29 November 2009

A Brief History of Freedom

A Brief History of Freedom
John Maxwell

This time last year I was in the throes of preparing to dispatch a petition to the then President-elect of the United States.
The petition or open letter to Barack Obama was never sent, largely because I was diagnosed with advanced lung cancer and ordered to undergo treatment urgently. It was entirely my fault that though the petition had already been signed by a couple of hundred people it was never sent. Haitians, Jamaicans, other Caribbean people, English and American people, French people, Canadians and others from all over the world, had endorsed the call for Barack Obama to seize the mantle of the Liberator and to restore to the people of Haiti their freedom, liberty, dignity and all their human rights.
As I say, the letter was never sent. I wonder whether it have had any effect had it been sent.
Looking at what has happened to Honduran democracy and this week's latest farce in Haiti, I have my doubts. I am excerpting the letter here. What do you think?
When the Haitians spoke of Freedom they did not qualify it. They named a major promenade after John Brown, and offered Lincoln a Union Army brigade to complete the service they had begun to render in the American War of Independence.
In our letter to the President-elect we began by noting the coincidence of Mr Obama's electoral victory in the bicentennial year of the end of the slave trade, an achievement owing much to the Haitian struggle. We continued

We, the undersigned, are a group of people of many nations, of all classes and callings moved by what we consider an overwhelming moral imperative to seek assistance for Haiti in breaking a vicious circle of defamation, economic oppression, external political and military interference that has unjustly constrained for nearly two centuries, the exercise of Haiti's hard-won independence, freedom and liberty.

Because of these malign factors the Haitian people have been reduced to penury; most are unemployed, many are starving and their land and environment degraded by decades of over-exploitation. A proud people whose forefathers once produced enough to make other peoples wealthy and powerful, are now prevented from exercising their own free will and genius in deciding their own destiny.

Despite these factors the Haitian spirit remains free, undaunted and optimistic. The Haitians want to be free – to be themselves, to employ their own genius and strength as they did in their unique struggle for independence, defeating powers mightier than themselves to abolish slavery and to assert their independence and freedom

Now, as they languish prisoners in their own land, justice and humanity demand that the Haitian people should be able to reclaim the dignity and respect they have earned by centuries of their struggle for human rights and dignity for themselves and for other nations and peoples.

The circumstances surrounding this demand are so important and so extraordinary that we believe it is important to set them out in some detail.
This historical narrative included the following:

You are aware that two hundred and four years ago the people of Haiti, having defeated the armies of France (twice) and of Britain and Spain, the greatest powers of that time, declared their independence and simultaneously abolished slavery. The Haitians were the first and only people in the world to abolish the evil system that enslaved them.

Their struggle effectively destroyed the trans-Atlantic Trade in Africans and accelerated freedom for those enslaved in the British and other empires.

The Haitians did more: the Haitian Revolution invented the concept of universal emancipation, guaranteeing the freedom of any enslaved person who set foot on Haitian soil.

The Haitians went even further: Haiti was the first, and for a long time, the only state in the world to recognise the universal equality of rights for all human beings regardless of sex, economic condition or any other consideration. It was the first state to implement human rights universally and unconditionally at a time when the only free people in other modern states were white adult male property owners.

Human freedom was then and is now, of transcendental importance to the Haitians.

In 1816 – with their economy still in ruins after a twelve year war of independence, while blockaded by greater powers and prevented from international trade, the Haitians made an heroic and decisive contribution to the independence of six major countries in Spanish South America. Haiti gave the then-penniless and friendless liberator Simon Bolivar soldiers, ships, arms,, ammunition and provisions to prosecute the liberation of South America. The Haitians asked in return only one thing from Bolivar: that whenever he liberated a country he should also liberate those who were enslaved.

It was the Haitian support of Bolivar in his liberation of South America which made possible the Monroe Doctrine by which the US forbade European attempts to re-colonise South America.

Clearly, Haiti has made enormous contributions to the cause of human freedom and the world owes her an unpayable debt.

The world has not been as kind to Haiti.
After brief review of the twentieth century history of Haiti we related how Haitian democracy had been destroyed by its enemies within Haiti and outside. First, in 1992:

"The new President's (Jean Bertrand Aristide) aims were simple: that all Haitians be treated justly as God's children, that all have food and shelter, and that all take pride in their own Kreyol language and culture. He said he wanted "to build Utopia on the dungheap" left behind by the dictators

Elements of the Duvalier army, backed by elements of the business and elite classes promoted a coup which ended with the attempted assassination and departure into exile of the lawfully elected President Aristide after only six months in office.

Mr Patrick Robinson, a distinguished Jamaican jurist (now President of the International Criminal Court for the former Yugoslavia in the Hague) went to Haiti on behalf of the Inter American Human Rights Commission in 1994. He reported

"The people in Haiti have the same emotions and aspirations as the citizens of any other state in the organisation. They have within themselves an enormous capacity for warmth and love and friendship and endurance and a great yearning for peace, justice and democracy. But a people do not endure the hardships, the deprivation, the violence, the victimisation and the enormous disappointments that the Haitians have experienced over the past 32 months without their faith in humanity and their expectations of decency and justice being challenged in a serious way .…
The Commission received reports of rape and sexual abuse of the wives and relatives of men who are active supporters of President Aristide; women are also raped, not only because of their relationship to men who support President Aristide, but because they also support President Aristide; thus, sexual abuse is used as an instrument of repression and political persecution."

