Haiti's Agonies and ExaltationsRamsey Clark
The history of Haiti will break your heart. Knowing it, the weak will despair, but the caring will strive to break the chains of tragedy.
When Columbus landed on the island in December 1492, he found a native Arawak, or Taino, population of three million people or more, well fed, with cultivated fields, lots of children, living in peace. It had by far the largest population of any island in the Caribbean. Twenty-two years later, there were fewer than 27,000 who had not fallen victim to the sword, the ravages of forced labor, and diseases heretofore unknown to them. The Spaniards called the island La Ysla Española, which in use became Hispaniola.
The native people called the island Haiti, a word that three hundred years after the Europeans arrived would strike fear throughout the empires of the hemisphere built on slave labor and societies that accepted its practice, but bring hope to slaves as they heard of it.
Only a few who came with the Conquistadors dared, or cared, to speak out against the genocide. The historic exception was the priest and later Bishop of Chiapas, Bartolome de Las Casas. For his only briefly successful efforts to persuade Charles V and the Pope to protect the peoples of "India" from slavery and abuse, Las Casas became "the most hated man in the Americas" among the violent, rich rulers of New Spain. In a census Las Casas conducted in 1542, only 200 Taino were found. The soil of Haiti was already red with human blood.
Slowly the population of Hispaniola was replenished, the slaughtered Indians replaced primarily by the importation of Africans in chains who rarely knew, but never forgot, those who perished first at the hands of their masters.
Few Spaniards settled in far western Hispaniola. By the mid-17th century, French buccaneers gained footholds on its coast. In 1697, France was recognized as sovereign over the western third of the island in a minor concession from Spain by the treaty of Ryswick, which ended the war of the Grand Alliance and resettled the map of western Europe. France called its new colony St. Domingue.
By the 1750s, St. Domingue was France's richest colony, rich from the sweat of slave labor's brow.
Hispaniola declined in importance as Spanish colonies in Mexico, Peru and the Caribbean spread through South, Central and North America.
On the eve of the revolution in France, St. Domingue had a population of about 32,000 from France, 24,000 freedmen of mixed blood, and nearly 500,000 African slaves. The native population was extinct.
The Creole language found birth in the slave quarters and secret places slaves could meet as their need to support each other and to resist grew. African languages permeated the French with African melody and African drums. English, Spanish and occasional Indian words were gathered into it by chance and attraction. Creole became the heart of Haitian culture, shared with others who were torn out of Africa and carried to European colonies in the Caribbean.
In trials of Haitian-Americans charged with planning to overthrow Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier in the mid-1980s, the most skilled French-English translators and professors of French in the universities of New Orleans could not translate Creole into English for the Court. It is a beautiful, separate language born from the suffering of African slaves of French masters and their determination to maintain their own identity.
In Paris, the philosophers of the Enlightenment condemned slavery. Diderot wrote that slavery contradicts nature. Montesquieu observed that when we admit that Africans are human, we confess what poor Christians we are. Abbe Reynal proclaimed that any religion that condones slavery deserves to be prohibited. Rousseau confessed that the existence of slavery made him ashamed to be a man. Helvetius observed that every barrel of sugar reaching Europe is stained with blood. Voltaire's adventurous hero, Candide, meets a slave whose hand was ground off in a sugar mill and leg was cut off for attempting to escape and proclaims, "At this price you eat sugar in Europe."
Few periods in history have given rise to more intense thought and concern about freedom and the rights of humanity, but St. Domingue was a long way away and the wealth of France and its slave masters were not impressed.
Unaware, or contemptuous, of the enlightened views of France's philosophers, "His Majesty" in 1771 considered requests for the emancipation of mulatto slaves in Haiti and other French colonies and authorized his Minister of Colonies to explain his views:
...such a favor would tend to destroy the differences that nature has placed between whites and blacks, and that political prejudice has been careful to maintain as a distance which people of color and their descendants will never be able to bridge; finally, that it is in the interest of good order not to weaken the state of humiliation congenital to the species, in whatever degree it may perpetuate itself; a prejudice all the more useful for being in the very heart of the slaves and contributing in a major way to the due peace of the colonies...Within two decades the people of France and Haiti would provide Louis XVI a clearer understanding of what was in their heart.
