The hate and the quake in Haiti

By Sir Hilary Beckles
January 23, 2009 –

HaitiTHE 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 1, 1804, has failed on account of mismanagement, ineptitude and 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 50 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 battlefield 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 10-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 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. 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 people 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 percent of the country’s foreign exchange earnings.

Jamaica today pays up to 70 percent 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 in order to repay the French government.

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.

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 of the Cave Hill Campus, UWI.


11 thoughts on “The hate and the quake in Haiti”

  1. Search continues for Mc Alpin

    Trinis back from Haiti: More to be done
    SEVEN members of the Muslims of Trinidad and Tobago organisation have retuned from the quake-stricken nation of Haiti pleading for more to be done for that country.

    Central Bank Governor: T&T should give all it can to Haiti

    Caribbean neighbours give US$4m
    Eight Caribbean Community (Caricom) countries and the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) have contributed a total of US$4 million towards the relief effort in Haiti, with Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana topping the list with pledges of US$1 million each.

    Beyond pledges, Haiti needs bank account

    T&T newsman stranded in DR
    Passport lost on bus trip

    Haitian kids go missing
    PORT-AU-PRINCE: Aid agencies yesterday continued to warn against adopting children from earthquake-ravaged Haiti, amid unconfirmed reports that a number of children who had gone missing from hospitals in the devastated country may have been trafficked.

    Volunteer team of medics, fire officers returning tomorrow

  2. Dear Dr.Beckles; I recieved this piece before it was published here, from a friend at Petrotrin, who forwarded it to me. I have already sent it forward to people of the African Diaspora, urging them to keep it going forward, the way some people send silly internet jokes and rude pictures.
    Every major newspaper with which I have contact, including the Guardian of London, The New York Times and the Washington POst have recieved comments from me on the co-operative ventures needed to rebuild Haiti.One silly person, mispronouncing the name, suggested it be called “Lovey” instead.In most commentaries, I have urged them to read CLR James’Black Jacobins, whih may be out of print, but which I am sure is in every diaspora African’s library.

    It is time the Caribbean and African nations take a major role in the rebuilding, as many would see Haiti as a “Blacks CAn’t Rule Themselves” basket case. The Washington Posts bloggers are very much of that ilk.We have five assets in the English speaking Caribbean that can be useful in rebuilding Haiti. Three of them are UWI’s Schools of Engineering, Economics and Medicine.The fourth is Jamaica’s progress in Agriculture, and its proximity to Haiti, and the fifth is Trinidad and Tobago’s resources of oil, natural gas and fertilizer, as well as asphalt. Cuba’s assets also include its proximity, and its willingness to train medical personnel for LAtin America,but unfortunately, language is a barrier in all cases. I know most city Haitians know pidgin English, but they cannot read the designs in Engineering texts, nor medical manuals.

    Nonetheless, I would suggest that the proposed conference be built around helping restructure Haiti in those areas where we have expertise; and the Caricom Community, in collaboration with the University of The West Indies should jointly propose to the UN that help be filtered through these organizations, so that the maximu benefit go to the Haitian people, without the attitude that usually goes with it. Haiti needs a new model, one not tried before in quite the same way anywhere else. One of the ideas I proposed in my comments, was the setting up of new schools that would teach in three languages- French, English and Spanish, so that Haitians would retain their culture, but learn to talk to their neighbours. Holland would be a good model for such schools, as the children there are educated multilingually, since none of Holland’s neighbours speak Dutch. Canada can help with education, because they have English and French, and Latin American countries have Spanish and English. It would have been great to include the Centro Universitie del Caraibe et Guyane( I hope I got the name right, was there in 1972- that’s a long time ago) but they are in French Territory, and the former master country would need to give permission for them to be involved.

    I hope something gets done. Our young Caribbean scholars, students and teachers, as well as economists, engineers and doctors, can play a major role in restructuring Haiti, without wanting AGAIN, TO MAKE IT ANYONE’S COLONY.

