impact of Haitian Revolution
Scholars have long recognized the Haitian Revolution as a defining event for African Americans. But Maurice Jackson, associate professor of history and African American studies, has co-edited a book that draws together the Haitian Revolution’s impact on African Americans — exploring inspiration and influence on black nationalism, abolitionism, black socialist and revolutionary thought and Pan-Africanism.

The book, “African Americans and the Haitian Revolution” (Routledge, 2010), uses a collection of scholarly essays and primary texts to showcase recent scholarship written by African Americans about the Haitian Revolution, which led to the end of slavery and established Haiti as the first republic ruled by blacks in the Western Hemisphere.

“From the time of the Haitian Revolution to today, this singular and momentous event has had a profound influence on the development of African American history, culture, and political thought,” writes Jackson and co-editor Jacqueline Bacon, an independent scholar in San Diego whose works include “Freedom’s Journal: The First African American Newspaper.”

Rather than being about the revolution itself, this collection attempts to show how the events in Haiti served to galvanize African Americans to think about themselves and to act in accordance with their beliefs, and contributes to the study of African Americans in the wider Atlantic World.

In the book’s ninth essay, “No Man Could Hinder Him,” Jackson explores the revolution and one of its leaders, Toussaint L’ouverture.

“Through remembrances of the revolution, the image of Toussaint passed through the prism of rebellions and, during the 20th century, its aura seeped through — subtly with (Duke) Ellington and more openly with (Charles) Mingus,” writes Jackson. “All these tributes have been embellished in the culture of African Americans, and their literature, poetry, folklore, street talk and music continue to echo with the voice of Toussaint and his compatriots.”

“The chapters and documents presented in this edited volume deliver the goods in rich abundance as promised in its title, through deeply probing exploration of important connections between people of African descent in the United States of America and the history and legacy of the Haitian Revolution,” says David Barry Gaspar, professor history at Duke University and author of “A Turbulent Time: The French Revolution and the Greater Caribbean” (Indiana University Press, 2003).

(December 17, 2009)

Americans Charged with Child Trafficking in Haiti

Detained Americans say they had good intentions in Haiti (CNN)

Port-au-Prince, Haiti (CNN) — Ten Americans charged with trafficking in Haiti defended their plan to bus 33 children into the Dominican Republic, saying their intention was to get them to a temporary shelter.

“We came into Haiti to help those that really had no other source of help,” said Laura Silsby, a member of the group. “We are trusting the truth will be revealed, and we are praying for that.”

The five men and five women are from New Life Children’s Refuge, an Idaho-based charity. They said they were trying to move the children from Port-au-Prince into the Dominican Republic.

According to the group, the children did not have any passports. Government approval is needed for any Haitian children to leave the country.

A senior U.S. official with direct knowledge of the case said there was no indication of child trafficking.

Full coverage

“It appears their orphanage was damaged and they were moving the children to their facility in the [Dominican Republic] but failed to obtain exit visas from Haiti,” said the official who was not authorized to speak on the record.

The Rev. Clint Henry, the senior pastor with the Central Valley Baptist Church in Meridian, Idaho, told CNN affiliate KIVI that the 10 are part of a group working to establish an orphanage in the Dominican Republic for the youngest victims of the January 12 earthquake that devastated much of the country.

Henry said some of the children had suffered physical injuries and need medical assistance.

“Our team was falsely arrested today, and we are doing everything we can from this end to clear up the misunderstanding that has occurred in Port-au-Prince,” a statement on the church’s Web site said Saturday night.

The statement said the children were being rescued from “one or more orphanages” that had been damaged in the quake.

Jeanne Bernard-Pierre, general director for Haiti’s Institute of Social Welfare, said the children will be interviewed in the coming days to determine whether they have any living relatives.

“When they arrived, some of the children were crying and saying, ‘I want to see my parents,'” Bernard-Pierre said.

She said the government’s ministry of social affairs will attempt to reunite the children with any family members and provide psychological assistance.

But the group said it believed the children were orphaned, and it was going to house them in a converted hotel in the Dominican Republic. Officials in the country had agreed to allow them in without the required paperwork, Silsby said.

U.S. embassy officials visited the Americans over the weekend at a jail near the airport in Port-au-Prince, where they are being detained. The group said it was being treated well, and was holding on to its faith.

“God is our provider and God gives us strength and comfort,” said group member Carla Thompson. “We are having a great time. We have our Bibles and we are OK.”

President Thabo Mbeki on Haiti

Thabo Mbeki on Haiti  (Time Lives)

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“The Big Read: It was difficult to hold back the tears as a deluge of news told of the catastrophe visited on the people of Haiti by the earthquake that struck Port-au-Prince on January 12. 

ON REFLECTION: Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Former president Thabo Mbeki says the people of Haiti are an inspiring example of human resilience and dedication to the cause of freedom, and the rest of the world must do whatever it takes to help them overcome this disaster.
” A bond of friendship has developed between us and the poor of Haiti ” Jacob Zuma

After the tragedies in Asia resulting from the Indonesia tsunami in 2004 and from Hurricane Katrina in the US city of New Orleans in 2005, it was possible to imagine that we could respond to future natural calamities with a certain degree of stoicism.

But when the full picture began to emerge about the destruction in Haiti, this proved to be little more than a delusion born of the wish to limit the pain all of us feel when merciless nature strikes suddenly, brutally claiming the lives of many helpless fellow human beings.

It was not necessary for us to see the human limbs protruding from under the rubble or to see lifeless bodies lying in the streets to know the terrible cost the earthquake had imposed on thousands of Haitians.

The heaps of bricks and mortar that had been houses necessarily invoked in the mind’s eye terrifying images of crushed bodies, of people still alive under the walls that had collapsed, but condemned to die slowly because help would not reach them on time, of human blood flowing into the canyons that had opened when the earth itself became an enemy of the Haitian humanity.

Those images in the mind, even without confirmation by the graphic television footage, were enough to produce the tears that are impossible to hold back.

But the tears also came because this tragedy engulfed this particular country – Haiti!

The fact of our birth into the South Africa that was, placed Haiti in a special place in our hearts and minds. This is because it has the indestructible distinction that 206 years ago, in 1804, it emerged as the very First Black Republic in the world.

