[Marxism] Fw: Randall Robinson on Haiti

George Snedeker snedeker at concentric.net
Mon Feb 16 18:33:02 MST 2004

> Part I: January 1, 1804-January 1, 2004:
>         This day is sacred. It is the 200th anniversary of the Haitian
> Revolution.  Fought by Haitians.  Won for us all.
>         Between 1791 and 1804, hundreds of thousands of Africans enslaved
in Haiti
> ignored the rivers, forests, precipices, swamps, mountains, gorges,
> bloodhounds, rifles, cannon, and whips that separated them and united to
> launch a massive, brilliantly executed, spectacular war of liberation that
> the armies of Spain, England, and France (with the help of the United
> States) all fought desperately-and failed absolutely- to crush.
>         The Haitian Revolution was no "lucky break" involving "a few
> slaves."  This was no "plantation uprising."
>         St. Domingue (as Haiti was then called by the French) was at that
time the
> most prosperous colonial possession of any European power.  It created far
> greater wealth for France than the thirteen American colonies combined.
> massive wealth_generating capacity caused it to be known far and wide as
> "The Pearl of the Antilles" and its French owners had a clear and proven
> management strategy for profit maximization:  push the slaves to their
> absolute physical limit, work them literally to death, and then quickly
> import replacement slaves from Africa who would, in turn, be worked to
> death.  This, St. Domingue's plantocracy had discovered, controlled
> operating costs, kept the pace of economic activity at a highly efficient
> and productive pace, minimized slack and wastage, and produced massive,
> stupendous profits.
>         Two hundred years ago today, however, after a 13_year war of
> the slaves of St. Domingue celebrated their victory over France and other
> European powers by establishing the Republic of Haiti.  They had wrested
> from Napoleon the engine of France's economic expansion, banished slavery
> from the land, and ended European domination of 10,000 square miles of
> fertile land and hundreds of thousands of slaves to work it.
>         They had shattered the myth of European invincibility.
>         "Most have assumed that (Haiti's) slaves had no military
experience prior
> to the revolution," John K. Thornton explains in African Soldiers in the
> Haitian Revolution.  "Many assume that they rose from agricultural labour
> to military prowess in an amazingly short time. However, it is probably a
> mistake to see the slaves of St. Domingue as simply agricultural workers,
> like the peasants of Europe. A majority of St. Domingue's slaves,
> especially those who fought steadily in the revolution, were born in
> Africa. In fact, a great many had served in African armies prior to their
> enslavement and arrival in Haiti. Sixty to seventy  per cent of the adult
> slaves listed on (St. Domingue's) inventories in the late 1780's and
> were African born  (coming) overwhelmingly from just two areas of
> Africa:  the Lower Guinea coast region of modern Benin, Togo and Nigeria
> (also known as the "Slave Coast"), and the Angola coast area.
>         "Where the African military background of the slaves counted most
was in
> those areas, especially in the north (of St. Domingue), where slaves
> themselves led the revolution, both politically and militarily  These
> threw up the powerful armies of Toussaint L'Ouverture and Dessalines and
> eventually carried the revolution."
>         A successful revolution in Haiti, Thornton explains, "required the
kind of
> skill and discipline that could be found in veteran soldiers, and it was
> these veterans, from wars in Africa, who made up the general will of the
> St. Domingue revolt ...Kongolese armies contributed the most to St.
> Domingue rebel bands (Their) tactical organization was very different from
> that of Europe ...(and they) had learned to deal successfully with
> Portuguese armies and tactics in the years of struggle (in Africa),
> out invaders. No doubt these tactics could help those who found themselves
> in St. Domingue on the eve of the revolution.
>         "Kongolese armies seem to have been organized in platoons that
struck at
> enemy advancing columns and sustained an engagement for a time before
> breaking off and retreating They made use of cover, both from terrain and
> from woods and tall grass, in hiding their movements and directing their
> fire.  When they fled, it was not possible to follow them."  Portuguese
> troops who had fought the Kongolese in Africa also reported that the
> Kongolese used "shocks"- larger engagements involving massed Kongolese
> units.  According to the Portuguese accounts, large bodies were assembled
> for shocks supported by artillery.  Sometimes they formed in extensive
> half-moon formations which apparently sought partial envelopment of
> opposing forces, in other cases in columns of great depth along fronts of
> 15_20 soldiers.
