bon papa

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bon papa

Post by Yanique » Wed Feb 28, 2007 3:34 pm

The following article is very intriguing; take the time to read it even though the author glorifies U.S. aid to Haiti. The question remains what happens us as a people?


[quote]Cinnamon-skinned girls in Dior dresses, starchy diplomats and officers sparkling with gold braid gathered one night last week in the majestic, tile-floored great hall of the Presidential Palace in Portau-Prince. The occasion: a ball in honor of Jamaica's visiting Governor Sir Hugh Foot and Lady Foot. Just at 10, the orchestra blared out a march, and Lady Foot entered the room on the arm of a huge, kingly-looking black man resplendent in white tie, tails and full decorations. His Excellency Paul Eugene Magloire (pronounced mah-glwar), President of the Republic of Haiti and host of the evening, stayed on until 2, ceremoniously dancing with each guest in the order of her husband's rank, gravely bowing to Lady Foot's parting curtsy.

The ceremonial public appearances of Paul Magloire are always kingly. Usually he is in one of his uniforms (cost: $300-$1,000 each), which variously employ the old-fashioned trappings—the plume, the spurred boot, the epaulet and the aiguillette. His manner, too, is regal; one aide carries his special, seven-inch cigars in a leather box; another stands ready to hold his gold-headed cane like a staff of office. A vast, burly man—he stands six feet and his chest measures 44 in.—Magloire carries off his formal appearances with unerring dignity. When on parade he is being what he knows many lowly Haitians want in a President: a father-king, a national bon papa of regal mien. Loving it, they sing:

He gives us jobs and money—oh! oh!


He can stay in the palace as long as he


In the palace, between ceremonies, Magloire puts aside fancy dress and operates as the kind of detail-cracking, eleven-hour-a-day executive that any topflight Detroit industrialist could understand. He rises in the dawn cacophony of his capital's unbelievably numerous roosters, and hops on an exercise machine. After a rubdown, he breakfasts in bathrobed comfort on fruit and cafe au lait. Then, in a suite filled with alabaster busts, stuffed pink cranes, Empire clocks and pictures of himself and other Haitian heroes, the President reads reports and mail, takes a thoughtful second look at work saved over from the night before. At 7:30 he showers and dresses, usually in grey gabardine or white linen, a silk tie with a gold clasp, grey suede shoes. Soon he is sitting at a cluttered desk in a smallish office conspicuously free of ornament.

He speeds through his work, reading documents and penning "O.K. PM" on them. When his ministers call, he half turns in his chair, folds his hands in his lap, watches sidelong from penetrating brown eyes, and rumbles out courteous, unruffled answers. He usually lunches with his family of one son and four daughters (although Mme. Magloire is currently in a Baltimore hospital for a checkup and the two elder daughters are attending a Brookline Mass, convent school). After a siesta, he goes back to work until dinner at 7. He sometimes takes an evening off for poker or bridge, and occasionally drops in at the city's biggest nightclub, where he sits with a few young aides, cradling a highball in his big hand, beaming at the dance-floor merriment but taking no part in it. More often he works through until 10 or 11 p.m., especially if the next day's schedule calls for another public appearance. Pageantry takes time —but Magloire recognizes that it is part of his job of ruling tiny Haiti.

Mulattoes Y. Blacks. The nation ruled by President Paul Magloire is the western third of Hispaniola, a mountainous, sun-drenched Caribbean island on the rum-and-bougainvillea side of the Tropic of Cancer. The size of Vermont, it teems with more people per square mile (299) than any other republic in the hemisphere. Through the streets of its capital, Port-au-Prince (pop. 150,000), move midget French cars, bulging orange buses, sad-eyed donkeys and a steady trickle of sewage. In the city's malodorous Iron Market, women traders, their skirts hitched up to the thighs, carry on a haggling commerce in used bottles, flour-sacking for dresses, red beans that are sometimes sold not by weight but by the bean. Above all this, in fresh, violet hills overlooking the city and the turquoise bay are the villas and the hotels of the rich, the diplomats, the foreign business colony and the tourists.

