The Catholic Chronicle Editorial, January 2010
(The Catholic Chronicle is the monthly publication of the Diocese of Castries in St. Lucia. Its Editor is Msgr. Patrick Anthony, who is also founder and head of the St. Lucia Folk Research Centre. http://www.stluciafolk.org/)
Haiti, I'm Sorry!
In 1988, the calypsonian David Rudder of Trinidad & Tobago, produced the classic calypso "Haiti, I'm sorry". In the chorus he sang :
Haiti, I'm sorry
We misunderstood you
One day we'll turn our heads
And look inside you
Haiti, I'm sorry. Haiti, I'm sorry
One day we'll turn our heads
Restore your glory.
Today, many all over the world can identify with Rudder's core sentiment, 'Haiti, I'm sorry', even if they do not buy into his argument. For Rudder had maintained that : "Toussaint was a mighty man/And to make matters worse he was black/Black and back in the days when black men knew/Their place was in the back/But this rebel, he walked through Napoleon/Who thought it wasn't very nice/And so today my brothers in Haiti/They still pay the price...yeah, yeah..."
The Haitian situation has always challenged the imagination and intellect of Caribbean peoples. C.L.R. James' The Black Jacobins, first published in 1923, is still the greatest historical account we have of the Haitian Revolution of 1791-1804. Our own Nobel Laureate, Derek Walcott, has produced the Haitian Trilogy of historical plays: Henri Christophe, Drums and Colours and The Haytian Earth.
Even as aftershocks continue to rumble through the devastated capital of Haiti, many are honestly asking "Why Haiti"? Some well-intentioned persons, among them Christians of all denomination, continue to spew the venom of their racial and ideological prejudice. They designate Haiti, the first Black Republic of the new world, as the sin capital of the world; Satan's footstool, doomed to persistent poverty, self-inflicted backwardness and continuous devastation because of the wrath of God.
They ignore the bloody history by which a nation with a population of one million had been reduced to 60,000 by the Spaniards in 1507; how Toussaint Louverture with 20,500 men had withstood the onslaught of French army of 55,609 men; and that even after his defeat on May 1, 1802, the insurrection led by Christophe, Pétion, Clerveaux, Dessalines, Larose, Lamour Dérance, Petit-Noel Prieur, Sans-Souci, Romain, Yayou and others had led to the defeat of the French at Vertières on November 18, 1803 and the declaration of Independence at Gonaives on January 1, 1804. It is true that throughout the history of Haiti there have been many corrupt and ruthless leaders who placed self-aggrandisement before the national interest. But that does not tell the full story of the demise of Haiti.
As Caribbean scholar Sir Hilary Beckles has observed "Buried beneath the rubble of imperial propaganda, out of both Western Europe and the United States, is the evidence which shows that Haiti's independence was defeated by an aggressive North-Atlantic alliance that could not imagine their world inhabited by a free regime of Africans as representatives of the newly emerging democracy."
Those who see Haiti as a 'cursed place' never ask the question why in 1825 "The French government sent a team of accountants and actuaries into Haiti in order to place a value on all lands, all physical assets, the 500 000 citizens who were formerly enslaved, animals, and all other commercial properties and services" amounting to 150 million gold francs (the "Boyer Independence debt"), "an amount equivalent to 90 per cent of the entire Haitian budget for the foreseeable future" according to one writer, to be paid in reparation to France in return for national recognition; and that when this debt became too burdensome City Bank offered Haiti a 'debt-exchange' by which they would pay off France in exchange for a lower-interest, long-term debt.
Such detractors of Haiti seldom ask why did the United States of America occupy Haiti from 1915-1934? For James Weldon Johnson, the renowned black activist who was executive secretary of the NAACP would tell them of his exposé entitled 'Self-Determining Haiti: The American Occupation' written for The Nation (No.111, August 28, 1920) in which he wrote:
"To know the reasons for the present political situation in Haiti, to understand why the United States landed and has for five years maintained military forces in that country, why some three thousand Haitian men, women, and children have been shot down by American rifles and machine guns, it is necessary, among other things, to know that the National City Bank of New York is very much interested in Haiti. It is necessary to know that the National City Bank controls the National Bank of Haiti and is the depository for all of the Haitian national funds that are being collected by American officials..."
But that was during the 1915-1934 occupation. The question still remains why should the United States have just built one of its largest embassies in the world (only the embassies of China, Iraq, Afganistan and Germany are larger) with a staff of 1,000 in that 'God-forsaken country' Haiti? Whereas the recently launched relief effort by the United States is laudable, how much of this is motivated by US and international business interests in Haiti's mineral wealth as well as by fear of thousands of Haitian 'boat people' invading the waters of Florida?
It was two years ago, on December 17, 2008, that Eurasian Minerals Inc.(EMX) announced it had been awarded twenty-seven new exploration licenses in northern Haiti giving the Company a commanding land position along 130 kilometers of strike length in an emerging new gold-silver-copper mineral belt. This brings the company's land holdings to 281,858 hectares. With EMX's La Miel, La Mine, and Champagne projects, as well as the Pueblo Viejo deposit in the adjacent Dominican Republic, there is still considerable opportunity for financial and economic exploitation. For example, Pueblo Viejo has 215 million tons of proven and probable reserves containing 20.4 million ounces of gold, 117.3 million ounces of silver, and 423.5 million pounds of copper as of year-end 2007 reporting. This explains why so many nations and global institutions are interested in Haiti. It's not all for Haiti's sake.
This is why, like David Rudder, we're truly sorry for Haiti. We are sorry not just for the thousands buried under the rubble of their city, nor the hundreds of thousands without food or shelter. We are sorry for the sickness in the human heart which will continue to drive people to ruthlessly exploit the human and natural resources of Haiti while at the same time using all the tools of modern communication to reinvent the truth about that country. Haiti, I'm really sorry!