Wednesday,22 November, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1315, (13 -19 October 2016)
Wednesday,22 November, 2017
Issue 1315, (13 -19 October 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Commentary: ‘Tout moun se moun’ — All people are people

The future of Haiti is fraught with fear – there is nothing more revealing than the passive voice and tortured syntax, wrote US writer Margaret Kimberley recently. Haiti is 27,750 square km in area. It is the second-most populous country in the Caribbean after Cuba. But spectacular scenic beauty in a disaster-prone nation does not lure tourists. Haiti was the first independent nation of people of African descent who fought a bitter fight to prove that black lives mattered.

Ominously, when Christopher Columbus first sighted Haiti and imagined he had stumbled on India on Christmas Day, 1492, his flagship, the Santa Maria, ran aground and was destroyed. Columbus ordered his men to salvage what they could from the ship, and he created the first European settlement in the Americas on the island, naming it La Navidad, after the day the ship was destroyed. 

The indigenous population was later virtually wiped out, and African slaves were forcibly settled in Haiti to labour on the sugar plantations. Conditions were so brutal that African women aborted their own fetuses rather than give birth to children who would live for the rest of their lives in slavery.

The Haitian Revolution (1791–1804) ensued, culminating in the abolition of slavery and the defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte’s army at the Battle of Vertières. Haiti was declared an independent state on 1 January 1804, the only nation in the world established as a result of a successful slave uprising and the only nation in the western hemisphere to have defeated three European superpowers, Britain, France and Spain.

The founding father of Haiti was the legendary leader Toussaint Louverture, a former slave and the first black general of the French army. His military genius and political acumen reconstructed a hapless slave society into a modern state, but it was his principal lieutenant, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, the Haitian “Brutus”, who captured and assassinated his venerated leader and usurped power.  Ever since, Haiti has had a history of political intrigue and violence.

The messy politics of the days of the Duvaliers, “Papa Doc” and his son “Baby Doc,” dictators who instituted a reign of terror on the island through the Tontons Macoutes, or “bogeymen,” can be skipped. The violent birth of Haiti may have blocked the path to peace.  In 2013, Haiti called for European nations to pay reparations for slavery, but to no avail. One natural disaster has followed another with equal ferocity. The concrete boxes and wooden shacks in which most Haitians live with their pitiful possessions are periodically swept away by hurricanes and earthquakes. The latest of these natural disasters was Hurricane Matthew, which, as Al-Ahram Weekly went to press had claimed at least 1,000 lives.   

Haiti has also become synonymous with the earthquake that rocked the Caribbean nation on January 12, 2010. The epicentre was in Leogane, where the ground literally opened up and roads were ripped apart. In 2004, Tropical Storm Jeanne skimmed the north coast of Haiti, leaving 3,006 people dead in flooding and mudslides, mostly in the city of Gonaïves when hundreds of ramshackle homes were swept away. In 2008, Haiti was again struck by tropical storms, Tropical Storm Fay, Hurricane Gustav and Hurricane Hanna each leaving a dreadful trail of destruction.

The misery of Haitians at the hands of foreigners did not end with French colonial rule. A series of natural disasters has compounded the misery of Haitians, who soon metamorphosed into the slaves of a new type of white liberals. “In January 2015, a group of Haitians surrounded the New York offices of the Clinton Foundation. They chanted slogans, accusing Bill and Hillary Clinton of having robbed them of billions of dollars. Two months later, the Haitians were at it again, accusing the Clintons of duplicity, malfeasance and theft,” writes US writer Dinesh D’Souza in his recently released Hillary’s America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party.

“Then there is the strange and somehow predictable involvement of Hillary Clinton’s brother Hugh Rodham. Rodham put in an application for $22 million from the Clinton Foundation to build homes on ten thousand acres in Haiti,” D’Souza adds.

What lessons can be learnt from the humanitarian aftershocks? Cholera has claimed the lives of thousands of Haitians. Contaminated water has been killing the children of Haiti. The UN special envoy for Haiti recently reported that of the $2.4 billion in humanitarian funding the island had received, 34 per cent had been handed back to the donor’s own civil and military entities for disaster response.

How can this be when Haitians are dying on an unprecedented scale? The official figure of those killed by what is now called by Haitians “Goudou Goudou,” or the disastrous 2010 earthquake, is estimated at hundreds of thousands of lives. The old legend about African slaves aborting their own fetuses has come full circle. Today, nature is mercilessly decimating the Haitian population. 

Non-governmental organisations are running amok in Haiti, as the Clinton Foundation’s love affair with the island so graphically demonstrates. This must stop. Who is going to fire the starting gun for a new Haitian Revolution?

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