Haiti: enslaved by its dark history

N-am fost în Haiti şi probabil că nu o să ajung niciodată acolo. Ţara are o istorie şocantă, dar ce ţară nu a avut o istorie şocantă, Groenlanda? De obicei se pune accentul pe lucrurile negative (că noi suntem mai „buni” ca ei), dar dincolo de istoria ţării respective, oamenii rămîn oameni pentru Dumnezeu, poate şi pentru noi. Tot de pe Telegraph.co.uk o analiză destul de nagativă a istoriei prezentată de Ian Thomson, redată parţial de mine, după cum urmează. Însă sunt sigur că dincolo de lucrurile negative, în Haiti a existat şi oameni buni, bucurie, fericire şi frică de Dumnezeu.

For 200 years the Caribbean nation has suffered from natural disasters and violent rulers, says Ian Thomson, Telegraph.co.uk.

By any standards, Haiti represents a very great concentration of misery and dashed hopes. In January 1804 – a key date in the history of a bedevilled country – the African slaves overthrew their French masters and declared the world’s first black republic. Haiti became an emblem of slavery’s longed-for abolition. And the slave leader, Toussaint L’Ouverture, was hailed by William Wordsworth, among other Romantics, as a “morning star” of the Americas.

Since independence, however, emperors, kings and presidents-for-life have misruled the Caribbean nation through violence and theft of public funds. The constitution is made of paper, they say, but the bayonet is made of steel.

Now more than ever, the motto of the Haitian republic, “L’Union Fait la Force” (Strength Through Union) seems a grim joke. For two centuries since independence Haiti has been split on every side. Mulatto against black; the military against democracy; African animism against Christianity. Aid workers may now try to maintain a semblance of law and order in Port-au-Prince, but looting is likely as the city jails have reportedly broken open.

Haitians say they are hard to understand, but all nations enjoy that vanity. The truth is, Haiti is a country that was never meant to be. Forged in the crucible of French colonialism, it was once the most profitable slave colony the world had ever known. The glittering prosperity of Nantes and Bordeaux, Marseilles and Dieppe, derived in part from commerce with this sugar-rich dependency of the ancien regime.

The prospect of a free black state founded on the expulsion and possible murder of its white community by Toussaint L’Ouverture horrified French colonials, as it did the whole of the Western world. As Talleyrand wrote to a French general in Washington: “The existence of a negro people in arms, occupying a country which it has soiled by the most criminal acts, is a horrible spectacle for all white nations.”

It was not until 1862 that the United States acknowledged Haiti’s independence. The country had become a dangerous symbol of redemption for African peoples, of racial equality and – most unforgivable – of anti-colonialism. So Haiti became a pariah, excluded from the family of nations and trapped in a time warp where there was little room for progress. Haitians were thought to be incapable of self-government because they were black. In fact, Haiti may yet prove to be ungovernable.

The 1957-1971 dictatorship of François “Papa Doc” Duvalier instilled fear in the population. Indeed, Duvalier entertained more than an anthropological interest in Vodou (or voodoo, in the old orthography). His wardrobe of black suits and bowler hats lent him the aspect, it was believed, of the animist divinity Baron Samedi, who haunts the cemeteries in a top hat and tails, smoking a large cheroot like a graveyard Groucho Marx.

Duvalier’s private militia – the dreaded Tontons Macoute – earned him the nickname “Lucifer of the Antilles”. Yet many Haitians mourn his loss and still plot to restore his son, Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, to power from his exile in Paris. In the aftermath of the earthquake it is likely that increasing numbers will clamour for the return of a strong man.

Democracy could hardly arrive overnight for a people whose ancestors were snatched from Africa to slave for Europe. Duplicity or cunning are considered heroic virtues in Haiti. To overcome your adversity is the great affair in life and the pity of the country is that it thrives on the survival of the fittest.

owever, Haitians are just as likely to show extraordinary resilience and selflessness as they rally together and find consolation in Vodou. Haitians are 80 per cent Catholic and – so they say – 100 per cent Vodouist. Vodou (from the Dahomean vodu, “spirit” or “deity”) is a peaceable New World religion that marries elements of Catholicism with the rites and rituals of ancestral Africa.

For most Haitians, Vodou is the only way to rise above the misery of poverty and the devastation wreaked by hurricanes, mud slides, storms and now this humanitarian catastrophe. When a Haitian is possessed by a loa (spirit) he is taken out of himself and transformed. At night, Port-au-Prince is now said to flicker with candles, as swaying, homeless Haitians offer prayers to the loas in hope of deliverance.

Vodou also reflects the rage and ecstasy that threw off the shackles of slavery. On the night of August 15, 1791, a ceremony was held in the north of Haiti that marked the beginning of the revolt. A rain of burning cane straw, sweet-smelling, drifted over the plantations as the slaves set them ablaze. Toussaint L’Ouverture was said to have taken part in this Vodou-inspired uprising – proof that religion is not always an opium of the people, but a prelude to action.

Two centuries after independence, however, Haiti is the battered pauper of the Americas and unimaginably destitute after the earthquake. The world’s first black republic – only 17 years younger than the United States – remains in many ways a police state.

Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a president in whom the world invested much hope, was overthrown in 2004 and now lives under police protection in South Africa. His successor, President René Préval, has pledged to restore the rule of law. Yet his home – the National Palace – has been destroyed and now he may have to face the daunting tradition of dechoukaj – the ferocious settling of scores and violence that follows the overthrow of a president. In Haitian creole, dechoukaj means to pull a tree out of the ground, roots and all, so that it will never grow again. There may well be a desire to rid Haiti of the old power structure, once and for all, and bring some hope of change.

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