>         "Their tactics showed a penchant for skirmishing attacks rather
than the
> heavy assaults favoured by Europeans in the same era Kongolese armies had
> higher command structure that could mass troops quickly, and soldiers were
> also accustomed to forming effectively into larger units for major battles
> when the situation warranted. ...Dahomey's armies included a fairly large
> professional force. Oyo relied heavily on cavalry forces, had relatively
> few foot soldiers and throughout the 1700's was the preeminent military
> power in (west Africa). Dahomey's troops fought in close order using fire
> discipline quite similar to that of Europe
>         "It was from these disparate 'arts of war' that the revolutionary
> soldier of St. Domingue was trained
>         "One can easily see, in the formation of the bands mentioned in
the early
> descriptions of the (Haitian Revolution), the small platoons of the
> Kongolese armies, each under an independent commander and accustomed to
> considerable tactical decision making; or perhaps those small units
> characteristic of locally organized Dahomean units; the state armies of
> Mahi country; or the coastal forces of the Slave Coast
>         "In addition the pattern of attacks with small scale harassing
> short, sustained battles and then rapid withdrawals are also reminiscent
> the campaign diaries of the Portuguese field commanders in Angola.  Felix
> Carteau, an early observer of the war in the north of St. Domingue, noted
> that the (slave revolutionaries) harassed French forces day and night.
> Usually, he commented, they were repelled, but each time, they dispersed
> quickly, so completely in ditches, hedges and other areas of natural cover
> that real pursuit was impossible.  However, rebel casualties were light in
> these attacks, so that the next day they reappeared with great numbers of
> people.  They never mass in the open, wrote another witness, or wait in
> line to charge, but advance dispersed, so that they appear to be six times
> as numerous as they really are.  Yet they were disciplined, since they
> might advance with great clamor and then suddenly and simultaneously fall
> silent.
>         "It was not long before observers noted that the rebels (in St.
> had developed the sort of higher order tactics that was also
> of Kongolese forces, or those of the Slave Coast.
>         "In addition to these tactical similarities to African wars,
especially in
> Kongo, there were other indications of the African ethos of the fighters
> ...they marched, formed and attacked accompanied by the 'music peculiar to
> Negroes....' Their religious preparation, likewise, hearkened back to
> Africa.
>         "It is unlikely that many slaves would have learned equestrian
skills as a
> part of their plantation labor ...Since there was virtually no cavalry in
> Angola, one can speculate that rebels originating from Oyo might have
> provided at least some of the trained horsemen.  Also, the Senegalese,
> though a minority, also came from an equestrian culture.
>         "African soldiers may well have provided the key element of the
> success of the revolution.  They might have enabled its survival when it
> was threatened by reinforced armies from Europe.  Looking at the rebel
> slaves of Haiti as African veterans rather than as Haitian plantation
> workers may well prove to be the key that unlocks the mystery of the
> success of the largest slave revolt in history."
>         St. Domingue's policy of working its slaves to death and then
> importing replacements from Africa proved to be the ultimate karmic
> boomerang.  St. Domingue's African_born slaves not only were not yet
> psychologically, but they were also in possession of significant military
> training and experience gained on the other side of the Atlantic.  And
> combined with brilliant, indefatigable, St. Domingue_born blacks like
> Toussaint L'Ouverture and Dessalines to create a black revolutionary
> juggernaut the likes of which Europe and the United States had not seen
> before- or since.
>         The blacks of St. Domingue forced the world to see both them and
> millions of other Africans enslaved throughout the Americas with new eyes.
> No longer could it be assumed that they could forever be brutalized into
> creating massive fortunes and building sprawling empires for the glory of
> Europe and America.
>         On January 1, 1804, hundreds of thousands of slave revolutionaries
> established an independent republic and named it Haiti in honor of the
> Amerindian people, long since killed off by European brutality and
> diseases, who had called the land Ayiti- Land of Many Mountains.  They had
> banished slavery from their land and proclaimed it an official refuge for
> escaped slaves from anywhere in the world.  They had defeated the
> of the mighty.  They had shattered the myth of European invincibility.