In Léogâne in 1772, a Haitian woman named Zabeth, her story recorded, lived a not uncommon life and death. Rebellious, like many, from childhood, she was chained for years when not working, chased and attacked by dogs when she escaped, her cheek branded with a fleur de lis. Zabeth was locked up in a sugar mill for punishment. She stuck her fingers in the grinder, then later bit off the bandages which stopped the flow of blood. She was then tied, her open wounds against the grinder, where particles of iron dust poisoned her blood before she died. Her owner lived unconcerned across the sea in Nantes.
For five years, the French Revolution, consumed with the struggle for human rights ignored the slaves of Haiti even over the protests of Marat and Robespierre and the words of the Declaration of the Rights of Man.
On August 14, 1791, the slaves of St. Domingue rebelled. News of the insurrection sent electrifying waves of fear throughout the hemisphere. The slave states and slave owners in all parts of the U.S. and elsewhere in the Americas were forced to face what they had long dreaded, that the cruelty of their deeds would turn on them in violent slave rebellions. Their fear produced hatred and greater cruelty toward the slaves that led to the barbarity of lynchings in the late 19th and early decades of the 20th centuries and the excessive force employed with zeal by police in race riots into the 1960s in the U.S.
The struggle of the Haitian slaves for freedom dragged on for more than a decade, the French army caring less and less about the destructiveness of their arms and about the lives of the Haitian people.
President George Washington and Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, both slave owners, supported France in its efforts to suppress the slaves of St. Domingue. Their successors have consistently acted against the rights and well-being of Haitians ever since.
In 1794, after fighting both Spain and Great Britain to control St. Domingue, harassed by the slave insurrection led by Pierre-Dominique Toussaint Louverture, and in need of troops easily recruited from freedman before the rebellion, France declared the abolition of slavery in its colonies.
Frightened by the freedom of slaves in Haiti, the next year the King of Spain ceded the rest of the island, Spain's first colony in America, to France. The island was once again, temporarily, united.
By 1801, Toussaint Louverture, a slave himself before the insurrection, proclaimed a constitution for Haiti, which named him governor-general for life. Napoleon was not consulted.
Later that year, Bonaparte sent General Charles Leclerc with a veteran force of 20,000 trained soldiers, including Haitian military officers, among them Alexandre Pétion, to crush the "First of the Blacks." In 1802, Napoleon ordered the reinstatement of slavery. Toussaint was captured by ruse and sent to France where he died a prisoner on April 7, 1803. Fearful that Napoleon would succeed in restoring slavery, African and mulatto generals in the French Army joined the bitter revolt against France. U.S. merchants sold arms and supplies to the former slave forces, while the U.S. government supported France.
The French army of Napoleon Bonaparte was defeated by Haitian former slaves. It surrendered in November 1803 and agreed to a complete withdrawal.
Haiti lay in ruins, nearly half its population lost. The African slaves of Haiti had defeated the army of Napoleon Bonaparte. The 12-year war for liberation had destroyed most of the irrigation systems and machinery that, with slave labor, had created France's richest colony and were the foundation of the island's economy.
On January 1, 1804, independence was declared for the entire island in the aboriginal name preferred by the former slaves: Haiti. In September 1804, Dessalines was proclaimed Emperor Jacques I.
Nearly all whites who survived the long violence fled the island before, or with, the departing French army.
Profound fear spread among white peoples throughout the Americas wherever Africans were held in slavery. In the U.S. slave states, news from Haiti of the slave rebellion, the emancipation, the imprisonment and death of Toussaint Louverture in France, the failure of Napoleon's effort to reestablish slavery after sending 20,000 professional soldiers for the task, and their final defeat sent shock waves infinitely greater than those of 9-11-2001 two centuries later. Years before Nat Turner and even the earlier slave rebellions in the United States, the fear of slave rebellion became a brooding omnipresence.
As word spread among slave populations, exaltation embraced its people who could now believe their day of freedom too would come. The conflict between fear and newborn faith sharpened the edge of hostility that separated slave and master, creating greater tension and more violence.