    God bless you in your work, and in your vision.

    L.E. Edwards
    UWI Class of 1967
    St. Augustine
    Educator and social change agent.

  3. Do you really beleive that Trinidad’s Oild could do anything for Haiti, It can’t. just as it has not done anything for the blind loyalists of the PNM regime, even as they continue to blindly prop up this corrupt regime. No help going to Haiti could solve that country’s problems, unless the leaders of Haiti really want that country to develop. I have condemned those who blame the so called outside occupation of Haiti because I would maintain that this could only happen if the leaders assist in that happening. I also agree that Haiti would need some help, including help from the US and other “developed” nations, but if we ignor the input of local leaders in the destruction of that country and point out pens only at foriegn countries, this help would be happered and the situation would deteriorate to “square one”.

  4. Blame Haiti’s politicians by Anthony Wilson
    Given the fact that the essay was obviously being e-mailed widely, I was convinced that I needed to respond publicly and provoke a wider public debate on this issue. I have not studied the Haitian Revolution in 25 years but I am sure that one of the things people like Carl Parris and Anslem Francis taught me at the Institute of International Relations more than 20 years ago is that sovereign nations have the ability to make (and break) agreements. Sir Hilary seeks to blame the French for seeking to impose an onerous agreement seeking “compensation and reparation in exchange” for recognition. But Sir Hilary ascribes absolutely no blame to the Haitian government which entered into this agreement, one assumes, with its eyes wide open. As I understand it from his essay, the sovereign Haitian government, feeling the pinch of its isolation, entered into an agreement with France after 21 years of Independence.

    1. It’s not simply a matter of “feeling the pinch” but being economically blacklisted in a global economy. What you’re not understanding is that Haiti, when it was colony and too when it was lead by Toussaint as a protectorate of France, was the wealthiest island entity in the region. It garnered great wealth for France and Saint Domingue (when Toussaint led it). Boyer’s government (of which you are referring to) wanted to replicate that (however, misguided this notion was–the people did not want to return to the plantation and hence to a plantation economy that ensured immense revenues). Boyer and his government wanted access to old trade relations with the U.S, among others. Yes, they were quite misguided in agreeing to this but as with most former colonial states and the elite who rule them, trying at every moment to be like France, England or Spain in mores, speech and bearing, they thought the benefits outweighed the costs. What you are also not understanding is that in this moment in history white sovereign nations have the right to break agreements. Do you really think the only black one in the world would be afforded this same right, i.e, the same terms and conditions of white sovereignty? If so, your naivety is baffling. In this day and age, Caribbean and African nations are not afforded this right, crushed as they are by loan agreements that undermine any claims to sovereignty, and you think that Haiti of 1820 and thereafter would miraculously have this right? I take it in the class you refer to you, your professors modeled their arguments off of European nations. As what you are saying has little bearing on nations of color, specifically nations that emerged out of slavery and/or colonialism. Haitian politicians should be called to task for their corruption and misguided policies. But no more than other politicians throughout the world. The level of corruption we see in Haiti is exaggerated by the level of poverty that accompanies it, and hence all the more heartbreaking; but it is no different from that which resides in your nation.

  5. mramps, have you travelled throughout the rest of the CAribbean islands? I have, and believe me, Trinidad and Tobago is much better off than the other islands. The public face of Martinique and Guadeloupe are pristine roads and elegant houses, but away from the city, things deteriorate. The Eastern Caribbean is the same. I have stayed at Sam Lord’s Castle and other fancy hotels, and hired a car to drive everywhere else. There is poverty behind the tourist facade. You see it in men, married men, who apparently hire themselves out to older European women who come as tourists. they escort these women around,as night jobs, dance with them, for money, and doing God knows whatelse, as an offshoot of the tourist industry.My work took me to Grenada, St. Vincent, Dominica, Martinique, Guadeloupe, Antigua, where I lived for an extensive periods of time, Barbuda, St. Kitts and Nevis, St.Maarten, Puerto Rico and Bermuda. I also visited Belize and Guyana. As a toourist, you see beautiful facades. In reality, these big buildings are broken up into rabbit warren type rooms, but the people have to agree not to “live” at the front of the building. No children play outside, so that the pristine view the tourist needs is preserved.(If you want to see the real place, do work in women’s projects. They show you the truth).