More than the mere fact of this was the history of the extraordinary uprising which led to this outcome, which could not but serve as an unequalled inspiration to those engaged in struggle to achieve their own liberation.

During a sustained military and political struggle, which ended with the birth of their Republic, the African slaves of Haiti, with many free mulattos as their allies, defeated the armies of the most powerful European powers of the day – Spain, Great Britain and France.

From this titanic struggle emerged true heroes of all oppressed peoples, including Toussaint L’Ouverture, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, Henri Christophe and Alexander Pétion, who together out-smarted some of the best Generals that Europe could produce.

When, in 1803, their armies defeated the French forces, which were first led by Napoleon’s brother-in-law, General Leclerc, they saved the United States of America from occupation by France.

Because the African slaves of Haiti annihilated the French army, this army could not proceed to occupy the US territory known as Louisiana, as ordered by Napoleon. Ultimately France had to sell this territory to the US, which is celebrated in the US as the Louisiana Purchase.

Free Haiti also provided the outstanding Latin American liberator, Simon Bolivar, with the war materials he needed to defeat the Spanish forces, secure independence for Venezuela and therefore guarantee the liberation of Latin America from Spanish occupation.

The Haitian Revolution was organically linked to the American and French Revolutions and should have taken its place alongside these in the construction of the new world order of the day. Sadly, this was not to be.

One important reason for this was explained by the US newspaper, the Wall Street Journal, in its January 2 2004 edition, in an article by José de Côrdoba headed “Impoverished Haiti pins hopes for future on a very old debt”.

The article said, “More than two decades after rebellious former slaves vanquished troops from Napoleon’s army here (in Haiti) in 1803, France’s King Charles X made the fledgling republic of Haiti an offer it couldn’t refuse.

“In 1825, as the king’s warships cruised just over the horizon from the Haitian capital, a French emissary demanded 150 million gold francs in exchange for recognising the new republic. The implicit alternative was invasion and re-enslavement.

“It was a huge sum, about five times Haiti’s annual export revenue. Haiti’s then-president reluctantly agreed, taking on a crushing debt.

“Today, as Haiti celebrates the 200th anniversary of its independence amid growing political unrest and a collapsing economy, one of its few glimmers of hope is that long-ago deal.

“Haiti wants its money back – with interest.

“Aided by US and French lawyers, the Haitian government is preparing a legal brief demanding nearly $22-billion in ‘restitution’ for what it regards as an act of gunboat diplomacy.”

After its defeat, France refused to recognise the Republic of Haiti. Frightened by the example it had set, the slave-owning US imposed economic sanctions against the young Republic.

France demanded that the Republic of Haiti must pay compensation for the losses sustained by French property-owners in what had been its wealthiest colony. The most valuable property for which the French claimed compensation was the slaves themselves!

The France of Liberté, Egalité et Fraternité sent a new expeditionary force to enforce its demand that the liberated slaves had to pay money to guarantee their freedom.

Haiti felt that it had no choice but to pay the compensation demanded by France. Remarkably, it took Haiti 122 years to settle this debt, with the final payment being made in 1947 to the US, after the latter had bought this debt from the French!

To indicate how heavy the burden of this debt was, in 1900 fully 80% of Haiti’s national budget had to be set aside to service the debt imposed on the country by France in 1825, which continued to expand because of the interest it carried.

What the poor of Haiti paid during 122 years, expressed in 2004 US dollars, was conservatively estimated to amount to $22-billion! In 2004, a French government commission established to assess Haiti’s demand for restitution said this demand was “not pertinent in both legal and historical terms”.

It is probably true that Haiti today is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. It is, however, also true that as their forebears did, the people of Haiti continue to stand out today as an inspiring example of human resilience and dedication to the cause of freedom.

The urgent task all humanity faces today is to come to the aid of the Haitians, to confront and overcome the consequences of the deadly earthquake which has claimed the lives of thousands and wiped out the little wealth they had accumulated in the protracted struggle of many centuries merely to survive.

It was indeed truly inspiring to hear the international media reports about the efforts of fellow South Africans, working side by side with other foreign teams, to rescue Haitians from beneath the mounds of rubble in Port-au-Prince. It is this that makes it possible for one to say – I am proudly South African, and proudly human!

The time will come when other truths will have to be told about Haiti, to allow this country once again to set an example, this time to speak about what should be done and not done if, indeed, we are true to the humanist view that umuntu ngumuntu ngabanye – I am because you are!

When those truths are told, we will have the possibility to salute the people of South Africa that, during the year that Haiti celebrated its Liberation Bicentenary, they had the courage to welcome into their midst a distinguished Haitian family – the family of Jean Bertrand and Mildred Aristide and their two daughters.

Then we will tell of the bond of friendship that has developed between us and the poor of Haiti, including those who have resided in Cité Soleil, the biggest slum in Port-au-Prince, to which has been added the enormous destruction imposed by the January 12 earthquake.

We will also have the possibility fully to absorb the story told in Peter Hallward’s book, Damming the Flood, about what happened in 2004, as Haiti celebrated its Bicentenary and as it saw its elected president forcibly transported into exile in Africa, the ancestral home of the 1804 liberators of Haiti.

For now, we must convey our sympathy, condolences and solidarity to the Haitians who live among us, as well as the rest of the sister people of Haiti.

To give meaning to our words, we must join the rest of the world to do everything that has to be done to help ensure that tomorrow we shed tears of joy, as we see the people of Haiti realise the dreams which inspired the African slaves of Haiti to do what they did over two centuries ago, which affirmed the dignity of all Africans and all human beings, regardless of race, colour, gender or belief.”

Securing Disaster in Haiti

Securing Disaster in Haiti (Americas Program)

Peter Hallward | January 22, 2010

Nine days after the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti on January 12, 2010, it’s now clear that the initial phase of the U.S.-led relief operation has conformed to the three fundamental tendencies that have shaped the more general course of the island’s recent history. It has adopted military priorities and strategies. It has sidelined Haiti’s own leaders and government, and ignored the needs of the majority of its people. And it has proceeded in ways that reinforce the already harrowing gap between rich and poor.

