It wasn’t the earthquake nor the hurricane: Haiti was condemned for its black revolution

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By: Haroldo Ceravolo Sereza / Source: Resumen Latinoamericano / The Dawn News / October, 2016

Image credit: Latinta.com.ar
Image credit: Latinta.com.ar

In January 14, 2010, after the earthquake that destroyed Haiti, I wrote an article of analysis for Uol, that began with a polemic declaration of an evangelical pastor and ended with the roots of the permanent devastation of the country: the fact that, to this day, the occidental world condemns Haiti for its historical revolution.

If we simply changed “earthquake” for “hurricane”, everything in the text I wrote in 2010  is still valid.

Is Haiti Cursed?

A day after the earthquake that destroyed the already precarious infrastructure of Haiti and caused thousands of deaths, North American evangelical pastor Pat Robertson affirmed that this phenomenon is linked to a “curse” that the Central American country has received for having made a “pact with the Devil”.

“There was something that happened in Haiti a long time ago, and people don’t want to talk about it”, he said in a TV show from the Christian Broadcasting Network, which Robertson owns. “They were dominated by the French. You know, Napoleon III or whoever it was. So they got together and made a pact with the Devil. They said: ‘we’re going to serve you if you free us from the French’. That’s a true story. So the Devil said: ‘OK, we have a deal”.

Robertson is a conservative extremist, and his statement cause a wave of outrage in the U.S.. He had tried to run for president in 1988, but he was defeated in the Republican Party primaries. His failed predictions include the end of the world in 1982 and a tsunami on the Pacific North West of the United States in 2006.

Author Farai Chideya analyzed not only Roberts’ opinion, but also a New York Times article that used the word ‘cursed’ to describe the situation of Haiti in an article where she explores the origin of this imagery, and refers to historical problems that, to her, explain much better the frailty of the institutions and the infrastructure of Haiti.

She criticized the use of the word “cursed” by the New York Times article. “The word conjures up racialized images of voodoo (the fact that voudou is actually a religion and not just a mockery is another battle I can’t even fight here) that people with far worse intentions are all too eager to exploit”, she wrote.

And then there’s the issue of portraying the independence of the country in a negative light. Perhaps a deal with the devil would have been easier on Haiti than independence: “After being defeated militarily by revolutionary Toussaint L’Ouverture, the French colonial powers who held Haiti demanded reparations in the form of 150 million gold francs in order to recognize the new, free nation. That number was later, generously of course, reduced to 90 million gold francs, or over $20 billion current U.S. dollars”.

The history of Haiti, until its independence in 1804, is linked to the history of the French Revolution and the fight for the end of slavery in the Americas. It began in 1971, when the news that slavery had been abolished by French revolutionaries reached the island. Toussaint began to lead the revolt since 1774.

It’s a very rich history that led to the end of slavery and European domination by the revolt of black and mixed-race slaves and outcasts.

Toussaint L’Ouverture, son of an African tribal leader, is one of the key figures in the history of Haitian liberation, but the final defeat of tens of thousands of soldiers of French troops of Napoleon of Bonaparte was made by the men that had been under his command —L’Ouverture died without having cut ties with France, imprisoned in that country, in the early 19th century, and not during the reign of Louis Bonaparte (who raised to power in 1848), as Robertson said.

It was a bloody racial war, filled with executions and great fires that destroyed the country. When it ended, slavery was abolished (against Napoleon’s wishes) and Haiti ceased to be a French colony. One of the consequences of that was the strengthening of economic traditions (such as subsistence agriculture) and of religious traditions of African origin, which had been practiced by the leaders of the revolts —and this seems to have directly influenced the opinion of evangelical pastor Pat Robertson.

In the book “The epic and the tragic in the history of Haiti” (2004), Brazilian historian Jacob Gorender explains why Haiti, which in early 19th century was the most productive colony of America and the first to conquer national independence, didn’t have an “upwards trajectory but instead became the poorest country in the continent and perhaps one of the poorest in the world”.

To Gorender, the “insolence” of having made a revolution was punished with a sort of ostracism after the independence, even by other recently-emancipated Latin American nations.

“When he was exiled, Simón Bolívar found refuge in Haiti”, where he received protection, financial help, money, weapons and even a typographic press, Gorender wrote. “However, Simón Bolívar excluded Haiti from the Latin American countries invited to the Panama Conference in 1826. The international isolation accentuated the underdevelopment and the historical hardships of the country that had led one of the most heroic freedom struggles of the Western hemisphere”.

From the political standpoint, to Gorender, “Toussaint didn’t see that, after the 1789 Convention, the Bonapartist Consulship and the French Revolution had veered to the right, changing the characteristics of the French political regime and changing their initial point of view on slavery in the colonies”.

When slaves were definitively freed from compulsively working in sugarcane plantations and sugar factories, Haiti couldn’t compete anymore in the world sugar market. “Haiti went from being the most productive colony of the Americas to a pauperized country left outside the world economy”, Gorender concludes.

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