[Marxism] Who removed Aristide?

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Apr 14 08:12:05 MDT 2004

LRB | Vol. 26 No. 8 dated 15 April 2004

Who removed Aristide?
Paul Farmer reports from Haiti

On the night of 28 February, the Haitian president, Jean-Bertrand 
Aristide, was forced from power. He claimed he'd been kidnapped and 
didn't know where he was being taken until, at the end of a 20-hour 
flight, he was told that he and his wife would be landing 'in a French 
military base in the middle of Africa'. He found himself in the Central 
African Republic.

An understanding of the current crisis requires a sense of Haiti's 
history. In the 18th century it became France's most valuable colonial 
possession, and one of the most brutally efficient slave colonies there 
has ever been. Santo Domingo, as it was then called, was the leading 
port of call for slave ships: on the eve of the French Revolution, it 
was supplying two-thirds of all of Europe's tropical produce. A third of 
new arrivals died within a few years.

Haitians are still living with the legacy of the slave trade and of the 
revolt that finally removed the French. The revolt began in 1791, and 
more than a decade of war followed; France's largest expeditionary 
force, led by General Leclerc, Napoleon's brother-in-law, was sent to 
put down the rebellion. As the French operation flagged, the slave 
general, Toussaint l'Ouverture, was invited to a parley. He was 
kidnapped and taken away to a prison in the Jura. In Avengers of the New 
World: The Story of the Haitian Revolution,* Laurent Dubois tells 
Toussaint's story in a manner that reminds us of its similarities to the 
current situation:

"'Toussaint must not be free,' Leclerc wrote to the colonial minister in 
Paris at the time, 'and should be imprisoned in the interior of the 
Republic. May he never see Saint-Domingue again.' 'You cannot hold 
Toussaint far enough from the ocean or put him in a prison that is too 
strong,' Leclerc reiterated a month later. He seemed to fear that the 
deported man might suddenly reappear. His very presence in the colony, 
he warned, would once again set it alight."

Toussaint died of exposure and tuberculosis in 1803. Every Haitian 
schoolchild knows his last words by heart: 'In overthrowing me, you have 
cut down in San Domingo only the trunk of the tree of black liberty. It 
will spring up again by the roots for they are numerous and deep.'

In November 1803 the former slaves won what proved to be the war's final 
battle, and on 1 January 1804 declared the independent republic of 
Haiti. It was Latin America's first independent country and the only 
nation ever born of a slave revolt. The Haitian Revolution, Dubois 
writes, was 'a dramatic challenge to the world as it then was. Slavery 
was at the heart of the thriving system of merchant capitalism that was 
profiting Europe, devastating Africa, and propelling the rapid expansion 
of the Americas.' Independent Haiti had few friends. Virtually all the 
world's powers sided with France against the self-proclaimed Black 
Republic, which declared itself a haven not only for runaway slaves but 
also for indigenous people from the rest of the Americas (the true 
natives of Haiti had succumbed to infectious disease and Spanish slavery 
well before the arrival of the French). Hemmed in by slave colonies, 
Haiti had only one non-colonised neighbour, the slaveholding United 
States, which refused to recognise its independence.

Haiti's leaders were desperate for recognition, since the island's only 
source of revenue was the sugar, coffee, cotton and other tropical 
produce it had to sell. In 1825, under threat of another French invasion 
and the restoration of slavery, Haitian officials signed the document 
which was to prove the beginning of the end for any hope of autonomy. 
The French king agreed to recognise Haiti's independence only if the new 
republic paid France an indemnity of 150 million francs and reduced its 
import and export taxes by half. The 'debt' that Haiti recognised was 
incurred by the slaves when they deprived the French owners not only of 
land and equipment but of their human 'property'.

The impact of the debt repayments - which continued until after World 
War Two - was devastating. In the words of the Haitian anthropologist 
Jean Price-Mars, 'the incompetence and frivolity of its leaders' had 
'turned a country whose revenues and outflows had been balanced up to 
then into a nation burdened with debt and trapped in financial 
obligations that could never be satisfied.' 'Imposing an indemnity on 
the victorious slaves was equivalent to making them pay with money that 
which they had already paid with their blood,' the abolitionist Victor 
Schoelcher argued.

full: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v26/n08/farm01_.html


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