    We, people of Trinidad and Tobago, even as small children, enjoyed a lifestyle for better than that of other islands. This is why we have to block illegal immigration.Only criminals running rom the police would probably “escape ” to the other islands, and “down the main”. If you do not know what you are talking of, you ought to respectfully be quiet. These other mini-nations may have made fantastic strides in the last few years, which would invalidate my data, but I think not. You seem like a bitter and cynical Trini or psuedo Trini. Next you will tell me that my donation to the charity I assisted in Haiti, went to produce guns in Russia, or something like that.


    Let the public posturing ,and outlandish global North / South charade continue I say. Yes Uncle Chavez we should asked young desperate machete wielding Haitian young men, and looters distribute medicines to the thousands lying buried under the rubble , and the other thousands about to jump on the certain pending overcrowded raft boats en route to Maimi . Not Caracas mind you. Me think that de South American smooth talker, and our neighbor , with the tenuous grip on power himself ,is either non too trilled to have any of those kinky heads, dead bones shaking , Mandingos coming into his land to mess up the imbalance of his mestizo population , or perhaps is perturbed at the sight of so many Yankee military might so close to home?
    For all the empty talk of Chavez , his rabid global cyber fans, and our ever present ungrateful ,country loathers ,every day hundreds of Venezuelans are fleeing his oil and gas laden enclaves, to jump to Trinidad so as to improve their quality of life.
    Ahhh the plight of borderline failed states!

  7. The French and The United States tried to pull the same stunt in Vietnam. The Vietnamese people also tried to appeal to the revolutionary and independence attitude of the United States but such appeals fell on deaf ears and the conflict in Vietnam which later became recognized as a war kicked off.
    Fidel Castro learned was fortunate in the way that the Cuban infrastructure was strong.

    What do we do? Every nation is feeling the effect of a global recession. I know that there is no price too steep to save a life, but in trying to match that price we could be placing our lives at risk. Many people are just too financially stressed.

    We look at our televisions, and read stories online, but what can we really do about it? Our people need services also and this is not a comparison, but how do we explain to our neighbor that their life is going to be more difficult because of the tragedy in Haiti?

    The only thing we can do is keep spreading the message, but until we can become economically and politically significant as a country, we have to spread information and hop that the world becomes informed about the wrongs of the alliances with the United States and Western Europe.

  8. I feel your pain, and also read you loud and clear Curtis re your lamentations ” about the wrongs of the alliances with the United States and Western Europe.”
    Look, for all the loyalty to big brother USA , the Caribbean have been generally taken for granted, and given a few crumbs like the Caribbean Basin Initiatives. . The EU states once in a while would throw them a ‘banana’ agreement bone,’ and a few insignificant morsels through the ACP agreements.
    Where however does that leave us mere gullible pions , particularly in our peaceful neck of the woods? Outside of ‘dem new age Socialist -com capitalist Chinese,’ with their insatiable thirst for natural resources to service their rapidly expanding industrial machineries , the only folks that are trying to form any types of alliances are the wounded Bear led by ex KGB ,Papa Putin , and Teheran led by their nutty nuclear obsessed , pro Hezbollah Shiites.
    The Russians power brokers, are mad as hell about NATO, the economic giant EU , Yankee global dominance,especially near her back yard with the former statalites states. Unfortunately, they have their own problems , and if any of the nostalgic 140 millions plus in her present population ,could get a chance they’ll dig up the bones from the grave and breath some life into the likes of Stalin, Lenin , and early tsar Ivan the Terrible ,to counteract some of the foolishness that prevailed for leadership and political stewardship, since the Vodka loving drunk Yelsin ,betrayed them by destroying Gorbachev’s Glasnost and Perestroika , and made forgetful Reagan the Californian Cowboy President, into some Conservative hero.
    As for Iran ,since 1979 when the hundred year old hate monger Ayatollah Khomeini struck , every time one of these jokers hear a thunder , they jump under a camel rump to hide ,as they believe that it is either the dreaded evil empire Yankees revengeful attacks , or their side kick Israel that are refueling with intentions of dropping a 500 1bs bomb to destroy them and send them back to the pre oil stone age like their Sunni Iraqi Arab cousins. As such they are trying to form their own partnership alliance , even with the scary Chavez ,for their own sinister nuclear reasons.
    Was the wise one my granny correct when she said , “show me your companion , and I’ll tell you who you are?”
    When would you guys start to listen to me and leave global, and Trini uncontrollable ,Rum and Cascadoo politics alone , and instead emulate white folks into building strong civil societies ,that can make a difference across communities? Most of you possess good intentions , but politics is not for the weak hearts.
    “A word to the wise is …. suf.. ient”