All three tendencies aren’t just connected, they are mutually reinforcing. These same tendencies will continue to govern the imminent reconstruction effort as well, unless determined political action is taken to counteract them.


Haiti is not only one of the poorest countries in the world, it is also one of the most polarized and unequal in its disparities in wealth and access to political power.1 A small clique of rich and well-connected families continues to dominate the country and its economy while more than half the population, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), survives on a household income of around 44 U.S. pennies per day.2

Mass destitution has grown far more severe in recent decades. Starting in the 1970s, internationally imposed neo-liberal “adjustments” and austerity measures finally succeeded in doing what no Haitian government had managed to do since winning independence in 1804: in order to set the country on the road toward “economic development,” they have driven large numbers of small farmers off their land and into densely crowded urban slums. A small minority of these internal refugees may be lucky enough to find sweatshop jobs that pay the lowest wages in the region. These wages currently average $2 or $3 a day; in real terms they are worth less than a quarter of their 1980 value.

Haiti’s tiny elite owes its privileges to exclusion, exploitation, and violence, and it is only violence that allows it to retain them. For much of the last century, Haiti’s military and paramilitary forces (with substantial amounts of U.S. support) were able to preserve these privileges on their own. Over the course of the 1980s, however, it started to look as if local military repression might no longer be up to the job. A massive and courageous popular mobilization (known as Lavalas) culminated in 1990 with the landslide election of the liberation theologian Jean-Bertrand Aristide as president. Large numbers of ordinary people began to participate in the political system for the first time, and as political scientist Robert Fatton remembers, “Panic seized the dominant class. It dreaded living in close proximity to la populace and barricaded itself against Lavalas.”3

Nine months later, the army dealt with this popular threat in the time-honored way—with a coup d’etat. Over the next three years, around 4,000 Aristide supporters were killed.

However, when the U.S. government eventually allowed Aristide to return in October 1994, he took a surprising and unprecedented step: he abolished the army that had deposed him. As human rights lawyer Brian Concannon (director of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti) observed a few years later, “It is impossible to overestimate the impact of this accomplishment. It has been called the greatest human rights development in Haiti since emancipation, and is wildly popular.”4 In 2000, the Haitian electorate gave Aristide a second overwhelming mandate when his party (Fanmi Lavalas) won more than 90% of the seats in parliament.


More than anything else, what has happened in Haiti since 1990 should be understood as the progressive clarification of this basic dichotomy—democracy or the army. Unadulterated democracy might one day allow the interests of the numerical majority to prevail, and thereby challenge the privileges of the elite. In 2000, such a challenge became a genuine possibility: the overwhelming victory of Fanmi Lavalas, at all levels of government, raised the prospect of genuine political change in a context in which there was no obvious extra-political mechanism―no army―to prevent it.

In order to avoid this outcome, the main strategy of Haiti’s little ruling class has been to redefine political questions in terms of “stability” and “security,” and in particular the security of property and investments. Mere numbers may well win an election or sustain a popular movement but as everyone knows, only an army is equipped to deal with insecurity. The well-armed “friend of Haiti” that is the United States knows this better than anyone.

As soon as Aristide was re-elected, a systematic international campaign to bankrupt and destabilize his second government set the stage for a paramilitary insurrection and another coup d’etat. In 2004, thousands of U.S. troops again invaded Haiti (as they first did back in 1915) to “restore stability and security” to their “troubled island neighbor.” An expensive and long-term UN stabilization mission, staffed by 9,000 heavily armed troops, soon took over the job of helping to pacify the population and criminalize the resistance. By the end of 2006, thousands more Aristide supporters had been killed.

Over the course of 2009, a suitably stabilized Haitian government agreed to persevere with the privatization of the country’s remaining public assets,5 veto a proposal to increase minimum wages to $5 a day, and bar Fanmi Lavalas (and several other political parties) from participating in the next round of legislative elections.

When it comes to providing stability, today’s UN troops are clearly a big improvement over the old national forces. If things get so unstable that even the ground begins to shake, however, there’s still nothing that can beat the world’s leading provider of security—the U.S. Armed Forces.


In the immediate aftermath of the earthquake that struck on Jan. 12, 2010, it might have seemed hard to counter arguments in favor of allowing the U.S. military, with its “unrivalled logistical capability,” to take de facto control of such a massive relief operation. Weary of bad press in Iraq and Afghanistan, U.S. commanders also seemed glad of this unexpected opportunity to rebrand their armed forces as angels of mercy.

That was before U.S. commanders actively began—the day after the earthquake struck—to divert aid away from the disaster zone.

As soon as the U.S. Air Force took control of Haitian airspace, on Wednesday, Jan. 13, it explicitly prioritized military over humanitarian flights. Although most reports from Port-au-Prince emphasized remarkable levels of patience and solidarity on the streets, U.S. commanders made fears of popular unrest and insecurity their number-one concern. Their first priority was to avoid what the U.S. Air Force Special Command Public Affairs spokesman (Ty Foster) called another “Somalia effort”6—presumably, a situation in which a humiliated U.S. Army might once again risk losing military control of a “humanitarian” mission.

As many observers predicted, the determination of U.S. commanders to forestall this risk by privileging guns and soldiers over doctors and food has actually provoked some outbreaks of the very unrest they set out to contain. To amass a large number of soldiers and military equipment “on the ground,” the U.S. Air Force diverted plane after plane packed with emergency supplies away from Port-au-Prince. Among many others, World Food Program flights were turned away by U.S. commanders on Thursday and Friday, the New York Times reported, “so that the United States could land troops and equipment, and lift Americans and other foreigners to safety.”7

Many other aid flights met a similar fate, right through to the end of the week. Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) alone has so far had to watch at least five planeloads of its medical supplies be turned away.8 On Saturday, Jan. 16, for instance, “Despite guarantees given by the United Nations and the U.S. Defense Department, an MSF cargo plane carrying an inflatable surgical hospital was blocked from landing in Port-au-Prince and re-routed to Samana, in Dominican Republic,” delaying its arrival by an additional 24 hours.9 Late on Monday, Jan. 18, MSF complained that “One of its cargo planes carrying 12 tons of medical equipment had been turned away three times from Port-au-Prince airport since Sunday,” despite receiving repeated assurances they could land. By that stage, one group of MSF doctors in Port-au-Prince had been “forced to buy a saw in the market to continue the amputations” upon which the lives of their patients depended.10

