The White Curse [Haiti]
by Eduardo Galeano
The Progressive magazine,
On the first day of his year, freedom
in this world turned 200. But no one noticed, or almost no one.
A few days later, the country where this birth occurred, Haiti,
found itself in the media spotlight, not for the anniversary of
universal freedom but for the ouster of President Aristide.
Haiti was the first country to abolish
slavery. However, the most widely read encyclopedias and almost
all educational textbooks attribute this honorable deed to England.
It is true that one fine day the empire that had been the champion
in the slave trade changed its mind about it. But abolition in
Britain took place in 1807, three years after the Haitian revolution,
and it was so unconvincing that in 1832 Britain had to ban slavery
There is nothing new about this slight
of Haiti. For two centuries it has suffered scorn and punishment.
Thomas Jefferson, a slave owner and champion of liberty at the
same time, warned that Haiti had created a bad example and argued
it was necessary to "confine the plague to the island."
His country heeded him. It was sixty years before the U.S. granted
diplomatic recognition to this freest of nations. Meanwhile in
Brazil disorder and violence came to be called "Haitianism."
Slave owners there were saved from this fury until 1888 when Brazil
abolished slavery-the last country in the world to do so.
And Haiti went back to being an invisible
nation-until the next bloodbath. During its brief sojourn on TV
screens and front pages earlier this year, the media showed confusion
and violence and confirmed that Haitians were born to do evil
well and do good badly. Since its revolution, Haiti has been capable
only of mounting tragedies. Once a happy and prosperous colony,
it is now the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere.
Revolutions, certain specialists have
concluded, lead straight to the abyss; others have suggested,
if not stated outright, that the Haitian tendency to fratricide
derives from its savage African heredity. The rule of the ancestors.
The black curse that engenders crime and chaos.
Of the white curse, nothing was said.
The French revolution had abolished slavery,
but Napoleon revived it.
"Which regime was most prosperous
for the colonies?"
"The previous one."
"Then reinstate it."
To reinstate slavery in Haiti, France
sent more than fifty shiploads of soldiers. The country's blacks
rose up and defeated France and won national independence and
freedom for the slaves. In 1804, they inherited a land that had
been razed to grow sugarcane and a land consumed by the conflagrations
of a fierce civil war. And they inherited "the French debt."
France made Haiti pay dearly for the humiliation it inflicted
on Napoleon Bonaparte. The newly born nation had to commit to
pay a gigantic indemnification for the damage it had caused in
winning its freedom. This expiation of the sin of freedom would
cost Haiti 150 million gold francs.
The new country was born with a rope wrapped
tightly around its neck: the equivalent of $21.7 billion in today's
dollars, or forty-four times Haiti's current yearly budget.
In exchange for this fortune, France officially
recognized the new nation. No other countries did so. Haiti was
born condemned to solitude.
Not even Simon Bolivar recognized Haiti,
though he owed it everything. In 1816, it was Haiti that furnished
Bolivar with boats, arms, and soldiers when he showed up on the
island defeated and asking for shelter and help.
Haiti gave him everything with only one
condition: that he free the slaves-an idea that had not occurred
to him until then. The great man triumphed in his war of independence
and showed his gratitude by sending a sword as a gift to Port-au-Prince.
Of recognition he made no mention.
In 1915, the Marines landed in Haiti.
They stayed nineteen years. The first thing they did was occupy
the customs house and . duty collection facilities. The occupying
army suspended the salary of the Haitian president until he agreed
to sign off on the liquidation of the Bank of the Nation, which
became a branch of City Bank of New York. The president and other
blacks were barred entry into the private hotels, restaurants,
and clubs of the foreign occupying power. The occupiers didn't
dare reestablish slavery, but they did impose forced labor for
the building of public works. And they killed a lot of people.
It wasn't easy to quell the fires of resistance.
The guerrilla chief, Charlemagne Peralte,
was exhibited in the public square, crucified on a door to teach
the people a lesson.
This civilizing mission ended in 1934.
The occupiers withdrew, leaving a National Guard, which they had
created, in their place to exterminate any possible trace of democracy.
They did the same in the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua. A short
time afterwards, Duvalier became the Haitian equivalent of Trujillo
And so, from dictator to dictator, from
promise to betrayal, one misfortune followed another.
Aristide, the rebel priest, became president
in 1991. He lasted a few months before the U.S. government helped
to oust him, brought him to the United States, subjected him to
Washington's treatment, and then sent him back a few years later,
in the arms of Marines, to resume his post. Then once again, in
2004, the U.S. helped to remove him from power, and yet again
there was killing. And yet again the Marines came back, as they
always seem to, like the flu.
But the international experts are far
more destructive than invading troops. Placed under strict orders
from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, Haiti
obeyed every instruction, without cheating. The government paid
what it was told to even if it meant there would be neither bread
nor salt. Its credit was frozen despite the fact that the state
had been dismantled and the subsidies and tariffs that had protected
national production had been eliminated. Rice farmers, once the
majority, soon became beggars or boat people. Many have ended
in the depths of the Caribbean, and more are following them to
the bottom, only these shipwreck victims aren't Cuban so their
plight never makes the papers.
Today Haiti imports its rice from the
United States, where international experts, who are rather distracted
people, forgot to prohibit tariffs and subsidies to protect national
On the border between Haiti and the Dominican
Republic, there is a large sign that reads: Road to Ruin.
Down that road, everyone is a sculptor.
Haitians have the habit of collecting tin cans and scrap metal
that they cut and shape and hammer with old-world mastery, creating
marvels that are sold in the street markets.
Haiti is a country that has been thrown
away, as an eternal punishment of its dignity. There it lies,
like scrap metal. It awaits the hands of its people.
Eduardo Galeano, a Uruguayan journalist,
is the author of "The Open Veins of Latin America,"
"Memory of Fire," and "Soccer in Sun and Shadow.
" This article is published with permission of IPS Columnist