Category Archives: Caribbean

Stand Shoulder to Shoulder with the People of Haiti

–When asked “How are they surviving?” Haitian journalist Wadner Pierre responded, “Well, they’re all sharing. That’s what we do. That’s the way Haitians are.” (January 16)streaming film Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

–“The city has seen little violence, despite persistent fears that shortages of food, water and shelter will spark unrest.” (January 21)

–Photograph of a white female US Navy medic cradling and feeding a dehydrated Haitian child. (January 21)

I thank my local newspaper, the Contra Costa Times, for including the above images in its coverage of the disastrous January 12, 2010 earthquake in Haiti. These images are vital because they reflect our true human nature that is too often clouded by a pernicious deep structure.

In 2005, upon first hearing about hurricane Katrina on radio newscasts I thought in my head how tragic it was. But when I saw pictures of Katrina, showing how aid and rescue efforts had been needlessly slow to reach poor, African American neighborhoods amid unrealized fears of widespread looting and unrest, my heart was gripped with terror. I felt a visceral pain when faced with the reality that the deep structure of racism on which my nation was founded still persists, despite the abolition of slavery, passage of the Civil Rights Act, and the awakening consciousness of so many people of all races that we truly are equal.

This deep structure is built on the notion that poor people of African descent are less than human, to be exploited economically in good times and to be feared in times of crisis. It is a structure designed to protect the wealth of a few, at the expense of our common humanity.

After the earthquake struck Haiti, my heart was again gripped with terror to see more evidence of this deep structure: When I heard that the US response prioritized “security” over urgent humanitarian assistance; when I read that the US military took control of the Port-au-Prince airport and turned away airplanes carrying medical field hospitals; when I saw that donations of water, food and supplies were not reaching many affected areas at all and some only after thousands who survived the initial quake had needlessly died of infection and dehydration.

The deep structure of racism has infected much of the media that shapes people’s consciousness, but as our eyes and hearts are opened, the outpouring of solidarity at a basic human level emerges. As soon as we get to know people of different races and circumstances on a personal level, the deep structure already begins to crumble. I see people in my home town of Richmond, California breaking down the deep structure every day by seeing their neighbors as brothers and sisters, challenging the negative stereotypes of our city that this structure perpetuates. Ever since I was a teenager and first sensed the existence of this structure, I, a white woman, have been working on breaking it down within myself.

People all over the world are giving generously without hesitation to support those suffering in Haiti, and aid workers are rushing there to help. That’s what people do. It’s human nature. I suspect that individual soldiers, as evidenced from the photograph mentioned above, would rather care for people immediately than be ordered to guard shipments of supplies bottle-necked at the airport. Long before the earthquake, I learned about hundreds of people-to-people partnerships between local groups in the US and Haiti to collaborate on schools, clinics, and other constructive projects. Cuban doctors who have been in Haiti for years are joining Haitian doctors round the clock treating earthquake victims with minimal supplies (though the US military has turned away additional Cuban doctors who want to come). Everyone I know who travels to Haiti and becomes personally acquainted with Haitians and their invincible spirit invariably falls in love with them, as did I.

The earthquake is very personal for me because I first started to learn about Haiti and her history shortly before the political earthquake of the February 29, 2004 coup d’etat in which the US helped topple the vastly popular and democratically elected government of the Lavalas party, kidnapping President Aristide and banishing him from the Western Hemisphere. I visited Haiti twice since the coup and have many friends there who are struggling under UN military occupation to maintain strong networks to dismantle the deep structure of racism, asserting their dignity as human beings who care for their communities.

A tiny segment of Haiti’s population is fabulously wealthy, while the vast majority are desperately poor. Ever since the poor had the nerve to stand up for themselves and break the shackles of slavery and colonialism 206 years ago, the US government has colluded with the wealthy few to maintain this gross inequality, most recently taking the form of ensuring an abundant pool of cheap labor for offshore assembly plants.

