Category Archives: History

Haiti, Aristide, Fanmi Lavalass: Being a call to reclaim history, humanity, Africa, the commons

Haiti, Aristide, Fanmi Lavalass:
Being a call to reclaim history, humanity, Africa, the commons.

A call to foes
who plug their ears hoping
not to hear their conscience’s call
for fidelity
solidarity
with Haiti

A call to friends
Wringing their hands
Waiting to follow the brave
Sufficiently outraged
To risk everything
To make humanity
one
healed
in Haiti

A call to those
In between, soooo
Comfortable on the fence
Looking at suffering
Enjoying the spectacle
Of a family seeking
to reconnect with
all of its members
from South Africa
to Haiti

Is it not time to stop the 200 years and more of suffering of the people of Haiti? Isn’t more than 200 years of solitary confinement enough punishment for doing what humanity was in greatest need of: Equality, Freedom, Justice, Dignity? Is it not time to stop and think about how best for humanity to become one again? Is it not time to end –select your words— the solitary confinement , exile, résidence surveillée, relégation, of Jean-Bertrand Aristide in a country freed from apartheid?

Following the earthquake on January 12, 2010, emergency alarm bells went off in the military/political power centers of the world. In the minds of the most powerful governments, i.e. those who got together to make sure that President Jean-Bertrand Aristide be taken out of Haiti, the first order of business was to secure/maintain their order on the island. Securing an order that for more than two centuries has been framed by constant punishment of those (and their descendants) who managed to break free from the rule imposed by the Code Noir issued in 1685 by the French Monarchy. That Code rationalized the Africans to be movable property (biens meubles), i.e. not human beings. It was a way of legalizing the beginning of a never ending crime against humanity which can also be seen as a splitting of humanity which, to this day, has not ceased.

Between 1792 and 1794, the Convention declared the end of slavery. Then, came Napoléon Bonaparte and the vengeful restoration of slavery everywhere. How virulent that process was, has been described in many books, among them CLR James’s Black Jacobins and, more recently Claude Ribbe, Le Crime de Napoléon. Following the failure to reinstate slavery in the place which had gotten rid of it without permission, France and its allies forced Haiti to pay compensation for the lost of property (the slaves and the sugar plantations).

Jean-Bertrand Aristide, his team and supporters, mostly the poorest of the poorest –Fanmi Lavalass—insisted that there be restitution, i.e. the compensation which had been paid from 1825-1826 through 1947 had to be given back to Haiti.

The case of Aristide’s kidnapping (in April 2004) and subsequent imprisonment in South Africa, and the latter’s shameless opposition to his return to Haiti following the earthquake on January 12, 2010 is one of the most heartless crimes ever conscientiously and consciously committed by the so-called Western community on people in danger. It is like the collective raping of a people in the process of healing. It is like a repetition of the splitting apart that wrenched the Africans from their land, their families in order to feed the insatiable predatory monster in the process of being born across the Atlantic.

How wrenching the history of Haiti has been cannot be imagined by those who see themselves as the descendants of those who asked for compensation. The violators managed to pass themselves as the victims of what has, since May 10 2001, been recognized by the French National Assembly (Loi Taubira) as a Crime Against Humanity. Pierre Nora, a famous historian, protested the passing of that law. Pierre Nora’s logic is not unlike the professor who, in graduate school, reminded me that historians could not apply the morality of 20th century to what happened in the 19th century. At the time, I could not think of the obvious answer, i.e. the Africans, back then, did not consider themselves as objects, but as human beings, as fully part of humanity, but since the Code Noir was the instrument for reducing them to objects, historians are supposed to submit to that legal document as if that document superseded what the Africans considered themselves to be.

For the past five centuries, the mindset which has grown hand in hand with capitalism has blinded humanity to one of its fundamental tenets, namely that it is one and that its splitting apart must stop. What is at stake in Haiti is much bigger than how the jailers of Aristide and their allies would like to frame the issue.

