Hochschild's Neo-Colonial Journalism. Response to Adam Hochschild article in SF Chronicle by Marguerite Laurent, May 30, 2004
Examples of Neocolonial Journalism

Media Lies and Real Haiti News, Aug. 12, 2007

Laurent on Glover's Proposed Haiti Film by Staff, San Francisco Bayview, May 23, 2007

Jafrikayiti on Glover's Proposed Haiti Film

Who Really Abolished Slavery?
Napoleon was no Toussaint: Spare us the insult! by Jean Saint-Vil (Jafrikayiti), Haitian Perspectives, Feb 27, 2007


What White People Feed on: A Response to two racists articles on Haiti

Black Napoleon by Adam Hochschild, New York Times

Ezili Danto's Comment that Jean-Bertrand-Aristide-Was-Too-Tolerant and-Compromising to Ben Dupuy on his interview with Peter Hallward

Birth of a Nation: Has the bloody 200-year history of Haiti doomed it to more violence? Adam Hochschild| Sunday, May 30, 2004 |San Francisco Chronicle

Video Clip - Fort Du Joux & Memorial to Toussaint Louverture

Dessalines Is Rising!!
Ayisyen: You Are Not Alone!


Letter from the South African President & a Note from Ezili Dantò

Haiti's Freedom on May 18, 2007 by Marguerite Laurent,
Haitian Perspectives

Hope and Humiliation: HLLN’s analysis of May 18, 2006 and the Inaugural of President Rene Preval by Marguerite Laurent, Haitian Perspectives, May 18, 2006

Media Lies and Real Haiti News, ***************

The Issue With US-DEA War on Drugs in Haiti-Partisan Bias/enforcement ***************
dArbitrary and Capricious rules of "justice" and defamatory, simplistic and unfair mainstream media reporting apply to the poor in Site Soley, Haiti - Site Soley Update April 19, 2007

Moving On, Aug. 7, 2007

LA Times on a Haitian Army - An example of how LA Times spins the truth, manipulates information, promotes the views of the Haitian elites and sell's it to their unwary readers as "Haiti's view" ***************
It's Neither Hope nor Progress When the International Community is Running Haiti

Ezili Dantò's Note: Bwa Kayiman 2007 and the case of Lovinsky Pierre Antoine Pierre

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zilibuttonCarnegie Hall
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No other national
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The Red Sea

Ezili Dantò's master Haitian dance class (Video clip)

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A group of Haitian migrants arrive in a bus after being repatriated from the nearby Turks and Caicos Islands, in Cap-Haitien, northern Haiti, Thursday, May 10, 2007. They were part of the survivors of a sailing vessel crowded with Haitian migrants that overturned Friday, May 4 in moonlit waters a half-mile from shore in shark-infested waters. Haitian migrants claim a Turks and Caicos naval vessel rammed their crowded sailboat twice before it capsized. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)

Dessalines' Law
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Anba Dlo, Nan Ginen
Ezili Danto's Art-With-The-Ancestors Workshops - See, Red, Black & Moonlight series or Haitian-West African

Clip one -Clip two
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zilibutton In a series of articles written for the October 17, 2006 bicentennial commemoration of the life and works of Dessalines, I wrote for HLLN that: "Haiti's liberator and founding father, General Jean Jacques Dessalines, said, "I Want the Assets of the Country to be Equitably Divided" and for that he was assassinated by the Mullato sons of France. That was the first coup d'etat, the Haitian holocaust - organized exclusion of the masses, misery, poverty and the impunity of the economic elite - continues (with Feb. 29, 2004 marking the 33rd coup d'etat). Haiti's peoples continue to resist the return of despots, tyrants and enslavers who wage war on the poor majority and Black, contain-them-in poverty through neocolonialism' debts, "free trade" and foreign "investments." These neocolonial tyrants refuse to allow an equitable division of wealth, excluding the majority in Haiti from sharing in the country's wealth and assets." (See also, Kanga Mundele: Our mission to live free or die trying, Another Haitian Independence Day under occupation; The Legacy of Impunity of One Sector-Who killed Dessalines?; The Legacy of Impunity:The Neoconlonialist inciting political instability is the problem. Haiti is underdeveloped in crime, corruption, violence, compared to other nations, all, by Marguerite 'Ezili Dantò' Laurent
No other national group in the world sends more money than Haitians living in the Diaspora



"...In the annals of human history, no country, no settlers in the Americas, killed more people, shed more BLOOD than the English, French, Spanish - than the European tribes and their white settlers. Period, no comma. So, how does Haiti get to be the one "doomed?" Why? Because the blood shed and people eradicated out of Haiti where said whites, who had annihilated the Amerindians all over the Americas and then kidnapped and enslaved Africans to come work the land of the Tainos so that the European's coffee at home would be sweet? Right? The kidnapping of Blacks, spreading of lies about black inferiority and savagery continue as we see with this article and the abduction out of Haiti of President Aristide. If only I had the time, on behalf of the African ancestors and those courageous Haitians dying right now fighting off, yet again, another U.S.-sponsored Coup D'etat in Haiti, to fully and individually address the racist propaganda of the Adam Hochschild's of this world? (From Hochschild's Neocolonial Journalism: Response to Adam Hochschild article in SF Chronicle by Marguerite Laurent, May 30, 2004 )

Letter to SF Chronicle's Sunday Magazine in reference to their cover story (5/30/04) on Haiti by Adam Hochschild entitled: "Birth of a Nation: Has the bloody 200-year history of Haiti doomed it to more violence?"


Response to Adam Hochschild article in SF Chronicle
May 30, 2004

In a story published, May 30, 2004, in the San Francisco Chronicle's Sunday Magazine (entitled, Birth of a Nation: Has the bloody 200-year history of Haiti doomed it to more violence?) Adam Hochschild regales us with tales of luxury in colonial Haiti and conveys, in various cumulative ways, how particularly horrific and savage the Haitian Revolutionary war was (more so than, I would suppose the French and American ones were perhaps?) and how Haiti used to be "the most lucrative European colony in the world" but that today "most Americans think of Haiti as a wasteland of repeated coups and dire poverty, which hundreds of thousands of desperate refugees are willing to risk their lives in small boats to escape."

As soon as I read the title, much less the opening lines, I knew what was coming: that old self-serving and warped story about how violent Haitians are, how they won, in combat, against the then most powerful nations on earth (French, British, Spain) because disease and pestilence killed-off the Europeans and how their 200-year history so far ONLY shows that Blacks simply can't govern themselves without white guidance, organizational structures and "civilization."

Adam Hochschild doesn't say this typical dribble outright, but that, in essence, is the gist of his article entitled: "Birth of a Nation - Has the bloody 200-year history of Haiti doomed it to more violence?"

Someone sent me the article thinking it reflected Haiti's history in a balanced way!