Dessalines' nationalization and democratic distribution of land led to his assassination in 1806 by jealous elements of a new ruling class, both black and mulatto, emerging from the ranks of the Haitian generals. The alliance between the formerly freed – the freedmen or affranchis – and the newly freed – the former slaves – was dissolved with Dessalines' murder. A new ruling class of big landowners and a merchant bourgeoisie supplanted their colonialist predecessors. There ensued civil war primarily between the mulatto Pétion, who was elected president in Port-au-Prince over the south, and Christophe, a full-blooded African, who was proclaimed King Henry I in the north. Christophe committed suicide in 1820 after a major revolt against his rule. Jean Pierre Boyer, who had succeeded Pétion in the South in 1818, then became president of a united Haiti.
Haiti was reviled and feared by all the rich nations of the world precisely for its successful slave revolt which represented a threat not only in nations where slavery was legal, but in all countries, because of their large under-classes living in economic servitude. The strategy of the nations primarily affected, including the U.S., was to further impoverish Haiti, to make it an example. Racism in the hemisphere added a painful edge to the treatment of Haiti, which has remained the poorest country, with the darkest skin, the most isolated nation in the Americas. Even its language, spoken by so few beyond its borders, made Haiti the least accessible of countries and peoples.
In one grand commitment, Haiti, through President Pétion, contributed more to the liberation of the Americans from European colonial powers than any other nation. Twice Haiti, poor as it was, provided Simon Bolívar with men, arms and supplies that enabled the Great Liberator to free half the nations of South America from the Spanish yoke. On New Year's Day 1816, Pétion, his country still in ruins, blockaded by France and isolated from all rich nations, met with Bolívar, who had sold even his watch in Jamaica, seeking funds. He promised seven ships, 250 of his best soldiers, muskets, powder, provisions, funds, and even a printing press. Haiti asked only one act in repayment: Free the slaves.
Bolívar surely intended to fulfill his promise and achieved some proclamations of emancipation, but at the time of his death in 1831, not even his own Venezuela had achieved de facto freedom for all of its slaves.
Thus Haiti had achieved the first successful slave rebellion of an entire colony, the defeat of veterans of Europe's most effective fighting force at the time – Napoleon's legions – and made perhaps the decisive contribution to the liberation from European colonial governments of six nations, all larger and with more people than Haiti. Each act was a sin for which there would be no forgiveness.
Spain retained effective control over the eastern part of the island after its concession to France in 1795. The Dominicans revolted against Spain in 1822, joining nearly all the Spanish colonies in the Americas. President Boyer blocked Europe's counter-revolutionary designs against Haiti by laying claim to the Spanish lands where he abolished slavery, but Haitian control was never consolidated. The Dominicans declared independence in 1844 which, after a decade of continuing struggle, was finally achieved.
In 1825, France was the first nation to recognize Haiti, from which it had profited so richly, but at a huge expense to Haiti through a more sophisticated form of exploitation. Haiti agreed to pay France 150,000,000 gold francs in "indemnity." The U.S. permitted limited trade with Haiti, but did not recognize it until 1862, the second year of the U.S. Civil War.
Haiti, true to its struggle against slavery, permitted Union warships to refuel and repair in its harbors during the Civil War. In 1891, the U.S. sought to obtain Môle Saint-Nicolas on the northwest tip of Haiti as a coaling station by force, but failed. A decade later, the U.S. obtained Guantanamo Bay from Cuba after the Spanish-American war. Môle Saint-Nicolas and Guantanamo are strategically located on the Windward Passage between Haiti and Cuba, the best route from the Atlantic to the Panama Canal. First France, then the U.S., coveted the notion of a base at Môle Saint-Nicolas.
Between 1843 and 1911, sixteen persons held the highest government office in Haiti, an average of four years, three months each, but eleven were removed by force and its threat from a still revolutionary people.
During the period from August 1911 to July 1915, in which many Haitians believed their country was being taken over by U.S. capital, one president was blown up in the Presidential Palace, another died of poison, three were forced out by revolution, and on July 27, 1915, President Vilbrun Guillaume Sam was taken by force from the French legation where he had sought sanctuary and killed.