While U.S. commanders set about restoring security by assembling a force of some 14,000 Marines and soldiers, residents in some less secure parts of Port-au-Prince soon started to run out of food and water. On Jan. 20, people sleeping in one of the largest and most easily accessed of the many temporary refugee camps in central Port-au-Prince (in Champs Mars) told writer Tim Schwartz, author of the 2008 book Travesty in Haiti, that “no relief has arrived; it is all being delivered on other side of town, by the U.S. Embassy.”11

Telesur reporter Reed Lindsay confirmed on Jan. 20—a full eight days after the quake—that the impoverished southwestern Port-au-Prince suburb closest to the earthquake’s epicenter, Carrefour, still hadn’t received any food, aid, or medical help.12

The BBC’s Mark Doyle found the same thing in an eastern (and less badly affected) suburb. “Their houses are destroyed, they have no running water, food prices have doubled, and they haven’t seen a single government official or foreign aid worker since the earthquake struck.” Overall, Doyle observed, “The international response has been quite pathetic. Some of the aid agencies are working very hard, but there are two ways of reporting this kind of thing. One is to hang around with the aid agencies and hang around with the American spokespeople at the airport, and you’ll hear all sorts of stories about what’s happening. Another way is to drive almost at random with ordinary people and go and see what’s happening in ordinary places. In virtually every area I’ve driven to, ordinary people say that I was the first foreigner that they’d met.”13

It was only a full week after the earthquake that emergency food supplies began the slow journey from the heavily guarded airport to 14 “secure distribution points” in various parts of the city.14 By that stage, tens of thousands of Port-au-Prince residents had finally come to the conclusion that no aid would be forthcoming, and began to abandon the capital for villages in the countryside.

On Sunday Jan. 17, Al-Jazeera’s correspondent summarized what many other journalists had been saying all week. “Most Haitians have seen little humanitarian aid so far. What they have seen is guns, and lots of them. Armored personnel carriers cruise the streets and inside the well-guarded perimeter [of the airport], the United States has taken control. It looks more like the Green Zone in Baghdad than a center for aid distribution.”15

Later on the same day, the World Food Program’s air logistics officer Jarry Emmanuel confirmed that most of the 200 flights going in and out of the airport each day were still being reserved for the U.S. military: “… their priorities are to secure the country. Ours are to feed.”16 By Monday, Jan. 18, no matter how many U.S. Embassy or military spokesman insisted that “we are here to help” rather than invade, governments as diverse as those of France and Venezuela had begun to accuse the U.S. government of effectively “occupying” the country.17


The U.S. decision to privilege military over humanitarian traffic at the airport sealed the fate of many thousands of people abandoned in the rubble of lower Port-au-Prince and Léogane. In countries all over the world, search and rescue teams were ready to leave for Haiti within 12 hours of the disaster. Only a few were able to arrive without fatal delays, mainly teams—like those from Venezuela, Iceland, and China—that managed to land while Haitian staff still retained control of their airport. Some subsequent arrivals, including a team from the UK, were prevented from landing with their heavy lending equipment. Others, like Canada’s several Heavy Urban Search Rescue Teams, were immediately readied but never sent; the teams were told to stand down, the Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon eventually explained, because “the government had opted to send Canadian Armed Forces instead.”18

USAID announced on Jan. 19 that international search and rescue teams, over the course of the first week after the disaster, had managed to save a grand total of 70 people.19 The majority of these people were rescued in specific locations and circumstances. “Search-and-rescue operations,” observed the Washington Post on Jan. 18, “have been intensely focused on buildings with international aid workers, such as the crushed UN headquarters, and on large hotels with international clientele.”20

Tim Schwartz spent much of the first post-quake week as a translator with rescue workers, and was struck by the fact that most of their work was confined to certain places—the UN’s Hotel Christophe, the Montana Hotel, the Caribe supermarket—that were not only frequented by foreigners but that could be snugly enclosed within “secure perimeters.” Elsewhere, he observed, UN “peacekeepers” seemed intent on convincing rescue workers to treat onlooking crowds as a source of potential danger, rather than assistance.21

Until the residents of devastated places like Léogane and Carrefour are somehow able to reassure foreign troops that they can feel “secure” when visiting their neighborhoods, UN and U.S. commanders clearly prefer to let them die on their own.

Exactly the same logic has condemned yet more people to death in and around Port-au-Prince’s hospitals. In one of the most illuminating reports yet filed from the city, on Jan. 20 Democracy Now‘s Amy Goodman spoke with Dr. Evan Lyon of Partners in Health/Zamni Lasante from the General Hospital—the most important medical center in the country.

Lyon acknowledged there was a need for “crowd control, so that the patients are not kept from having access,” but insisted that “there’s no insecurity […]. I don’t know if you guys were out late last night, but you can hear a pin drop in this city. It’s a peaceful place. There is no war. There is no crisis except the suffering that’s ongoing […]. The first thing that [your] listeners need to understand is that there is no insecurity here. There has not been, and I expect there will not be.”

On the contrary, Lyon explained, “This question of security and the rumors of security and the racism behind the idea of security has been our major block to getting aid in. The U.S. military has promised us for several days to bring in machinery, but they’ve been listening to this idea that things are insecure, and so we don’t have supplies.”

As of Jan. 20, the hospital still hadn’t received the supplies and medicines needed to treat many hundreds of dying patients.

“In terms of aid relief the response has been incredibly slow. There are teams of surgeons that have been sent to places that were, quote, ‘more secure,’ that have 10 or 20 doctors and 10 patients. We have a thousand people on this campus who are triaged and ready for surgery, but we only have four working operating rooms, without anesthesia and without pain medications.”22

In post-quake Haiti it seems that anyone or anything that cannot be enclosed in a “secure perimeter” isn’t worth saving.