If you put on racists-colored glasses, ignore the fact Haitians live in a hostile American Mediterranean, hike-up the Tarzan complex and let the "regime change" mantras role. Then absolutely, the partisan view that "Haiti is violent and was doomed at birth" is the typical point of view sold as TRUTH for generations - for no less than 200 years and 5 months to be exact, to an already well-conditioned-to-believe-Black-is-innately-violent U.S. public.

First off, according to white supremacy doctrines, Haiti wasn't even supposed to exist, much less still be barely surviving and today meriting the attention of not one, but three of the most powerful Western troops on earth to be on its soil to de-mobilize and disenfranchise its people once again.

What this Haitian woman wants to know is how many blood thirsty, savage Haitian peasants, farmers, factory-workers, literacy workers, herbal healers and slum dwellers has Mr. Hochschild ran into lately? Does he actually believe those death squad units like FRAPH and the bloody Haitian military were created, funded and armed by Haitian peasants, factory-workers and farmers? Gran Met, please, how many more offenses must the Haitian people suffer at the hands of such pseudo-scholars, purporting to know about Haiti but just regurgitating the same old racist bull that comforts the greedy exploiters of Haitian labor and resources?

In 1994, at the height of the last U.S. sponsored Coup D'etat, Disney made a profit in Haiti of $1.1 billion dollars; Wal-Mart made a profit of $2.8 billion.

There are MORE millionaires living in Haiti than in the ENTIRE Caribbean. Yet, those millionaires, these tiny Haitian economic elites, have done NOTHING but exploit the masses, on their own behalf but primarily as agents of U.S./Euro multinational companies and their geopolitical and hegemonic interests.

The U.S. is in Haiti right now guiding its new imported dictator, Gerald Latortue, to adopt more anti-Haitianist policies benefiting only the Washington Consensus economists and neoliberalist adherents, while standing by as their former Haitian soldiers and death squad units destroy every advancement made, these last ten years, by the people's governments. It is alleged, by the habitants in the area, that the U.S. is also busy building itself an unauthorized military base and "roads" on Haitian soil at Mount St Nicolas across from Cuba's Guantannamo Bay. Yet, from reading Adam Hochschild's article you would not get a glimmer of the real situation of U.S. plunder and naked conquest in Haiti, nor the story of debt, dependency and foreign domination which has ushered in all the 33 Coup D'etats in Haiti's history. No. You would come away thinking Haiti is doomed because it fought off white "civilization" at birth.

Here's how Hochschild puts it: "Haiti's almost unparalleled legacy of violence has crippled the land to this day. And neither colonialism, nor slavery, nor the African monarchies many of its citizens had been born in provided much fertile soil for the democratic ideas circulating elsewhere in the North Atlantic world at the time of Haiti's birth. "

What unparalleled legacy of violence? Fighting to live and be free from European and American chains? Is that Haiti's great sin? If so, that proud Haitian sin continues.

For, more Haitians have died, fighting for liberty and the right to have their vote for President Aristide be counted and respected since the U.S., France, and Canada unlawfully invaded Haiti on February 29, 2004 than since the last U.S.-sponsored Coup D'etat in 1991-1994. Yes, that legacy as pioneers in the human rights struggle against U.S.-supported despotism, dictatorship, death squads and underdevelopment continues in Haiti today. No people in this Western Hemisphere have fought as long and as hard as Haitians have against Euro/U.S. slavery, financial colonialism, despotism, dictatorship, globalization and now regime change, again.

What has no parallel is the indomitable Haitian spirit of struggle and refusal to lose their independence even after 200 years of containment-in-poverty and de facto colonialism re-established by France in 1825 when, under the threat of re-enslavement, and with 12 French warships armed with 500 canons, France blackmailed Haiti into agreeing to pay it for the lost of our African grandparents as property.

This unparalleled and grievous injustice is what crippled Haiti, its sovereignty, its development - not, as Mr. Hochschild would have us believe, Haiti's separation from those "democratic ideas circulating elsewhere in the North Atlantic world at the time of Haiti's birth. " (See Jean Jacques Dessalines, Haiti's Founding Father's ideals, Law and economic democracy principle - "I Want the Assets of the Country to be Equitably Divided." See also "Napoleon was no Toussaint" by Jafrikayiti; Although flawed with neocolonialism, Eurocentricity and not Dessalines-Vodouistic, recall also the ideas inculcated in Toussaint Louverture's 1801 Colonial Constitution that abolished slavery. The US/Euros wouldn't come to abolish chattle slavery for decades later. But Haiti, according to Hochschild, not the genocidal white settlers and Europe is the one "separated from democratic ideas." Video- Fort Du Joux and the Memorial to Toussaint Louverture); Recall Dessalines' 1805 Independence Constitution which created the nation of Ayiti, giving freedom as well as freedom of religion to men and women, of all creeds who step foot on Haitian soil. The US/Euros wouldn't come to give women full citizenship for centuries later. But again, it's Haiti, according to Hochschild, not the genocidal white settlers and Europe that is "separated from democratic ideas.")

More than half-a-century of a U.S. embargo, the legacy of slavery, ecclesiastic colonialism combined with servicing the French debt - which was "renegotiated" in 1915 by the U.S.* - that is what has crippled and doomed Haiti. That 150 million francs (later lowered to 90 million francs), estimated at 22 billion today, extorted from Haiti by France, which tiny, tiny Haiti had to pay while France sold off, for only 15 million francs, a parcel of land to the U.S. (The Louisiana Purchase) that virtually doubled it's size, and created fifteen new US states. That vengeful weight put upon the shoulders of Africans digging themselves out of 300-years of white imposed slavery, forced illiteracy and other inhumane physical and psychological trauma, virtually began the colonial model of debt dependency that was then used throughout the African continent after their "independence".

The Independence Debt forced on Haiti by the Euro/US powers in 1825 and continuing for more than 100 years, was the first 'structural adjustment' plan as Haiti had no money left for social spending on health care, roads, public services and infrastructure development. In fact, Haiti had to close its rural schools, adopt the Rural Code which further systematized the class divisions in Haiti (between rural and city/elite folks) and bound the majority to work the land to pay off this racist debt.

Haitians paid for their liberty and independence in a river of blood, earned it after 300 years (1503-1804) of a European-sponsored holocaust where millions upon millions of Africans where tortured and murdered by the French, English, Spanish, etc. Yet, Mr. Hochschild's article appears to want us to give more value to the white lives that were lost, and even perhaps to believe more whites died during the thirteen-year (1791-1804) war of Haitian independence than Blacks?

According to Mr. Hoshchild's article, the manner of Haiti's birth, not Euro/American inhumanity, systemic violence, wholesale genocide, greed, brutality, despotism and regime change politics, would explain why the Haitian masses are today again facing down the U.S/French and Canadian soldiers and dying off like flies while these troops give firepower-cover to the guns of thugs and thieves like FRAPH and former U.S.-supported and trained soldiers and mercenaries. Thus, if we follow Mr. Hoshchild's thesis, it is the "bloody 200-year history of Haiti" after its independence that has doomed it to more violence and herald's back dictatorship, economic elites' rule and have brought back these First Worlders' troops, in 2004.

