21 February 2010

What the World Owes Haiti

John Maxwell

Some of us grow up with the feeling that being free means that we are at liberty to do whatever we want – as long as we don't hurt anyone else; that simply by being born, we are entitled to inherit the riches and beauty of nature and to do whatever we think will make us wealthy, healthy and happy.
Most of us grow up in very different circumstances, walking barefoot, wearing cast-off clothing and knowing that we are mostly free to do what we can get away with and knowing that we will probably always have to worry about the next meal.
In places like Jamaica, however, rich and poor tend to believe that there are some basic freedoms we all share: the right to life, to liberty and to say what we want and associate with whomever we choose.
These freedoms are rights for which the human race has been fighting for a long time, and a few hundred years ago certain people believed that because they had acquired the Chinese invention called gunpowder, they owned superior rights to all those who had not got the secret recipe.
Primitive firearms made it possible for long distance 'impersonal' murder. Until then, if you wanted to kill someone you had to stab, or to throw a spear or an arrow not much further than the length of a cricket pitch. Blunderbusses and muskets meant that you could remain out of the range of your enemy's arrows and spears and mow him down with invisible darts accompanied by horrendous noises.
Primitive firearms meant that men on horses, armed with guns, could round up dozens of fellow humans in a cost-effective time frame and move them like cattle to enormous holding pens where they were selected for desirable qualities and priced accordingly. Upright European merchants would then select those creatures most likely to bring good prices on the other side of the Atlantic, either for breeding purposes or for hard labour growing sugar or cotton.
As the history of the Palace of Westminster makes plain: The outbound slave ships were packed with British goods such as metal goods, firearms, textiles and wines, destined for exchange for human cargo. And returning vessels heading to their home port filled with plantation produce from the colonies.

Here was a trading network on an integrated international scale, lubricated by slavery, and all approved, regulated and monitored by Parliament.

We know of dozens of Acts passed specifically to encourage, regulate and monitor the trade in Africans."


The slave trade and the plantation system which it supported, provided the motive force of the capitalist system and the foundation of the Palaces of Westminster and Versailles, of the Louvre and the British Museum, of London, Liverpool, Bristol and Marseilles. The extinction of civilisations on both sides of the Atlantic and their replacement by plantation economies provided the capital on which the European Empires and social systems of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries were erected.
The empires of Spain, and later France and Britain were built on the bones of the original inhabitants of the so called West Indian islands

The Spanish historian, Gonzalo Oviedo, estimated that of the one million Indians on Ayiti (Hispaniola) when the Spaniards arrived, less than five hundred remained half a century later.
Toribio Motolina, another Spanish priest, said in some parts of Mexico "more than one half the population died; in others the proportion was a little less; they died in heaps, like bedbugs." A German missionary writing in 1699, said the so-called Indians "die so easily that the bare look and smell of a Spaniard causes them to give up the ghost."
Then began the wholesale destruction of nations and civilisations in Africa– some disappearing almost without trace, further impoverishing mankind's cultural diversity and robbing Africa of the populations and skills it needed for its own development.

As Sybille Fischer remarks in her book Modernity Disavowed: "Colonialism in the Caribbean had produced societies where brutality combined with licentiousness in ways unknown in Europe. The sugar plantations in the new World were expanding rapidly and had an apparently limitless hunger for slaves." (Quoted in Common Sense "Christmas in Hell", Dec. 30 2007)

The whole mad vampire enterprise seemed destined to continue as long as greed endured, notwithstanding bloody uprisings in every colony, the most dangerous being in Haiti and Jamaica. In Jamaica the slaves and their escaped brethren, the Maroons, fought the British to a standstill, a truce and a land concession. Bouckman, a leader of the islandwide Taki rebellion escaped to Haiti and there helped light the spark of revolution.