In their occasional forays outside such perimeters, meanwhile, some Western journalists seemed able to find plenty of reasons for retreating behind them. Lurid stories of looting and gangs soon began to lend “security experts” like the London-based Stuart Page23 an aura of apparent authority, when he explained to the BBC’s gullible “security correspondent” Frank Gardner that “all the security gains made in Haiti in the last few years could now be reversed […]. The criminal gangs, totaling some 3,000, are going to exploit the current humanitarian crisis, to the maximum degree.”24

Another seasoned BBC correspondent, Matt Frei, had a similar story to tell on Jan. 18, when he found a few scavengers sifting through the remains of a central shopping district. “Looting is now the only industry here. Anything will do as a weapon. Everything is now run by rival armed groups of thugs.” If Haiti is to avoid anarchy, Frei concluded, “What may be needed is a full scale military occupation.”25

Not even former U.S. President (and former Haiti occupier) Bill Clinton was prepared to go that far. “Actually,” Clinton told Frei, “when you think about people who have lost everything except what they’re carrying on their backs, who not only haven’t eaten but probably haven’t slept in four days, and when the sun goes down it’s totally dark and they spend all night long tripping over bodies living and dead, well, I think they’ve behaved quite well […]. They are astonishing people. How can they be so calm in the face of such enormous loss of life and loved ones, and all the physical damage?”26

Reporters able to tell the difference between occasional and highly localized incidents of foraging, and a full-scale “descent into anarchy” made much the same point all week, as did dozens of indignant Haitian correspondents. On Jan. 17, for instance, Ciné Institute Director David Belle tried to counter international misrepresentation. “I have been told that much U.S. media coverage paints Haiti as a tinderbox ready to explode. I’m told that lead stories in major media are of looting, violence, and chaos. There could be nothing further from the truth. I have travelled the entire city daily since my arrival. The extent of the damage is absolutely staggering [but…] NOT ONCE have we witnessed a single act of aggression or violence […]. A crippled city of two million awaits help, medicine, food, and water. Most haven’t received any. Haiti can be proud of its survivors. Their dignity and decency in the face of this tragedy is itself staggering.”27

But it seems that to some, dignity and decency are no substitute for security. No amount of weapons will ever suffice to reassure those “fortunate few,” whose fortunes isolate them from the people they exploit. As far as the vast majority of people are concerned, “security is not the issue,” explains Haiti Liberté‘s Kim Ives.

“We see throughout Haiti the population organizing themselves into popular committees to clean up, to pull out the bodies from the rubble, to build refugee camps, to set up their security for the refugee camps. This is a population that is self-sufficient, and it has been self-sufficient for many years.”28

While the people who have lost what little they had have done their best to cope and regroup, the soldiers sent to “restore order” treat them as potential combatants. “It’s just the same way they reacted after Katrina,” concludes Ives. “The victims are what’s scary. They’re black people who, you know, had the only successful slave revolution in history. What could be more threatening?”

“According to everyone I spoke with in the center of the city,” wrote Schwarz on Jan. 21, “the violence and gang stuff is pure BS.”

The relentless obsession with security, agrees Andy Kershaw, is clear proof of the fact that most foreign soldiers and NGO workers “haven’t a clue about the country and its people.”29 True to form, within hours of the earthquake most of the panicked staff in the U.S. Embassy had already been evacuated, and at least one prominent foreign contractor in the garment sector (the Canadian firm Gildan Activewear) announced that it would be shifting production to alternative sewing facilities in neighboring countries.30

The price to be paid for such priorities will not be evenly distributed. Up in the higher, wealthier, and mostly undamaged parts of Pétionville everyone already knows that it’s the local residents “who through their government connections, trading companies, and interconnected family businesses” will once again pocket the lion’s share of international aid and reconstruction money.31

To help keep less well-connected families where they belong, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has taken “unprecedented” emergency measures to secure the homeland this past week. Operation “Vigilant Sentry” will make use of the large naval flotilla the U.S. government has assembled around Port-au-Prince.

“As well as providing emergency supplies and medical aid,” notes The Daily Telegraph, “the USS Carl Vinson, along with a ring of other Navy and Coast Guard vessels, is acting as a deterrent to Haitians who might be driven to make the 681-mile sea crossing to Miami.”

While Senegal’s President Abdoulaye Wade offered “voluntary repatriation to any Haitian that wants to return to [the land of] their origin,” American officials confirmed that they would continue to apply their long-standing (and illegal) policy with respect to all Haitian refugees and asylum seekers—to intercept and repatriate them automatically, regardless of the circumstances.32

Ever since the quake struck, the U.S. Air Force has taken the additional precaution of flying a radio-transmitting cargo plane for five hours a day over large parts of the country, so as to broadcast a recorded message from Haiti’s ambassador in Washington. “Don’t rush on boats to leave the country,” the message says. “If you think you will reach the United States and all the doors will be wide open to you, that’s not at all the case. They will intercept you right on the water and send you back home where you came from.”

Not even life-threatening injuries are enough to entitle Haitians to a welcome in the United States. When the dean of medicine at the University of Miami arrived to help set up a field hospital by the airport in Port-au-Prince, he was outraged to find that most seriously injured people in the city were being denied visas to be transferred to Florida for surgery and treatment. As of Jan. 19, the State Department had authorized a total of 23 exceptions to its restrictive immigrant and refugee policies.

“It’s beyond insane,” O’Neill complained. “It’s bureaucracy at its worst.”33


This is the fourth time the United States has invaded Haiti since 1915. Although each invasion has taken a different form and responded to a different pretext, all four have been expressly designed to restore “stability” and “security” to the island. In the wake of the earthquake, thousands more foreign security personnel are already on their way, to guard the teams of foreign reconstruction and privatization consultants who in the coming months are likely to usurp what remains of Haitian sovereignty.

Perhaps some of these guards and consultants will help their elite clients achieve another long-cherished dream: the restoration of the Haitian Army. And perhaps then, for a short while at least, the inexhaustible source of “instability” in Haiti—the ever-nagging threat of popular political participation and empowerment—may be securely buried in the rubble of its history.