This is total, absolute TRASH. The sort of slant that comforts the ostrich mindset. Haiti was rich because of SUGAR, Mr. Hochschild blithely maintains. Fact is, Mr. Hochschild, the European's "Pearl of the Antilles" was never our African grandma's pearl. Haiti provided riches for France (and before that, to Spain) because of a brutal, barbaric slavery/genocidal system that bred our Haitian grandmamas' like mares and worked them until death, if the lash and whips didn't kill them off first. The idea that because Haiti was born by spilling the blood of Europeans so that means Haiti is doomed, that idea forwarded in Hochschild's article is racist to the extreme, not to mentions disingenuous.

In the annals of human history, no country, no settlers in the Americas, killed more people, shed more BLOOD than the English, French, Spanish - than the European tribes and their white settlers. Period, no comma. So, how does Haiti get to be the one "doomed?" Why? Because the blood shed and people eradicated out of Haiti where said whites, who had annihilated the Amerindians all over the Americas and then kidnapped and enslaved Africans to come work the land of the Tainos so that the European's coffee at home would be sweet? Right? The kidnapping of Blacks, spreading of lies about black inferiority and savagery continue as we see with this article and the abduction out of Haiti of President Aristide. If only I had the time, on behalf of the African ancestors and those courageous Haitians dying right now fighting off, yet again, another U.S.-sponsored Coup D'etat in Haiti, to fully and individually address the racist propaganda of the Adam Hochschild's of this world?

In any account about the plight of Haiti, what has no parallel and that must be stressed Mr. Hochschild is the 200-year campaign, by the U.S./Euros to disenfranchise - economically and politically - the Haitian people and the blood letting, poverty and class divisions that results.

Marguerite Laurent
May 30, 2004

*Haiti's slave trade payment, this Independent Debt forced upon Haiti in 1825 by France, was taken over, per U.S. Monroe Doctrine in 1914. And Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere was forced not only to pay cumulatively more interest and penalties but to substitute the US in place of France and held-up to pay for their lost of Haiti's human beings as "property" in 1804. Haiti finish making its slave trade payments to the richest, most "educated" and powerful nation on earth in 1947.

Also re-posted at:

See also:
Letter from the South African President & a Note from Ezili Dantò


Laurent on Glover's Proposed Haiti Film by Staff, San Francisco Bayview, May 23, 2007

Napoleon was no Toussaint: Spare us the insult! by Jean Saint-Vil (Jafrikayiti), Haitian Perspectives, Feb 27, 2007

What White People Feed on: A Response to two racists articles on Haiti

Black Napoleon by Adam Hochschild, New York Times

Hochschild's Neo-Colonial Journalism. Response to Adam Hochschild article in SF Chronicle by Marguerite Laurent, May 30, 2004

Ezili Danto's Comment that Jean-Bertrand-Aristide-Was-Too-Tolerant and-Compromising to Ben Dupuy on his interview with Peter Hallward

Birth of a Nation: Has the bloody 200-year history of Haiti doomed it to more violence? Adam Hochschild| Sunday, May 30, 2004 |San Francisco Chronicle


Media Lies and Real Haiti News, Aug. 12, 2007
Ezili Dantò's Note: Bwa Kayiman 2007 and the case of Lovinsky Pierre Antoine Pierre by Ezili Dantò, For Haitian Perspective, and The FreeHaitiMovement, August 23, 2007

Moving On
, Aug. 7, 2007

Examples of Neocolonial Journalism

The Issue With US-DEA War on Drugs in Haiti-Partisan Bias/enforcement and Arbitrary and Capricious rules of "justice" and defamatory, simplistic and unfair mainstream media reporting apply to the poor in Site Soley, Haiti - Site Soley Update April 19, 2007; Moving On ; LA Times on a Haitian Army - An example of how LA Times spins the truth, manipulates information, promotes the views of the Haitian elites and sell's it to their unwary readers as "Haiti's view" ; It's Neither Hope nor Progress When the International Community is Running Haiti


Birth of a Nation

Has the bloody 200-year history of Haiti doomed it to more violence?

Adam Hochschild| Sunday, May 30, 2004 | San Francisco Chronicle


An armed supporter of Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Ari... A woman runs out of Gonaives, 2004. Associated Press phot... Haitians walk through smoke from burning garbage in Port-... U.S. Marines patrol the streets of Port-au-Prince, March ...
Today, most Americans think of Haiti as a wasteland of repeated coups and dire poverty, which hundreds of thousands of desperate refugees are willing to risk their lives in small boats to escape. But just over 200 years ago, people thought of it as something entirely different: the most lucrative European colony in the world.

The key to its wealth, and what drove the geopolitics of the 18th century, was sugar. Sugar was as prized as oil is today, and the West Indies were the Middle East, so to speak, of the time. Europeans had learned to use sugar in pastries, puddings, biscuits, candy, in making many kinds of liquor, and to sweeten naturally bitter tea, coffee and chocolate. It was a preservative in making candied fruits, jams and marmalade, and a 1760 cookbook had recipes for sugar sculptures. One enthusiastic British physician, Dr. Frederick Slare, even urged the use of sugar for cleaning teeth.

Of all the sugar-producing territories of the Caribbean, the undisputed crown jewel was the French colony of St. Domingue, as Haiti was then known. The soil was so rich that it produced more than 30 percent of the world's sugar and more than half its coffee.

British Prime Minister William Pitt enviously called St. Domingue "the Eden of the Western world." Such was the territory's mystique that merchants in the French port of Nantes sent their shirts across the Atlantic to be washed in its mountain brooks, which were said to whiten linen better than European rivers. Fifteen hundred ocean-going ships called each year at St. Domingue's 13 international ports and by the 1780s its foreign trade equaled that of the newly born United States. No colony anywhere made so large a profit for its mother country. But it was the very wealth of colonial St. Domingue that would make it the battleground for more than a dozen years of almost unbelievably ferocious warfare which, in a sense, the country has never recovered from. Today's Haiti -- this year marks the 200th anniversary of its birth -- would not be so poor if 18th century St. Domingue had not been so rich.

Profits from St. Domingue's roaring sugar economy allowed the more than 30,000 French men and women in the territory to live in luxury. Planters and merchants in their splendid imported carriages could visit two resident orchestras, gambling houses, military parades, public fountains, horse shows, a Royal Society of Arts and Sciences, a traveling wax museum with figures of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette and, in 1784, the launch of the first large balloon in the Americas, its canopy painted with the coats of arms of prominent colonists. Six towns had repertory theaters. The one in the north coast's Cap François -- the violent, bedraggled city of Cap Haitien today -- held 1,500 spectators. The star of the resident company, named Chevalier, died on stage. "Close the curtain," he said, "The farce is played out."

