Turmoil in Haiti: 1800s and Today

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10/01/2022 by socialistfight

By Ailesh Dese

The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution Paperback –
by C L R James “It was an extraction that determined Haiti’s future poverty and was significant in establishing France’s continuing prosperity. This unjust demand by France for Haiti to compensate former Colonists and their descendants severely limited Haiti’s development. Haiti has never recovered economically from the reparations forced on it by France

In order to understand the current situation in Haiti, it is necessary to have an historical framework for understanding how the class structure in Haiti that emerged as a result of French Colonialism haunts Haiti to this day. 

In 1492 Columbus landed on an Island in the Caribbean which he called Hispaniola (Little Spain). There were about eight million people living there, the Taino. [1] By 1548 less than 500 remained due to Spanish brutality, torture and forced labour. So, they decided to kidnap Africans to work, as they did not wish to work for themselves. By 1630 the Spanish had exhausted the gold in Hispaniola and moved on to Mexico and Peru.

The French arrived in 1697 and controlled the entire western part of what they called San Domingue. It became the most profitable colony in the world exporting coffee, sugar indigo and cotton. Africans kidnapped and transported to San Domingue’s indescribably brutal system had an average life expectancy of seven years. The slave death rate was so high (owners didn’t bother to provide them with food or clothing). They just bought a new batch of slaves once the current ones were worked to death. The plantations were actually slave labour camps.

There were several slave revolts e.g., when the people rose up to poison their owners in the Makandal rebellion in 1750 [2] but these rebellions were brutally crushed.

In 1791 the class system in Haiti was as follows. The French Colonists were at the top of society and all rights were restricted to white men with property. The Colonists regularly raped the enslaved women, and those children were next in the class hierarchy. After them came the Free people of colour then Africans who were born on the island and who were adapted to French culture and language, then the poor whites. At the bottom of the class hierarchy were the Africans born in Africa who were very rebellious and who resisted enslavement in every way they could do without attracting the attention of the overseer and inviting punishment. These Africans at the bottom made up some 70% of the population at the time of the final uprising leading to the Revolution. There were multiple factions, with different goals and opposed to each other.

This vile class hierarchy is an important part of the historical dynamics not only in the revolution but in shaping the republic afterwards. See CLR James “Black Jacobins”. [3]

The Taíno were an Arawak people who were the indigenous people of the Caribbean and Florida. At the time of European contact in the late 15th century, they were the principal inhabitants of most of Cuba, Jamaica, Hispaniola (the Dominican Republic and Haiti), and Puerto Rico.

Napoleon sent Polish soldiers to the island to squash the rebellion, but they sided with the rebels. The British and the Spanish tried to subvert the revolution but were thwarted and forced to flee. After 13 years the Revolution prevailed, and San Domingue was free from slavery. The first thing the free people did was to rename the country Ayiti (pronounced (Hi-Tea) the name the Taino people had given the land to honour the indigenous people who preceded them on the land who were wiped out by the Europeans.

Although The Haitian Revolution was the most radical for its age and a key event in the making of the modern world, few Historians are willing to acknowledge its importance primarily because Haiti was a successful anti-colonial revolution undertaken by Black people.

The Constitution was based on the freedom of all its population and was opposed to colonialism and slavery. The indentured workers (German and Polish) were now regarded as Black. White men were forbidden to own property on the Island. The Haitian Constitution revolutionized the idea of equality by de-linking citizenship from race, it universalised the idea of equality. By contrast the American Constitution maintained slavery as central to its Constitution.

What kind of “Revolution” leaves millions of people in chains? The French also maintained forms of domination and exclusion in their colonies.

When the Haitians won the revolutionary war, the French immediately established a total economic blockade of Haiti. This was mainly to manage the contagion of revolution, to punish Haiti for daring to free itself from tyranny. The blockade bankrupted Haiti in 20 years and was lifted only in 1825 when Haiti agreed to pay France for the buildings land and people it once owned. The enslaved were not to be compensated, however. 

General Christophe in the North of the country rejected this outrageous and unfair demand. And it was only after his death that the payments were arranged. Haiti was unable to pay so the Haitian government took loans from French Banks and entered into a cycle of debt which lasted into the 20th century. This coerced debt in today’s money would be equal to 21 billion US dollars.

