by Ed Kinane
Let's begin with 1492. Since that year, when it was "discovered," no country in the Caribbean has suffered more pain per capita than Haiti.
In the 15th century, according to Columbus, Haiti was an island paradise. Now it is an ecological disaster. In the 18th century, Haiti was the richest colony in the New World. Now it is the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere.
In the early 1500s, Haiti's indigenous people, the Taino, were rendered extinct. Alien disease took its inevitable toll. But it was the Spanish obsession with gold and Columbus' brutal ways of extracting and extorting what little gold there was that sealed their fate.
Soon thousands of West Africans were imported every year to fill the labor vacuum. Africans, under the lash, were put to work raising indigo and then cane sugar. So savage was the slave regime, at first under the Spanish and then under the French, that a slave's life expectancy upon reaching Haiti was only several years. Slaves didn't live long enough to assimilate "Western civilization." To this day Haiti remains essentially an African country.
In the 1790's, the Afro-Haitians revolted. In 1804, led by the slave Toussaint L'Ouverture, the Africans succeeded in whupping Napolean's army and driving it off the island.
This was the world's first successful slave revolt. Ignored in our history books, it was an accomplishment as significant and as liberating as the French or U.S. revolutions.
Western civilization -- France and the other white colonial slave-holding powers -- has yet to forgive the Afro-Haitians. Like Sandinista Nicaragua and Castro's Cuba, liberating itself was Haiti's original sin. Two centuries later the forces of counter-liberation are still relentlessly applied against it.
For years, few nations would recognize Haiti's independence. The United States, despite the lofty sentiments of its founding documents, did not recognize Haiti until our own slave regime crumbled in the 1860s. France, despite the ideals of its 1789 revolution, would not recognize Haiti until it paid a crushing multi-million dollar indemnity.
In the Catholic theology of my youth, we are all born -- like Haiti -- with original sin. And many of us go on to commit grievous sins of our own. These are called mortal sins. In the last dozen or so years unrepentant Haiti and President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, whom it keeps electing, has committed a number of these. This is why the so-called "international community" -- especially the United States and France -- are determined to keep Haiti in hell.
In Haiti's 1992 presidential election the U.S.-financed candidate, Marc Bazin, was pre-ordained to win. At the last minute, however, a Catholic priest preaching liberation theology entered the race. Father Aristide won the election by a 67 percent landslide.
Within eight months, a U.S.-sponsored coup toppled Aristide. The next time Aristide stood for election -- in 2000 -- he won by an even greater share of the vote. And this was an election internationally certified as fair. Aristide was, and continues to be, the choice of the vast majority of Haiti's people.
But on February 29, 2004, Aristide was again overthrown. The U.S. military abducted Aristide at gunpoint, transporting him to the Central African Republic, one of the most isolated countries on the planet.
Why does the U.S. government hate Aristide so?
For five centuries, the imperial powers have seen Haiti only as a dark, placid pool of super-cheap labor. Upon first becoming president, however, Aristide sought to raise Haiti's miserable minimum wage. A major no-no.
Aristide kept up his offensive behavior. In 1994 when he returned from exile and resumed his presidency, he abolished Haiti's brutish military.
And, finally, consider this brazen deed. During his second term, Aristide sued France for reimbursement of the aforementioned indemnity. Aristide presented France with a bill -- corrected for inflation and with 5 percent interest compounded. The bill, still outstanding, totals $21 billion.
For the time being, President Aristide lives in South Africa. Aristide's party, Lavalas, has once again been forced underground. Even so, it insists there can be no elections in Haiti without the return of its president and the democratic constitutional order he embodies.
In the 1990s, Ed Kinane worked in Haiti with Peace Brigades International. firstname.lastname@example.org.
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