"Dueling," wrote one resident, "... was ... an everyday sport among the young and dissipated." There was also much sport in the bedroom -- too much, in the opinion of a prostitute just off the boat from France, who wrote to a St. Domingue newspaper in 1786 to complain angrily about all the competition she faced, both amateur and professional. The life of a colonial Frenchwoman, a visiting American reported, "was divided between the bath, the table, the toilette and the lover. ... A married lady ... who has only one lover, and retains him long in her chains, is considered as a model of constancy and discretion." In Cap François, a city the size of Boston, whitewashed stone homes had wrought-iron balconies and garden trellises with vines of Muscat grapes. Despite the veneer of elegance, however, there was still something of the frontier town about the place, reflected in names like Devil's Fart Street. Emigrating to St. Domingue was a way to escape gambling debts, the Paris police or a pregnant girlfriend demanding marriage. Most French people in the colony wanted to make their money and leave. As one observer put it: "All wish to be gone. Everyone is in a hurry; these people have the air of merchants at a fair."

To Europeans, it was unthinkable to work from dawn to dusk in intense, humid heat, digging holes to plant sugar cane in swampy ground, carrying cattle manure as fertilizer to the fields in dripping, 80-pound baskets, and finally bending over at the waist all day to slash at the base of stalks to harvest the cane when it was grown. And so the colonizers had quickly started importing African slaves. Sugar depended entirely on their labor and West Indian slavery was, by every measure, far more deadly than slavery in the American South. Cultivating sugar cane by hand was -- and still is -- one of the hardest ways of life on earth. In the lush tropics where land was either being fertilized, planted, weeded or harvested for most of the year, there was little winter respite from fieldwork. Almost everywhere in the Americas where slaves were doing something other than working sugar, they lived longer.

Some half-million slaves, most of them born in Africa, worked the booming plantations of St. Domingue. "The cracking of whips, the smothered cries, and the indistinct groans of the negroes ... is what takes [the] place of the crowing of the early cock," wrote a European visitor. One plantation owner wrote down detailed instructions for his overseers: "Slow punishments make a greater impression than quick ... ones. Twenty-five lashes of the whip administered in a quarter of an hour, interrupted at intervals to hear the cause which the unfortunates always plead in their defense, and resumed again, continuing in this fashion two or three times, are far more likely to make an impression than fifty lashes administered in five minutes." A wealthy Frenchman named Jean-Baptiste de Caradeux used to entertain his visitors by placing an orange on a slave's head; male guests would compete with each other to see who could knock it off with a pistol shot at 30 paces.

The French statesman Count Mirabeau once said that the whites of St. Domingue slept "at the foot of Vesuvius." As the 18th century drew to an end, slaves in French colonies like St. Domingue had a further incentive to rebel: news of the French Revolution. As slaves at the wharves wrestled barrels of sugar or sacks of coffee beans onto ships bound for France, they heard from French sailors about the storming of the Bastille and later upheavals. "The blacks are all in agreement," a high St. Domingue colonial official wrote, "... that the white slaves have killed their masters ... and have come into possession of all the goods of the earth." It seemed only a matter of time before the territory's slaves would seek the same for themselves.

In August 1791, the volcano erupted. On St. Domingue's rich northern plain, the heartland of its agricultural wealth, a large group of slaves representing many plantations met under the night sky in a remote spot called Alligator Woods, slaughtered a pig, ceremonially drank its blood, and swore an oath to rise up at the appointed time. At 10 p.m. on Aug. 22, drumbeats gave the signal. Slaves attacked planters and their families with pruning hooks and machetes. They set fire to everything connected with the hated work of sugar cultivation: cane fields, mills and warehouses. Machinery that would not burn they smashed with sledgehammers. They murdered white men in their beds and raped the women atop their husbands' corpses. They nailed one member of the slave-catching militia alive to the gate of his plantation and chopped off his arms and legs. They tied a carpenter between two planks and sawed him in half. Planters had been meting out similar violence to their slaves for generations, but their world had now been turned upside down.

Terrified white refugees, some in nightclothes, filled the road to Cap François. "Imagine all the space that the eye can see," wrote one, "... from which continually arose thick coils of smoke whose hugeness and blackness could only be likened to frightful clouds laden with thunderstorms. They parted only to give way to equally huge flames, alive and flashing to the very sky. ... For three weeks we couldn't tell day from night. ...The most striking thing about this terrible spectacle was a rain of fire composed of burning bits of cane-straw which whirled like thick snow."

At the Bréda plantation, near Cap François, a slight, wiry, taciturn black man in his late 40s named Toussaint held the privileged position of livestock steward and coachman, a job that had taken him throughout the region. Born a slave, he had been freed some years earlier and was now literate and a slave owner himself. He managed to deflect the rebels for some days until the plantation manager who had freed him could safely leave with his family. Then Toussaint, too, joined the revolt.

On both sides, it was a war of unsurpassed brutality. The bodies of rebel slaves swung from tree branches where they had been hanged, while fortifications the slaves built were lined with French skulls. French soldiers were confident they could put down the uprising, as they had suppressed various small revolts in the past. One group of officers calmly continued their dinner, even when an alarm signaled that the rebels were approaching. "We were eating heartily until the moment a cannon ball passed through the window and carried away, right under our beards, the table and all the plates. The general, infuriated by this mishap, mounted his horse with food still in his mouth, and left camp with 600 men and four pieces of artillery. Two hours later one could not find a living Negro within a circle of two and a half miles, and the roads were strewn with their bloody remains."

Besides its vast scale, the upheaval in St. Domingue differed from previous West Indian slave uprisings in other ways. For one thing, the colony's nearly 30,000 "free people of color" -- most of them mulatto -- were also in rebellion. And what also made the turmoil unprecedented was that the colony's whites were deeply and violently divided. Many workers, seamen and soldiers of fortune identified with the French Revolution; the wealthy planters tended to be loyal to King Louis XVI, now only precariously still on his throne. Before long there were white, slave and mulatto armies in the field, and at times several of each. In eerie similarity to the early months of 2004, much of the territory was, in effect, under the control of rival warlords and their heavily armed followers.

Underlying almost all the fighting, however, was the struggle between the great mass of black rebels and the whites who wanted them to remain slaves. As slaves continued their fight, fast emerging as their major leader was Toussaint, the former coachman of the Bréda plantation. He soon would be also using the name L'Ouverture -- the opening. This may have come from the way his troops forced a breach when they attacked, or from his desire for opportunity open to all, or perhaps from the gap in his mouth where a spent cannon ball had knocked out some teeth.

News of the revolt spread panic among slaveholders everywhere. British Caribbean planters had long known that they, too, were at the foot of a volcano. Authorities on Jamaica declared martial law. In Virginia, the state legislature tightened restrictions on slave gatherings and passed an "Act against divulgers of false news."

Britain shipped arms and ammunition to St. Domingue's beleaguered whites. From the United States came a thousand muskets, other military supplies, and eventually some $400,000. Thomas Jefferson, the slave-owning secretary of state, was appalled by the revolt and declared, "Never was so deep a tragedy presented to the feelings of man." This was the first, though not the last, U. S. military intervention in the embattled territory.