But before calling on them to correct their ways, one should attempt to explain to ourselves and to them what has been happening to the commons, history and Africa. This is crucial for the simple reason that the so-called political and military leaders of the world have always looked at Africa, and its history as an extension of the commons, i.e. to be enclosed at will for the purposes of benefiting the specialists of enclosing. Keeping in mind that the enclosure movement has moved far beyond land and see to assault what was once considered sacred: humanity’s conscience.

It is important to draw the attention of these masters of the enclosing process to how those who are being enclosed have seen, felt the process. Long before the splitting of the atom, humanity began to be split apart and became one of the most enduring roots of capitalism, a predatory system that is unaware of how predatory it is.

Africans from Africa (Kimpa Vita and the Antonins), on the way to the ships, on the ships themselves (Ayi Kwei Armah’s Two Thousand Seasons), in the Caribbean, in the Americas, refused to enter the equation being prepared for them to be fodder for something which is now called globalization. The knowledge of how that history has unfolded is still embryonic, at best.

Questions arise

Why the vindictiveness against Haiti, against Aristide, against Fanmi Lavalass? What is it in the contemporary history of Haiti that frightens the ever modernizing enslavers?

What happened between 1791-1804 in Saint Domingue was not supposed to happen. The dominant mindset was certain that slaves could not think outside of what they were expected to be: slaves. However, a good half of them, at the time, had been born in Africa: free. They did not need to learn about freedom from the philosophers of the Enlightenment. Therefore, when the Africans resolved to free themselves and organized themselves accordingly, they achieved the unthinkable, the improbable, the forbidden.

For more than two hundred years, the descendants of the revolution which went beyond the French Revolution have never forgotten what had been achieved through commitment, organization, determination, emancipatory politics. At the same time, for more than two hundred years, the descendants of those who were defeated have vowed to crush any person, and/or group of persons who might appear like carrying on in fidelity with the spirit of 1791-1804. The descendants of the ones who committed crimes against humanity have vowed to keep Haiti as a source of the cheapest possible labor available to the US. Poverty must be maintained at all costs so that people would be willing to work at any price that might be offered.

In order to demonstrate that the action of 1791-1804 was wrongheaded, the current leaders of the most powerful nations are determined to keep hammering away at the following lesson: Challenging power shall always be punished with the greatest severity. In cases where victory was achieved (as in 1804) the punishment shall be incalculably harsher.

According to such a view, Haiti shall get poorer and poorer and the richest nation on earth (for now) shall get richer and richer. The shameful inequality based on an even more shameful history of repeated crimes against humanity will continue smashing (as in the linear accelerators) the small matter we call humanity’s conscience. One day what is left of it shall be pulverized just in the same way that human beings were pulverized in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This experiment has been under way for the past 5 centuries. Now and then carriers of humanity’s conscience rise up. Like Aristide, like Fanmi Lavalass, like Pierre-Antoine Lovinski, the rule is “smash them”.

If the final act being programmed, i.e. the annihilation of humanity, is going to be stopped, then allowing Humanity to be one in Haiti could help suspend the looming fatal end of humanity.

Following the earthquake, if common sense and solidarity had prevailed, Jean-Bertrand Aristide would have come back because at times like these, one would have expected those who had engineered his kidnapping and subsequent incarceration in South Africa might have relented and allowed the Haitian people to be one again.

It is never too late for common sense and solidarity to re-emerge, but, for that to happen, there will have to be the kind of worldwide mobilization that brought about the formal end of apartheid. The cancer of apartheid without a formal capital has continued to spread. This is the only conclusion one can reach if one is going to explain how the South African government accepted to be the post apartheid Robben Island for Aristide, with the apparent silent acceptance of all the African leaders.

Surely, in fidelity to those who did say enough is enough back in 1791-1804, one can do better than just watching and/or wringing our hands hoping for a happy ending.

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)

–“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
www.haitiaction.net, www.haitisolidarity.net
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.

Contextualizing the failure at Copenhagen

5 Jan 2010
Ever since the beginning of the so-called “Financial” Crisis and, especially, because of how it was resolved, it was obvious that the Climate crisis was going to follow the same pattern, i.e. those most responsible for the climatic crisis would be absolved and they would end up dictating what they consider to be the solution.

