By MURPHY BROWNE (Abena Agbetu)
“The Vodun ceremony of Bois-Caiman on August 14, 1791, conducted by Boukman Dutty and a female priest, was attended by 200 people and led to the general insurrection of August 22. Like his predecessor, Plymouth, Boukman had been born in Jamaica. After the death of Boukman, his principal lieutenants, Jean-Francois, Jeannot, Biassou and Toussaint L’Ouverture crossed into Spanish-held Santo Domingo to continue the struggle.”
From “Haiti: the Breached Citadel” published in 1990, written by Dr. Patrick Bellegarde-Smith, professor of Africology at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee
The Haitian Revolution which began on August 22, 1791 created the second independent nation in the Americas after the United States became independent in 1783. The enslaved Africans in Haiti rose up against the White people who had brutalized and worked many Africans to death.
Writing of the brutality to which the enslaved Africans were subjected by the plantation owners and their White employees, Bellegarde-Smith noted: “At the bottom of the pyramid were the slaves who were continually being imported to make up for the high slave mortality rate and brutal efficiency of the plantation system. Between 1697 and 1791, the slave population of Sainte Domingue grew from 5,000 to about 500,000, a hundredfold increase. The fact that more than half of the slaves at the time of independence had been born in Africa indicates that ill treatment and early death of slaves were very common. From the moment of capture, the life expectancy of a slave was only seven years.”
The “brutal efficiency of the plantation system” to which Bellegarde-Smith refers led to the French colony of Saint Domingue (Haiti) becoming known as the “pearl of the Antilles”. At its height of production as a “slave society” the coerced unpaid labour provided by enslaved Africans from Saint Domingue contributed to the extraordinary wealth of the French, especially the monarchy and aristocracy. The brutality of the White plantation owners also led to the enslaved Africans rising up and seizing their freedom. The struggle for freedom on the island the liberated Africans renamed Haiti lasted several years. The Boukman-led rebellion where 50,000 enslaved Africans seized their freedom was the beginning of the end of slavery in Sainte Domingue. According to Bellegarde-Smith, “One-third of the 30,000 Whites in Saint-Domingue fled to the United States, where they settled permanently and later worked against an independent Haiti.”
The government of the United States (a slave owning nation until January 1, 1865) refused to recognize the new republic. Ironically, Haitian soldiers had contributed to the freedom of America in its fight against Britain during the American rebellion (1775-1783). Haitian soldiers took part in one of the bloodiest battles when Americans were fighting to be free of British rule. More than 500 members of “Les Chasseurs Volontaires De Saint Domingue” including a 12-year-old drummer boy named Henri Christophe who became one of the leaders of the Haitian Revolution and eventually ruler of Haiti, fought in the Battle of Savannah on October 9, 1779.
The ungrateful Americans invaded and occupied Haiti from 1915 to 1934, unleashing a reign of terror that incited Haitian resistance which was brutally suppressed. White American professor Mary A. Renda in her 2001 book, “Taking Haiti: Military Occupation and the Culture of U.S. Imperialism, 1915-1940”, writes about the American invasion and 25-year occupation of Haiti:
“The United States invaded Haiti in July 1915 and subsequently held the second oldest independent nation in the Western Hemisphere under military occupation for nineteen years. While in Haiti, marines installed a puppet president, dissolved the legislature at gunpoint, denied freedom of speech, and forced a new constitution on the Caribbean nation – one more favourable to foreign investment. With the help of the marines, U.S. officials seized the customs houses, took control of Haitian finances, and imposed their own standards of efficiency on the administration of Haitian debt. Meanwhile, marines waged war against insurgents (called Cacos) who for several years maintained an armed resistance in the countryside, and imposed a brutal system of forced labour that engendered even more fierce Haitian resistance. By official U.S. estimates, more than 3,000 Haitians were killed during this period; a more thorough accounting reveals that the death toll may have reached 11,500. The occupation also reorganized and strengthened the Haitian military. Now called the Gendarmerie, the new military organization was officered by marines and molded in the image of the Marine Corps.”
