March 31, 2010
It’s been a while. I haven’t seen you since since June 1974 in front of Hibbard Hall. Z. Chin, T. Cook, you and I were saying goodbye. I saw you in a recent alumni magazine and thought, I know that woman..
I’m living in Haiti. I’ve been here since 1985. Things are bad down here. If they weren’t this bad I would never be disrupting you from your busy schedule. The UN Donor Conference today is a sham. Please find a way to get the imput of everyday Haitians in the decision making process. I understand that Bill Clinton has been given this piece of the Foreign Policy Pie but unfortunately folks “trying to help” Haiti are being played by folks who have brought Haiti to the status of “Poorest Nation in the Western Hemisphere”. There has to be some fundamental change here.
I originally came to Haiti to play music and to research Rhythms. My mother, if you may recall is Haitian. As I said, I have been living here since 1985 and I’ve been through countless COUP’s, massacres, two US invasions, Two UN occupying forces, countless devastating hurricanes and now one indescribable killer EarthQuake. The two elections held here last year were fraudulent and yet no International Organization, including the UN, spoke out. I expressed those views to the UN Secretary General’s Spokesperson and at a meeting at the Supreme Court in Washington DC last year. I’ve visited Washington DC on numerous occasions in reference to Haiti. I’ld rather just play music and chill at my small but comfortable hotel but sometimes INJUSTICE rears it’s ugly head and I feel i have to make a stand and take some time from the pleasures I find in life.
My musicians are sleeping in tent cities. My hotel staff are mostly living in tents. I talk to the journalists, I talk to the Haitian People, I talk FOR the Haitian People, I talk to embassy folks, I talk to local grassroots organizers and I talk to diplomats. SOMETHING IS DEFINITELY WRONG DOWN HERE and I want things to get aired out before major decisions are made after this Donors Conference. I’m calling out to you. I hope you understand. Forgive me for anything I may have said or done..
This is a desperate Cry For Help..
“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.
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.”
Elizabeth McAlister, Associate Professor in African American Studies and American Studiesf at Wesleyan University has recently written a number of articles and given several public interviews on the subjects of Haitian culture, politics, and religion . These will hopefully help interested American public and the world at large to be educated about the Haitian culture and experience.
“Interview on Vodou in Haiti,” New York Times Interactive
“Understanding the Haiti Earthquake” Interfaith Voices Public Radio Int’l
“Devil’s Logic: Behind Pat Roberton’s Haitian Blame Game” on Forbes.com
“Voodoo View of the Quake” on Newsweek/Washington Post On Faith
“Voodoo Brings Solace to Grieving Haitians,” NPR All Things Considered
“Why Does Haiti Suffer So Much?” on CNN.com
“Haiti’s Musical Traditions, Past and Present” on The Takeaway/WNYC Radio
“Keith and Gail talk with Elizabeth McAlister about Haiti” on Fox Radio
“Cover Story: Resurrection of the Dead” New Yorker online
Abdul Alkalimat <mcworter@ILLINOIS.EDU>
Haiti Needs Jean-Bertrand Aristide
President Jean-Bertrand Aristide is the one contemporary Haitian
who brings the heroic legacies of L’Ouverture, Dessalines, Christophe, and Petion, the four horsemen of Haitian political history, to the current crisis. Aristide, a former Roman Catholic priest and Haiti’s first democratically elected leader was President of Haiti in l991, and was overthrown by a military coup in September l991. However, he was once again President from l994 to l996, and President from 2001 to 2004. In February 2004, after he disbanded the army because of corruption and its attacks on civilians, a criminal band of less than one hundred men terrorized the nation and Aristide was physically removed from the palace, supposedly for his safety. The American government was complicit in this action and flew the President to Africa. The democratically elected President of Haiti has been forced to live in exile in South Africa.
Yet Haiti has always been on his mind. He is a child of the soil,
the most distinguished image of a fighting Haiti, and at this time of
natural disaster, political instability, and governmental weakness, however much Hillary Rodham Clinton wants to shore up President Rene Preval, the country needs its most potent political figure. Aristide has always been ready to inspire and rally his nation; this time is no different. At this moment when one considers the grim realities of death, destruction, and the enormous need for reconstruction, Aristide, the healer, teacher, philosopher, orator, leader, and the first truly democratically elected president of Haiti should be called upon by the international community. I believe that he is the only Haitian who can command both national and international respect at this time. President Rene Preval, by all accounts, is a good public servant, but he has not been able to grasp the immensity of the situation in Haiti. Furthermore, he has been unable to convey a vision for the future. This has to be done by Haitians.
President Clinton, Secretary Clinton, and General Colin Powell
are not Haitians, however grand their objectives; they do not have the
credibility and the ability to rally Haitians like Jean-Bertrand Aristide. They know it, the Haitians know it, and the world knows it. Before President Aristide was exiled to South Africa from his own nation, he had received more votes than any president in Haiti’s history, and just a gang of thugs supported by the enemies of a progressive Haiti were allowed to threaten the peaceful democracy. In spite of the apocalyptic scope of the earthquake, this is an opportune time for the country to make social, medical, economic, and political progress.
However, we are confronted with what appears to be a leadership
vacuum. Therefore, I call for the return of Jean-Bertrand Aristide. I am
asking that the UN Head, Ban Ki Moon and the US President, Barack Obama
guarantee the safe and secure return of President Aristide. I believe that President Rene Preval will grow in stature if he agrees to this return. In fact, Preval was once the second in command to Aristide. Perhaps nature has given the politicians what they could not have envisioned themselves, that is, a way to resolve the constitutional issue of two elected presidents. Why can’t President Preval now form a joint presidency as Sekou Toure and Kwame Nkrumah formed in Guinea? This is an African solution to the political crisis and to the moral and psychological issues facing the country. President Aristide, one of the most generous, intelligent, and consistent leaders in Haiti’s history will certainly use his powers to rally the Haitian people once again to resilience and victory. I know President Aristide and I know that he is in pain about the conditions in Haiti. Let the international community call for his return to help minister to and rally his people.