Britain and revolutionary France went to war in early 1793, and at that point London set out to capture France's Caribbean colonies, particularly the prized St. Domingue, which would gain Britain an immense treasure house of sugar and coffee plantations. Then as now, however, stated war aims had to be lofty, and actors in the drama sounded like American presidents of a later day. The conquest of St. Domingue, said British Secretary for War Henry Dundas, was "not a war for riches or local aggrandisement, but a war for security."

Filled with martial fervor, British forces sailed for France's West Indian colonies. In September 1793, the first British soldiers came ashore in St. Domingue. Soon town after town was falling into their hands as troops closed in on Port-au-Prince, the capital.

When news reached London that they had captured the city in time to celebrate the birthday of King George III, church bells pealed all morning. The British assumed that seizing the remainder of the colony would now be easy. But unknown to them, Toussaint L'Ouverture was rapidly turning illiterate rebel slaves into a formidable force.

Roughly 47 years old when the fighting began, he was described as "small, frail, very ugly." Nonetheless, he had a powerfully commanding presence. He lived frugally and ate little. Everyone noticed his ever-moving eyes that missed nothing. Some of the greatest tributes to Toussaint come from the European generals who fought against him. One, Pamphile de Lacroix of France, later wrote:

"He slept only two hours a night. ...You never knew what he was doing, if he was leaving, if he was staying, where he was going, where he was coming from. Often it was announced that he was at Cap François, and he was at Port- au-Prince. When you thought he was at Port-au-Prince, he was at Cayes, at Môle, or at Saint-Marc. ... While racing across the colony on horseback at lightning speed, while seeing everything for himself, he prepared his plans and thought things out while he galloped."

Toussaint hired French deserters to train his troops. He rapidly grasped how to use the ambushes and booby traps that are the essence of guerrilla warfare. As one exasperated opponent wrote, "Each tree, each hole, each piece of rock hid from our unseeing eyes a cowardly assassin." As they stormed one British stronghold, 1,500 of Toussaint's men found their assault ladders too short and stood on each other's shoulders while the dead dropped beside them. When their ammunition ran out, they fought with stones or fashioned bows and arrows. His soldiers often went into battle, in his words, "naked as earthworms."

Meanwhile, the British love of pomp triumphed over common sense, and successive waves of fresh troops disembarked in their famous red coats: the tight-fitting uniforms of heavy wool made for fighting on the snowy plains of northern Europe. Regulation flannel underwear made things worse. In the intense, humid heat, the layers of flannel and wool became drenched in sweat, creating a covering as thick and clammy as a modern surfer's wetsuit and bringing on heatstroke.

Even more deadly enemies were malaria and yellow fever. Doctors, of course, did not know that both diseases were carried by mosquitoes, which breed in stagnant water.

The main British military hospital in Port-au-Prince was next door to a swamp. The effects of the yellow fever virus, which multiplies within the body to attack various internal organs, were particularly horrendous: incontinence, delirium, pus oozing from the gums, bleeding from the nose and eyes, and then the dreaded "black vomit" of digested blood that often preceded death. Equally appalling was the medical treatment the ill soldiers received: doses of mercury, of diluted vinegar, of tartar to induce vomiting; copious quantities of alcohol (usually rum for the men, claret for officers, and Madeira for difficult cases); and, above all, the favorite cure for everything, bleeding -- typically the draining of 20 to 30 ounces of blood at a time.

A vivid microcosm of the British military experience in St. Domingue can be found in a detailed journal kept by Lt. Thomas Phipps Howard of the York Hussars. He was a bluff career cavalry officer, filled with thoroughly conventional ideas about the splendor of his regiment, the rightness of slavery, the generosity of masters, and the character of slaves ("extremely sulky," "obstrepolous"[sic], and full of "obstinacy"). After Howard and his hussars disembarked from their ship, the officers unwisely waited until well into the morning before marching the men off to an attack. "The Sun being so extremely hot & not a drop of Water to be meet with on the Road[,] none but those who have been obliged to March in this Country can have an Idea of the extremities to which the Army was reduced. ...No less than between 50 & 60 Men had absolutely perished with thirst & were lying dead along the Road. ... At every three or four hundred y[ar]ds you met Men lying on their backs, their tongues lolling out of their Mouths & in the agonies of Death for want of Water. Many were absolutely by way of moistening their Mouths obliged to drink their own Urine. ...We were ... infinitely Obliged to the Humanity of Dr. Baillie, our Surgeon, who tho' ill himself & suffering every Deprivation with the rest of the Army, exerted himself in the relief of the Unfortunate Men by bleeding."

Then the two dread diseases struck. "The Dead Carts were constantly employed, & scarcely was one empty, tho' they held from 8 to 12 each, but another was full. Men were taken ill at dinner, who had been in their most apparent Health during the Morn:, & were carried to their long Homes at Night. ... Hundreds, almost, were absolutely drowned in their own Blood, bursting from them at every Pore. [S]ome died raving Mad, others forming Plans for attacking, the others desponding."

Although the horrors that loomed largest for Lt. Howard were those of heat and illness, between the lines of his journal we catch repeated glimpses of Toussaint's army of unexpectedly disciplined ex-slaves. Howard never dignifies them with any name other than "Brigands," and talks contemptuously of how "they for the most part go naked except perhaps a peice of Cloth tied round their mid[d]les," but it is clear that they ran circles around the gloriously plumed and red-coated York Hussars. All Howard's training in sword- waving cavalry charges was for nought. "Their Method of making War consists chiefly in Ambuscades, for which the face of the Country is particularly calculated, & surprises. [A]s to meeting you openly on the Plains or having any regular System of Tacticts, they are totally unaccquainted with it, & seldom or ever have been able to be brought up in a regular manner against our Troops. . . . Five hundred European Cavalrie would destroy five thousand of them in [the] Plain, but the Case is much altered when they fight in their own woods & Mountains." In Howard's voice is the same bewilderment that conventionally trained army officers have felt over the centuries when faced with guerrillas: in Algeria, Vietnam, Iraq.

After suffering additional defeats at the hands of a mulatto army in southern St. Domingue, the British decided to reinforce their battered forces in the Caribbean with a vast fleet of troop ships in late 1795, the largest such expedition that had ever left England. The army repeated all its earlier mistakes on a huge scale. "Blockheads at the heads of Regiments. . . . The most indolent, ignorant and negligent men," one frustrated general called them. Nor were the enlisted men any better: "The very scum of the Earth," a West Indian governor exclaimed. "The Streets of London must have been swept of their refuse, the Gaols emptied. . . . I should say the very Gibbets had been robbed to furnish such Recruits."

Those who straggled off their ships in St. Domingue found that the British were steadily losing territory and thousands of men -- to disease, to roving autonomous black guerrilla bands known as congos, to Toussaint's troops, and to those of his rival in the south, the skillful mulatto general André Rigaud.

