Padraig Colman

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Tag: Amy Wilentz

Reconciliation in Haiti Part 4

This article appeared in The Nation on Sunday May 26 2013

 

Aristide was elected by a landslide in November 2000. Many said he had become a corrupt tyrant against whom even the poor had turned. Nevertheless, Gallup polls in 2002, the results of which were never disseminated, showed that, whatever his faults, he was far and away Haiti’s most popular and trusted politician.

The protégés of white supremacist Jesse Helms had more say in Aristide’s fate than the Haitian electorate. The Bush administration sent Roger Noriega to Haiti to ‘work out’ the crisis. Noriega worked for Helms and his allies and US Haiti policy was determined by a small number of people who were prominent in Reagan’s or Bush pére’s cabinets. Reagan’s UN ambassador Jeanne Kirkpatrick was on the board of the International Republican Institute which actively supported the Opposition in Haiti and backed the demobilized army personnel who provided the opposition’s muscle. Many of Reagan and the elder Bush’s henchman returned to government under Bush fils after spending time in conservative think tanks or lobbying firms. Elliot Abrams, convicted of withholding information from Congress during the Iran-Contra hearings was on the NSC and even today is offering Obama advice in the pages of Foreign Policy magazine.

Although US officials stated initially that Aristide had been “taken to the country of his choice”, Aristide’s claim that he had no idea where he was going seems more plausible.

Aid as a weapon

Haiti’s government, which serves eight million people, has an annual budget of about $300 million. The US froze international aid on specious grounds of electoral fraud. Paul Farmer reported that The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) had approved four loans, for health, education, drinking water and road improvement. Haitian and American sources have confirmed to him that the US asked the bank to block the loans until the electoral disputes had been worked out.

 
The freeze continued throughout Aristide’s tenure even after the dispute was resolved. The US gave Haiti, per capita, one tenth of what it distributed in Kosovo. A great deal of it went to the anti-Aristide opposition. A lot also went to pay for the UN occupation and Halliburton support services. International financial institutions engaged in discriminatory and probably illegal practices towards Haiti.

Many of Aristide’s supporters in Haiti and abroad, angrily contend that the international community, particularly the United States, abandoned the fledgling democracy when it needed aid the most. Many believe that Aristide himself was the target of the de facto economic sanctions, just as Haiti was beginning to put its finances back in order.

Amy Wilentz recounts an anecdote which epitomizes the foreign aid relationship. Joyce and Eldon were Baptist missionaries who wanted the CARE Food-for- Work program to make converts for the Lord. The peasants did not like building a new pigsty for Joyce and Eldon for a meal a day rather than cash. With cash they could store food at home for their families. Food-for-Work felt like slavery.

Debt

The Haitian government was forced to pay ever-expanding arrears on its debts. About 40% of Haiti’s $1.134 billion international debt was from loans to the Duvalier dictators. In July 2003, Haiti sent more than 90% of all its foreign reserves to Washington to pay off these arrears.

By the end of the 19th century, payments to France consumed around 80% of Haiti’s budget. Aristide declared that France “extorted this money from Haiti by force and . . . should give it back to us so that we can build primary schools, healthcare, water systems and roads.” He added in interest and adjusted for inflation, to calculate that France owes Haiti $21,685,135,571.48

 
Régis Debray, left-wing hero of the 1960s and associate of Che Guevara, was sent to Haiti by Chirac in search of arguments to undermine Aristide’s position. Debray concluded that Aristide’s demands had no “legal basis” and claimed that no members of the democratic opposition to Aristide took the reimbursement claims seriously. Debray neglected to mention that the Haitian electorate preferred Aristide to this opposition by a factor of nine or ten to one.

Aftermath

In his book The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left a Disaster, Jonathan Katz describes the role of the international community after the Haitian earthquake of 2010. Aid groups warned potential donors, “Do Not Give To The Haitian Government: Haiti is known to be a corrupt country.” Reviewing the book in the Columbia Journalism Review Justin Peters wrote: “It wouldn’t surprise me if some observers secretly believed the Préval regime had engineered the earthquake in order to steal billions from the international community.”

The “action plan,” demanded strict oversight of their donations, and wealthy investors intent on making the new Haiti a business-friendly place. Small donations were mishandled by NGOs, as big donations never materialized. Katz estimates that of the $2.43 billion spent on ostensible humanitarian relief by the end of 2010, a mere seven percent actually made its way to Haiti. The donors had their own ideas of how to “build back better,” epitomized by the words of Brad Horwitz, an American whose company owned one of Haiti’s largest cell-phone networks: “We need Haiti open for business.” “Open for business” very specifically referred to the production of cheap garments. In Haiti, the plan was to make it a sweatshop economy where the government is largely absent.

Haiti enjoyed a successful slave revolt in 1804. Today is enslaved to the global market.