The next day U.S. Marines landed in Haiti and began an occupation that lasted nineteen years. The U.S. invoked the Monroe Doctrine and humanitarianism to justify a criminal occupation. Haiti was forced to sign a ten-year treaty, later extended, which made Haiti a U.S. political and financial protectorate.
Shortly before World War I, U.S. bankers, in the most debilitating form of intervention, obtained shares in the Haitian Bank which controlled the government's fiscal policies and participated in a huge loan to the Haitian government, again placing the people in servitude to a foreign master. U.S. capitalists were quickly given concessions to build a railroad and develop plantations. As the Panama Canal neared completion, U.S. interests in Haiti grew.
Franklin D. Roosevelt, than assistant secretary of the Navy, drafted a constitution for Haiti, something Toussaint Louverture had been capable of one hundred and fourteen years earlier. In 1920, while campaigning for the vice-presidency, Roosevelt boasted of his authorship accomplished on the deck of a U.S. Navy destroyer off the coast of Cap Haïtien. Such is the certainty of the U.S. in its natural superiority and right in matters of governance.
In 1918, US Marines supervised a "farcical" plebiscite for the new constitution. Among other new rights, it permitted aliens for the first time to own land in Haiti.
Haiti paid dearly. U.S. intervention in education emphasized vocational training at the expense of the French intellectual tradition. The racist implications were clear to the people. The national debt was funded with expensive U.S. loans. The occupying force imposed harsh police practices to protect property and maintain order, but with little concern for injuries it inflicted, or protection for the public. In the spirit of democracy, Haitians were virtually excluded from the government of their own people.
Over the years, opposition to the occupation grew, and slowly Americans joined Haitians in protest against it. In 1930, after student and peasant uprisings, President Hoover sent missions to study ending the occupation and improving the education system. The first election of a national assembly since the occupation was permitted that year. In turn, it elected Stenio Joseph Vincent president. Vincent opposed the occupation, and Haitians quickly took control of public works, public health, and agricultural services.
In August 1934, Franklin Roosevelt, now president of the U.S., to confirm his celebrated Good Neighbor Policy, ended the occupation and withdrew the Marines. When the occupation was over, Haiti was as poor as ever and deep in debt. The U.S. continued its direct control of fiscal affairs in Haiti until 1941, and indirect control until 1947, to protect its loans and business interests.
Among accomplishments the U.S. proclaimed for its long governance was a unified, organized, trained and militarized police force. Called the Garde d'Haïti, it guarded Haitians less than it guarded over them.
In 1937, Haiti was weakened by nearly two decades of foreign occupation and subjugation and a huge part of its unemployed work force was in the Dominican Republic laboring under cruel conditions at subsistence wages. The Dominican dictator, President Rafael Trujillo, directed the purge of Haitian farm workers and laborers in an overtly racist campaign of government violence to keep his country "white." As many as 40,000 Haitians were killed. The Organization of American States interceded and forced the Dominican Republic to acknowledge 18,000 deaths for which it paid $522,000 in restitution with no other consequence than an angry neighbor. A Haitian life was worth $29 to the OAS, with most lives unrecognized.
Art flourished in Haiti in the late 1930s. By the mid-1940s, there was a "Renaissance in Haiti." Artists painted furiously on any surface that offered the opportunity. Haitian artists gained international reputations and fame: Philomé Obin, André Pierre, Castera Bazile, Wilson Bigaud, Rigaud Benoit, Hector Hippolyte, and others. Their work commanded prices unimaginable to the poor of Haiti. With the painting, the richness of Haitian culture burst out in music, poetry, literature and cuisine. But more tragedy lay ahead.
Vincent served until 1939 when, under U.S. pressure, he retired in favor of Elie Lescot. When he sought to run for a second term, Lescot was forced from office by student strikes and ultimately mob violence in 1946. A military triumvirate directed a new election of the National Assembly in 1946. The Assembly elected Dumarsais Estimé president. Near the end of his term in 1950, the same military triumvirate seized power, forcing Estimé to leave Haiti. Col. Paul E. Magloire, a member of the triumvirate, was then chosen to direct public elections as president. Magloire was in turn forced to resign and leave the country as his term expired in December 1956.