The Africans who were taken to what was then Sainte Domingue by the French beginning in the early 1600s, were kidnapped from various nations including Ashanti, Igbo, Mandingo and Yoruba. Africans from these nations were taken to colonies owned by other Europeans which meant that Africans enslaved by the British, French, Spanish, etc., shared kinship, so it is not surprising that Boukman, a recognized leader of the Haitian Revolution, was born in Jamaica which had been colonized by the Spanish, followed by the British. Africans were sold to various Europeans across national borders e.g., Marie Joseph Angelique (who was accused of burning down half of Montreal and hanged in 1734) was sold by a Portuguese slave holder from Portugal to America and then across the border from America to Canada by a Flemish American to a French Canadian.
From its inception, the Haitian republic had to deal with invasions and occupations by Europeans. The Africans in Haiti after their initial bid for freedom on August 22, 1791 were compelled to resist re-enslavement from a Spanish invasion in 1792, a British invasion in 1793 and “the little Corsican” Napoleon sending a force of 86 ships carrying 22,000 French soldiers in 1802. Napoleon’s army was defeated but the then leader of the Haitian revolution, Toussaint L’Ouverture, was captured through trickery and treachery of the French government.
L’Ouverture was taken to France and imprisoned in the Jura Mountains where he transitioned on April 7, 1803. On May 18, 1803, the Haitian flag was created and on January 1, 1804, the Africans were finally free from chattel slavery.
The Africans living in Haiti became the first group (and are the only group of formerly enslaved people) to successfully overthrow their enslavers and establish a republic. Gaining their freedom from slavery did not free the Haitians from European oppression. The French demanded that the fledgling nation pay reparations for the loss of French property (the property being the Africans themselves.) The final payment of 60 million francs (estimated at $22 billion in modern U.S. currency) was made in 1922. This extortion, the cost of France recognizing Haiti as a nation, was supported by other European nations who also refused to recognize or trade with Haiti and has contributed to the impoverishment of the nation.
The earthquake on January 12, 2010 gave European nations and the American government the perfect opportunity to once again invade and occupy under the guise of helping the Haitian people cope with the devastation of their country. Ironically, just a few days after the 2010 earthquake, the French government accused the American government of “occupying” Haiti (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/centralamericaandthecaribbean/haiti/7020735/Haiti-earthquake-US-denies-occupying-the-country.html.)
Three years after the devastating earthquake the people of Haiti are recovering not only from the effects of the earthquake but also from a cholera epidemic which allegedly came from a group of United Nations “peacekeepers”. So far, the UN has refused to recognize that they have “legal and moral obligations to remedy this harm”.
Researchers at Yale Law School and the Yale School of Public Health have authored a new report “Peacekeeping Without Accountability – The United Nations’ Responsibility for the Haitian Cholera Epidemic” (http://www.law.yale.edu/documents/pdf/Clinics/Haiti_TDC_Final_Report.pdf ) which addresses the harm of the cholera epidemic that has “killed more than 8,000 people and sickened more than 600,000 since it began in 2010.” The report states that: “In October 2010 only months after the country was devastated by massive earthquake, Haiti was afflicted with another human tragedy; the outbreak of a cholera epidemic, now the largest in the world, which has killed more than 8,000 people, sickened more than 600,000, and promises more infections for a decade or more. Tragically, the cholera outbreak – the first in modern Haitian history – was caused by United Nations peacekeeping troops who inadvertently carried the disease from Nepal to the Haitian town of Méyè.”
The UN is responsible for the cholera outbreak and in shirking its responsibility “has failed to uphold its duties under international human rights law”.
In November 2011 Haitian and American human rights organizations filed a complaint with the UN on behalf of over 5,000 victims of the epidemic, alleging that the UN was responsible for the outbreak and demanding reparations for the victims. Not surprisingly, in February 2013 the UN, invoking the Convention on Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations, summarily dismissed the victims’ claims.
The people of Haiti, the descendants of Africans who seized their freedom from their enslavers, established a republic and whose actions were the catalyst of the eventual freedom of all enslaved Africans deserve the support of us all as they struggle to recover and hold the UN accountable for the killer cholera epidemic.