A Trilogy Of Posts Inspired By Haiti
Contrary to the insane ramblings of Satan’s sock-puppet, Haitian independence was not a Satanic pact, but a truly universal declaration:
Only in Haiti, was the declaration of human freedom universally consistent. Only in Haiti was this declaration sustained at all costs, in direct opposition to the social order and economic logic of the day.
– Peter Hallward, “Damming the Flood: Haiti, Aristide and the Politics of Containment”
In his review of that book, Slavoj Zizek writes of the response to the popular slave uprising in Haiti that promised to deliver where the United Irishmen of 1798 had failed: to free a colony and make it actually free.
Denounced by Talleyrand as “a horrible spectacle for all white nations”, the “mere existence of an independent Haiti” was itself an intolerable threat to the slave-owning status quo. Haiti thus had to be made an exemplary case of economic failure, to dissuade other countries from taking the same path.
France forced Haiti to buy their freedom. The price, 150,000,000Francs, was equivalent to the whole annual budget of the European Superpower. It was finally repaid in 1947. It is just the most notable burden placed on this half-island in the last two centuries by the enlightened West.
The heirs of that popular uprising is the “Flood”, the Lavalas who have won every election in the past 20 years but have twice been ousted by US backed military coups. They have been demonized, almost certainly unfairly, as a fantastically dangerous militia in the international press because they represent something truly terrifying: a governmental innovation in the third world. The democracy of the Lavalas consists of directly self organised public groups, not the sort of thing that easily morphs into passive parliamentary republics that signs trade bills with Amerca and accepts military technology at low low prices from the EU. In a reaction only slightly less brazen than the French in 1804, the West has repeatedly decided that the mere existence of an independent Haiti that is not a western style democracy is unthinkable.
The poverty that existed in Haiti prior to this week’s tragedy did not develop in a vacuum. The violence around the Aristide government was not a sudden outburst. This people have a narrative that explains how they got here and at every point, it is the condescension of the rich and the tailoring of deals to suit the powerful. It is understandable then that the world only truly turns its attention to Haiti when an act of God and not men devastates the land. God can be our fallguy. We’ll save Haiti from plate tectonics through mobile phone donations and charity t-shirts.
But our band-aid solutions will serve nothing but our conscience if we do not first recognise that heavily impoverished nations are and have been held down by the West and will help themselves up, in their own innovative way, if only they were let. This would be to turn our internal superiority upside down but it would set justice the right way up again. If the West can help them through this tragedy, Haitians are capable of rebuilding their nation. But for that to happen we might have to challenge the racism inherent in our third world saviour complexes.
Your Correspondent, Paralyzed with rage… and island rhythms.