Lessons from Haiti

When a massive earthquake devastated Haiti in recent years, the Black Republic was on everyone’s mind. The question was then – as it remains now – “Where do we go from here?” In outline form, I’ll share my observations following the disaster.

1. What do you do when tragedy strikes?

When tragedy strikes, one of the first things you should do is see how you can help, and then DO SO. The moment I heard about the earthquake, I immediately thought about HAARP (the government program that can actually affect the weather, creating hurricanes and other “natural” disasters – Google it). But I thought it would be very distasteful and disrespectful to start talking conspiracies before I even lent a hand. I gave to Yele, though I couldn’t match Tiger Woods’ $3 million donation, but I also promoted humanitarian efforts extensively so that the people could receive some tangible aid. Those efforts continue, but NOW the people are interested in Haiti and its history. So NOW we can talk about some of those issues, but the question remains: What are you doing about it? Most of us can’t do much to rescue the people trapped in the rubble (though some of us CAN afford to catch a flight and help), but texting $5 to Yele is STILL more than you can do about HAARP! What you gonna do? Go to Alaska and kick in their door? Some of us obsess over conspiracies because we’re consumed by fear, and that’s the only thing we can talk about – what we’re scared of.

2. The Haiti tragedy is important for MANY reasons.

Haiti has an immensely rich history. Most salient is the fact that it was the first free Black republic (since European colonialism of course), because it hosted the first and only MAJOR successful slave revolt. Sure, Nat Turner and dem killed 30 folks, and Harriet Tubman freed 200 slaves, but only Toussaint and his homeys actually took over a country and kicked white folks OUT like the movie Avatar. Now, I’m not saying that HAARP was used against Haiti, because earthquakes happen all the time, all over the world. It’s not like HAARP is the reason for every weather event on the planet! But Europeans certainly will take ADVANTAGE of a natural disaster like this one, for reasons we’ll soon see. Think of it like a car accident. They happen all the time, and not because someone is sending special cars out to crash into people. Yet if there’s a dude with a British accent and a burglar mask who prowls the highways picking people’s pockets at every crash scene, THERE’S your conspiracy. Stop worrying about who caused the accident and catch the dude dressed like Hamburglar.

3. White folks don’t take losing lightly.

Haiti’s defeat of Europeans is like a black (no pun intended) stain on white folks’ collective consciousness about their history. They’ve hated Haiti for a LONG time (since 1791 to be exact). That’s where all those embargos and sanction came from. Yes, embargoes and sanctions, plus predatory lending from the IMF is why Haiti has been the so-called poorest country in the universe (as well as one with terrible construction codes)…not because Haitians are lazy welfare mothers or whatever Bill O’Reilly might be saying. Because anyone who knows Haitians knows they’re some of the hardest-working hustlers in this hemisphere.

4. White people are gonna come get their shit…one way or the other.

Not only is Haiti hated, it’s full of stuff white people want. Like tons of gold in the mountains (Google it), other natural resources, and of course, land that white people once owned. And you know white folks don’t play when they want some land. (See “Trail of Tears” or “Hurricane Katrina” for examples). Some Europeans are so sick that they even went into the rubble, seeking to abduct little Black CHILDREN for their sick sexual fetishes. Can you imagine the depravity of people who would go into a devastated country under the guise of “help” and instead molest and rape children?

5. Haiti was a focal point in the extermination campaign against Black liberation.

Europeans hated the Black rebels of Haiti enough for French General LeClerc to write to Napoleon during the war, saying:

You will have to exterminate all the blacks in the mountains, women as well as men, except for children under twelve. Wipe out half the population of the lowlands, and do not leave in the colony a single black who has worn an epaulet [served in the army].

That’s deep, especially if you think back to the missions described in Black Rebellion. Napoleon pulled out all the stops to defeat Toussaint and dem (I say “and dem” because he, like most “leaders” wasn’t “alone.” See “MLK” for one example). He got Toussaint’s mixed-race generals to betray him, sent in thousands of troops, pulled out all the stops. Finally, Toussaint was captured. Napoleon would later confess:

My decision to destroy the authority of the blacks in Saint Dominque (Haiti) is not so much based on considerations of commerce and money, as on the need to block for ever the march of the blacks in the world.

Damn! Talk about puttin it all out there!