    1. There are ways to lead and strengthen CARICOM. If there is resistance to our effort to improve CARICOM, there are alternative ways to thwart that resistance. Together we aspire. Together we achieve. There is a way, but first we must conquer this stigma of being second rate and settling for third world existence. We have natural resources, proud and interesting history, fertile land, artistic value, and untapped tourism potential. We need renewal. I see that I am going to have to usher in the age of the Trinibagonian renaissance. I’m not the smartest man in the world nor do I want to be Prime Minister. However, it doesn’t take a genius to know that we aren’t even trying to fulfill our potential or we wouldn’t be so weak on things that fiscally could improve the standards of living for us all. The time has come to start thinking about and doing what we can to contribute to improving our country outside of POS while continuing smart growth within POS. It’s time that Police protect us rather than haunt us. It’s time that violent criminals are removed from society instead of hurting our reputation. It’s time right now to do something positive whether you think you can or not. We must try. Time waits for no one. Hopefully you will have the opportunity to meet me within the next few years as I move forward with my plans to improve my neck of the woods. Hopefully all of my land is not gone by then.

  9. There was a Haitian diplomat I met in the 1980’s when I lied in TnT. He had just been posted to Trinidad, and was in the process of finding a home for his family.I asked where his previous posting was. He said Mexico City. So I asked how was his family going to cope in TnT, with all the shortages we had at the time. He laughingly said that he had passed them through HAiti, for a vacation before coming to Trinidad.

    Now, we think we are poor in TnT. I would like to suggst that some of you voluunteer to go to HAiti to help rebuild houses, put up tents and so on. You would see what poverty is.People in Trinidad do not eat out of trash cans or drink water running in the canals.People in Haiti were doing this before the earthquake. If you go to help, please carry your own food- nuts, raisins and such that you would not have to cook as there may be no fire. TAke a pint of chlorine bleach with you, add a fw drops to your drinking water to keep from getting too many germs. Seriously, the least well off people in TnT are better off that many Haitians.Nurses in Houston are forming a team, to take time off and go at their own expense to help. They are focussing on baby needs, polyvisol, small plastic bottles of food, bby diapers, nd plastic bags to dispose of dirty diapers. We the peopleof TnT have so much. If there were one thousand volunteers, the government could send one of the inter-island boats(the Tobago run) that could serve as sleeping quarters for a week. One thousand committed sets of young strong muscles, and willing hearts, could do so much!

    The UNC talks of Unity now under Kamla.How about 400 PMN Youth Group people, 400 UNC Youth Group people, and 200 COP youth group people, made of of every ethnic group and reihgious affiliation, sailing in under a TNT flag? The governemnt could request leave on their behalf, from their jobs, and corporations can helpoutfit them with supplies for the trip. What a fantastic thing that would be. We could start a new TnT. A county united to help our brothers.

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