There is a deep reluctance, especially among the countries which have most benefited from the history of capitalism, to come to terms with the fact that the system has come to its useful end, if it ever had one. Some of the reasons are obvious, others less so. From the perspective of African history ever since slavery, what happened and what did not happen in Copenhagen was predictable. From the abolition of slavery to the end of colonial rule, the scenario has been the same. Make a lot of noise around cosmetic changes and make sure that the structural relations are maintained, at every necessary transition.

When it is not in the interest of the big powers (whether enslaving, colonizing or globalizing) to resolve any given issue, the tendency will be to either look away, or to offer solutions which do not lead to a critical examination of the responsibility of these big powers. One of the most recent cases was the Rwanda genocide. From 1990, it was known that a genocide was being prepared. Nothing was done and even when it began to unfold, the little which could have been done was not done. The calculations of the big powers at the Conference in Copenhagen were that doing the least (economically and financially) would also be the best political solution. In the process, the unfolding predictable failure has had at least one positive result, as Bolivian President Evo Morales pointed out. The rich countries failed to carry out what they had been accustomed to do over the centuries, i.e. let the least industrialized countries bear the burden of the necessary changes.

Economically and politically, the calculations were framed by an understanding of economics and politics belonging to the histories of imperial triumphs going back to Atlantic slavery. From that history and the various transitions (from slavery to colonial occupation, to colonialism, to neo-colonialism, to apartheid to post-apartheid, to globalization), the most economically advanced countries have learned to survive the transitions by organizing themselves so as to continue to be the beneficiaries of the political and economic system which must continue under their control. These countries have learned to be accountable only to themselves, with impunity.

In the few cases where people sought to do the transition on their terms, e.g. Santo Domingo/Haiti, the punishment was as severe as possible, with the intention of making sure that no one would be tempted to follow the same kind of road. For more than 200 years, Haitians have paid the price for that daring victory over the slave masters. Between the French revolution of 1789 and the Haitian one in 1791-1804, the most radical one was the latter. One might even think that such a revolution might be considered worth preserving as one of the things Humanity can be most be proud of. But the twin syndromes of discovery and abolition continue to dictate that the “discovered” (Africans, Native Americans, the poor, immigrants, unemployed) can never ever discover anything, let alone, freedom, equality, solidarity. For the Africans who had been enslaved, freeing themselves without any outside assistance and, on top of it, defeating the three biggest military powers of the time, constituted a punishable offence of the highest degree.

Looking at Copenhagen with the eyes of those who have been most predated upon, the lessons, at least since the end of WWII are explicit and clear. The context in which the world finds itself today is one of great danger of extinction of large segments of, if not all of, humanity. Concerning humanity, the ruling clique of the US reads its own history from the perspective of what it has managed to get away with. To this day, it has managed to do so with impunity. It is possible to look at the US refusal to sign international Agreements from its own history of signing, and then, not respecting such agreements, as it has done with its Indian populations. The lesson from that experience has been that it is better not to sign, rather than pedal back and be accused of perfidy (or be called “forked tongues” as the Native Americans did). It has refused to be part of the ICC. It has refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. The list is long. The US, especially since WWII, would like to see the price of its participation as one which puts it above any other power. It must only be accountable to itself.