6. But you can’t put an end to what is eternal!

Even in defeat, as he looked upon Haiti for the last time, Toussaint promised, “Now they have felled the trunk of the Negroes’ tree of liberty. However, new shoots will sprout because the roots are deep and many.” And indeed, Toussaint’s former generals (even some who had turned against him) eventually realized Napoleon planned to reinstate slavery (duh!), and they banded together to destroy the French.

7. And Black is never alone.

Speaking of how the French got destroyed, we know it wasn’t just the Black rebels who did them in. We also had a yellow ally: Yellow Fever. While some sources claim mysterious mystical forces in the defeat of the Europeans, Toussaint – although pious and religious in his personal life – didn’t get down like that. Neither does the historical record. Toussaint was aware of the fact that Yellow Fever would strike when the Spring rains came…not when prayers summoned it up. He – like many Haitians today – just LET the enemy BELIEVE they had mystical powers, as a way to inspire fear and demoralize their troops. In a letter to his general, Dessalines, he wrote:

There is no reason for despair, Citizen-General, if you can succeed in removing from the [French] troops that have landed the resources offered to them by Port Republican [Port-au-Prince]. Endeavor, by all the means of force and address, to set that place on fire; it is constructed entirely of wood; you have only to send into it some faithful emissaries. Are there none under your orders devoted enough for this service? Ah! my dear General, what a misfortune that there was a traitor in that city, and that your orders and mine were not put into execution.

Watch the moment when the garrison shall be weak in consequence of expeditions into the plains, and then try to surprise and carry that city, falling on it in the rear.

Do not forget, while waiting for the rainy season which will rid us of our foes, that we have no other resource than destruction and flames. Bear in mind that the soil bathed with our sweat must not furnish our enemies with the smallest aliment. Tear up the roads with shot; throw corpses and horses into all the fountains; burn and annihilate everything, in order that those who have come to reduce us to slavery may have before their eyes the image of that hell which they deserve.

Salutation and Friendship,

(Signed) Toussaint L’ouverture

That’s gangster!

8. The history of revolution in Haiti goes back much further than a single leader.

The first major revolt on the island was led by an African named Macandal. He went to war with the Europeans for SIX years…mostly killing them off through guerrilla warfare and poisoning (he was a highly knowledgeable herbalist). His forces took about 6,000 lives before he was capture. On January 20, 1758, Macandal was to be burned at the stake when he promised that he was immortal, and he would return and seek vengeance. And before Macandal there was the rebellion of Padrejean in 1676. This type of stuff is not a one-time event. Revolution is a PROCESS.

9. Finally, Toussaint was just like us.

In fact, he had it better than most of us. He wasn’t even involved in the fighting to begin with. Because he was well-provided for by his overseer, he commented:

We went to labor in the fields, my wife and I, hand in hand. Scarcely were we conscious of the fatigues of the day. Heaven always blessed our toil. Not only we swam in abundance, but we had the pleasure of giving food to blacks who needed it.

In fact, Toussaint, like many other revolutionaries, could be considered middle-class (given the context). Like Steve Biko, Frantz Fanon, and Che Guevara, he was a doctor before he became a rebel leader! As he wrote to Biassou, one of the generals of a rebellion then being led by Dutty Boukman:

Grande Riviere

This October 15, 1791

My very dear friend:

In keeping with the request I just made of the Spanish and daily awaiting the thing I asked for, I beg of you to wait until we are in a better state before going on to what you have the kindness to write me about. I have too much of a wish to go, but in all the habitations I would like to have crowbars in order to have the rocks of the mountains of Haut du Cap fall to prevent them [the slaveowner’s forces] from approaching us for I think they have no other means without exposing their people to a slaughter. I ask that you make sure with the spy you have sent to have him clearly explain where the powder works are in Haut du Cap so we can succeed in taking the powder works. Thus my friend you can see if I took precautions in this affair you can tell this to Bouqueman [Boukman]. As for Jean Francois he can still go in a carriage with his ladies, but he hasn’t done me the honor of writing to me for several days. I am very surprised by this. If you need tafia I will send you some when you’d like, but try to use it sparingly. They must not be given this so they won’t be disturbed. Send me a few barrows for I need them to transport wood to put up the cabins at the tannery for my people.

I ask you to assure your mother and sister of my humble respect.

I have the honor, my dear friend, of being your very humble, obedient servant.

To M. Biassou, brigadier of the King’s Army at Grand Boucan

(Signed) General Doctor

Toussaint wasn’t suffering in the fields, but his people were. He knew right from wrong. And he decided to give his life, and all within his power to make things right. So what’s our excuse?