World Press Review
The Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano has written several books denouncing foreign intervention in Latin America. Decidedly to the left, his views have a large following among Latin American intellectuals. Haiti is the country that is treated the worst by the world's powerful. Bankers humiliate it. Merchants ignore it. And politicians slam their doors in its face.
Democracy arrived only recently in Haiti. During its short life, this frail, hungry creature received nothing but abuse. It was murdered in its infancy in 1991 in a coup led by General Raoul Cedras.
Three years later, democracy returned. After having installed and deposed countless military dictators, the U.S. backed President Jean Bertrand Aristide-the first leader elected by popular vote in Haiti's history-and a man foolish enough to want a country with less injustice.
In order to erase every trace of American participation in the bloody Cedras dictatorship, U.S. soldiers removed 160,000 pages of records from the secret archives. Aristide returned to Haiti with his hands tied. He was permitted to take office as president, but not power. His successor, Rene Preval, who became president in February, received nearly 90 percent of the vote.
Any minor bureaucrat at the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund has more power than Preval does. Every time he asks for a credit line to feed the hungry, educate the illiterate, or provide land to the peasants, he gets no response. Or he may be told to go back and learn his lessons. And because the Haitian government cannot seem to grasp that it must dismantle its few remaining public services, the last shred of a safety net for the most defenseless people on Earth, its masters give up on it.
The U.S. invaded Haiti in 1915 and ran the country until 1934. It withdrew when it had accomplished its two objectives: seeing that Haiti had paid its debts to U.S. banks and that the constitution was amended to allow for the sale of plantations to foreigners. Robert Lansing, then secretary of state, justified the long and harsh military occupation by saying that blacks were incapable of self-government, that they had "an inherent tendency toward savagery and a physical in ability to live a civilized life."
Haiti had been the jewel in the crown, France's richest colony: one big sugar plantation, harvested by slave labor. The French philosopher Montesquieu explained it bluntly: "Sugar would be too expensive if it were not produced by slaves. These slaves are blacks .... it is not possible that God, who is a very wise being, would have put a soul . .., in such an utterly black body." Instead, God had put a whip in the overseer's hand.
In l903, the black citizens of Haiti gave Napoleon Bonaparte's troops a tremendous beating, and Europe has never for given them for this humiliation inflicted upon the white race. Haiti was the first free country in South America or the Caribbean. The free people raised their flag over a country in ruins. The land of Haiti had been devastated by the sugar monoculture and then laid waste by the war against France. One third of the population had fallen in combat. Then Europe began its blockade. The newborn nation was condemned to solitude. No one would buy from it, no one would sell to it, nor would any nation recognize it.
Not even Simon Bolivar had the courage to establish diploma tic relations with the black nation. Bolivar was able to reopen his campaign for the liberation of the Americas, after being defeated by Spain, thanks to help from Haiti. The Haitian government sup plied him with seven ships, arms, and soldiers, setting only one condition: that he free the slaves-something that had not occurred to him. Bolivar kept his promise, but after his victory, he turned his back on the nation that had saved him. When he convened a meeting in Panama of the American nations, he invited England, but not Haiti.
The U.S. did not recognize Haiti until 70 years later. By then, Haiti was already in the bloody hands of the military dictators, who devoted the meager resources of this starving nation toward relieving its debt to France. Europe demanded that Haiti pay France a huge indemnity to atone for its crime against French dignity.
The history of the abuse of Haiti, which in our lifetime has become a tragedy, is also the story of Western civilization's racism.
--Eduardo Galeano, Inter Press Service
(Third World-oriented news agency),
Rome, Sept. 4,1996.
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