On the eve of the earthquake anniversary, the capital’s streets look little different than they did 12 months ago. An estimated 810,000 people – a majority unemployed – continue to live in 1,150 camps. –  Christian Science Monitor

NOTE: Text in black is directly quoted from Wikipedia. Text in brown is written by myself. Photos from Google Images.

At the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789, the
colony of St. Domingue, now Haiti, furnished two-thirds of France’s overseas
trade, employed one thousand ships and fifteen thousand French sailors. The
colony became France’s richest, the envy of every other European nation. This
plantation system, which provided such a pivotal role in the French economy, was
also the greatest individual market for the African slave trade

 The slave population on the island totaled almost half of the one million slaves in the Caribbean by 1789. Two thirds were African-born and much less inclined to submission than those born in the Americas.The death rate in the Caribbean exceeded the birth rate, so imports of enslaved Africans were necessary in order to maintain the numbers required to work the plantations. The slave population declined at an annual rate of  five percent: that is, 25,000 of them died every year – twenty-five thousand planned, anticipated, essential murders. Meanwhile, French revolutionaries were preaching the mantra of universal equality for which they will forever be famously associated.

Yes, it was the Age of Enlightenment – and all over the world,  peoples of African descent who had no doubts regarding their equal worth nevertheless seized upon Enlightenment language, analyzed it, pointed out its profound contradictions, and  most of all, gauged its implications for themselves. People of European descent,  propelled equally as far from their countries of origin by imperialism, were no less aware of the impossibility of reconciling Enlightenment principles with their own economic self-interest. 

They all tried. Their biggest big shots, thinkers who remain revered to this day, gave the problem their best shot. When they couldn’t do it, they were smart enough to more or less shut up. However, black people everywhere – whether enslaved, free, Maroon, escaped, or being educated by their white fathers at Europe’s leading universities absolutely refused to drop it.  So did their abolitionist allies. Free African-Americans in Boston, New York, and Philedelphia wrote treatises on the topic and smuggled them south to slaves via ships along the Atlantic seaboard. The fact that slaves were forbidden to learn to read proved absolutly useless to slaveholders. No slave community lacked literate people. In fact many slaveholders remained unaware that all of their field hands had memorized David Walker’s Appeal, before they themselves had even gotten a copy

In August of 1791, the first organized black rebellion ignited the twelve-year
San Domingo (Haiti) Revolution. The northern settlements were hit first, and the flood
that overwhelmed them revealed the military strength and organization of the
black masses. Plantations were destroyed, and white owners killed.
Some of the rebellion’s leaders include Boukman, Biassou, Toussaint,
Jeannot, Francois, Dessalines, and Cristophe. These men would help to guide the
Revolution down its torturous, bloody road to complete success, although it
would cost over twelve years and hundreds of thousands of lives. Many of those
leaders themselves would fall along the way, but the force of unity against
slavery would sustain the revolution.

  Because the plantation owners had long feared such a revolt, they were well armed and prepared to defend themselves. Nonetheless, within weeks, the number of slaves who joined the revolt reached some 100,000. Within the first two months, as the violence escalated, the slaves killed 4,000 whites and burned or destroyed 180 sugar plantations and hundreds of coffee and indigo plantations.

By 1792, slaves controlled a third of the island, and France dispatched 6,000  soldiers to Haiti – a year later, only 3,500 troops remained

Finally, after twelve bloody years,  France’s revolutionary National Convention  abolished slavery. Haiti was a sovereign state.

350,000 Haitians and 50,000 European soldiers had died.

That’s how much France wanted to keep using half a million human beings as beasts of burden. The whole world knew that its  new government could have stopped the blood bath at any time. U.S. slaveholders watched in terror and tightened their grip on slavery for another 70 years – when they sacrificed an entire  generation in their own frenzy of greed and fear.

The earthquake that hit Haiti was as much a man made as a natural disaster. No nation lacks the most basic,  simple and fundamental ability to respond to public emergencies by mistake, coincidence, ignorance,  or choice. No people remain so completely vulnerable and defenseless 220 years after half a million of them conducted a highy organized 12-year military campaign against a world power  – one that had been giving Great Britian, Spain , Portugal and the Netherlands a run for their money for a few centuries.

This condition is a force. It’s a force imposed on a people by interests more powerful than all of their combined will and courage. Never  mind blaming it all on Haiti’s history of brutal dictatorships – that’s a classic legacy of colonialism that happens to suit developed nations just fine. Since when have the western powers suffered the temerity of any small upstart nation that gets in our way? We’ve proven over and over that we’ll prop up any brutal dictator that will play ball with us – and if there isn’t one immediately available, we’ll go recruit one.

Freedom and democracy  becaome obscene insults when paired with names like Pinochet,  Batisata, Peron, and Duvalier,

Haiti has always been packed with plenty of people who know exactly how to run a democracry. We could have backed them any time we chose. We didn’t want to.

