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Charlotte Amalie
Tuesday, June 18, 2024
HomeNewsArchivesHaiti: A Story of Glory and of Horror

Haiti: A Story of Glory and of Horror

The French named it San Domingue, but the slaves who liberated themselves from the slave experience changed the name to Haiti. It symbolized their break from French colonialism. To understand the story of Haiti, one must look back to a time long before the deadly earthquake of January 11, 2010; and before horror came to overwhelm Haiti, there was a story of great glory. According to James (1989), the Haitians were inspired by the revolutionary uprising of the exploited underclass in France (The French Revolution of 1789). The Haitians too, challenged their condition of existence as dominated and abused plantation laborers. During the 1790s Afro-Caribbean workers engineered the first successful slave revolt in the Americas. The revolution did not begin with Toussaint L’Ouverture, but he soon came to the fore of the movement giving it vision and direction. As James (1989) noted, Toussaint L’Ouverture saw the whole Caribbean as having a future without the physical chains, or the psychological manipulations of slavery. It was Toussaint who rallied the revolution on Haiti when the mulattos conspired with the Europeans to undermine that historic drive to freedom, which they themselves had initiated. It was in Haiti where French, Spanish and British soldiers were humiliated. They learned about the prowess and determination of Afro-Caribbean people in search of justice. It was also the revolution on Haiti that created fear in the US, as the slave owners and the government witnessed the success of the slave revolt and imagined it could inspire similar liberation movements on their plantations. By 1806 the US Government had an embargo in place against doing business with the Afro-Caribbean government on Haiti. Then, from 1915 until 1934, the US occupied the country.

The freedom and political independence that came to Haiti in 1804 undermined all the myths that had been created and spread about African people and their future in the New World. Even the French surmised they could kill the idea of freedom among the Haitians if they betrayed and killed Toussaint L’Ouverture. Unfortunately, the French misjudged the determination and commitment of men such as Christophe, Dessalines, and Maurepas to social transformation and Afro-Caribbean liberation. Despite the combined effort of France, Spain, and England to prevent its success, the French colony of San Domingue became independent Haiti in 1804.
Thousands of people were killed by a vicious slave system propelled by vulgar capitalism. Thousands others died in the revolt against a system that had dominated the lives of Afro-Caribbean people. However, in retrospect, those years of the successful revolt against slavery ended the glory days for Haiti. As Trouillot (1995) argued, even the Haitian leadership, since 1804, has helped to smother hope and silenced the story of Haiti’s glorious past. Long before the earthquake of January 11, the hope and glory of an independent Haiti had been traded for horror. Horror has been the daily experience of the mass of people living on Haiti. Their political leaders, legacies from their colonial past, and control strategies by the US Government have combined to limit initiative and to bring a persistent experience of horror to Haiti.
The government ineptness and disorganization seen in Haiti were a culmination of the failure in viable vision and creative action by the country’s government through the past 206 years. Undoubtedly, the leadership and the efforts of the revolutionaries won a glorious victory for the Haitian people during that time of protest for social change. However, since the change from colonial domination came, the leadership on Haiti appears to have lost its vision about changing the future life for the millions of poor and powerless Haitians. Worse than the hurricanes of 2008; worse than the devastation of the recent earthquake, has been the devastation and horror brought to the lives of the Haitian people by unethical and incompetent leaders. They exploited the ignorance of their people through the years and kept them uneducated as was the case during slavery. About 50% of Haitians still live primitive lives wallowing in ignorance, without a proper education. The infrastructure in the country is limited and hardly ever sufficient. Meanwhile the leaders have lived lives of ease and prosperity in a palace. Little wonder that there are always numerous candidates competing with intense jealousy to be President.
In some ways the politics in Haiti depicts the politics of many Caribbean islands. Too many leaders are concerned about the position as leader, not the actions they can take to transform the lives of people living in harsh, poverty-stricken situations. They also refuse to hear the desperate appeals for voice and empowerment by the people. Educated and enlightened people in the Caribbean and around the world are challenged to change the future of the Caribbean islands. We can begin by ensuring that there are term limits and fair elections. Further, if Haiti’s politics and society are allowed to continue as is, without serious, critical review, the entire world would have made a further contribution, not to glory, but to the horror in Haiti.
Editor’s note: Whitman T. Browne is an educator and author of several books on the Caribbean, including "From Commoner to King," and "The Christena Disaster in Retrospect."
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