Toussaint had been wounded in combat many times, but never seriously, and the legends around him grew. From a local black corps fighting for the British, 300 men deserted en masse to Toussaint's side. Then he closed in on the major British stronghold of Port-au-Prince. The few hundred followers he had started with some five years earlier were now an experienced army of some 14,000. "Do not disappoint me," he said in a proclamation to his soldiers. "... Do not permit the desire for booty to turn you aside. ...It will be time enough to think of material things when we have driven the enemy from our shores. We are fighting [so] that liberty -- the most precious of all earthly possessions - - may not perish." Before long, he captured Morne l'Hôpital, a hill overlooking Port-au-Prince, and redcoats below could hear the ex-slaves singing.

The British had had enough, and in 1798 agreed to withdraw. Britain promised to leave Toussaint alone: There would be a trading relationship instead. In return, Toussaint agreed not to invade Jamaica or to spread "dangerous principles," as a later, more formal treaty put it, to Jamaican slaves. "Thank God I have at length got Great Britain rid of the whole of the incumbrance in this Island," wrote Thomas Maitland, the British commander. Writing to his brother, he was even more direct, sounding like a disillusioned Vietnam veteran: "We have no business on that Island." Of the more than 20,000 British soldiers sent to St. Domingue during five years of fighting, over 60 percent lay buried there. In October 1798, the Union Jack was lowered and Toussaint rode as liberator into Port-au-Prince and Cap François -- on whose streets he had once driven as a liveried coachman.
British myth-making has long skillfully turned military withdrawals or defeats into noble moments of heroism: consider, in later times, the charge of the Light Brigade or Dunkirk.

But the five-year campaign in St. Domingue was an exception. The colony's name has never appeared on a single British regimental banner. For the British, their failed attempt to take St. Domingue was a startling lesson in the difficulties of trying to impose one's will in a hot, violent, distant and ill-understood part of the world, not unlike the lessons the United States would learn in later times. But for the citizens of St. Domingue, nominally victorious, their troubles had only just begun.

The well-armed mulatto general Rigaud still controlled the southern portion of the territory, and there was no love lost between his supporters, many of whom had been slave owners, and Toussaint's. In the two years after the British withdrawal, Toussaint and Rigaud fought a civil war, known as the War of Knives, as brutal and bereft of mercy as all that had gone before. Captured mulatto leaders were blown from the mouths of cannons; at Port-au- Prince some 600 Rigaud sympathizers were tied back-to-back, towed out to sea on barges, bayoneted, and tossed to the sharks. Blood stained the beaches red. Rallying his troops and urging on his generals, Toussaint sometimes rode 65 or 70 miles a day. The defeated Rigaud fled to France. But what did not disappear was the conflict between the desperately poor Creole-speaking blacks and the more middle class, largely French-speaking mulattos, which would run like a bloody thread through the territory's politics for the next two centuries.

Now Toussaint faced another threat. In Paris, Napoleon, dreaming of expanding France's shrunken empire, had seized full political power. And he was no abolitionist, nor was his wife, Josephine, who had grown up on her father's slave plantation in Martinique. In 1802, Napoleon set out to regain France's most lucrative colony and make further conquests in the Americas.

St. Domingue was vulnerable. The ex-slaves controlled the territory, but they were now mostly scraping out a hand-to-mouth living on small plots of land carved from the old plantations, producing little that could be sold abroad for arms and ammunition. Food was scarce. In the cities, people were living in makeshift shelters in the ruins of what had once been the Caribbean's grandest buildings. In a shattered country desperately arming to protect itself, democracy would have been difficult, even if its iron-willed strongman, Toussaint, had been any sort of democrat, which he definitely was not.

Forcibly returning land to sugar and coffee production, he confiscated the old plantations and leased them out to his generals, other trusted officials and the few French planters he could persuade to return. The government took a share of the profits. Black farmworkers were offered slightly better living conditions, at least in theory. But they were attached to particular plantations like serfs, under strict military discipline. People were conscripted to build roads. To those living under it, the new regime seemed not so different from slavery.

Not surprisingly, revolts broke out, which Toussaint ruthlessly suppressed. Firing squads or cannons loaded with grapeshot executed some 2,000 people. Toussaint issued a constitution abolishing slavery, giving himself power for life and establishing, in effect, a military dictatorship -- a striking parallel to what Napoleon was doing in France.

Fatefully, it established a model of government that his country was to follow for some 200 years to come. Sleeping only a few hours a night, he rose at dawn, attended Mass, dictated scores of letters and orders, then headed into the countryside on his favorite horse, Bel-Argent. He dressed like an emperor, which was what he clearly wanted to be, and is perhaps what his subjects, so many of whom had been born in African chiefdoms or monarchies, expected of him. In his letters, he never used the informal French tu. Ascetic and puritanical, he drank no alcohol and ordered that women's dresses show no cleavage. He was said to never forget a face.

Fearful of assassins, he accepted food only from trusted aides or, when in the field, on a banana leaf he had cut himself. He never appeared at a window, and he never said where he was going. "He never pardoned," said his secretary. "His unknown, resolute, terrible will was the supreme law without appeal. His spies . . . were everywhere, around his generals, on the estates, in the huts of the blacks. . . . He succeeded, so to speak, in making himself invisible wherever he was and visible where he wasn't; he seemed to have stolen the spontaneity of his movements from a tiger. . . . . Thus there was neither thought of betrayal nor time for treason. Impenetrable in his designs . . . he confided to no one."

All the while, Toussaint's wary eyes were on Napoleon, to whom, legend has it, he sent a letter addressed "From the first of the blacks to the first of the whites." Napoleon's reply was an invasion force, the largest that had ever set sail from France and designed, in his words, "to annihilate the government of the blacks in St. Domingue." In command was his 29-year-old brother-in-law, Victor-Emmanuel Leclerc, who cheerfully boasted that the sight of French bayonets would put the blacks to rout. "Rid us of these gilded Africans," Napoleon wrote Leclerc, "and we shall have nothing more to wish."

"We are lost," Toussaint said when he saw the great invasion flotilla of French ships arrive. "All France has come to St. Domingue." The French had sent some 35,000 men, over half again as many as were in Toussaint's experienced but ill-equipped ranks. But, as Leclerc ominously reported to France, "Toussaint and his generals appear to me to have decided to burn down the colony and entomb themselves under the ruins before surrendering." Toussaint sent a message to one of his officers: "The only resources we have are destruction and fire. Annihilate everything and burn everything. Block the roads, pollute the wells with corpses and dead horses."

Toussaint's desperate troops rolled rocks down mountainsides into the path of the invaders. French commanders, like the British before them, were nonplussed by guerrilla tactics. Nonetheless, French firepower took its toll, and after some months of fighting, several of Toussaint's generals came over to the French side, lured by promises that they could maintain their ranks. Finally, in May 1802, Toussaint began negotiating.

Afraid of turning him into a martyr, the French promised him the position of lieutenant general if he would agree to retire to one of the several plantations he now owned.