>         Europe was livid.  America, apoplectic.  The blacks in St.
Domingue had
> forgotten their place and would be made to pay.  Dearly.  For the next two
> hundred years.  Toussaint L'Ouverture, Dessalines, and their slave
> revolutionaries must forever live in our hearts as inspiring, authentic
> counterweights to the
> image of our forebears that Europe and the United States have drilled into
> our psyches.
>         And we must remember that history forgets, first, those who forget
> themselves.  Via means direct and indirect, crass and subtle, there have
> been whispers and street corner shouts that "current conditions in Haiti"
> make our celebration of the Haitian Revolution "inappropriate"" at this
> time.
>         We, whose souls and psyches have been bleached of everything prior
to the
> Middle Passage are now being told that we must tear from our consciousness
> and rip from our hearts the most dramatic and triumphal assertion of
> forebears' dignity, worth, and perspicacity since the Middle Passage.
>         How diabolically contemptuous.
>         Not only must we not forget the Haitian Revolution, we must
celebrate it.
> Today, through all of this its bicentennial year, and beyond.
>         And we must research, understand, and expose what happened to
Haiti and in
> Haiti since the revolution.  We must become fully conversant with the role
> of "the world's leading democracies" in Haiti between 1804 and today.  We
> must develop a keen understanding of the repercussions of the 61_year
> economic embargo that the United States imposed on Haiti in response to
> declaration of independence, and we must recognize the current_day
> consequences of France forcing Haiti to pay 90 million in gold francs
> (equivalent today to some $20 billion) in 1825 as "compensation" for Haiti
> declaring its independence- or be crushed militarily by France.
>         Today, "the world's leading democracies" cluck and gloat at their
> stranglehold- in the form of a crushing financial embargo- on today's
> descendants of Toussaint, Dessalines, and their freedom fighters.
> Throughout the Americas, we who benefitted from the daring war waged by
> slaves of St. Domingue, must reject the maneuverings of the world's most
> powerful nations in Haiti and find ways to build bridges to the Haitian
> people and the officials they choose- through the ballot- to lead them.
>         Just over two hundred years ago, after there had been a "cessation
> hostilities" and the brilliant military strategist Toussaint L'Ouverture
> had already retired to a quiet life in the St. Domingue country_side,
> France decided, nonetheless, to arrest and ship him to a prison cell 3,000
> feet up the Jura Mountains of France where he would freeze to death.  As
> stepped on board the boat that would forever take him away from St.
> Domingue, Toussaint issued a promise to his captors and a call to us all.
>         "In overthrowing me, you have cut down in St. Domingue only the
trunk of
> the tree of liberty.  It will spring up again by the roots for they are
> numerous and deep."
>         We are those roots.
>         The revolution was fought by Haitians, but won for us all.
>         Through our work and with our resources, in a spirit of
self_respect and
> self_awareness, we must serve as counterweights to the powerful nations
> deem the ballot box sacrosanct in their countries, but surreptitiously
> encourage and manipulate its rejection by "the opposition" in Haiti.  We
> must serve as proponents of political civility and social justice in Haiti
> while "the world's leading democracies" slyly encourage recalcitrance,
> tumult, and division. We must reject being manipulated by the corporate
> media into embracing the notion that in France, Germany, the United States
> and other "civilized nations" elections are the only legitimate
> of the will of the people, but in Haiti those street demonstrations
> specially selected by the corporate media for coverage tell us all we need
> to know about anybody's will.  We must impress upon all Haitians the fact
> that the outside world does not distinguish between- and cares nothing
> about- Lavalas, Convergence, or any other political grouping. The world
> sees only "Haiti," "Haitians," and all the connotations that western media
> have attached thereto.  Those nations that two hundred years ago failed
> desperately in their attempts to crush the Haitian Revolution today have a
> deep psychic need to "prove" Toussaint's progeny capable of nothing but
> disaster.  We must reach out to and work with our Haitian brothers and
> sisters to prove these nations wrong.
>         Throughout the Diaspora, we must stand with and defend Haiti- on
this the
> anniversary of the Haitian Revolution, throughout this bicentennial year,
> and for all time.  For in so doing, we stand for and defend ourselves.
