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#2933: Antoine comments on "Chirac's claim that Haiti was not a French colony" (fwd)

From: Guy Antoine <GuyAntoine@windowsonhaiti.com>

I thank  Jean Saint-Vil for the resource link he provided, though my
interpretation of Chirac's statement will differ from his.  At the end of
this e-mail, I also provide for those who speak French an even more complete
excerpt from Chirac's press conference: the full text of both the question
and answer which concerned Haiti.  I will not hazard to translate it, since
a proper translation involves a lot of work, and nobody is paying me for
doing so.  However, I think this illustrates well the need for people to be
fluent in more than one language, and in the case of Haiti, it is useful for
anyone connected or interested in Haiti's development to know Kreyol first
and reasonably two out of French, English, and Spanish.

As I was saying, my own interpretation of Chirac's statement is not as
clear-cut regarding the ill will of the French President.  I would be firmly
on the side of those who'd ask him for a clarification, before jumping to a
damning conclusion.  I will never be an apologist for Chirac, I hope that
this much is clear at least, but I do believe that one is entitled to
explain his words before his execution takes place.  I have a few things to
say in reaction to Jean's note, but first here's my observation about
Chirac's statement, from a grammatical and hopefully logical point of view
("une analyse logique et grammaticale").

Chirac said: "Haiti n'a pas été, [a proprement parlé] (sic), une colonie
française..."  First, I should say that it is surprising to find such
blatant grammatical errors ("a proprement parlé") on an official French
site.  Perhaps the French are getting as careless about their language as
Americans, or perhaps they need the help of a Haitian editor... don't know
which!  But much more importantly, let's look at the verb tense " n'a pas
été ", which would translate in English to "has not been".  Therefore, what
Chirac said was that "Haiti has not been, properly speaking, a French
colony..."  For heaven sakes, of course Haiti has not been a French colony
since 1804! Or perhaps, in the eyes of France, since 1825 (when Charles X
formally recognized our independence, after the collection of ransom, that
was coercive and absolutely not justified regardless of the argument
advanced earlier by Poincy.  WE were the principal victims, NOT the French
settlers who lost "their" fortune in the process of our emancipation!!)

If Chirac had said: "Haiti ne fût jamais, à proprement parler, une colonie
française" (Haiti never was, properly speaking, a French colony), I would
not have slept the last couple of nights, as I would wonder about the source
of all this revisionism of recent and past History.

Just a few months ago, I visited Toussaint Louverture's death cell in "Fort
de Joux" in France, and I heard the following prepared statements from the
French guide:
1- Toussaint was considered by far the most important prisoner that was held
in this historic fort (though a famous French revolutionary and reknowned
seducer of women, including the wives of his jailers, also spent quite a bit
of time there)
2- While other prisoners were allowed to walk outside of their cells within
the confines of the fort (supposedly under  surveillance, enough to prevent
Pepe le Pew's amorous activities?), once Toussaint was placed in his cell,
he never was allowed to leave it, not even once in those eight miserable
dark and cold months!
3- Toussaint's cell was indeed very dark, due to the fact that the tall
window that let both sunlight and fresh air in was cemented up to nearly the
very top.  It was believed that otherwise, the old man would find a way of
escaping (perhaps by transforming himself into a "loupgarou")
4- It was greatly feared at the time that if Toussaint managed to escape, he
would become instrumental in denying France ITS MOST PRIZED COLONY.
Napoleon's wrath at such an occurrence was feared just as much.  Napoleon's
orders with respect to the conditions of Toussaint's imprisonment were very
5- Toussaint's letters to his family were never delivered, fearing that they
might contain some coded messages.
6- Napoleon had a grudging respect for Toussaint, though he had been
irritated by Toussaint's letters addressed to "The First of Whites" from
"The First of Blacks".  Later, in his own exile at Ste Hélène, Napoleon
expressed regret at having subjected Toussaint to such a cruel treatment
(!!... this, of course, I take with a grain of salt... how easily can one be
sorry, after the deed is done!)

There was no semblance of denying from this French guide, or from any of the
French men I have ever talked to, even the most arrogant French men (and God
knows there have been a few!), that Haiti had ever been a French colony.
Could Chirac be the first in his country to engage in such foolish
revisionism?  I, for one, WILL give him the benefit of the doubt, until he
clarifies his statement to indicate that indeed Haiti never WAS a French
colony.  For sure, the objection would not have been raised if Chirac had
said: "Haiti n'a pas été, à proprement parler, une colonie française depuis
1804" ("Haiti has not been, properly speaking, a French colony since 1804"
... or as are Martinique and Guadeloupe, pardon my French... those are
French departments, not colonies).  Two little words: "since 1804"...  Of
course, if Chirac had said those two words, we might then have confronted
him with the fact that it was not until 1825 that Haiti's independence was
recognized by France, and after ransom to end the continued military threat
to Haiti.

