A Haitian History Lesson

Here’s an excellent article by Randall Robinson about Haiti and its fight for independence 200 years ago. Some highlights:

St. Domingue (as Haiti was then called by the French) was at that time the most prosperous colonial possession of any European power. It created far greater wealth for France than the thirteen American colonies combined. Its massive wealth-generating capacity caused it to be known far and wide as “The Pearl of the Antilles” and its French owners had a clear and proven management strategy for profit maximization: push the slaves to their absolute physical limit, work them literally to death, and then quickly import replacement slaves from Africa who would, in turn, be worked to death. This, St. Domingue’s plantocracy had discovered, controlled operating costs, kept the pace of economic activity at a highly efficient and productive pace, minimized slack and wastage, and produced massive, stupendous profits.

St. Domingue’s policy of working its slaves to death and then quickly importing replacements from Africa proved to be the ultimate karmic boomerang. St. Domingue’s African-born slaves not only were not yet broken psychologically, but they were also in possession of significant military training and experience gained on the other side of the Atlantic. And they combined with brilliant, indefatigable, St. Domingue-born blacks like Toussaint L’Ouverture and Dessalines to create a black revolutionary juggernaut the likes of which Europe and the United States had not seen before – or since.

The Blacks of St. Domingue forced the world to see both them and the millions of other Africans enslaved throughout the Americas with new eyes. No longer could it be assumed that they could forever be brutalized into creating massive fortunes and building sprawling empires for the glory of Europe and America.

On January 1, 1804, hundreds of thousands of slave revolutionaries established an independent republic and named it Haiti in honor of the Amerindian people, long since killed off by European brutality and diseases, who had called the land Ayiti – Land of Many Mountains. They had banished slavery from their land and proclaimed it an official refuge for escaped slaves from anywhere in the world. They had defeated the mightiest of the mighty. They had shattered the myth of European invincibility.

Europe was livid. America, apoplectic. The blacks in St. Domingue had forgotten their place and would be made to pay. Dearly. For the next two hundred years.

The complete article is a great history lesson, especially for those of us who were taught his-story in American schools.

Happy Bicentennial to Haiti and thanks to Kamau for highlighting the article.

Categorized as Race


  1. I did my Bachelor’s thesis on this. I focused on the role of Maroons and Voodoo culture. There were some spontaneous moments, but there was also a lot of steady, grassroots organizing that enabled it to happen so quickly and effectively. It wasn’t just one big battle. There were several fronts.

    Sadly, Haiti never recovered from the aftermath of the revolution, and today it is one of the most difficult places to live.

  2. Reflections on Haiti and democracy.
    By: Courtenay Barnett
    e-mail ablec2000@yahoo.co.uk
    url: http://www.globaljusticeonline.com
    29th February, 2004

    “Democracy” – one man – one vote- and one President duly elected is not a bad idea. But, what if that elected President is Jean Bertrand Aristide, and the people see no light directly ahead for socio-economic advancement? Charisma lost, no food on the boil, and legitimacy is lost as well. Aristide is not Saddam Hussein, in the sense that he was freely and democratically elected. In Iraq, of course we will be seeing one man – one vote – one President after June 30th , 2004 – really? The elected leader in Haiti has now been given a thumbs down by Washington. The power of the bullet is ironically speaking more effectively than the ballot ( or, at least as effectively as the bombs did in Iraq, to urge on regime change). Haiti’s difference is that it is poor, has a misguided and frustrated populace who are now supporting overthrow of the President who has failed to deliver. Iraq, by contrast, was invaded and occupied by a foreign power in 2003. And so was Haiti by the US, in 1891, 1914-34, and 1994-96.

    The real issue in Haiti is not “democracy” simpliciter. A people brutalised and impoverished for centuries need food, shelter, clothing, health care, and education to a far greater extent than they need to drop a ballot paper in a box. Socio-economic upliftment cannot be delivered by any Haitian leader overnight, and the pretext of “democracy” in Haiti is that it could leapfrog “first order survival rights” for a second order of “ freedom and democracy”. Putting the cart of political democracy, before the work-horse of basic survival needs for the people will forever see Haiti in crisis. Ten to fifteen years of a substantial national development plan ( on an optimistic and conservative estimate) is what a country such as Haiti needs to start on a path of necessary national development. Cuba’s programmes of health care, low income housing, mass education and literacy prorammes post-1959 have far more to offer in practical terms than another quarter century of elections in Haiti, with or without Washington’s help.

    By contrast, “democracy” in Iraq remains a bad idea from a US foreign policy perspective, for it is evident that the voice of the people is also the voice of the Shite majority. A round of free and fair elections in Iraq will usher in a Shite leadership, and some variant of Islamic rule. Another round of elections in Haiti will usher in someone as leader, hopelessly inept, and without any effective answers for the real issues of health care, low income housing, jobs, mass education and literacy programmes.

    Washington’s installation of Aristide, or anyone else, without a genuine national programme for lasting socio-economic development shall be but a travesty labeling itself “democracy” in Haiti. If democracy is to have meaning for real human beings, it has to be of service beyond the political right to vote, and needs to be of relevance to socio-economic rights for decent human survival.

    And so the world marches on –invasion in Iraq ( for freedom and democracy, of course, forget the oil). Invasion in Haiti – ( for freedom and democracy, of course, forget the food and the people’s real needs).As Francis Fujiyama and the neolibearalists in Washington would definitely agree -let’s all just be thankful we have democracy!!!

    Postcript ( plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose): “The Rebel paramilitary army crossed the border from the Dominican Republic in early February. It constitutes a well armed, trained and equipped paramilitary unit integrated by former members of Le Front pour l’avancement et le progrès d’Haiti (FRAPH), the “plain clothes” death squadrons, involved in mass killings of civilians and political assassinations during the CIA sponsored 1991 military coup, which led to the overthrow of the democratically elected government of President Jean Bertrand Aristide” …
    “The self-proclaimed Front pour la Libération et la reconstruction nationale (FLRN) (National Liberation and Reconstruction Front) is led by Guy Philippe, a former member of the Haitian Armed Forces and Police Chief. Philippe had been trained during the 1991 coup years by US Special Forces in Ecuador, together with a dozen other Haitian Army officers. (See Juan Gonzalez, New York Daily News, 24 February 2004).”
    The URL from which this postscript quotation of Michel Chossudovsky was taken appears in the article entitled – US sponsored coup d’etat The destabilization of Haiti – and is to be found at:-

Comments are closed.