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President Fidel Castro's History Lesson
Excerpts from the speech given by President Fidel Castro upon being decorated by President René Preval, on November 9, 1998 at the Palace of the Revolution in Havana.
Translated by Max Blanchet
Dear President of the Republic of Haiti, René Préval,
Distinguished members of the High Level Delegation who came with him,
There are truly admirable facts and examples from Haitian history that will never be forgotten.
In 1789, when the French Revolution took place, there were in Haiti, according to statistics, approximately
480,000 slaves under the domination of a minority of white slave owners, that is to say 20,000 people.
This revolution that was emerging in the very heart of the Métropole, that is to say France, carried within
itself a powerful drive favorable to the abolition of slavery. After that, the slaves under the leadership of
Toussaint Louverture rose up and after hard fighting wrested from the Métropole the abolition of slavery
in 1794. And it was under the direction of the same leader that the Haitian people convened in 1801
an assembly to approve the first constitution of Haiti. Toussaint Louverture was elected governor.
The Métropole, however, not accepting this new state of affairs, deployed all possible efforts to vanquish the
revolution in Haiti. It sent a powerful expedition - numbering 30,000 soldiers, they report, the best soldiers of
the French Army who had conquered Europe - under the command of general Leclerc, made famous by Haiti
for having expelled him as well as the invasion force out of her territory.
But before that, in an unfavorable battle, Toussaint Louverture was captured and sent to France where he
died thousands of miles away from the land that had already become his liberated homeland.
Victory was made possible because men like Dessalines and Pétion were able to carry on with the
struggle towards that end. A victory which was not a minor one to the extent it may be considered one
of the greatest victories in History.
In 1804, Dessalines and Pétion proclaimed not only the abolition of slavery - imposed de facto since
1794 - but also the Independence of Haiti. Cubans cannot for many reasons forget this date and
one of them has to do with the fact that the Independence of Haiti was proclaimed on January 1,
precisely the date when 155 years later, our country truly recovered for ever its own independence.
From this event - and this is something that we must remember and cause to be remembered whenever
possible- we must acknowledge three great historical facts: Haiti became the first independent republic of
the Caribbean and of the rest of Latin America; Haiti became the first black republic of the world; and in
Haiti took place the first social revolution of this hemisphere. Before in 1776, the independence of the
United States was proclaimed but slavery was maintained there for another century.
The independence of Haiti was fated inevitably to be a revolution not only political and independentist
but also social; a very profound social revolution because those who won the battle for independence
were slaves, slaves who became the masters of their country and of its wealth.After this social
revolution, the second in my opinion took place 100 years later and was precisely the Mexican
Revolution, the second great revolution of this hemisphere.
The third great social revolution was the Cuban Revolution - precisely 155 years after the Haitian
Revolution - which from our perspective was not only a social revolution but also a socialist revolution
that met the demands of the times. The Haitians could not realize a revolution of this type in 1804, nor
could the Mexicans later.
At the moment when we conquered forever our independence, it was possible for us, in a context unique
to us, to achieve at the same time a social and socialist revolution. But you, you were our predecessors.
But there is something else that must be the focus of the admiration and gratitude of the whole of
Latin America. I am speaking about Pétion, who as the result of circumstances, got to know Bolivar.
The latter, in a difficult time of his life, contacted Pétion who gave him his support, weapons, and
something more important still, taught him important political and revolutionary concepts by raising
the question of the abolition of slavery in Latin American territories.
No sooner than the first independent Republic of Venezuela was created in 1810 that it collapsed because
it was not accompanied by a social revolution, or let us say more precisely, because it was not accompanied
by the abolition of slavery. Bolivar was helped by Pétion, according to history, so that he would abolish slavery
in all countries freed from Spanish subjugation,
a service that Haiti rendered to all the peoples of Latin America.
These are facts that cannot be forgotten.
Haiti is also an example of the consequences stemming from the tyranny of the centuries of colonization and slavery that had
a nefarious influence throughout the last century. Haiti is also an example of the influence of colonialism and neocolonialism
in this century, because in 6 years, Haiti will complete two centuries of independence, yet, today, Haiti remains the
poorest country of this hemisphere and one of t he poorest in the world.
Who is to blame for this, the slaves or the slave owners?
How many schools were there to teach some of the 480,000 slaves to read and write? Who prepared them for this difficult task?
Who blocked the development of your country? The colonial system in control of the world.
Thus more than a century of Haitian history unfolded and once again she is invaded by foreign troops, she is occupied by that
same powerful nation that was the US in 1915 when it sent its troops into Haiti. Under what pretext? Under the pretext that
it needed to have some debts repaid it took control of customs and taxes. It stayed there withdrawing only in 1934 during
the presidency of Roosevelt.
How could the Haitian people progress? For many years, they endured the system of economic domination, the system of
neocolonial domination and exploitation. This is why today, after almost two centuries of independence, Haiti suffers the consequences
of this long history of slavery and colonization in spite of the fact that this history, notwithstanding the suffering it entailed, is marked
with the unforgettable services offered to our peoples and the world.
Conscious as we are of this history, we have genuine admiration for Haiti; as revolutionaries, we will never forget. Nor can the
reactionaries forget that the slaves rebelled and defeated the best army of the time, sent by the greatest military power of Europe,
governed by one of the most brilliant military leaders of History.
We are neighbors, barely some 80 kilometers of distance separate us; we are not responsible for the fact that our relations were
broken for so long. We know that very powerful forces imposed this separation because we were occupied more than once due
to the existence of the PLATT amendment that gave the US the right to intervene in Cuba. When large sugarcane plantations
were cultivated in our country, tens of thousands of Haitians were brought to work our lands in conditions of quasi slavery or slavery.
This also is a hard history, a sad history.
I remember, when I was 6 or 7 years old, the expulsion of thousands of these Haitians who had helped with the development of
sugarcane cultivation and the production of sugar in our country. This is another debt that we owe Haiti. While thousands
of Haitians were expelled, most remained in this land and, as expressed by our Minister of Health, they became integrated and
mixed intimately with our people.
It was not a simple gesture of solidarity but a duty for us to do what we did when we learned of the disastrous consequences of hurricane Georges.
The proposal that we are making is simple: by reducing from 135 to only 35 per 1000 live births the number of those, between 0 and 4,
who die every year, we would save the lives of 15,000 - and I say this without reservation - if not more. Indeed, we could save
the lives of approximately 20,000 children in Haiti at a very low cost, because we know and should know that according to
statistics, 200,000 children - maybe between 210,000 and 220,000 - are born every year in Haiti. Thus, if we could save
the lives of 100 per 1000 live births, the number of children would increase by 20,000 every year. It is clear that our program
would deal not only with children but with the rest of the population as well. But, we wanted to focus on these numbers.
We should not limit ourselves to talking about doctors at this time; we say that what Haiti needed was not an invasion of soldiers,
but rather an invasion of doctors, teachers and millions of dollars to initiate economic and social development. I believe that it is
humanity's duty, given the needs of the Third world and especially the poorer countries, as is the case with Haiti, where
7,500,000 people inhabit approximately 27,000 square kilometers.
It is for this that I receive as a signal honor this decoration that you have decided so generously to give me and I am very proud.
Commander in Chief
First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba
President of the Council of State and Ministers