Yesterday, an entitled white American took a verbal shot at Africa, and at Haiti, the nation in the Western Hemisphere with the deepest African origins. So – sigh – let’s take another historical look at our neighbor to the south, to understand where this racial animus comes from.
Christopher Columbus was the first European on Haiti. He installed his brother Bartolomeo as governor, who immediately wiped out the native Arawak population and replaced them with Spanish settlers. The island then became a battleground between the French, Spanish and Dutch, with the French gaining control in 1664. Over the next century, the French enslaved and imported approximately 10,000 African natives every year (at one point one-third of all slaves headed to the Americas went to Haiti.) By the mid 1700’s, the colony contained one million slave laborers controlled by only 30,000 white overseers, who exercised control through flayings, crucifixion and boiling in cane syrup. At its height the colony – roughly the size of Maryland – produced 40% of all sugar and 60% of all coffee consumed in Europe. It was known as “The Pearl of the Antilles.”
Thousands of slaves fled into the mountains and established rebel communities. As they had come from dozens of unrelated African tribes, they had different beliefs and spoke many different languages. Their only common thread was their African religious roots, and in 1751 a one-armed voodoo priest named Mackandal united the rebels and began raiding the northern plantations. The French Revolution threw the Empire into turmoil in 1789 and soon Haiti was in flames. Over the next 10 years, former slaves gradually gained control of the island. But in 1802, Napoleon Bonaparte sent his brother-in-law to recapture the colony, who terrorized the population with unspeakable horrors, including the use of primitive gas chambers. But the Haitians prevailed, and in 1804, Haiti declared independence from France.
The United States did not recognize Haiti for 60 years because of our own internal struggles with the issues of slavery. Since that recognition in 1864, Haiti has been caught between the interests of the United States, Britain, France, Spain, Germany and even the Vatican. There were six different Haitian presidents from 1911 to 1915, resulting in the United States invading and occupying the country until 1934.
The Americans, who occupied a stretch of Port-au-Prince known as “millionaire’s row,” created an elite political class of light-skinned Haitians who have since ruled the country with brutality. The lower classes have been persecuted and most of the educated upper classes have fled the country, creating a brain-drain that has never been rectified.
Haiti is the world’s oldest independent black republic. Haiti is the second-oldest republic in the Americas. Haiti is also the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. And it is still recovering from one of the worst earthquakes in recent memory.
So perhaps Haiti really is an irredeemable sh*thole.
Or perhaps the United States might want to consider offering Haiti some recognition, compassion and sincere support.
Instead of blaming the victim for centuries of terror that we helped create.