After a period of turmoil, strikes and mob violence, during which several men, then an Executive Council and an Army commander served briefly as provisional leadership, François Duvalier, a physician, was elected president, with Army approval, on September 22, 1957.
The brutality, capriciousness, and arbitrary exercise of power and violence by Duvalier provides a classic study of dictatorship in poor countries.
In 1960, he forced the Catholic Archbishop François Poirier into exile to prevent interference and opposition by the Church of Haiti's official religion. Duvalier organized and licensed the notorious Tonton macoutes from among his core supporters to terrorize the people to accept his rule.
The terror of Duvalier's long reign is described nowhere better for non-Haitians than in Graham Greene's classic, The Comedians, published in 1966. Greene knew Haiti before Duvalier. He loved the people. He thought they were beautiful. When he returned in 1963, he found the Tonton Macoutes, searches, road blocks, a place where "terror rides and death comes at night." Rebels were in the hills.
He stayed long enough to develop material for a book. Before he could return for a last impression, he was warned he should not. He had written a harsh profile of Duvalier in the English press.
Instead he flew to the Dominican Republic, traveled to the border to observe and walked "along the edge of the country we loved and exchanged hopes for a happier future." The Comedians ends on the border, but it contains a testament to the misery and the beauty of the Haitian people and the power of the committed among them.
In 1964, Duvalier imposed a new constitution on Haiti which made him president-for-life. To please the U.S., show he knew how to handle problems, and unintentionally confirm the accuracy of the sobriquet Comedians, the death penalty was decreed in 1969 for the "propagation of communist or anarchist doctrines through lectures, speeches, or conversations" and for accomplices in such propagation and persons who merely received or listened to such doctrines.
In 1971, "Papa Doc" Duvalier caused the constitution to be amended to empower him to name his successor and lower the age requirement for the presidency to age 18. He named his son, Jean-Claude, then 19, and died, having extended his dynasty by another 15 years.
Baby Doc's regime was as brutal as his father's, if somewhat more subtle. When President Carter criticized Haiti's human rights record in 1977, a few token prisoners were released. But arrests and disappearances continued. A young Haitian-American, the son of a former officer in Papa Doc's air force who had fled into exile, was arrested for public criticism of the Duvalier dynasty and held in cells under the Presidential Palace where the president could witness the discomfort of people he did not like. A barrage of entreaties for his release were ignored until the eve of the first visit in 1983 of a pope to Haiti. The prisoner was released, taken to the airport with his lawyer, provided first-class seats on an Air France flight to Miami without explanation, or apology.
By 1980, there was a mass exodus from Haiti by sea. The U.S. Coast Guard policy was to interdict boatloads of Haitians fleeing at great risk toward freedom. When it caught boats close to Haiti, it forced them back to what could be death for some. Others caught in the Windward Passage were taken to prison at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo, where they were held as early patrons of a cruel experience which was later refined for Muslims, usually never named or charged, but treated with a cruelty that would make Baby Doc blush.
Other Haitians reached Florida's waters. The bodies of some washed up in the surf on Ft. Lauderdale beaches. Local residents were outraged, or horrified, depending on their character. Other Haitians caught on land or sea were taken to the Krome Avenue Detention Center in Miami. The treatment they endured there caused many Haitians to yearn for the free, if impoverished life, of Cité Soleil or Haiti's northwest, from which they had fled.
As opposition to Baby Doc grew and his hold on power weakened, vibrations of rebellion in Brooklyn, Queens, Miami, and other Haitian communities in the U.S., resonant with those throughout Haiti, rose and fell with conditions in the beloved country.
The Duvalier signature means of intimidation – bodies of its most recent victims left casually in the streets and byways to remind the people the next morning of the price of disobedience – became daily fare.
The U.S., to defuse outcry and support for revolution, sent recruiters – agents provocateurs – house-to-house and through the streets, to find and recruit young men identified by U.S. intelligence as hostile to the Duvalier regime. Many were escorted to an airfield on Long Island to see a plane without markings loaded with guns to be used, they were told, in the overthrow of the Duvalier regime. A planeload of eager recruits was flown to New Orleans. They were promised training to participate in an invasion of Haiti.