Metaphorically speaking, the behavior of the US ruling clique is no different from that of a criminal who manages to get away with murder. The retained lesson will be to engage in the same, or worse, practice since such behavior has yielded high returns. For example, there are at least two ways to read the manner in which WWII ended: the American way or Humanity’s way. From the former, America saved the world from evil. The political disappearance of the Soviet Union has facilitated the erasure of the fact that 22 million Soviets (today’s Russians) died in the process of fighting Germany, Japan and Italy. From Humanity’s standpoint, what happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki (August 6 and 9 1945) cannot be erased and explained away as a “faster way of ending the war, and saving lives”. If Hiroshima and Nagasaki were not a Crime Against Humanity, they certainly were a War Crime. But, as is well known, history gets to be written by the victors. For the sake of maintaining the memory of the life principle alive and well, it is worth quoting from Jennifer Scarlott’s review of Kai Bird’s and Lawrence Lifschultz’s edited book (Hiroshima’s Shadow):
In a perspicacious article for the September 1945 issue of politics, a mere month following the bombings, Dwight Macdonald wrote, “… the Bomb produced two widespread and, from the standpoint of the Authorities, undesirable emotional reactions in this country: a feeling of guilt at ‘our’ having done this to ‘them’ and anxiety lest some future ‘they’ do this to ‘us’… The Authorities have therefore made valiant attempts to reduce the thing to a human context, where such concepts as Justice, Reason, Progress could be employed. Such moral defenses are offered as: the war was shortened and many lives, Japanese as well as American, saved, etc…. The flimsiness of these justifications is apparent: any atrocious action, absolutely any one, could be excused on such grounds.” (p. 264-5)
Another voice heard from is Mary McCarthy’s. In a withering critique of John Hersey’s famous 1946 New Yorker piece on the atom bomb, McCarthy declared, “…what it (the Hersey piece) did was to minimize the atom bomb by treating it as though it belonged to the familiar order of catastrophes — fires, flood, earthquakes — which we have always had with us… The interview with the survivors, is the classic technique for reporting such events — it serves well enough to give some sense, slightly absurd but nonetheless correct, of the continuity of life. But with Hiroshima, where the continuity of life was, for the first time, put into question, and by man, the existence of any survivors is an irrelevancy; and the interview with the survivors is an insipid falsification of the truth of atomic warfare. To have done the atom bomb justice, Mr. Hersey would have had to interview the dead.” (p. 303)

From the victor’s corners (which is part of humanity) there will arise voices which do justice to humanity. Coming back to Copenhagen, though, will the victors ask themselves which kind of victory are they looking for. What is the point of winning a race to dig humanity’s grave?

In order not to be part of the Kyoto Protocol, George Bush stated that the American Way of Life (AWoL) is non negotiable. But, again and for the record, how, from humanity’s sake should one assess the AWoL? The path of satisfying, first and above all, this AWoL, was initiated with a twin genocide, of Native Americans and Africans. Since there has been no accountability for this and since, especially from the end of WWII, the US has been able to present itself successfully as the unblemished defender of Western “values”, it becomes difficult if not impossible to bring the US to look at its AWoL as a road paved with good intentions, creating hells wherever it has been asserted militarily, and or, through pliant dictators.

The voices which have been raised “to save the Planet” are, generally, coming from the same corners (not all) which, in all the transitions from slavery to today, have been ignored. There is a conviction, from the previous transitions, that the same behavior will yield positive results. This time, however, there is a difference, even if members of the ruling clique refuse to acknowledge it. The progressive voices present in Copenhagen must have felt that the financial crisis and the manner in which it was “resolved” might temper those who brought about the financial crisis, in the first place.

But the so-called solution to the financial crisis had the exact opposite effect: it provided confirmation to those who caused the crisis and then profited from it, that the only way to organize the economy across the world was their way, and not by listening to “prophets of gloom and doom”. As some prominent members of the US delegation kept insisting, it was important to “look forward”, i.e. the AWoL.

To summarize. The AWoL has been achieved through a way of organizing the economy, its own and the world, as if the Planet is not finite. Spreading death does not matter as long as lives are saved within the US geographical borders. The parameters which were forged through the twin genocide of earlier periods of US history have continued to assert themselves, and have now become the gospel of the so-called health industry in the US. Some writers have pointed out that there is a close connection between the financial crisis and the health crisis, but, again, such “discoveries” must be kept out of order because the order of business is to make profit.

There is a way out, but it will have to come out through the firm and uncompromising assertion that life is sacred, whether it is the life of a poor, homeless person or that of the most powerful CEO. Will sanity prevail so Humanity may prevail and save itself from between the rock and the hard place so well captured by Aimé Césaire in the following two lines:

We have arrived in a tower of silence
Where we have become prey and vulture