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The following article originally appeared in The Jamaica Observer.
Just 11 months ago, in his celebrated oration documenting the awesome details of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, US Secretary of State Colin Powell made sure that he would not address the UN General Assembly against the background of Picasso's Guernica – Picasso's celebrated protest in paint against superpower terrorism. The mural was hidden from sight on General Powell's orders, as he documented the compelling reasons for a pre-emptive invasion of Iraq to keep the world safe from terrorism.

Click to view entire Two-Faced Colin Powell Cartoon

Guernica memorializes the attack by fascist German and Italian dive-bombers against the Spanish town of Guernica, an assault on the civilian population which helped doom the legitimate, socialist government of Spain and introduce nearly half a century of dictatorship.

The world considered the dive-bombing of Guernica an atrocity. Unfortunately for us, the world did not know of another Guernica, in Haiti, nearly 20 years earlier, when American dive bombers obliterated peasants, men and women armed with machetes fighting for the freedom of their country.

The Haitians are celebrating two centuries of freedom, two centuries since their slave ancestors rose in revolt to throw the French colonizers out of Haiti. They had to do it twice, when Napoleon, newly installed in France, tried to recapture the richest colony in the world for his country. The Haitians threw out a British army too, but neither of these extraordinary and heroic feats is reflected in our history books.

Rah Rah
Haitian Musicians

Click to view entire painting

Details of painting, purchasing and Mari Hall ~ Artist

The unprecedented achievement of Toussaint, Christophe, Dessalines and the others has been devalued by historians who have seized on the extravagances of Christophe particularly to smear a glorious revolution. Since the revolution, the history of Haiti – like the history of most of the Americas – has been a history of war, violence, and exploitation financed and directed by foreigners, mainly Americans.

It is hardly known here that at the height of the US' expansionist "Manifest Destiny" period an attempt was made on Jamaica, after the 1907 earthquake. The Americans at that time used all sorts of pretexts to intervene – humanitarian reasons or to quell disorder or to restore financial stability or whatever. In the case of Jamaica, the then governor, Alexander Swettenham, ordered the express withdrawal of American warships and marines which had landed in Kingston, so they said, to restore order.

Swettenham lost his job, but those Jamaicans who were looking for an American godfather had to wait another 90 years.

"If we must die."

In an editorial a few days ago, the Jamaica Observer said, inter alia that Caricom should have "made it clear to the Haitian opposition that the bicentenary celebrations of the achievement of black slaves was of monumental importance to black people across the world and transcended the immediate domestic politics. Mr. Mbeki of South Africa understood this. Unfortunately, [Jamaican Prime Minister P. J.] Patterson didn't."

The artificial instabilities of the 19th century in Latin America had their real genesis in the Monroe Doctrine, which decreed that countries in the Americas, except those controlled by the European powers were subject to US hegemony. George Canning, then Britain's foreign secretary, chortled: "I have called a New World into existence to redress the balance of the Old."

France, the old colonial landlord of Haiti, had been so scared by the success of the Haitian revolution that it sold off, for a pittance, the Louisiana territories to the United Sates, more than doubling the size of that country. But after Napoleon, France had second thoughts and finally managed, during another period of Haitian instability, to extort an "agreement" that condemned Haiti to pay a substantial annual indemnity to France for the success of the revolution. This criminal burden was faithfully respected by the Haitians, though it caused them no end of grief. With much of their revenue exported to France, there was little left to develop Haiti. The Americans lent money to "help" Haiti repay the French.

Finally, just like today, the accumulated debt became impossible to pay and the American marines stepped in.

The first US marine general, Caperton, was a diplomat. He was able to set up a puppet regime of collaborators and secure a "legal" basis for the occupation in the Haitian-American Treaty of 1915. His successor, General Littleton Waller, was different: "These people are niggers in spite of the thin varnish of education and refinement. Down in their hearts they are just the same happy, idle, irresponsible people we know of."

Not surprisingly, Waller's regime provoked resistance, led mainly by a man called Charlemagne Peralte. The puppet government had been forced to agree to changing the constitution to allow foreigners to own land and American capital poured in, destroying forests to plant coffee and citrus. The US next introduced forced labor, under an old Haitian law which commanded the people to give an occasional free day to build the country. In the American regime, the corveé was transformed into something indistinguishable from slavery.