It was an extraction that determined Haiti’s future poverty and was significant in establishing France’s continuing prosperity. This unjust demand by France for Haiti to compensate former Colonists and their descendants severely limited Haiti’s development. Haiti has never recovered economically from the reparations forced on it by France

The Haitian Revolution inspired and fostered independence movements across South and Central America. Simon Bolivar the great South American Liberator took refuge in Haiti twice and the Haitians financed Bolivar and asked him to free the slaves in Peru and Venezuela. Other islands in the Caribbean revolted e.g. Curacao. Former slaves from Haiti sailed to Curacaoto help with the revolt.

The Haitian Revolution became a thorn in the side of the US when it became an empire. The US invaded Haiti multiple times, last time was in 2008. Haiti was occupied by the US from 1915 to 1934. The whole economy was controlled by the US and the local currency was linked to the US dollar. The US has decided who should be President in Haiti. The US has removed President Estime (1950) and President Aristide (2004). Both wanted to raise the minimum wage which is against the interest of the American Corporations which owns sweat shops etc, in Haiti.

The failure of the Revolution to empower the 70% of the poor people (who did not get any wealth out of fighting for the revolution and are still today being ground into dust by the oligarchy) is a major obstacle to change. Haiti now has an elite which controls 90% of the economy, these people are not even Haitians they are mostly Syrians, Arabs, Lebanese, German descendants. They are working hand in glove with the CIA and need to be neutralised for there to be any progress for the vast majority of poor Haitians. Canadian Mining Companies are mining rare earth minerals in Haiti, yet one never hears mention of these resources, just about poor starving Haitians…

Haiti frequently makes the news with natural disasters, political violence and economic crises. On the 7th July 2021 the President of Haiti was assassinated by Columbian forces. Moise was a corrupt dictator who refused to have elections and who, like his predecessor was installed by the US. There had been on going protest about the government, a foul swamp of corruption and the stealing of money sent by the Government of Venezuela for earthquake relief. The people continue to protest.

The mercenaries that were caught after killing Moise claim that they were Columbian and were sent to protect Moise … all very odd. No doubt the US had something to do with it. The only solution for Haiti is revolution but that seems unlikely as the people are divided by charlatans. There is a refusal to confront the class hierarchy of the society. This is absolutely necessary for organising an end to capitalist oppression in Haiti


[1] The Taíno were an Arawak people who were the indigenous people of the Caribbean and Florida. At the time of European contact in the late 15th century, they were the principal inhabitants of most of Cuba, Jamaica, Hispaniola (the Dominican Republic and Haiti), and Puerto Rico.

[2]  Francois Macandal, Aug 2016, The Mackandal Rebellion (1750-1758) The First Rebellion For a Haitian Black Nation Before The Haitian Revolution of 1791, https://tinyurl.com/kej9s6z3, Macandal, a charismatic guerrilla leader, lived during the 18th century when the mid-Atlantic slave trade was at its peak. He led an uprising on the French Colony of St. Domingue (now Haiti and the Dominican Republic)… However, the “Macandal Revolution” was unique in all of history. By virtue of his pronouncements and dedication to the abolition of slavery, he became the chief architect and progenitor of the Haitian Revolution. Here the position is presented that if not for the “Macandal Revolution,” which may have lasted 12 years, the Haitian Revolution of 1791 would never have happened.

[3] Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Black_Jacobins, The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution is a 1938 book by Trinidadian historian C. L. R. James, a history of the Haitian Revolution of 1791–1804. He went to Paris to research this work, where he met Haitian military historian Alfred Auguste Nemours. James’s text places the revolution in the context of the French Revolution, and focuses on the leadership of Toussaint L’Ouverture, who was born a slave but rose to prominence espousing the French Revolutionary ideals of liberty and equality. These ideals, which many French revolutionaries did not maintain consistently with regard to the black humanity of their colonial possessions, were embraced, according to James, with a greater purity by the persecuted blacks of Haiti; such ideals “meant far more to them than to any Frenchman.”

Former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide; the US decides who should be President in Haiti.

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