An Unpayable Debt

It was the Haitian revolution that destroyed slavery and the slave-trade forever.
It was the Haitians alone of all of history's enslaved peoples who defeated the system, destroyed the institutions of slavery and legislated that thenceforth, all men, women and children of whatever colour or station or nationality were, in Ayiti, full and free human beings. It drove the Americans mad.
That declaration anticipated the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by 144 years and should be recognised for what it is: the single most important definition of humanity ever implemented.
The world owes Haiti an unpayable debt.
At this moment apparatchiks of various ideologies are busy racing around in Washington and similar places, like scarab beetles marking out territory on a fresh deposit of excrement.
It is clear that the peoples of the world are minded to help Haiti recover from the most punishing natural disaster of modern times. The scarab beetles – with grand names and even grander resumes – intend to be first in line as was Cheney's Halliburton in Iraq – to milk the system and suck as much Haitian blood as possible.
People have already threatened to stop speaking to me – I'm anti-American or I'm anti-Haitian – because I believe that we need to assemble all those who want to work for Haiti to work for Haiti in exclusion to working for anyone else.
There are two huge problems:
On one side are Haitians, jealous of their liberty and suspicious of any and every one who offers to help. They have been victimised so often that they expect treachery as a given.
People like Clinton and Patterson do not impress them. Their records of anti-Haitian action speak for themselves. The hypocrisy is blatant.
On the other side – the American/French/Canadian side while there is knowledge of the grievous harm these countries have wreaked and are wreaking on Haiti, there is no understanding of the need – the absolutely essential requirement – that Haiti belongs to the Haitians and it is they alone who must decide what they want.
They may ask for help but the US, France and Canada must have the grace to apologise and atone for the heinous crimes they have committed in Haiti. If the Haitians want Aristide back, simple human decency should inform the Americans, the French and the Canadians that they have a duty to help the Haitians get back their President and a responsibility to protect him and the constitutional integrity of Haiti. The Haitians have the brains, the genius and the skills to manage their own country, if they are only left alone.
Haiti is a charter member of the United Nations and its various organs. Haiti has however been cheated, blackmailed, double-crossed and screwed by big powers in the IDB and IMF, for example.
Haiti needs to be able to summon the collective wisdom and skills of the General Assembly, to get rid of the so-called UN Peacekeepers – a bunch of bandits and rapists –and to assemble a force to keep the peace and help train a civil guard – as in Costa Rica – or whatever mechanism the Haitians prefer.
The United Nations General Assembly is the proper organ for the people-to-people assistance Haiti may require. The Security Council knows nothing about land reform, cooperatives or community development.
Finally, the General Assembly must find some way to organise an endowment fund for Haiti from the enormous sums she is owed by France and the United States. This fund should be for the development of Haiti, not Halliburton or Bechtel. The $25 billion Haiti paid to France and the United States in a brute force extortion scheme was the single resource whose absence made Port au Prince so vulnerable to the earthquake. Generations of capital investment were lost because they were never installed. Simple justice and human decency requires they be returned.
The countries of the Caribbean, Haiti's siblings and neighbours, owe Haiti more than most. Haiti's abolition of slavery led to the immediate abolition of the Caribbean slave trade and Caribbean slavery, a few years later.
When the US, France and Canada decapitated Haitian democracy in 2004 Caricom first protested and demanded a UN investigation into the affair. Patterson and Manning led Caricom's cowardly retreat from that position.
But the Caribbean was honorably represented at the UN by the experienced Trinidadian diplomat, Reginald Dumas. He had just been appointed by Kofi Annan as his Special Representative on Haiti – one of the few sensible actions Annan took in the affair. Dumas recommended to CARICOM that it should use the General Assembly to get assistance for Haiti. As Reggie Dumas has reminded me, the President of the General Assembly at the time was Julian Hunte of St Lucia, who could have used his position to help CARICOM seek justice for Haiti.
CARICOM (and Hunte) ignored Dumas, and some of the same cowardly leaders are now poised to 'help' or again betray Haiti and the aspirations of the downtrodden of the world.
If the Caribbean wants to make sense and to help Haiti, we could do much worse than seeking the advice of Dumas and other Caribbean and Third World sages who know more about the problems of small states and are better disposed to help than the UN's caravanserai of scarab beetles and Praying Mantises.
Copyright©2010 John Maxwell – jankunnu@gmail.com

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