Under the leadership of twice elected President Aristide, Haiti moved in the direction of improving the lives of the poor. Since the coup, he remains exiled in South Africa, ready to return home but not allowed to by the US controlled Haitian government. Why is Aristide so often demonized by media pundits? Is it because he challenges the Haitian elite’s contempt for the common people and invites them to stand shoulder to shoulder with blacks rather than get down on their knees with the whites? Is it because he calls for everyone to have a place at the table, including poor, rich, black, brown and white?

Now more than ever, the aftermath of Haiti’s earthquake beckons us to further dismantle the deep structure of racism that violates humanity, and stand shoulder to shoulder with our Haitian sisters and brothers. To this end we must insist that delivery of vital earthquake aid be accelerated, that Haiti’s foreign debt be cancelled and Haitians given the wherewithal to rebuild their own country on their own terms, that foreign military occupiers be removed, that the election ban on Haiti’s popular Lavalas party be lifted and that Aristide be allowed to return.

It’s time for the wealthy to get in touch with their true human nature and do a better job of sharing the resources of the earth. We must build new structures that join us together in embracing the Haitian motto “tout moun se moun”–Haitian Kreyol for “every person is a human being”.

Marilyn Langlois
Board member, Haiti Emergency Relief Fund
Member, Haiti Action Committee,
Jan. 22, 2010

Two Hundred Years on and Still Fighting for Complete and Total Emancipation

Unfortunately, ever since the first slave revolt by Haitians in 1791, the country has been beset by abuses caused from within and without. It has never been able to fulfill its potential as a nation. Bill Clinton, What Haiti Needs in Time Magazine January 14, 2010

In the above quote, one gets a clear sense of how and where the troubles of Haiti began and how they were perpetuated. The problems of Haiti, typically, started when they sought to free themselves from slavery. President Bill Clinton (PBC) thinks of the 1791 uprising as “unfortunate”. In the very last paragraph (see the full quote below) of his piece on how to fix Haiti he calls for getting Haiti out of his past 200 years in chains.

If PBC were to make a little humble effort to read about the history of Haiti, and understand it within the parameters of what the Africans were confronted with, he would have to admit that there is more to Haitian history then his attempt at summarizing and silencing its most crucial parts.

For PBC, the model history is that of the US and how the US tackles disasters (e.g.Oklahoma City bombing 1995), it does not occur to PBC that to any history, especially one dealing with such disasters as confronting slavery, there are at least two sides: the one which wins and the one which loses. In the history of Humanity, the losing side may, one day, being the winning side. And vice-versa. As fables recount the world over, the side which reduces everything to how it sees things, will one day regret such shortsightedness.

From 1791 through 1804, the Africans who had turned Saint Domingue into the pearl of the French economic possessions had sworn at Bois Caiman (Televangelist Robertson calls this vow a pact with the devil) to end slavery. For an enslaved person to end slavery or any form of submission on his/her own timing is more than an affront to the enslaver (and his allies). Likewise with the colonized who seeks the end of his/her colonized status against the wishes of the colonizer. In the history of Africans, such thirst for freedom/liberty can only clash with the freedom/liberty of the owners of the physical and/or mental chains. This liberty is the liberty of capital. Ever since slavery, to this day, the liberty of capital has dictated the conditions under which it, and only it must prevail.

This is what PBC seeks to convey at the very end of his piece:

Before this disaster, Haiti had the best chance in my lifetime to fulfill its potential as a country, to basically escape the chains of the past 200 years. I still believe that if we rally around them now and support them in the right way, the Haitian people can reclaim their destiny.

“The chains of the past 200 years” were imposed because the Africans had removed the chains of slavery. And, clearly, the “right way” has to be in PBC’s mind the American way. The imperial language could not be clearer.

For the past 200 years, Africans of all stripes in Africa and beyond its borders, have been trying to unchain themselves from shackles of a predatory system which is against nature and against the principles of life. The responses from the system has been the same, over and over. PBC’s piece on what Haiti needs shows the formatting at work. Let Haiti be Haiti, let President Aristide go back to where he belongs. There is no better way of healing than allowing all Haitians, including President Aristide, and those who have been marginalized and/or rusticated for political reasons, to come together and recover.