Friday, January 15, 2010



By Kevin Anthony Stoda

Many Americans (and even Americanists) often are unaware (or have totally forgotten) that the little Caribbean land of Haiti had a great effect on early American History—right up till the Civil War (at the very least).

I discussed this historical relationship between the USA and Haiti indirectly with many students of mine in the wake of Wednesday’s major earthquake—i.e. the strongest earthquake in nearly 2 ½ centuries. Only one student even knew that the French had controlled Haiti and the Napolean Bonapart had help lose Haiti over two centuries ago.

Randall Robinson, author of An Unbroken Agony: Haiti, from Revolution to the Kidnapping of a President, pointed out on Democracy Now Radio that the American media often ignores the role of foreign regimes in principally keeping Haiti underdeveloped for over two hundred years. Most recently, the George W. Bush administration had a very strong hand in ousting the popularly elected president of Haiti, Jean Bertrand Aristide,in 2004.

Robinson noted that sadly, “President Obama [has] tapp[ed] . . . former President Bill Clinton and former President George W Bush to co-chair US relief efforts in Haiti.”

“Robinson says, ‘Bush was responsible for destroying Haitian democracy…Clinton has largely sponsored a program of economic development that supports the idea of sweatshops… but that is not what we should focus on now. We should focus on saving lives.’” Nevertheless, hopefully in the months and years to come, the U.S.A. media and American educators will finally embrace the opportunity to improve our relationship to our Caribbean neighbors by narrating truer histories of the U.S. and its neighbors, such as Haiti.

Robinson notes that most Americans do not know the truth about the U.S.- and French-backed takeover of Haiti in 2004--and more than a dozen times since Haiti first became the second country in the America’s to overthrow itself of European bondage around 1799.

HAITI 1790s to 1804

Haiti occupies the large Caribbean Island of Hispaniola, along with the neighboring former Spanish colony of the Dominican Republic. Hispaniola was originally visited by Christopher Columbus in the name of Spain in 1492. It was from this island that Cortez planned his takeover of the Aztec Empire. However, French forces grabbed a share of the island of Hispaniola for themselves just over a century later. Finally, by 1789, France found its global imperial plans totally thwarted by its own distracting revolution at home. This is why during the early 1790s, French control of Haiti was threatened first by the economically powerful landowners of Haiti—and subsequently by well-armed revolutionary black and mulatto Jacobites.

By the 1790s, in any case, the majority of Haitian residents were no longer native Indians, nor Spanish, nor French. They were either Africans imported as slaves to run great cotton- and sugar- plantations in Eastern Hispaniola—or they were slave children of mixed marriages, known as mulattos.

Soon, Leger Feliecite Sonthonax, a Jacobite, was “sent to the colony by the French Legislative Assembly as part of the Revolutionary Commission. His main goal was to maintain French control of Saint-Domingue, stabilize the colony, and enforce the social equality recently granted to free people of color by the National Convention of France. On August 29, 1793, Sonthonax took the radical step of proclaiming the freedom of the slaves in the north province (with severe limits on their freedom). In September and October, emancipation was extended throughout the colony. On February 4, 1794 the French National Convention ratified this act, applying it to all French colonies.”

This did not endear Sonthonax to white landowners in the southern part of Haiti. Interestingly, initially “[t]he slaves did not immediately flock to Sonthonax's banner, however. White colonists continued to fight Sonthonax, with assistance from the British. They were joined by many of the free men of color who opposed the abolition of slavery. It was not until word of France's ratification of emancipation arrived back in the colony that Toussaint-Louverture and his corps of well-disciplined, battle-hardened former slaves came over to the French Republican side in early May 1794. A change in the political winds in France caused Sonthonax to be recalled in 1796, but not before taking the step of arming the former slaves.”

By 1799, the former slave, Toussaint-Louverture, and other mulatto and black forces had finally united to repel the French and then a threatened British invasion. Next, there was an attempted invasion by Napolean to retake Haiti by force in the early part of the 19th century. (NOTE: Subsequently, around 1802, Toussaint-Louverture was in fact captured or kidnapped—like the recently expelled President Jean Aristide--through great treachery. He later died a year later in French Prison.)

In the earliest part of the 19th Century, Napoleon had determined to try and retake French military control of Haiti. Napoleon had had a dream of expanding the French Empire in North America. For this dream to be realized Haiti was essential. This was because the retention of Haiti as a French territory was understood as the key military link for defending the huge territory of Louisiana, an area encompassing 2 million square kilometers.