Charlemagne Peralte was murdered by American troops. His people were bombed and otherwise massacred.

Haiti was safe for American democracy. One of those who made it so was American Marine, General Smedley Butler, who, after he retired had second thoughts:

"I helped make Mexico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefits of Wall Street. The record of racketeering is long."

General Butler said: "I suspected I was just part of a racket at the time. Now I am sure of it. Like all the members of the military profession, I never had a thought of my own until I left the service. My mental faculties remained in suspended animation while I obeyed the orders of higher-ups. This is typical in the military service." Butler compared himself unfavorably to Al Capone. He said his official racketeering made Capone look like an amateur.

Floating barracoons in Kingston Harbor

The utter backwardness of the present government of Jamaica was never better expressed than in 1994, when, stooging for the Americans, it allowed the mooring of American "floating barracoons" in Kingston harbor. On these ships Haitians fleeing the successors to Duvalier were "processed" – most of them sent back to the country in which they were in danger of having their "faces chopped off," according to no less than President Clinton.

This unprincipled and barbarous betrayal of fellow human beings, our brothers, made me want to vomit. It still does. Because that stooging prepared the way for what now happens in Haiti, where forces antagonistic to every principle of the original revolution are determined, at long last, to make Haiti submit, to tie her down for eternal rape – to use General Butler's word.

People will tell you that Haitians are the authors of their own misery. As other people say, people who don't remember their history are doomed to repeat it.

The dismemberment and strip mining of Haiti's economy, social, political and intellectual life was under regimes tolerated or sponsored by the United States. To this day the United States protects some of the face-choppers, people who formed the US-sponsored FRAPH, supposedly a force to rebuild Haiti, according to democratic free-market principles.

Today, elements of the same forces provide the opposition to President Aristide, defecating on their own history with a little help from their friends.

"The Haiti Democracy Project was officially launched Tuesday, November 19, 2002 at the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC. The inauguration brought together over 120 guests and participants from the Haitian-American community along with members of the US academic and foreign-policy communities." This, according to the Haiti Democracy Project (HDP) website.

Even the assistant secretary general of the OAS, Luigi Einaudi, was there: "Einaudi opened the talks with dire predictions that Haiti was fast approaching a point where diplomatic means would no longer contribute to solve the crisis. According to Einaudi, those concerned about Haiti should at this time be gathering for a 'wake'." – (Source HDP.)

For an OAS official to take part in such a ceremony and say what he said, seems to me to be grossly improper, at the very least.

In June the HDP exhorted the OAS to disbar Haiti from membership and to intervene to remove President Aristide from office.

HDP and others blame Aristide for everything that is wrong with Haiti. After his re-election less than four years ago the multilateral agencies, at the urging of the United States, withheld all aid from Haiti until they were satisfied that Haiti had made itself into a democracy recognizable as such by Americans. The pivot of this blackmail was the fact that there were irregularities in the elections of a few senators, a fact of much slighter significance than the irregularities in the election of President Bush. In Haiti, there was absolutely no question of who was the people's choice.

In the case of Haiti these "irregularities" now assume transcendental importance, and are cause for the world to condemn Haiti to starve in obscene misery. Without the money, Haiti's debt, incurred mainly by the Duvaliers, cannot be serviced if the people of Haiti are to eat or go to school. Without the money, thousands perish every year from HIV/AIDS and starvation.

William Jennings Bryan, secretary of state to US President Woodrow Wilson, eighty years ago expressed the contempt in which the Haitians are held by the Anglo-Saxon power structure:

"Imagine!" Bryan said, "Niggers speaking French!!!"

Perhaps it would be to our mutual advantage if Mr. Patterson might learn either French or Creole, like the Haitian revolutionary hero, Bouckman, who was a Jamaican.

John Maxwell of the University of the West Indies (UWI) is the veteran Jamaican journalist who in 1999 single-handedly thwarted the Jamaican government's efforts to build houses at Hope, the nation's oldest and best known botanical gardens. His campaigning earned him first prize in the 2000 Sandals Resort's annual Environmental Journalism Competition, the region's richest journalism prize. He is also the author of How to Make Our Own News: A Primer for Environmentalists and Journalists. Jamaica, 2000. Mr. Maxwell can be reached at [email protected]

Copyright ©2004 John Maxwell



January 22, 2004
Issue 74

is published every Thursday.

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