Responsibility In the Presence of the Hatian Tragedy
In February 2010 an earthquake took the lives of near a quarter of a million Haitians, causing material loses of billions of dollars. Two centuries before, in August of 1791, an insurrection had provoked the downfall of that nation. The analysis of the relation between these two happenings puts in evidence the responsibility of the colonial powers and that of the Haitian’s authorities in the existing conditions of that country. The vandalism against its original inhabitants, the forceful transportation of thousands of African slaves and the violence used against them, generated a hateful spiral. There, in 1519, Cacique Enriquillo confronted the Conquistadors for 13 years and the first black uprising took place in the New World. This act of violence repeated itself until the explosion that brought about the French Revolution of 1789.
The process of colonization initiated by Castilla, designed by a generation of nobles, clergy, soldiers and civil servants due to the prolonged war against the Arabs, made Castilians wanting to come to enrich themselves not through laboring since they were not artisans or burgesses. It was at the beginning of the XVI century when sugar started to be produced in La Espanola that the soldiers who took the places of the burgesses were not prepared to engaged in trading, in opposition to the countries that aspired to displace Spain in the colonial dominion of the region
In the social aspect, in addition to the authority of the king, La Espanola had a rigid social structure integrated by four sectors: Big Whites, Small Whites, Mulattoes and Slaves. The distinctive characteristics of the relation among them was hostility, while their only point of identity based in the hatred and devaluation of the Black Slaves which constituted the great majority. In the economic aspect, the colonial French oligarchy brought together the most advanced methods of capitalism with the most backward social system, producing an explosive situation that brought about the French Revolution. In it, the king’s officials opposed the Revolution, the Big Whites were in favor until the execution of Louis XV. The Small Whites battled to make themselves equal to the Big ones and the Mulattoes joined to have their rights recognized; but none of them thought about the lot of the Slaves. The contradictions among them led to the uprising of the Mulattoes and the execution of its leaders, opening the doors to the generalized violence that brought about the rebellion of the slaves who killed their owners, women and their children with the blows of machetes.
The beginning of the war against Great Britain, Holland and Spain motivated a rebellion of the Big Whites that compelled the island’s authorities to grant the freedom to the slaves who fought on its side. With the Big Whites defeated, their positions were filled by the Mulatto’s chiefs. But then, Toussaint L’Ouverture, a black slave fighting against the French troops on the West side of the island and given the rank of General by the Spanish government changed sides and started fighting on the side of France after the abolition of slavery Decree issued in 1793. It was because of this that he was made the Governor’s Deputy and ascended to General in Chief of the Haitian forces. Thus, coming to occupy a prominent place in relation to the Mulatto’s chiefs.
In January of 1801, Toussaint declared the island as “One and Indivisible”. He penetrated from the West that was occupied by the Spaniards and proclaimed the freedom of the slaves, not counting on Napoleon Bonaparte who had another agenda. In response, Napoleon sent troops to defeat the revolutionary leader and establish on the Spanish side. L”Ouverture surrendered in 1802, was detained and sent to France where he died. When in 1803 Napoleon announced his intention to restore slavery, Jean Jacques Dessalines, together with other black leaders, rose and with the help of Great Britain drove away the French. After the victory, Dessalines proclaimed himself Emperor, decreed the systematic destruction of all persons of French descent and declared the independence of the occidental part of the island (Haiti) in January of 1804.
The 13 years of war provoked the death of more than 100 thousand blacks, 50 thousand French and the immigration of tens of thousands. The owners of the land, the money and the factories fled with the knowledge, methods and the capital, many of whom arrived in Cuba in four waves starting in 1791. The anarchy, despotism, the Coup D’Etats, the dictatorships and the commanders, many self-proclaimed Emperors or Governors for-life, like Toussaint L’Ouverture and the Duvaliers, father and son, succeeded until the present. Facts that are generally ignored by historians who detail, uncritically, the revolutionary developments that changed the richest colony of this age into the West’s most backward country.
Three elements must be kept in mind: first, violence. Once violence breaks loose it acquires autonomy. The hundreds of thousands liberated Haitian slaves took it upon themselves to act in an anarchic way in the presence of the freedom for which they were not prepared. Second: once Toussaint L”Ouverture took the reigns of power, in his obsession to build a strong economy, designated the “liberados” (those who had been freed) to possess the old properties and submitted them to a state similar to the one before. But failure did not wait. They lacked the knowledge of capital and of administration that were lost with the death and/or flight of Whites and Mulattoes. Third: L’Ouverture, by declaring himself General Governor for life, put in evidence that the freedom he proclaimed was foreign to any democratic practice. It is because of this that the article “Haiti in History” by Marta Rojas, published in the Granma newspaper on Friday, January 22, 2010, in which the author states that for the first time “In Haiti” the supreme dignity of man and Blacks is inaugurated in the planet, the “Government of a Republic” with responsibility and intelligence, lacks fundamental truth.
What happened in Haiti is a double call: to reflect on the dangers of the use of violence and the damage to personal or governmental self-interest, and the need for joint and several action, regardless of ideology and geopolitical status, for the horrible situation the country finds itself in. The ancient cities of Europe, the United States and the countries that benefited from the disaster of 1791, including Cuba, which took its place in the production and international trade at the time, have a great debt to Haiti. It is not enough to build houses, forgive debt, send food and medical care. That is simply the introduction of insufficient resources. It also imposes an affirmative action, a special project involving Haitians as real subjects, respecting their culture. This means, together with a short-term plan to mitigate the immediate damage, another long-term project aimed at raising the level of the people to put them in a position to approach Western levels.
Translated by David Fernandez