End Notes

  1. See Pål Sletten and Willy Egset, Poverty in Haiti (FAFO, 2004), 9.
  2. IMF, Haiti: Interim Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (November 2006), 7.
  3. Robert Fatton, Haiti’s Predatory Republic (Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2002), 86-87, 83.
  4. Brian Concannon, “Lave Men, Siye Atè: Taking Human Rights Seriously,” in Melinda Miles and Eugenia Charles, eds., Let Haiti LIVE: Unjust U.S. Policies Toward its Oldest Neighbor (Coconut Creek FL: Educa Vision, 2004), 92.
  5. See for instance Jeb Sprague, “Haiti’s Classquake,” HaitiAnalysis, January 19, 2010,
  6. BBC Radio 4 News, January 16, 2010, 22:00GMT.
  7. Ginger Thompson and Damien Cave, “Officials Strain to Distribute Aid to Haiti as Violence Rises,” New York Times, January 17, 2010.
  8. “Médecins Sans Frontières says its Plane Turned Away from U.S.-run Airport,” Daily Telegraph, January 19, 2010,
  9. “Doctors Without Borders Cargo Plane with Full Hospital and Staff Blocked from Landing in Port-au-Prince,” January 18, 2010,
  10. “America Sends Paratroopers to Haiti to Help Secure Aid Lines,” The Times, January 20, 2010,
  11. Email from Tim Schwartz, January 20, 2010.
  12. “No aid [in Carrefour]. In the morning at UN base they said they would distribute there, but it didn’t happen” (Reed Lindsay, Honor and Respect Foundation Newsletter), January 20, 2010, Cf. Luis Felipe Lopez, “Town at Epicenter of Quake Stays in Isolation,” The Miami Herald, January 17, 2010.
  13. BBC Radio 4, News at Ten, January 18, 2010.
  14. Ed Pilkington, “We’re Not Here to Fight, U.S. Troops Insist,” The Guardian, January 18, 2010.
  15. “Disputes Emerge over Haiti Aid Control,” Al Jazeera, January 17, 2010.
  16. Ginger Thompson and Damien Cave, “Officials Strain to Distribute Aid to Haiti as Violence Rises,” New York Times, January 17, 2010.
  17. “Haiti Aid Agencies Warn: Chaotic and Confusing Relief Effort is Costing Lives,” The Guardian, January 18, 2010,
  18. Don Peat, “HUSAR Not up to Task, Feds Say: Search and Rescue Team Told to Stand Down,” Toronto Sun, January 17, 2010,
  19. USAID,, accessed on January 20, 2010.
  20. William Booth, “Haiti’s Elite Spared from Much of the Devastation,” Washington Post, January 18, 2010.
  21. Tim Schwarz, phone call with the author, January 18, 2010; cf. Tim Schwartz, “Is this Anarchy? Outsiders Believe this Island Nation is a Land of Bandits. Blame the NGOs for the ‘Looting,'” NOW Toronto, January 21, 2010,
  22. “With Foreign Aid Still at a Trickle, Devastated Port-au-Prince General Hospital Struggles to Meet Overwhelming Need,” Democracy Now! January 20, 2010,
  23. Stuart Page is chairman of Page Group,
  24. Gardner then explained that, with the police weakened by the quake, “Thousands of escaped criminals have returned to areas they once terrorized, like the slum district of Cité Soleil […]. Unless the armed criminals are re-arrested, Haiti’s security problems risk being every bit as bad as they were in 2004” (BBC Radio 4, Six O’clock News, January 18, 2010). In fact, when some of these ex-prisoners tried to re-establish themselves in Cité Soleil in the week after the quake, local residents promptly chased them out of the district on their own (see Ed Pilkington and Tom Phillips, “Haiti Escaped Prisoners Chased out of Notorious Slum,” The Guardian, January 20, 2010; Tom Leonard, “Scenes of Devastation Outside Port-au-Prince ‘Even Worse,'” Daily Telegraph, January 21, 2010).
  25. BBC television, Ten O’clock News, January 18, 2010.
  26. BBC Radio 4, News at Ten, January 18, 2010. It sounds as if Clinton, in his role as UN special envoy to Haiti, may be learning a few things from his deputy—Zanmi Lasante’s Dr. Paul Farmer.
  27. David Belle, January 17, 2010.
  28. “Journalist Kim Ives on How Western Domination Has Undermined Haiti’s Ability to Recover from Natural Devastation,” Democracy Now! January 21, 2010, Ives illustrates the way such community organizations work with an example from the Delmas 33 neighborhood where he’s staying. “A truckload of food came in in the middle of the night unannounced. It could have been a melee. The local popular organization was contacted. They immediately mobilized their members […]. They lined up about 600 people who were staying on the soccer field behind the [Matthew 25] house, which is also a hospital, and they distributed the food in an orderly, equitable fashion. They were totally sufficient. They didn’t need Marines. They didn’t need the UN. […] These are things that people can do for themselves and are doing for themselves.” Kershaw makes the same point: “This self-imposed blockade by bureaucracy is a scandal but could be easily overcome. The NGOs and the military should recognize the hysteria over ‘security’ for what it is and make use of Haiti’s best resource and its most efficient distribution network: the Haitians themselves. Stop treating them as children. Or worse. Hand over to them immediately what they need at the airport. They will find the means to collect it. Fill up their trucks and cars with free fuel. Any further restriction on, and control of, the supply of aid is not only patronizing but it is in that control and restriction where any ‘security issues’ will really lurk. And it is the Haitians who best know where the aid is needed” (Andy Kershaw, “Stop Treating these People Like Savages,” The Independent, January 21, 2010).
  29. Andy Kershaw, “Stop Treating these People Like Savages,” The Independent, January 21, 2010.
  30. Ross Marowits, “Gildan Shifting T-shirt Production Outside Haiti to Ensure Adequate Supply,” The Canadian Press, January 13, 2010,
  31. William Booth, “Haiti’s Elite Spared from Much of the Devastation,” Washington Post, January 18, 2010.
  32. Bruno Waterfield, “U.S. Ships Blockade Coast to Thwart Exodus to America,” Daily Telegraph, January 19, 2010; “Senegal Offers Land to Haitians,” BBC News January 17, 2010,
  33. James C. Mckinley Jr., “Homeless Haitians Told not to Flee to United States,” New York Times, January 19, 2010.