As for Chirac stating that "we share the use of the same language"... like
you (but seriously) I cannot fault him for saying it.  Haitians have always
recognized French as their official language, or lately one of the two.  If
Haitians  profess such ambivalence with respect to their own language, could
we expect anymore from France's head of state who has a vested interest in
advancing "la Francophonie" in this world?  In fact, I wonder if more
Haitians would not be offensed if Chirac had said of Haitians: "Of course,
we do not speak the same language." I wonder...  Perhaps the time will come
when Haitians will indeed consider publishing official documents in Kreyol
FIRST, then in French... but unfortunately, our allegiance to French culture
will keep us from affirming our own for some time to come (at least,
officially).  Perhaps, one day, at the Organization of American States or at
the United Nations, the Haitian ambassador will speak up entirely in Kreyol
and have his speech translated to French, but until that day... my advice to
the French President would be to recruit as many would-be French speakers as
he can get, and especially editors...

Jean Saint-Vil also spoke of the Pope's selective amnesia with respect to
the participation or complicity of the Church with respect to slavery.
Well, I for one, would prefer to see him apologize first for what happened
under his watch, namely for the Vatican being the only state in the world to
have officially recognized the putchists in 1991, and for the collusion
between the Haitian high clergy and the oppressors of the Haitian majority
class.  I would have much wanted to hear that, though I am realistic enough
to realize that it will not happen.  Also, I guess the Pope would have a
dilemma, apologizing for the slavery of Africans and the genocide of
America's native population: what to do with the riches of the Church, with
all the gold from all those cathedrals, which was acquired on the back of
such people?  Apologies are never enough... since the question remains: what
to do about the legacy of what one "apologizes" for.

Finally, Jean said that if Patrick Dorismond was given even as one-third of
the doubt given to Chirac, he might have been alive today...  Well, allow me
to separate the two cases, as clearly as I possibly can.  Chirac's statement
deserves scrutiny (not the benefit of the doubt), and upon such scrutiny, it
should not be said that he implied something if that was not at all his
intent.  Fairness is fairness.

As for the brutalizing behavior of the police in America's cities, it is
TOTALLY INEXCUSABLE.  In a truly civilized society, the mayor and police
commissioner of New York would have to tender their resignation in the face
of their continued attempts to rationalize such antagonistic and vile
behavior from the police force.  A rationaliztion that reached to smearing
the victim's reputation, in revealing that he was charged with stealing when
he was 13 years old!  No apologies... only the insinuation that this
individual, a victim of still another flagrant case of police abuse, was
after all a low life form, and we should be grateful to the police for
having gotten rid of him.  This is an affront and an outrage that should
stand on its own.  Once again, apologies are not enough.

As the Pope once said: "Il faut que les choses changent" (Something's got to
change!)  In the United States, in Haiti, in the civilized world, policemen
should be made to understand that their role is to serve and protect the
people, not to shoot them (for no good reason), not to brutalize them (as in
the Carnival this year in Port-au-Prince... according to one of my
correspondents, a lot of blood spilled due to the police's clubbing that
followed the entanglement of people fighting for cheese that was thrown from
a float... I think those responsible for throwing cheese at the people
should have been the ones arrested for such irresponsibility), not to
sodomize them as happened infamously in New York City.  And those who
rationalize such aberrant behavior are doing no favor to the good and honest
policemen in the force.  They should be run out of office, the sooner the

Guy S. Antoine
Look thru & Imagine!

What follows is the full test of the question to Mr. Chirac regarding Haiti,
and his answer, per the Champs Elysee's website.  It was obtained after a
search on the word "Haiti" and the retieval of the full text of the speech
in question.

QUESTION - Monsieur le Président, en République Dominicaine, plus que
n'importe où, nous avons une situation de misère, nous connaissons la misère
du peuple haïtien, nous partageons la même île et il y a des secteurs en
République Dominicaine qui sont préoccupés par cette situation très dure du
peuple haïtien. Et c'est le peuple dominicain qui, bien sûr, doit accepter
cette émigration excessive et en porter le fardeau. Il y a un certain nombre
de secteurs dominicains qui sont très très préoccupés. Que pense faire la
France, la France pays riche qui a eu une de ces colonies ? Que feront
d'autres pays pour participer véritablement au développement de Haïti, merci

LE PRESIDENT - Haïti n'a pas été, a proprement parlé, une colonie française,
mais nous avons effectivement depuis longtemps des relations amicales avec
Haïti dans la mesure où notamment nous partageons l'usage de la même langue.
Et la France a eu une coopération et a toujours une coopération importante
avec Haïti et elle continuera à l'avoir. La France est aujourd'hui le
deuxième pays, après le Japon, et avant les Etats-Unis, en valeur absolue,
donneur d'aide publique au développement. La France en est fière d'ailleurs,
et bien entendu dans le cadre de cette politique Haïti fait partie de nos
priorités. Je reconnais que ce n'est pas suffisant. La France ne pourra pas
seule assurer le développement de Haïti et nous souhaitons beaucoup que le
renforcement de l'aide publique au développement -à quoi nous croyons et
pour quoi nous nous battons- nous permette d'améliorer le sort non seulement
d'Haïti, mais de beaucoup de pays qui dans le monde aujourd'hui ont besoin
de cette aide publique s'ils veulent assurer leur développement.