Slavery, Leclerc solemnly swore, would never be restored. When Leclerc offered him dinner, Toussaint took nothing except water from a carafe whose contents had already been tasted, and a chunk cut from the middle of a piece of cheese. A month later, under Leclerc's orders, another French general asked Toussaint to meet with him. In a rare lapse of judgment, Toussaint fell into the trap. Seized and bound on the spot, he was rushed to the coast and on board a ship for France.

It seemed as if the French had won. General Leclerc's wife, Napoleon's beautiful and pleasure-loving sister Pauline, settled in great comfort in a mountainside villa, sleeping in a canopied bed with carved cupids and white satin curtains trimmed with gold. When an American visitor found her at home, "She reclined . . . on the sofa and amused general Boyer, who sat at her feet, by letting her slipper fall continually, which he respectfully put on as often as it fell. . . . She has a voluptuous mouth, and . . . an air of languor. . . . Madame Le Clerc is very kind to general Boyer, and . . . her husband is not content." While Pauline dallied with her husband's subordinate, the French, like the British before them, soon began succumbing to yellow fever and malaria, burying their dead in mass graves at night, so no one would see their losses. Meanwhile, a series of decrees from Napoleon, held secret for the time being, stripped mulattos of equal rights and restored slavery.

The news leaked out and the blacks rose again. To Napoleon, the desperate Leclerc wrote, "Send 12,000 replacements immediately, and 10 million francs in cash, or St. Domingue is lost forever." It was Leclerc's last letter. Three weeks later, he was dead of yellow fever. Pauline, more affectionate in death than in life, cut off her long hair and put it in his coffin.

The rebels fought on and the French were ruthless: The general who took over from Leclerc ordered one rebel leader's epaulets nailed to his shoulders in front of his wife and children, who were then drowned before his eyes; he staked naked prisoners to the ground in front of dogs who had been deliberately deprived of their food. By packing black and mulatto prisoners into a ship's hold and then burning sulphur through the night, he created what may have been history's first gas chamber. In the morning, the bodies were dumped overboard to make room for more. By such atrocities, the French succeeded in temporarily uniting St. Domingue's blacks and mulattos against them.

Meanwhile, in France, Toussaint was being held incommunicado in the massive ninth century Fort de Joux in the Jura mountains near the Swiss border. He died there on April 7, 1803, only seven months after being imprisoned.

Ironically, the remnants of Napoleon's army were just then going down to defeat in St. Domingue. Demoralized, half-starving French soldiers, desperate for fruit and vegetables, sold bags of gunpowder to black women in the market, who smuggled these beneath their dresses to rebel forces. By the year's end, the last surviving French troops had been forced to sail home. In its 22-month attempt to retake the colony, France had lost more than 50,000 soldiers, including 18 generals -- the vast majority of the army it sent there. Napoleon lost more men in St. Domingue than he would lose at Waterloo. The long-suffering citizens of St. Domingue had won a great victory, but it was also another link in the chain of violence and destruction that weighs so heavily on their descendants today.

On Jan. 1, 1804, St. Domingue's leaders proclaimed it the Republic of Haiti -- the name for the island in the language of its earliest inhabitants, the vanished Arawak Indians. Less than two decades younger than the United States, it was the second independent nation in the Western Hemisphere. Today we usually refer to the preceding dozen years of fighting as the Haitian Revolution. The Haitian people had accomplished the only fully victorious slave revolt in the history of the Americas. Beyond this, they were the first people anywhere not of European descent to have thrown off European colonial rule.

And they had defeated invasions by the two greatest military powers of the era. If there were any justice in history, Haiti would have been rewarded by decades of peace and prosperity.

But this was not to be. Haiti's almost unparalleled legacy of violence has crippled the land to this day. And neither colonialism, nor slavery, nor the African monarchies many of its citizens had been born in provided much fertile soil for the democratic ideas circulating elsewhere in the North Atlantic world at the time of Haiti's birth.

Furthermore, as Haiti became independent, it was a country in ruins. Plantations and sugar works were burned and large tracts of the cities were little more than blackened rubble. In the many years of scorched-earth warfare, the country had lost more than half its population, and it was the half that included, principally among whites and mulattos, just the sort of experienced artisans, farmers, teachers and professionals needed to rebuild a devastated country and to teach their skills to others.

Proportionally, the killing or exile of the skilled and literate population was far more extensive than happened in the Russian Revolution and civil war, in China, in Cambodia under Pol Pot, or in almost any other revolution one can think of. In one final spasm, for example, just after independence, Toussaint's successors ordered the more than 3,000 French people remaining in the territory slaughtered. To write Haiti's declaration of independence, said one of its early officials, "we need the skin of a white to serve as a parchment, his skull as an inkwell, his blood for ink, and a bayonet for a pen."

Not surprisingly, with all this as a starting point, Haiti's next 200 years have not been easy. Of the long string of corrupt, authoritarian rulers, one took the title of king, one emperor; almost all were installed or overthrown by coups. They preferred building palaces to schools. Haiti may be a failed state today, but in most of its lifetime there was never very much of a state to fail. Furthermore, Haiti's extreme poverty and weakness has left it vulnerable to powerful and uncharitable outsiders. For decades, Britain, France and the United States all remained wary of a nation born of a slave revolt. The United States did not officially even recognize Haiti until nearly 60 years after independence. France arrogantly demanded, and got, restitution payments for the confiscated slave plantations. And the U. S. Marines occupied the country from 1915 to 1934, protecting American investments and ushering in a new constitution that allowed foreigners to own land. American involvement since then has, with rare exceptions, usually meant supporting the dictator of the day -- no help to a country that already had enough problems of its own. Jean-Bertrande Aristide, whom the United States helped push from power earlier this year, was the only democratically elected leader in Haiti's history.

A further irony, given its hostility to the great slave revolt, is that the American government ended up benefiting from the Haitian Revolution more than anyone. The slave rebels' defeat of the French had vast consequences for the very shape of the United States today. Planning to use a reconquered St. Domingue as a springboard for his further empire building on the mainland, Napoleon had earlier acquired from Spain a huge tract of land. If he had not lost an army and depleted his treasury in the vain effort to subdue St. Domingue's ex-slaves, he would never have hastily sold this mainland territory to the United States for a much-needed $15 million, in the transaction known as the Louisiana Purchase.

San Francisco-based Adam Hochschild is the author of "King Leopold's Ghost" and other books. This article is excerpted from his forthcoming "Bury the Chains," which will be published by Houghton Mifflin in January 2005.

This article appeared on page CM - 6 of the San Francisco Chronicle

Letter from the South African President & a Note from Ezili Dantò


Who really abolished slavery?
published: Sunday | June 3, 2007
Myrtha Dèsulmè, Contributer, Jamaica Gleaner

Photo: South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki addresses Sudanese government officials at a meeting in Sudan's capital Khartoum June 20, 2006. Mbeki is expected to keep up pressure on Khartoum to approve a U.N. peacekeeping contingent in the western region, where African Union forces have failed to end the conflict that has driven two million people from their homes. - Reuters

President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, who has stood out like a towering lighthouse amongst world leaders when it comes to paying homage to Haiti's unparalleled revolutionary accomplishments, and historical influence, has not missed the opportunity afforded by the celebrations for the abolition of the Transatlantic Trade in Africans, to once again step forward and remind the world of Haiti's contributions.

