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Haiti, The First Black Republic

by Bukka Rennie
October 01, 2001

Haiti, the first black republic in the Western Hemisphere, paid reparations to France to the tune of 150 million in "gold francs". Imagine paying reparations for having won your independence in one of the bloodiest episodes in modern history. The oppressed compensating the oppressor for their freedom.

That was a shock to many in the audience at the recently-held CLR James conference who may not have been so informed previously.

Haiti is what it is today because of the numerous compounded negative effects it faced, such as the deliberate political and economic non-recognition by all the then major nations of the world, coupled, of course, with the geometric effect of having to pay such severe reparations.

That is a historic fact. But why the surprise? The white planters in the English-speaking Caribbean were the ones compensated to the tune of some 200 million for the loss of slave labour. The ex-slaves got nothing. Similarly, the rice and cotton planters of the southern states of America were likewise compensated after slavery was abolished.

The Euro-centrics have always sought reparation and compensation for their "kith and kin" wherever they may be and whatever may have been the disaster suffered. Similarity of treatment to those of us who are not of their kith and kin has never been their agenda.

The First Peoples of the Americas, the so-called Red Indians, culturally were of an entirely different view of the world to that of the British and Europeans with whom they clashed. The First Peoples had no concept of private ownership of the physical and natural environment.

"How can you own the rivers and the trees and the animals around? Can you own the air we breathe and all these things so necessary for living?"

Questions to that effect were posed by Chief Seattle and Chief Crazy Horse. And they were not afraid to die for their cause. They lost eventually and paid the ultimate price. Genocide and disappearance of their civilisation.

Reparations in any form to the minority groups of them still existing have never been considered. What is fundamental though is that they exist in an environment today in which there are mechanisms for sustainable development.

The people of Haiti were also not afraid to die, they embraced the modern concepts of "liberty, fraternity and equality" and fought the French Europeans to establish these principles. They won and yet they were made to pay and are still paying in different ways as they work out the essential mechanisms.

The USA's role in all of this is documented history even as she grew up and matured as a country projected as the bastion of freedom and democracy. But how could such a country at this time, in today's world, have the audacity to walk out of the Durban Conference on the question of reparations for the descendants of slavery that existed on their shores for well over 300 years? The simple answer is that black people are not considered their "kith and kin".

The point being made in the two previous columns is that America needs to review its foreign policies and its positions in relation to the rest of the world. And not only because of the events of October 11 when the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were attacked. The necessity existed all along.

Real enlightened, visionary leadership would have seen to that since the '60s when for the first time every aspect and facet of world civilisation, Eastern as well as Western, was put to question by conscious youth and progressive working-class forces everywhere.

In many instances, it was the skewed tenets of American foreign policy that served, inadvertently or not, to prop up all kinds of crazy, backward regimes such as that of fundamentalist "mullahs" with their anachronistic feudal political structures reminiscent of the Middle Ages, or even that of modern brutal dictatorships as existed in Chile and Panama and the Philippines.

What is ironic is that some of these very backward regimes would in the long run turn against America and foster popular hostilities against her when it seemed to be in their narrow economic interests to do so, eg the Taliban and Iraqi regimes.

While all this is happening the masses of people therein are deliberately kept hungry and trapped in some twilight time zone mouthing and screaming emotional epithets, and at the same time their progressive strata are effectively isolated and quietly but brutally liquidated.

Look, we have been saying over and over that America has a particular responsibility. Precisely because she is now the only super-power and that power must be exercised and be wielded with a firm sense of morality. The "person" or "nation" placed for whatever reason on a pedestal has to bear the greatest moral burden before the rest of the world.

Borges, the Argentine writer, claims that America is a country that has assigned to herself the name of an entire continent. If such is the case, is she to look or to continue to look upon the rest of the continent as her personal "backyard"?

We said in the column "War of the flea", that America "represents a benchmark in humanity's long march and the point is that no one wants to be left out..." A "benchmark" is a stage that measures or denotes significant and fundamental accomplishment and achievement.

America is the country that has taken the present prevalent mode of production, distribution and consumption to its highest levels. She manages and controls the global market and she is the one that profits the most from globalisation. It is a mode that warrants all the basic freedoms, including the freedom of choice and the right to the pursuit of knowledge and happiness.

In relative terms it is the mode of production that has extended the democratic process the furthest. All the known modes of the past, eg tribalism, communalism, feudalism, slavery, early capitalism and all its degenerate totalitarian variants, ie state capitalism/socialism, fascism, etc, have to one extent or another been hindrances to the democratic processes and been major blots on humanity's long march towards universal freedom.

America, just as she has assigned the name of a whole continent to herself, has likewise assigned to herself and her system, "Democracy" (with a capital "D"), as if to suggest that she is equivalent to the be-all and end-all of humanity's quest for complete fulfilment.

Nothing is further from the truth. Yet she is today a benchmark of modernity and what is supposed to accompany that is a moral burden and a moral responsibility; mess that up and the hostility towards America will intensify. Just as happens when any big chief anywhere betrays the moral trust.

There is this standing joke in our favoured "watering hole" in Tunapuna: Put two airplanes on the tarmac in any underdeveloped country in the world and say that one is bound for "America" and the other to anywhere else and see which of the two airplanes would be filled to capacity.

No one wants, nor is it possible, to destroy this benchmark of humanity's collective travail. All and sundry want to be part of it though on mutually beneficial terms and all wish to be respected for whatever unique particularity they may bring to the common agenda.

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