Peter Hallward is a Canadian political philosopher. He is currently a professor of Modern European Philosophy at Middlesex University ( He is the author of

Damning the Flood.

Haiti I’m sorry

Haiti I’m sorry

We misunderstood you

One day we’ll turn our heads

And look inside you

Haiti I’m sorry

We misunderstood you

One day we’ll turn our heads

Restore your glory

(David Rudder, “Haiti.” The Gilded Collection, 1985-1989)

“Civilizing” Haiti

“Civilizing” Haiti (Boston Review)

Colin Dayan

It is now eight days since an earthquake devastated Port-au-Prince, along with numerous other places that we do not hear much about—Carrefour Feuille, Léogane, Petit Goave, Miragoâne, Jacmel. My friends in Haiti report that the UN and the U.S. military and the countless humanitarian aid agencies are nowhere to be seen. The United States, in control of the airport and, in effect, of much else, has designated the center of what was once the capital city a “red zone.” In other words, it is a security risk, so the U.S. relief workers remain in the “green zone,” a term that has become all-too familiar to us from the disaster that is Iraq.

Richard Auguste Morse—musician, writer, and beloved manager of the Oloffson, the model for Hotel Trianon in Graham Greene’s The Comedians—has been tweeting every day since the catastrophe. On January 17 he asked:

How can the UN help the people of Carrefour Feuille if they are prohibited from coming to the neighborhood!! If the UN can’t help poor people then what are they doing in Haiti!!! . . . UN is not staying out of my neighborhood 4 reasons of security. It’s just some kind of warped politic.


Haiti has once again fulfilled its traditional role for the United States and the international media. When I see CNN reporters commenting on the smell of urine and decay, taking viewers through the garbage, through crowds of the injured, the dying, and the dead, I recall other representations of Haiti. They never change. As early as 1853, the Scottish writer Thomas Carlyle lamented the destruction of the richest French colony in the New World. He called Haiti “a tropical dog-kennel and pestiferous jungle.” Thirty-five years later, his biographer, the historian James Anthony Froude, would describe his first impression of the “ulcer of Port-au-Prince” as a smell of “active dirt fermenting in the sunlight.”

Amid evocations of a desperate people and festering landscape, the media and the “humanitarian” community continue to ignore the history of the island. Without reference to the foreign occupation, intervention, and exploitation that define the Haitian political experience, we cannot appreciate the sinister politics of Clinton and Bush’s promise of “compassion.”

Haiti was the scene of the only successful revolution by slaves in history, the first black republic in the Americas. The “Black Jacobins”—Toussaint l’Ouverture and his successors, Jean-Jacques Dessalines and Henri Christophe—defeated, in turn, the local whites; the remaining soldiers of the French monarchy; a Spanish invasion; a British expedition of some 60,000 men; and the soldiers of Napoleon, led by his brother-in-law, General Charles Le Clerc. Yet at the moment of its birth it was stifled by those who feared its example. France, using warships and heavy cannon, imposed a 150-million franc “indemnity” on the new nation. This was the defeated colonial master’s price for recognition of Haitian independence, compensation for the former slave-holders’ lost “property.” The United States withheld recognition of the ex-slaves’ victory and independence until 1862, lest its own slaves follow their lead.

During the American occupation of Haiti, which lasted from 1915 to 1934, the U.S. government rewrote the Haitian Constitution to permit foreign investment; dissolved the Haitian army and replaced it with a police force, known as the garde; seized peasants’ land; imposed martial law; and instituted the corvée, a program of forced labor to build roads throughout the countryside. In 1918 the peasantry, under the leadership of Charlemagne Péralte and Benoît Batraville, began a revolt. A year later, more than 3,000 peasants had been killed. Another 5,000 died in labor camps that the garde supervised for the occupying forces. When the United States left, she saddled the country with another foreign debt—a massive $40 million—which destroyed any possibility that Haiti might enjoy a stable financial regime.

And the media, then as now, have acted as faithful water carriers for powerful outside states and their financial interests. Generalizations about criminality and barbarism have always been a good way to avoid the particulars of history. In the gritty world of politics and power, a retrograde Haiti—the portrait of pathos—derails our attention from the real causes of suffering and poverty there.

Analysts and policymakers have never been subtle. Lawrence E. Harrison, the director of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Mission to Haiti from 1977 to 1979, turned Haitian culture itself into the source of the country’s poverty and an excuse for the imposition of American-style development: Haiti is a “moral void,” he wrote in a 1987 article for the Los Angeles Times-Washington Post news service. “The principal cause of Haiti’s acute underdevelopment is a set of national values and attitudes dominated by voodoo religion and compounded by the experience of slavery.” In the chaos following Baby Doc Duvalier’s departure and dubious “transition to democracy,” Harrison proposed a version of the American dream for Haiti. The program featured “the establishment of assembly industries employing tens of thousands in the capital city of Port-au-Prince.” The workers in these factories, he predicted, would “learn that a combination of organization, cooperation, technology and work can vault them into the middle class—something the voodoo priests have failed to achieve.”

In a New York Times op-ed last week—“The Underlying Tragedy”—David Brooks alluded to “a complex web of progress-resistant cultural influences” and renewed Harrison’s civilizing mission: replacing Haitian practices with “middle-class assumptions, an achievement ethos, and tough, measurable demands.” History keeps repeating itself. So let us be wary of the U.S. media coverage of looting, violence, and chaos in Haiti. The exaggerations serve a purpose: rationalizing the militarization of aid, pushing for a new status for Haiti, that of U.S. protectorate, like Puerto Rico.

When The New York Times questioned the capacities of Frederick Douglass as U.S. Minister Resident and Consul General to Haiti in 1889, it described Haiti as “a black mob pretending to be a government.” In 2009 it is still too easy to blame Haiti for bad government, or, as we keep hearing, for no government.

What is perhaps more difficult is to understand is how every disaster and every coup—including the numerous coups abetted by the U.S. government, such as those against Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1991 and 2004—never ceases to inspire an old vision for the country: a site for multinational investment. Once a colony, then an occupied territory, then a land under the thumb of USAID and the World Bank.