That’s because we’ll choose cooperative facists over stubborn socialists – and we’ll do it every time

In 1973, the CIA sponsored an horrendously violent military coup against the democratically elected socialist president of Chile, Salvador Allende. He had one last chance to speak to the people before the troops of  brutal criminal, and CIA tool General Augusto Pinochet,  came for him. Just before the end,  as the sound of automatic rifles exploded in the background, Allende said:  

 “Soon the radio will be silenced, and  my voice will no longer reach you. It does not matter. You will continue hearing it. I will always be next to you.
The people must defend themselves, but they must not sacrifice themselves.
Go forward knowing that, sooner rather than later, the great avenues
will open again where free men will walk to build a better
Long live Chile! Long live the people! Long live the

workers!”Seguimos oyes, querido Salvador. Siempre vamos a te escucho.

We hear you, dear Salvador. We will always hear you.

¡Viva Haití! ¡Vivan los trabajadores! ¡Viva el pueblo!


  1. Add to this history the fact that, in return for diplomatic recognition, France forced Haiti to pay the equivalent of US $40 billion (in 2010 dollars), as reparations for “property” lost in the revolution–adding substantially to the country’s poverty.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s absolutely surreal! – I mean in the most literal sense of the word: it sets reality right on its head, and on the most profound of levels. It’s impossible to believe that the international community supported this obscene “debt” for – a couple of centuries?!!

      Are we all on the same planet?

      You know, it strikes me that France is particularly sneaky re. both its lengthy and brutal imperial adventures AND its domestic experience with fascism. Just as the nation treats the presence of Algerian victims of colonialism as an inexplicable and uncouth threat to Civilization (“how did they even GET here”?), France simultaneously denies its own very specific history of anti-Semitism.
      “The Vichy Government? What’s that?”

      I mention this only in the context of France’s very long-enduring tolerance of fascist elements that have now (as ever) sprung up to play a dishonest and exploitative role in the MidEast conflict(s).
      What do you think? It’s harder to tell from this side of the pond.

      Hey, and thanks for writing, Ellen! Please forgive my bad spelling and my unforgivably delayed response – I was Unconnected.


      1. I did wonder why your blog went silent. (In case you think no one notices.) Welcome back.

        I don’t know that much about France, in spite of living closer than I used to. My French is limited and tends to conk out altogether if anyone actually talks to me, and when I try to read it I’m always missing at least one key word, so that whole sentences turn incomprehensible . I hadn’t thought about linking the country’s history in Haiti with its history in Algeria and its history of antisemitism. It makes a kind of intuitive sense, but I just don’t know enough to comment. I was struck by the irony of the country that brought us liberte, egalite, etc., defending slavery and insisting on payment for the lost property.

        On the other hand, let’s not single France out for antisemitism or a history of colonial slavery. Other countries have both, and turn a blind eye.

        So rather than clarify anything, I’ve only muddied the water. Sorry. ‘Fraid I’m good at that.


      2. M”””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””’
        uddying the waters is a crucial skill and takes a particularr


  2. Thanks so much, Ivon. I have recenty visited your blog and really appreciate the care and openess with which you invite others to join you in what you often present as a mutual exporation. I’m much more inclined to give a lecture :). Your school sounds interesting. Sometimes I think I attended every experimental school on the eastern seaboard!
    Just BTW, one of the most extraordinary teachers in the history of the world is… the poster just before you, Paul Siemmering.
    I’ll drop by yr blog again soon.
    Thanks again for visiting.


  3. Claire, thank you for stopping and visiting. This is a remarkable post with its depth and thorough explanation of the trials of the people of Haiti. I am not familiar with this Paul Farmer book, but I will certainly be looking for it. I read his book The Pathologies of Power. We seem to forget about Haiti and its people so quickly, yet the suffer horribly.

    Take care,



  4. IHi, Paulie. Thank-you so much for sending me the Ayisyen kids’ writng. I can tell you, I cried! May I do a post featuring them? Could they email me some pix? And you too. Even school photos will be okay. Bettter yet, will you see them together? If so, could someone snap a cell phone photo of you guys together? That would be the best. If not,maybe any old pix (digital – I can’t scan hard copy)
    If none of that is feasible, can you send me a) a photo of yourself in a school setting at least 20 years ago? b) ibid, but within the past few years c) a regular head shot or actually, any causal pic of yourself taken within the past five years.
    I know this sounds like a pain, but I can promise you this: it will be worth it!


  5. So great Claire! can’t wait for my Haitian ( that’s Ayisyen in Kreyol) friends to
    see it. I don’t know how you got here but so glad you did. My students Ayisien were the best. I never knew why, or how it was, but I ran these writing classes,and they were so amazing- such great writers, and they’d thank me for letting them write about – well whatever they wrote about


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