By YOUSEF DRUMMOND
MAYBE it’s time for French President Nicholas Sarkozy to write that cheque.
The French President is to meet current Haitian President Rene Preval and Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellevrie any day now. And it’s time for both men to remind the French president about that cheque that is owed to them and the Haitian people. The sum: nearly $22 billion dollars.
The Republic of France owes this sum to the Haitian Republic due to colonial expansion and decades of crippling blockades and embargoes that the French Republic imposed soon after Haiti gained its Independence from chattel slavery. This sum is enough to aid in its re-construction and its eventual political viability in the Caribbean. The United States, in its political infancy, also participated in its own version of blockades and embargoes against the Haitian Republic, chiefly because it feared an imitation of slave revolts on American soil, particularly in Louisiana, then a French colony. Haiti’s nefarious label as the most poverty-stricken nation in the Western Hemisphere began in 1825 when the French government demanded that Haiti’s political establishment re-pay them in 1825 in the amount of 150 million gold francs in return for a cessation of economic sanctions. Since then Haiti has had to borrow money from France at usurious rates to pay off its debt, which they accomplished in 1947.
Some time before the Bush administration artfully whisked the former Haitian President, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, to a remote location of South Africa for exile, Mr. Aristide and his administration filed a legal brief in support of a demand for “restitution” from France in 2004. This demand coincided with the 200th anniversary of Haiti’s independence.
Saint-Dominique’s unique struggle for independence, one that began on a rainy day in August of 1791 and ended in 1804, is the first of its kind. Francois-Dominique Toussaint L’ouverture, a slave with wit, military acumen and a keen knowledge of European history, led an army of former slaves in defeating the British, the Spanish and the French. Robert Marquand, staff writer for the Christian Science Monitor, tells us that Toussaint’s master, Count de Breda, introduced him to readings penned from various revolutionary writers of the French Enlightenment, among them Mirabeau and Voltaire. This former slave, imbibed with the values and ideals of the French Revolution of 1789, masterminded the union of the first Black Republic in the Western Hemisphere – the Republic of Haiti. This former slave is the architect of the nation’s first Constitution he proclaimed posthumously on January 1, 1804.
Thomas Jefferson, former ambassador to France in the Washington administration, third president of the United States of America, the principal writer of the Declaration of Independence from Great Britain, former president of the Continental Congress, and former governor of the state of Virginia, believed that only whites of European descent were entitled to advancement through revolution. He dismissed the “Haitian rebellion” as “an illegal attempt by property (by this he means African slaves) to obtain freedom when none was deserved”. As vice-president to President John Adams, Mr. Jefferson feared Toussaint’s revolution would be replicated on American soil – in Virginia and Louisiana - and urged his boss to cease trade with Toussaint; now, as President, Mr. Jefferson spent “an inordinate amount of time and energy” to stop the flow of information between Haiti and America.
This epic but bloody battle between Toussaint, the slaves of Saint-Dominique and white slaveholders beholden to France continued on and off for thirteen years. Saint-Dominique enjoyed relative peace from 1798 to 1802. But Napoleon Bonaparte, elected to First Counsel of France in 1799, desperately wanted to re-establish slavery in Saint-Dominique. Napoleon Bonaparte even hatched a military plan to re-capture North America. By re-asserting military dominance and re-establishing chattel slavery in Saint-Dominique, he reasoned, he would then secure a military connection with Louisiana, then a French colony, in his grand plan to capture the infant American nation as his own. His plan failed. In 1802 his army breached the shores of Saint-Dominique and they were soundly defeated; Napoleon lost 35,000 troops, many of them to yellow-fever. Rallying his troops to that end, Toussaint said this: “Remember that this soil, nourished on our blood and sweat, must not yield a crumb of food to our enemies”.
Napoleon Bonaparte abandoned his plans for North America and saw fit to view the French colony of Louisiana as worthless. With Saint-Dominique as France’s “cash-cow” now a distant memory – the former French colony led the world in the exportation of sugar and coffee – the French monarch handed President Jefferson 830,000 square miles of Louisiana – a prime piece of real-estate – for $15 million, or for less than 3 cents an acre. This sweet deal, dubbed “the Louisiana Purchase” by modern historians, paved the way for 13 new states in the Union, and more slaves for America.
Pat Robertson, long-time American Christian televangelist and founder of the “700 Club” seemed not to be aware of Haiti’s long-term gift to the United States of America, and unconsciously re-opened old colonial wounds through a delusional statement he made recently. According to UCLA anthropologist Andrew Apter, the notion of a “pact with the devil” is an old colonial response to the successes of the Haitian revolution. Asked by his co-host, a black woman, on the reason for the devastating earthquake in Haiti, Mr. Robertson went on to say that “they (the slaves) got together and swore a pact with the devil, they (the slaves) said, we will serve you, if you get us free from the French…And the devil said ‘O.K. it’s a deal’. And they kicked the French out, the Haitians revolted and got themselves free, and ever since they have been cursed by one thing after the other, desperately poor…Haiti is in desperate poverty…and we need to pray for them, a great turning to God’”. Toussaint’s army, most of whom were slaves forcefully taken to Haiti in massive ships from Senegal, utilized the only arsenal at their disposal to gain their freedom: they appealed to various African gods through elaborate Voodoo ceremonies that reminds Mr. Robertson as an appeal to the devil. Mr. Robertson seems to imply by his statement, however, that the slaves looked to the devil for freedom.
It is clear that by making such a statement Mr. Robinson is saying that God Himself sanctioned chattel slavery, this inhuman form of oppression. And how does Mr. Robertson know what the devil said…..?
Mr. Robertson is unconsciously aware of the devastating impact of Christian theological arguments on the African who was bound in chains for European profit. The European powers who viewed Africa and the Caribbean as their playground for wealth and profit saw fit to justify chattel slavery as “God’s Plan” through Christian theological arguments and from passages of the Bible. William Blyden, then an ardent proponent for African Nationalism, has eloquently written that America’s Christian Bishops of the day produced Christian sermons, tracts and dialogues geared for masters and servants. As an example, consider what the Right Reverend William Meade, Bishop of the diocese of Virginia, prepared for slaves in one of his prepared pamphlets:
“Almighty God hath been pleased to make you slaves here, and to give you nothing but labor and poverty in this world, which you are obliged to submit to, as it is His Will that it should be so. Your bodies, you know, are not your own; they are at the disposal of those you belong to…(italics mine)”.
Some days ago French President Nicholas Sarkozy, along with the European Union, the United Nations and other world powers, including the United States, announced plans to implement a plethora of humanitarian efforts for the Haitian people whose lives are upended by the recent earthquake. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund say they will provide $100 million each in emergency funding; the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon say the U.N. will immediately release $10 million dollars in assistance; and the European Union has announced $4.3 million dollars in aid. To date France has not allocated monies for this massive emergency effort. And when all the “advanced” nation-states have gone (and there is no indication as to when they will eventually leave the island), how will Haiti guarantee political and social stability for its people? How will it remain a viable political state? And will it be financially dependent on European and American nation-states for its survival?
As the French President makes his way to Haiti to visit President Rene Preval and Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellevrie, both men must put him on notice: write the cheque.
The writer is a recent revert to Islam and can be contacted at: email@example.com.