Their project in the 1980s displaced farmers from the countryside and created a captive labor force in Port-au-Prince. The people lived in the shantytowns on the hillsides, only to become victims of a natural disaster made worse by the endless, quite unnatural programs promoting “democracy.”

Haiti: the Hate and Quake, by Sir Hilary Beckles


The Hate and the Quake


By Sir Hilary Beckles

The University of the West Indies is in the process of conceiving how best to deliver a major conference on the theme “Rethinking and Rebuilding Haiti”. I am very keen to provide an input into this exercise because for too long there has been a popular perception that somehow the Haitian nation-building project, launched on January 1st 1804, has failed on account of mismanagement, ineptitude, corruption.

Buried beneath the rubble of imperial propaganda, out of both Western Europe and the United States, is the evidence which shows that Haiti’s independence was defeated by an aggressive North-Atlantic alliance that could not imagine their world inhabited by a free regime of Africans as representatives of the newly emerging democracy.


The evidence is striking, especially in the context of France. The Haitians fought for their freedom and won, as did the Americans fifty years earlier. The Americans declared their Independence and crafted an extraordinary constitution that set out a clear message about the value of humanity and the right to freedom, justice, and liberty. In the midst of this brilliant discourse, they chose to retain slavery as the basis of the new nation state. The Founding fathers therefore could not see beyond race, as the free state was built on a slavery foundation. The water was poisoned in the well; the Americans went back to the battle field a century later to resolve the fact that slavery and freedom could not comfortably co-exist in the same place.

The French, also, declared freedom, fraternity and equality as the new philosophies of their national transformation and gave the modern world a tremendous progressive boost by so doing. They abolished slavery, but Napoleon Bonaparte could not imagine the republic without slavery and targeted the Haitians for a new, more intense regime of slavery. The British agreed, as did the Dutch, Spanish and Portuguese. All were linked in communion over the 500 000 blacks in Haiti, the most populous and prosperous Caribbean colony. As the jewel of the Caribbean, they all wanted to get their hands on it. With a massive slave base, the English, French and Dutch salivated over owning it – and the people.

The people won a ten-year war, the bloodiest in modern history, and declared their Independence. Every other country in the Americas was based on slavery. Haiti was freedom, and proceeded to place in its 1805 Independence Constitution that any person of African descent who arrived on its shores would be declared free, and a citizen of the republic. For the first time since slavery had commenced, Blacks were the subjects of mass freedom and citizenship in a nation.


The French refused to recognise Haiti’s Independence and declared it an illegal pariah state. The Americans, whom the Haitians looked to in solidarity as their mentor in Independence, refused to recognise them, and offered solidarity instead to the French. The British, who were negotiating with the French to obtain the ownership title to Haiti, also moved in solidarity, as did every other nation-state in the western world. Haiti was isolated at birth – ostracised and denied access to world trade, finance, and institutional development. It was the most vicious example of national strangulation recorded in modern history. The Cubans, at least, have had Russia, China, and Vietnam. The Haitians were alone from inception. The crumbling began.

Then came 1825; the moment of full truth. The republic is celebrating its 21st anniversary. There is national euphoria in the streets of Port-au-Prince. The economy is bankrupt; the political leadership isolated. The Cabinet took the decision that the state of affairs could not continue. The country had to find a way to be inserted back into the world economy. The French government was invited to a summit.
Officials arrived and told the Haitian government that they were willing to recognise the country as a sovereign nation but it would have to pay compensation and reparation in exchange. The Haitians, with backs to the wall, agreed to pay the French.

Systematic destruction

The French government sent a team of accountants and actuaries into Haiti in order to place a value on all lands, all physical, assets, the 500 000 citizens who were formerly enslaved, animals, and all other commercial properties and services. The sums amounted to 150 million gold francs. Haiti was told to pay this reparation to France in return for national recognition. The Haitian government agreed; payments began immediately. Members of the Cabinet were also valued because they had been enslaved persons before Independence.

Thus began the systematic destruction of the Republic of Haiti. The French Government bled the nation and rendered it a failed state. It was a merciless exploitation that was designed and guaranteed to collapse the Haitian economy and society. Haiti was forced to pay this sum until 1922 when the last instalment was made. During the long 19th century, the payment to France amounted to up to 70% of the country’s foreign exchange earnings. Jamaica today pays up to 70% in order to service its international and domestic debt. Haiti was crushed by this debt payment. It descended into financial and social chaos. The republic did not stand a chance. France was enriched and it took pleasure from the fact that having been defeated by Haitians on the battlefield, it had won on the field of finance. In the years when the coffee crops failed, or the sugar yield was down, the Haitian government borrowed on the French money market at double the going interest rate, to repay the French government.

Fledgling nation crushed

When the Americans invaded the country in the early 20th century, one of the reasons offered was to assist the French in collecting its reparations. The collapse of the Haitian nation resides at the feet of France and America, especially. These two nations betrayed, failed, and destroyed the dream that was Haiti; crushed to dust in an effort to destroy the flower of freedom and the seed of justice. Haiti did not fail. It was destroyed by two of the most powerful nations on earth, both of which continue to have a primary interest in its current condition. The sudden quake has come in the aftermath of summers of hate. In many ways the quake has been less destructive than the hate. Human life was snuffed out by the quake while the hate has been a long and inhumane suffocation – a crime against humanity.

Moral obligation

During the 2001 UN Conference on Race in Durban, South Africa, strong representation was made to the
French government to repay the 150 million francs. The value of this amount was estimated by financial actuaries as US $21 billion. This sum of capital could rebuild Haiti and place it in a position to re-engage the modern world. It was illegally extracted from the Haitian people and should be repaid. It is stolen wealth. In so doing France could discharge its moral obligation to the Haitian people. For a nation that prides itself in the celebration of modern diplomacy, France, in order to exist with the moral authority of this diplomacy in this post modern world, should do the just and legal thing. Such an act at the outset of this century would open the door for a sophisticated interface of past and present, and set the Haitian nation free at last.

(Sir Hilary Beckles is Pro-Vice Chancellor and Principal at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus)

The Advocate: