*The hate and the quake*
*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.*
BY SIR HILARY BECKLES
THE 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, 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 fifty
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
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 ten-year war, the bloodiest in modern history, and declared
their independence. Every other country in the Americas was based on
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
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 were who 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
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 per cent of the country's foreign exchange earnings.
Jamaica today pays up to 70 per cent 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
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
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
Sir Hilary Beckles is pro-vice-chancellor and Principal of the Cave Hill
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