The leader of the Haitian revolution, Toussaint L’Ouverture, was a former house slave. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
A call to foes
who plug their ears hoping
not to hear their conscience’s call
A call to friends
Wringing their hands
Waiting to follow the brave
To risk everything
To make humanity
A call to those
soooo Comfortable on the fence
Looking at suffering
Enjoying the spectacle
Of a family
seeking to reconnect
with all of its members
from South Africa
Is it not time to stop the 200 years and more of suffering of the people of Haiti? Isn’t more than 200 years of solitary confinement enough punishment for doing what humanity was in greatest need of: equality, freedom, justice, dignity?
Is it not time to stop and think about how best for humanity to become one again? Is it not time to end – select your words – the solitary confinement, exile, résidence surveillée, relégation, of Jean-Bertrand Aristide in a country freed from apartheid?
Following the earthquake on 12 January 2010, alarm bells went off in the military and political power centres of the world. In the minds of the most powerful governments (those who got together to make sure that Aristide be taken out of Haiti), the first order of business was to secure and maintain their order on the island. Securing an order that for more than two centuries has been framed by constant punishment of those (and their descendants) who managed to break free from the rule imposed by the Code Noir issued in 1685 by the French monarchy.
That code rationalised the Africans to be movable property, not human beings. It was a way of legalising the beginning of a never-ending crime against humanity that can also be seen as a splitting of humanity, which, to this day, has not ceased.
Between 1792 and 1794, the convention declared the end of slavery. Then came Napoléon Bonaparte and the vengeful restoration of slavery everywhere. How virulent that process was, has been described in many books, among them C.L.R. James’s Black Jacobins and, more recently Claude Ribbe, Le Crime de Napoléon.
Following the failure to reinstate slavery in the place which had gotten rid of it without permission, France and its allies forced Haiti to pay compensation for the loss of property (the slaves and the sugar plantations).
Jean-Bertrand Aristide, his team and supporters, mostly the poorest of the poorest – Fanmi Lavalass – insisted that there be restitution. The compensation which had been paid from 1825 – 1826 through 1947 had to be given back to Haiti.
The case of Aristide’s kidnapping in April 2004 and subsequent imprisonment in South Africa, and the latter’s shameless opposition to his return to Haiti following the earthquake on 12 January 2010 is one of the most heartless crimes ever conscientiously and consciously committed by the so-called Western community on people in danger. It is like the collective raping of a people in the process of healing. It is like a repetition of the splitting apart that wrenched the Africans from their land and their families in order to feed the insatiable predatory monster in the process of being born across the Atlantic.
How wrenching the history of Haiti has been cannot be imagined by those who see themselves as the descendants of those who asked for compensation. The violators managed to pass themselves off as the victims of what has, since 10 May 2001, been recognised by the French National Assembly (Loi Taubira) as a crime against humanity. Pierre Nora, a famous historian, protested the passing of that law. Nora’s logic is not unlike the professor who, in graduate school, reminded me that historians could not apply the morality of the 20th century to what happened in the 19th century.
At the time, I could not think of the obvious answer (i.e. the Africans, back then, did not consider themselves as objects, but as human beings, as fully part of humanity, but since the Code Noir was the instrument for reducing them to objects, historians are supposed to submit to that legal document as if that document superseded what the Africans considered themselves to be.)
For the past five centuries, the mindset which has grown hand in hand with capitalism has blinded humanity to one of its fundamental tenets, namely that it is one and that its splitting apart must stop. What is at stake in Haiti is much bigger than how the jailers of Aristide and their allies would like to frame the issue.
But before calling on them to correct their ways, one should attempt to explain to ourselves and to them what has been happening to the commons, history and Africa. This is crucial for the simple reason that the so-called political and military leaders of the world have always looked at Africa and its history as an extension of the commons, to be enclosed at will for the purposes of benefiting the specialists of enclosing and keeping in mind that the enclosure movement has moved beyond land to assault what was once considered sacred: humanity’s conscience.
It is important to draw the attention of these masters of the enclosing process to how those who are being enclosed have seen and felt the process. Long before the splitting of the atom, humanity began to be split apart and became one of the most enduring roots of capitalism, a predatory system that is unaware of how predatory it is.
Africans from Africa (Kimpa Vita and the Antonins), on the way to the ships, on the ships themselves (Ayi Kwei Armah’s Two Thousand Seasons), in the Caribbean, in the Americas, refused to enter the equation being prepared for them to be fodder for something which is now called globalisation. The knowledge of how that history has unfolded is still embryonic, at best.
Why the vindictiveness against Haiti, against Aristide, against Fanmi Lavalass? What is it in the contemporary history of Haiti that frightens the ever-modernising enslavers?
What happened between 1791-1804 in Saint Domingue was not supposed to happen. The dominant mindset was certain that slaves could not think outside of what they were expected to be: slaves. However, a good half of them, at the time, had been born in Africa: free. They did not need to learn about freedom from the philosophers of the Enlightenment. Therefore, when the Africans resolved to free themselves and organised themselves accordingly, they achieved the unthinkable, the improbable, the forbidden.
For more than 200 years, the descendants of the revolution which went beyond the French Revolution have never forgotten what had been achieved through commitment, organisation, determination, emancipatory politics. At the same time, for more than 200 years, the descendants of those who were defeated have vowed to crush any person, and/or group of persons who might appear like carrying on in fidelity with the spirit of 1791-1804.
The descendants of the ones who committed crimes against humanity have vowed to keep Haiti as a source of the cheapest possible labour available to the US. Poverty must be maintained at all costs so that people are willing to work at any price that might be offered.
In order to demonstrate that the action of 1791-1804 was wrongheaded, the current leaders of the most powerful nations are determined to keep hammering away at the following lesson: Challenging power shall always be punished with the greatest severity. In cases where victory was achieved (as in 1804) the punishment shall be incalculably harsher.
According to such a view, Haiti shall get poorer and poorer and the richest nation on earth (for now) shall get richer and richer. The shameful inequality based on an even more shameful history of repeated crimes against humanity will continue smashing (as in the linear accelerators) the small matter we call humanity’s conscience. One day what is left of it shall be pulverized just in the same way that human beings were pulverized in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
This experiment has been under way for the past five centuries. Now and then carriers of humanity’s conscience rise up. But like Aristide, like Fanmi Lavalass, like Pierre-Antoine Lovinski, the rule is: ‘smash them’.
If the final act being programmed (i.e. the annihilation of humanity) is going to be stopped, then allowing humanity to be one in Haiti could help suspend the looming fatal end of humanity.
Following the earthquake, if common sense and solidarity had prevailed, Aristide would have come back because at times like these, one would have expected those who had engineered his kidnapping and subsequent incarceration in South Africa to relent and allow the Haitian people to be one again.
It is never too late for common sense and solidarity to re-emerge, but, for that to happen, there will have to be the kind of worldwide mobilisation that brought about the formal end of apartheid. The cancer of apartheid without a formal capital has continued to spread. This is the only conclusion one can reach if one is going to explain how the South African government agreed to be the post-apartheid Robben Island for Aristide, with the apparent silent acceptance of all the African leaders.
Surely, in fidelity to those who did say enough is enough back in 1791-1804, one can do better than just watching and/or wringing our hands hoping for a happy ending?
* Jacques Depelchin is co-founder of Otabenga Alliance for Peace, Healing and Dignity in the DRCongo.