>         Part II: Haiti, Jessica, and WMD
>         America's foreign policy officials have perpetrated horrific
> recently.  Iraq's "weapons of mass destruction," Jessica Lynch's
> "battlefield heroism" and "abuse," and Aristide's "failure to deliver" in
> Haiti are cases in point.
>         Iraq's oil, the fear of war_triggered terrorism, and Iraq's
antiquity have
> made us more aware, and less susceptible- though not immune- to media
> manipulation regarding Iraq.  Similarly, American soldiers who have served
> in Iraq have American defenders who will not allow these soldiers'
> contributions to be overlooked while, for example, Jessica Lynch's truth
> trampled and twisted to whip up "patriotism" and animus for "the bad
>         Who, however, knows or cares anything about Haiti?  How many
> know that- in our names- American policy_makers have used our country's
> enormous power to block 8 million Haitians' access to approved loans for
> safe drinking water, literacy programs, and health services?  How many
> know, when we read about "Haiti's steady slide," that powerful American
> policy_makers are massively responsible?  These officials are holding the
> Haitian people, who desperately want to own their democracy, in a brutal
> economic death_grip.  Is this the face that America intends to continue
> showing to the black and brown peoples of the world?   Ordinary Americans
> can no longer afford indifference.  Our president says that we are
> terrorism targets because "they are jealous of us"; because "we love
> liberty and they do not"; because we represent "truth and justice."
>         Is it really our compassion and magnanimity that cause the rage in
> hearts to reduce Bali tourist spots to embers, Manhattan towers to dust,
> and our Nairobi embassy to rubble?  If so, the Dali Lama is in great
>         In these times, Americans must assess what our policies are doing
to human
> beings beyond our shores.  And we must realize that the same "information"
> machine that lied about WMD and Jessica Lynch lies about much more-
> including Aristide and Haiti.
>         The United States has had Haitian blood on its hands for a long
> Today, they are dripping.
>         In 2000, the year of our electoral meltdown, election observers in
> recommended that seven senate seats (out of a total of 7,500 positions
> filled nation_wide) go to a run_off.  Haiti's electoral commission
> disagreed, creating the only international concern about the election.  To
> avoid "the wrath of the mighty," these senators resigned.  However,
> American officials who had vehemently opposed the restoration of Haiti's
> elected government in 1994, now seized on the run_off controversy to
> further demonize Aristide, break the Haitian people's spirit, and "prove"
> the Haitian Revolution a failure
>         Powerful Americans are crushing the Haitian people's dream of
> their own democracy in their own image, and these officials blocking
> Haitians' access to safe drinking water tells us all we need to know.
> loathe Aristide because he represents the poorer, blacker masses of
> society, whereas America's traditional allies have always been Haiti's
> moneyed, white or mulatto "elite."  The parallels between America's
> policies toward Haiti and our policies towards apartheid South Africa have
> never been lost on me.
>         During my colleagues' and my battle to end America's long_standing
> collusion with South Africa's white supremacist government, highly
> respected U.S. government officials publicly asserted that Mandela and the
> African National Congress were terrorist and that the anti_apartheid
> movement was antithetical to U.S. interests.  Aristide's government was
> restored in 1994 following a coup in which Haiti's US_allied army killed
> 5,000 civilians.  And those American officials who had defended apartheid
> South Africa lost no time in turning their policy venom full bore on
> today's descendants of the most spectacular slave revolt in the history of
> all the Americas- and the man Haitians chose to lead them.
>         Aristide has not "failed to deliver."  Powerful individuals from
the most
> powerful nation on earth have placed a financial embargo on his country
> made the strangulation of his government- and therefore his people- a
> priority.  They are determined to render him incapable of delivering so
> that his people will, in time, tire of the excruciating hardships and tire
> of him.
>         At the dawn of this New Year, perhaps we should reflect on what we
> done to Aristide, what we have done to the Haitian people, and on Thomas
> Jefferson's lament: "When I consider that God is just, I shudder for my
> country."  The way we continue to treat weaker peoples and nations around
> the world will determine, for years to come, whether justice is something
> Americans have reason to welcome or something we have reason to dread.
>         Randall Robinson (rr at rosro.com) is founder and former president of
> TransAfrica.  He is an author and lives in the
> Caribbean.  www.blackcommentator.com

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