After 1802, as Napoleon and his military cronies came to understand that France’s dream of rebuilding French Empire around the globe had been greatly diminished by the military successes of the mulatto- and black (former slave) rebels of Hispaniola, Napoleon began to change his plans for conquest. He turned his back on a North American Empire and began to plan more wars with many of his European neighbors.

At that junction, i.e. in 1803, envoys from the United States, James Monroe and Robert R. Livingston, arrived in France to negotiate the purchase of the Port of New Orleans for the U.S.A., in order to gain access to the mighty Mississippi river and inland territories west of the Appalachians.

To their joy and surprise, Napoleon was not only willing to sell the city of New Orleans to the U.S.A., but he was willing to sell the rest of most of France’s North American Empire: the Louisiana Territory.

By 1804, the U.S. Congress had voted to accept that purchase of the entire 800,000 square miles of the French owned-Louisiana Territory for 15 million dollars. This purchase immediately created massive migration movement westward across the Mississippi River.

Ideas of American manifest destiny grew and a march to the Pacific Ocean was on!


Well, despite the fact that for decades and centuries Haitian-government-after government was being toppled time-and-again (from the early 1800s till today, 2010), Haiti continued to play a haunting role for those who supported the idea of slavery in America until the 1860s.

Haiti, by its very existence as a nation of freed-slaves who had militarily rebelled and overthrown their masters, posed a direct threat to the ideals of U.S. Southern state identity, and its continued existence threatened constantly the entire Southern Society as it progressed right up to the actual American Civil War in 1861-1865. (In response to fears of being isolated politically, southern society and slavery proponents eventually sprang across the Mississippi River from the Southeast corner of the USA to the territories Texas and Arkansas in the decades after the Louisiana territory was purchased by the U.S.A.)

As some historians note, “[i]t was not until 1862 that the United States [actually] acknowledged Haiti’s independence. The country had become a dangerous symbol of redemption for African peoples, of racial equality and – most unforgivable – of anti-colonialism. So Haiti became a pariah, excluded from the family of nations and trapped in a time warp where there was little room for progress. Haitians were thought to be incapable of self-government because they were black. In fact, Haiti may yet prove to be ungovernable.”


Ian Thomson writes, “Democracy could hardly arrive overnight for a people whose ancestors were snatched from Africa to slave for Europe. Duplicity or cunning are considered heroic virtues in Haiti. To overcome your adversity is the great affair in life and the pity of the country is that it thrives on the survival of the fittest.”

Such a narration of history misses the point. Randall Robinson points out, “The American people know almost nothing about what happened in 2004, about the abduction of President Aristide, about the destruction of Haiti’s democracy as a result of the efforts of both the United States and the French government. We need to know that.”
This contrasts with the right wingers, like Rush Limbaugh, who blame the former dictators of Haiti for the current earthquake, etc.

Robinson also says, “And in the last analysis, Haitians have at their disposal a vigorous, creative, industrious and successful community in the United States, in France, in Canada. The Haitian Diaspora is very much engaged with Haiti. They need to be given an opportunity to help Haiti rebuild itself. [Meanwhile] we need to go away from what we’ve been doing in support, a sort of an unconditional support, for wealthy Haitians that are running sweatshops in the country, that pay people appallingly low wages. That is not the way to any bright future for Haiti. And that is the—of course, the idea that former President Clinton has been advancing for Haiti. I think it is sad. It can’t work. It won’t work. It will brew a further resentment of the United States.”

“Three million human beings have been deeply hurt or affected by the destruction of Haiti, America’s neighbor to the south and homeland for many legal residents in the USA. American compassion should come first. Then better education for all about American history and the history of underdevelopment in North America (including the Caribbean & Central America) should follow.

“And I think that the only way we can move ahead constructively with Haiti is to begin by telling the full story of our relationship with Haiti since 1804, what happened in the nineteenth century and what has happened in the twentieth century, so that Americans will understand at long last that Haiti’s misery is largely not of its own making. They will learn of a Haitian people who are quite different from those who have been described to them. And I think it is at that point we can make the beginning that we need to make and that is rooted in a policy that is constructive and sensitive and caring and productive for the United States, as well as for the Haitian people.”


Bush to Co-Chair Haiti Relief; Cut Aid, Backed Coup Against Aristide.
Obama meanwhile also announced he has asked former President George W. Bush and former President Bill Clinton to co-chair the US relief effort in Haiti. During his first term, Bush cut off desperately needed aid to Haiti and supported the overthrow of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Bush’s father, former President George H.W. Bush, supported the first coup against Aristide in 1991. Clinton, meanwhile, helped restore Aristide, but only on condition that he accept harsh neoliberal conditions. Aristide, meanwhile, spoke out yesterday from exile in South Africa.



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