On April 13, in his weekly "Letter from the President" to the South African people, Mbeki drew our attention to Haiti's pioneering 1804 defeat of slavery and colonialism. He noted that it is unfortunate that the global celebrations in 2004, to mark the bicentenary of this historic event, were much more subdued than the present celebrations to mark the bicentennial of the adoption in 1807, by the British Parliament, of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act, which did not prohibit slavery, but only made it illegal for British subjects and institutions to participate in the transportation of slaves. He, nevertheless, deemed it important that the international community should commemorate this bicentenary, as part of its response to the challenge to address the massive legacy of slavery, and the contemporary forms of its manifestation.

The act signed into law at noon on March 25, 1807 by King George III, stopped all slave ships from leaving the world's major slave-trading nation after May 1, 1807, and "banned British subjects, shipyards, outfitters, and insurers from participating in the slave trade to the colonies of France and its allies".

France was Britain's nemesis, and the fierce competition between the imperialist powers in the Caribbean was one of the driving forces behind the British Abolition movement. The continued importation of African slaves was enabling the French, who ran their sugar colonies more profitably than the British, to undercut them in the imperialist sugar markets.

The British capitalists were also primarily concerned with the losses in their revenues and profits resulting from the unremitting resistance of the African captives, which took place at every stage of enslavement, from the struggles on the African coast, to the Middle Passage rebellions, and the escapes or uprisings at the end of the voyage, in the Americas and the Caribbean.

To cap it all off, the historic 1803 victory of the massive, self-determined, and militarily organised slave revolution of Haiti, made it difficult for the political and economic elites in neighbouring countries and metropolitan Europe, to continue the complacent status quo of the mid-18th century.

The Haitian Revolution

The Haitian Revolution, started in 1791, involved a bewildering array of warring factions, including metropolitan and colonial Frenchmen, slaves, free persons of colour, and invading Spanish and English troops. After 1793, however, under Toussaint Louverture's exceptional military leadership and political astuteness, the tide of war turned inexorably, ensuring that power, which had been slowly gravitating to the overwhelming majority of the population, was firmly grasped by the former slaves, who refused to settle for anything less than full freedom.

With the French displaced, the British, who had supported the French Abolitionists, as well as the Haitian revolutionaries, in order to undermine France, were now desperate to take over the lucrative colony. Their attempt to do so resulted in one of the greatest military disasters in British history.

Undeterred, Napoleon sent a mammoth expedition force in a last ditch effort to crush the rebellion, and reclaim France's economic engine. Within the first six months alone, the French lost 10,000 men.

On June 7, 1802, the beleaguered French generals offered Toussaint a treaty, if he would appear in person to discuss it. Toussaint obliged, and was treacherously captured, ultimately dying in a dungeon in the freezing Jura mountains of France.

To the astonishment of the French, the slave army continued to fight. When it became clear to the Haitian revolutionaries that their emancipation could not be sustained within the colonial political system, they took the only logical step to secure it: They drove the French from the island, renamed Saint Domingue, Haiti, and in 1804, created an independent state, the spectre of which would eventually precipitate the collapse of the regional system of slavery.

The Spectre of Haiti

Haiti cast an inevitable shadow over all slave societies. Anti-slavery movements grew stronger and bolder, and Caribbean slaves became increasingly restless. Most importantly, Caribbean planters lost the confidence to maintain the slave system indefinitely. The example of an independent black state as a viabl to the isolated pockets of Maroon settlements, complicated their domestic relations.

British planters lived in constant fear of the rebellions and raids mounted by slaves and Maroons. Rebellions, whether successful or not, could lead to their deaths, and the loss of their lands. Abolition ideas started to gain momentum, as any further importation of slaves would only reinforce the battalions of Maroon communities, and the rebels on the plantations.

The process of rapid industrialisation, which Britain was undergoing, rendered the transition from an agricultural economy, relying on slave labour, to an industrial economy, depending on low-paid workers, increasingly attractive, as a means of acquiring a long-term competitive advantage over other imperialist nations. The British capitalists realised that giving slaves the illusion of freedom, and some buying power, through the paying of nominal wages, could generate greater stability, and tremendous profits in the long run.

Class structure
Finally convinced by Jamaica's 1831 Sam Sharpe rebellion, that the system of slavery carried within it the seeds of its own destruction, in 1833 Britain passed the Slavery Abolition Act. The act set aside a whopping 20 million in compensation for slave owners, estimated to be roughly equivalent to 50 billion in today's currency. There was no compensation, however, for the ex-slaves who found themselves having to pay rent to their landlords for the miserable huts they occupied, on top of paying taxes to the Government. Most of them had little choice but to continue working in the sugar cane fields. The class structure of the West Indian islands did not change one iota, and the islands remained under the dominion of the British Crown.

Haiti, by contrast, represented the most thorough case of revolutionary change anywhere in the history of the modern world. In 13 years of sustained internal and international warfare, a colony populated predominantly by coerced and exploited slaves, had successfully liberated itself, radically and permanently transforming things. It had overthrown both the country's colonial status and its economic system, established a new political state, and achieved a complete metamorphosis in its social, political, intellectual and economic life. Slaves, the lowest order of the society, had become equal, free and independent citizens, with some ex-slaves even constituting the new political authority.

The toll, however, was catastrophic. No Princess Margaret, in designer dress, tiara and elbow-length gloves, had handed over the constitutional documents to a newly-formed Parliament, while a jubilant nation danced in streets overflowing with newly-designed flags, bunting, treats, commemorative plates, jonkonnu, bonfires, float parades with beauty queens, and maypoles in town squares.

The soil of Haiti was drenched, from the rivers of blood whichhad flowed, and burnt up, from the scorched earth resistance to the invading forces. The death toll was cataclysmic. The British alone had lost 80,000 men. African losses could not even be quantified.

Though it may be fair to assess that world military, political and economic forces all contributed to overwhelm the institution of slavery, many still contend, that were it not for Haiti, millions might today, still be walking around in shackles.

Myrtha Dèsulmè is president of the Haiti-Jamaica Society.
See also:



Capsized, a performance piece by Marguerite Laurent
(c) 1998 & 2000 by Marguerite Laurent

Capsized, mp3 audio, live on-stage audio recording of Ezili's theatrical
production of "Capsize" almost ten years ago

The Red Sea (Lanmè Rouj), a performance piece (c) 1998 & 2000 by Marguerite
Laurent, mp3 audio excerpted from DVD video of Ezili's theatrical production
of Red, Black & Moonlight: Between Falling and Hitting the Ground.


The Red Sea

intro: http://www.margueritelaurent.com/writings/theredseaintro.html
Text: http://www.margueritelaurent.com/writings/theredsea.html

Vodun: The Light and Beauty of Haiti

Dessalines Is Rising!!
Ayisyen: You Are Not Alone!

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