In 2001 former President Aristide was again inaugurated as President after another overwhelming electoral victory. A campaign, led by the same elements responsible for the first coup but this time directed and openly supported by various agencies of the US and Canadian and French governments, including the CIA, the State Department, John McCain's International Republican Institute, USAID and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) , promoted the formation of a small and divided Opposition formed by a assemblage of Haitian NGOs and supported by elements of the corrupt army dissolved by President Aristide.

This opposition, on the basis of a few disputed election results unconnected to the election of the President and before he took office, refused to work or even speak to President Aristide to resolve political problems. The opposition, which at all times represented a small minority of the Haitian people, was supported by non-Haitian elements, American, Canadian and French, in their demand that President Aristide must leave office.

No substantive reason has ever been presented to support this demand.

Decapitating Democracy

In the early morning of February 29, 2004 the US Ambassador and a party of US Marines arrived at the private residence of the President and his family and left with the President and Mme. Aristide in a heavily guarded motorcade to the airport where the Aristides were placed on a plane to Africa, manifested as cargo.

A worldwide wave of disapproval of this kidnapping placed the blame squarely at the door of the United States.

A delegation led by Randall Robinson of TransAfrica and Congresswoman Maxine Waters of California together with Sharon Hay Webster, a Jamaican member of Parliament and aide to Prime Minister Patterson of Jamaica, travelled to Bangui by chartered plane to rescue the Aristides and bring them back to the Caribbean, to asylum in Jamaica.

The government of Jamaica, despite being threatened by the US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, accepted the Aristides until they could arrange permanent asylum. They were received by President Thabo Mbeki to South Africa where they remain to this day.

The United States, Canada and France, operating through the UN Security Council, then imposed upon the Haitian people a government headed by a Haitian businessman who had lived outside of Haiti for most of his adult life.

Under this unelected regime, a so-called "peacekeeping" force of US Marines and later, of soldiers from other countries, provided the armed state power to maintain law and order.

Terror is still abroad in Haiti. Two prominent supporters of the Lavalas movement, Lovinsky Pierre Antoine and Maryse Narcisse were kidnapped last year (2007). Mme Narcisse has been restored to her family after a worldwide outcry. Pierre Antoine is still missing and the government has done nothing to investigate his disappearance.

All over Haiti poor people have been reduced to eating earth to stave off hunger. The women mix clay, salt and a little fat to produce patties which are baked in the sun before being eaten. Women, too malnourished to breastfeed their newborns, watch them die in their arms.

What Haiti needs

Haiti needs, first of all, reconciliation, a period of peace and order and negotiation to reclaim its democracy and to develop among all its citizens, a true respect for the universal human rights implemented in Haiti, for the first time on the planet, two centuries ago.

Haiti needs peace and order to build the institutions, facilities and infrastructure which it has been unable to build because of foreign interference and exploitation

Haiti needs a programme of long-term development, designed and implemented by the Haitians themselves without interference from outside.

Haiti is hungry and its farmlands and forests have been depleted, degraded and destroyed as a result of the fatal interventions from abroad. Haiti needs assistance to feed its people and to restore the population to acceptable standards of nutrition.

Haiti needs to resume and accelerate its programme of building schools and universities and training people to prevail against the threat of HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis.

Haiti needs roads and water supplies and a governmental apparatus that will design and implement them.

Haiti should be able to expect, as of right, justice and fair treatment from the United Nations, the Organisation of American states and the Multilateral Financial Institutions. Haiti has suffered and is suffering from unfair treatment by many of these organisations of which she was a founding member.

Finally, President Obama, we who sign this letter do not presume to speak for Haiti. We believe that you will want to hear from the Haitian people themselves. They have spoken eloquently over the centuries in which they have built the economies of other countries, in which they have fought for and won their own freedom and have accelerated the freedom of others. But we believe we speak on behalf of humanity, being moved by the unbearable suffering of a people who have contributed so much to human freedom and dignity.

We believe that achieving justice for Haiti is an undertaking important to the history and integrity human civilisation and to the cause of the human rights of all people, everywhere.

We believe that you are uniquely qualified by history by temperament and by your office to make the decisive intervention that will cure centuries-old injustices and free your country and Haiti from an entanglement which devalues and in some ways, delegitimizes humanity's constant struggle for the secure establishment of the inalienable rights of mankind.

To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, humanity cannot be half slave and half-free.

If Haiti is not free, none of us is free.

It is long past time for outsiders to stop their deadly interference in Haiti's affairs and time for any who can come to Haiti's assistance to do so, on Haiti's terms. Haiti need a new relationship with the United States, a partnership that promotes human rights, debt relief, reciprocal trade, sustainable development, Haiti's domestic agriculture, an end to foreign occupation and justice for the victims of official terror.

This is a long letter, but as one of our signatories has noted, for Haiti, the suffering has not simply been long, but apparently endless.

We are confident that you will see the justice of the Haitian case.

Millions of people in the United States and in the Caribbean and Latin America and in Africa owe a debt of freedom to Haiti. It is a debt that is long past due.

Copyright©2009 John Maxwell jankunnu@gmail.com

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