Among these was the youngest son of fourteen children in the Perpignon family, who escaped separately with their mother from Haiti after their father, a prominent lawyer, was murdered by Duvalier in his first days as President. Duvalier had his body dragged through the streets of Port-au-Prince behind a mule for a week.
The men were set up in rooms in a motel and questioned in front of a concealed camera. They were asked why they wanted to overthrow the government of Haiti and encouraged to boast about what they would do when they captured Duvalier.
More than 40 Haitians and Haitian-Americans were then arrested in New Orleans, far from their homes, and charged with violations of the Neutrality Act of 1797, an act U.S. agents and paid assets violate every day. Most were released within a few days when lawyers retained by their families showed up to meet with them. Despite the criminality of the entrapment, and the fact that all freely admitted they were not in condition to capture a Boy Scout camp, some remained in jail for several months. This was late 1985: The last year for Duvalier.
Within the U.S., editors in the flourishing Haitian exile media, risked assassination as befell the courageous anti-Duvalierist Firmin Joseph, a founder of Haïti Progrès, in front of his home in Brooklyn in 1983. Thirteen years later, Emmanuel "Toto" Constant, who headed a U.S.- supported death-squad called FRAPH before and after the U.S. invasion in 1994, found asylum in New York. For other leaders of the 1991-94 coup d'état in Haiti, Washington arranged golden exiles in countries like Panama, Honduras, and the Dominican Republic.
Finally, after nearly 30 years under the heel of the Duvaliers, condoned, if not protected, by the U.S. government, the end had come. On February 7, 1986, Jean-Claude Duvalier and his family, with most of their possessions, flew on a U.S. Air Force C-130 cargo plane to France, where he has lived safe and comforted by the spoils from the toils of countless Haitians he abused so badly.
The question must be asked: how could the heirs of slaves who defeated Napoleon and who founded freedom in the hemisphere be subjugated to such petit tyranny? This book will help find the answer and the means of ending its furtherance.
A liberation theology priest, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, trusted because the people had witnessed him share their danger and privation, ran for President in the first real post-Duvalier elections in 1990 over the muted but fierce opposition of the U.S. The U.S. choice, Marc Bazin, who had served at the World Bank in Washington, was provided millions of dollars in direct support and assistance and highly touted in the subservient U.S. media. Aristide with no resources, soft-spoken, but honest, won by a huge margin, with some 67% of the vote. Bazin, who came in second, bought 14% of the vote.
Aristide, despite support from the overwhelming majority of the people of Haiti was driven from office within nine months by the U.S. organized, armed and trained military and police. At least twice he had escaped attempts on his life. Finally on September 30, 1991, with only a handful of Haitian security officers trained by the Presidential Protection Service of France, bearing just side arms and rifles, President Aristide was trapped inside the Presidential Palace. Outside thousands of loyal supporters, a huge Haitian throng, unarmed but offering their bodies as protection, faced an army with overwhelming firepower. The dreaded Colonel Michel François in his red jeep led his police force in assaulting the Palace and the crowd. President Aristide faced the end.
Hundreds of Tonton Macoutes long alleged to have been disbanded, could be seen in their blue jeans and red bandannas milling about the center of the city, a warning to the wary.
President Aristide was saved by the intrepid ambassador of France, Rafael Dufour, who with perfect timing drove to the Presidential Palace, placed President Aristide in his limousine, drove to the diplomatic departures area at the international airport, and escorted the president to a plane ready to depart for Venezuela.
Duvalier was flown to life on the French Riviera by the U.S. Air Force. The U.S., fully aware of Aristide's peril, did nothing to protect him.
Within a year, Marc Bazin was Haiti's de facto prime minister. And that is about how long he lasted. Popular protest forced his resignation. The U.S. could install him in office, but for all its power, it could not keep him there.