– See more at: http://www.nation.lk/edition/news-features/item/18063-before-and-after-the-earthquake-part-4.html#sthash.WrXJrpra.dpuf

 

Reconciliation in Haiti Part 1

This article appeared in The Nation on Sunday April21 2013

The Haitian National Truth and Justice Commission was created on December 1994 by an executive order issued by President Jean Bertrand Aristide. The nation now known as Haiti has the great misfortune to occupy a location far too close to the nation now known as the USA. December 5, 1492 was a bad day for the Taino, an Arawakan people. Christopher Columbus, who was looking for India, stumbled upon the island the Taino called Ayiti. Columbus claimed the island for the Spanish Crown, naming it La Isla Española (“the Spanish Island”) which was later changed to Hispaniola.

Colonization

The Spaniards did not bring their own women with them. They took Taíno women for their wives. Rape of Taino women was common. The 1518 smallpox epidemic killed 90% of the natives who had not already perished. By 1548 the native population was under 500. Spanish interest in Hispaniola began to wane in the 1520s, as more lucrative gold and silver deposits were found in Mexico and Peru. Nevertheless, up to the 1550s, the Spanish imported large numbers of black African slaves to labor in the gold mines and sugar plantations. Dutch traders/pirates joined their English and French brethren trading on the remote coasts of Hispaniola.
In the 18th century, it became France’s most valuable possession; on the eve of the French Revolution, it was supplying two-thirds of all of Europe’s tropical produce. Santo Domingo, as it was then called, was a brutally efficient slave colony.

Slavery

Peter Hallward, of King’s College Cambridge, wrote in New Left Review: “The structural basis of Haiti’s crippling poverty is a direct legacy of slavery and its aftermath.” By 1681, there were 2,000 slaves. A hundred years later there were 500,000 slaves and perhaps 700,000 offspring of masters and slaves. A third of new arrivals died within a few years. There were only 40,000 whites who had to use harsh measures to keep control over such large numbers. Religion was important. All slaves had to practise Catholicism and native African religions were suppressed.

Revolt

Voodoo ceremonies with animal sacrifices were conducted in secret and fomented revolt. According to tradition, after a ceremony on August 14, 1791, a slave overseer and hougan (voodoo priest) called Dutty Boukman gave the signal and slaves from a dozen plantations slaughtered their masters and their families. The revolt spread. The slaves had learnt cruelty from their masters. In her fine book The Rainy Season, Amy Wilentz writes: “The masters had stuffed gunpowder into slaves’ rectums and exploded it. They had rolled their slaves in spiked barrels down hills, they had whipped them and tied them to boards and left them in the swamps to be eaten alive by ants and mosquitoes. The slaves repaid these favours in 1791 by decapitating the masters, raping their wives on top of their bloodied corpses, chopping off their arms and legs, sawing them in half, impaling their infants on proudly carried spikes”.

 
There had been a revolution in France also. In 1792, Léger-Félicité Sonthonax was sent by the French Legislative Assembly 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. In 1793, Sonthonax proclaimed the freedom of the slaves and in 1794 French National Convention abolished slavery by law in France and all its colonies.

 
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. Toussaint Louverture and his corps of well-disciplined, battle-hardened former slaves came over to the French Republican side in early May 1794.

 

With the colony facing a full-scale invasion by Britain, the rebel slaves emerged as a powerful military force under the leadership of Louverture, Jean-Jacques Dessalines and Henri Christophe. Louverture successfully drove back the British and by 1798 was the ruler of the colony. He asserted enough independence to persuade Napoleon to send forces in 1802, under his brother-in-law Charles Leclerc, to increase French control. Word began to reach the colony of the French intention to restore slavery. The French burned alive, hanged, drowned, and tortured black prisoners, reviving such practices as burying blacks in piles of insects and boiling them in cauldrons of molasses. After one battle, Leclerc’s successor, Donatien-Marie-Joseph de Vimeur, Vicomte de Rochambeau, buried 500 prisoners alive; Dessalines responded by hanging 500 French prisoners. Rochambeau’s brutal tactics helped unite black, mulatto, and mestizo soldiers against the French.

Revolution and Republic

Louverture was kidnapped and taken away to a prison in the Jura. He died of exposure and tuberculosis in 1803. In November 1803, the former slaves won the war’s final battle, and on January 1, 1804 Dessalines declared independence, reclaiming the indigenous Taíno name of Haiti (“Land of Mountains”). Hemmed in by slave colonies, Haiti had only one non-colonised neighbor, the slaveholding United States, which refused to recognize its independence.

 
Dessalines massacred 2,000 Frenchmen at Cap-Français, 900 in Port-au-Prince, and 400 at Jérémie. He issued a proclamation declaring, “We have repaid these cannibals, war for war, crime for crime, outrage for outrage.”

– See more at: http://www.nation.lk/edition/news-features/item/17342-reconciliation-in-haiti.html#sthash.A3SWgrjo.dpuf

 

 

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