The richness of Haitian culture and character has survived all these centuries of suffering. The "Renaissance in Haiti" in the 1940s was forced into exile for its open expression, but it was never silenced. Haitian authors and poets like Felix Morisseau-Leroy, Paul Laraque, Edwidge Danticat, Patrick Sylvain, Danielle Georges, artists and intellectuals, musicians and singers carried the torch of Haitian culture and truth abroad. They knew
you say democracy
and it's the annexation of Texas
the hold-up of the Panama Canal
the occupation of Haiti
the colonization of Puerto Rico
the bombing of Guatemalafrom "Reign of a Human Race," by Paul Laraque. (The full poem is included in this book.)
In September 1994, to "stop brutal atrocities" and "restore President Aristide to office," the U.S., having secured United Nations approval, landed a 20,000 troop, high-tech military force in Haiti, accepted, if at the last moment, by the military government of Haiti. It was an army of the same size as that led by General Leclerc who came to destroy the "First of the Blacks." It was called "Operation Restore Democracy." It met no armed resistance, suffered no casualties, but managed to kill several dozen Haitians.
In 1915, an excuse for U.S. intervention had been the slaughter of some 200 political prisoners at the National Penitentiary in Port-au-Prince.
This time, the U.S. priority was "force protection," the security of its own men. It made no plans or efforts to protect political prisoners, or other Haitians. Once again, Haiti suffered under a U.S. occupation.
A lone U.S. Army captain, Lawrence Rockwood, assigned to counter-intelligence and aware of the danger faced by political prisoners held by the FADH, the Armed Forces of Haiti, made a valiant effort to persuade the military command to take quick and easy action to protect prisoners at the National Penitentiary, to no avail. The FADH, generally supported by the U.S., represented the spirit of militarism that had contributed so much to death and human suffering over five centuries in Haiti. The prisoners were not seen as friends of the United States.
Rockwood went alone, over the wall of the military compound at the airport, found his way to the National Penitentiary, succeeded in gaining entry, and secured the facility. He observed a hundred or more prisoners, several score in conditions as bad as those in any prison of Duvalier, and by his mere presence protected the others. For his effort, though a fourth generation officer in the U.S. Army, he was court-marshaled, threatened with seven years imprisonment, and finally separated from the service as a danger to the morale of the military. He is the perfect military officer for a free and democratic nation and for international peacekeeping. For these reasons, he was no longer acceptable to the U.S. Army.
The U.S. had waited out three years of Aristide's presidency. With most of his term stolen, President Aristide returned to Haiti and served the final year. Although most Haitians called for Aristide to serve out the three years he spent in exile, Washington forbade it. He stepped down. But he did not run from the people of Haiti, and after five years he was elected to his second term at the beginning of the second millennium.
With the steady opposition of the U.S., and we know not what acts of subversion by it, the provocateurs of the old establishment seeking to return to the past, and the ever present poverty, progress has not been easy.
But a new day for Haiti is essential if the world is to address its greatest challenge: to end the exploitation of the growing masses of poor everywhere in the face of greater concentration of wealth and power in the few who have in their control armies with the capacity of omnicide and media that can veil the truth and mislead the poor to self-destruction.
The challenge for all who seek peace and freedom and economic justice, a decent standard of life for all, and believe the cycle of tragedy and misery for Haiti and all the poor nations and peoples of earth must be broken is to unite in a vision of peace and compassion and persevere until they prevail.
There is no other way to fulfill the promised legacy of Toussaint Louverture as written by William Wordsworth, deeply troubled by Toussaint's imprisonment two hundred years ago. It is the legacy we must promise all Haitians.
TO TOUSSAINT LOUVERTURE
Toussaint, the most unhappy man of men!
Whether the whistling rustic tend his plough
Within thy hearing, or thy head be now
Pillowed in some deep dungeon's earless den-
O miserable Chieftain! where and when
Wilt thou find patience! Yet die not; do thou
Wear rather in thy bonds a cheerful brow:
Though fallen thyself, never to rise again,
Live, and take comfort. Thou hast left behind
Powers that will work for thee; air, earth, and skies.
There's not a breathing of the common wind
That will forget thee; thou hast great allies;
Thy friends are exaltations, agonies,
AND NOW - TO ALL HAITIANS
And love, and man's unconquerable mind.
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