Haiti is proud to be an all-Negro nation, a "Black Republic"—but it is by no means a classless nation. The creme is a hereditary, mostly mulatto elite, about 2% of the 3,500,000 population. Well-to-do lawyers, doctors, poets and government servants, the elite like to think of themselves as "colored Frenchmen." They quote Racine, appreciate fine wines, prize lightness of skin and occasionally give elegant banquets at which the waiters change gloves with every course. Their language is French and their religion Roman Catholic. They are Haiti's Brahmins, and just a little way down the social scale, they are beginning to blur into a growing middle class of U.S.-style businessmen, progressive farmers, tradesmen and artisans.

But 90% of all Haitians are black, barefoot, unlettered peasants, tilling small patches of land. The peasant works the soil with a hoe rather than a plow, picks coffee from 25-ft. wild trees, builds wattle-and-daub huts with an airy scorn for the right angle. His women carry the freight of Haiti—on their heads. Almost any grandmother can balance 100 Ibs. of charcoal, a huge basket of cabbages or a severed cow's head and tote it 40 miles.

Most of the peasants are God-fearing Catholics who go to Mass early every Sunday—just as soon, in fact, as the

Saturday-night voodoo dance is over. "Bon Dieu Bon," they say; God is good, and supreme in matters of the soul, but the voodoo loa of remote African memory—Maitresse Erzulie. Papa Legba and the snake-god Damballa—are still highly serviceable in such workaday matters as appeasing the dead and assuring successful births. The peasants are poor (per capita income is $62 yearly, lowest in the hemisphere), but they somehow rise above the deadening poverty of the Andean Indian or the Moscow streetsweep-er. They have sun, fertile (but dry) land, fruitful trees, personal freedom and hot-blooded vitality.

The conflict between these two extremes—the rich and the poor, the cultured and the uncouth, the mulatto minority and the black mass—has kept Haiti aboil for most of the 150 years since it first proclaimed its independence, yet the contest is basically economic, i.e., the haves to keep and the have-nots to get, rather than racial. Say the Haitians: "The rich Negro is a mulatto, the poor mulatto is a Negro."

Queen of the Antilles. Modern Haitians can trace the roots of this basic division back through a turbulent history that still clings like a remembered nightmare. Columbus discovered the island on his first voyage, pronouncing the estimated 1,000,000 Arawak aborigines "lovable, tractable, peaceable, gentle, decorous and praiseworthy." Spanish exploitation and smallpox soon wiped out the lovable Indians. In the 17th century, French buccaneers loosened Spain's grip on the island and France fastened onto the western end; a century later Saint-Domingue was France's proudest colony, the "Queen of the Antilles." Its foreign trade of $140 million yearly dwarfed that of the infant United States, and the profits from sugar, chocolate, indigo, coffee and cotton built many a chateau on the Loire or town house in Paris.

To till the plantations, the French repopulated Saint-Domingue with Negroes from Dahomey, Senegal and the Congo. On jasmine-scented nights, white planters took to wenching with African maids, and ultimately produced a light-skinned class of freedmen with color lines so finely drawn that a contemporary record recognized 250 different blood combinations. By the time the French Assembly pronounced the Rights of Man. 40,000 whites were lording it over 28,000 gens de couleur, while both were keeping a firm hand on 450,000 black slaves.

One Saturday night in 1791, the drums at a plantation voodoo dance subtly changed their beat. On other plantations the talking drums picked up the word and passed it on. Minutes after the signal, the lush, peaceful colony of Saint-Domingue flamed up in murderous revolt. With pruning forks, machetes and torches, the slaves massacred 2,000 French planters and their families, fired the canefields and the great houses. In the following decade of turmoil, Toussaint L'Ouverture, an obsequious slave coachman until he turned himself into a general, led his black armies to bloody victories over the French and the interventionist Spanish and English as well.

"Gilded African." In Paris, Napoleon Bonaparte scoffed at the "First of the Blacks" as a "gilded African," and sent 90 ships and 40,000 veterans of the Egyptian campaign to retake Saint-Domingue. By treachery, the French captured Toussaint and shipped him off to France to die in a moutain prison. But in the end, black troops and yellow fever smashed the French for good.

The new nation picked the Arawak word Haiti (meaning Mountainous Land) for a name, then proceeded to split itself in two. In the north, the fabulous Henri Christophe made himself King, set up a ludicrous aristocracy and built a monumental stone fortress on a needle-top mountain—history's greatest feat of construction by Negroes. Christophe's labor force, mostly sugar workers, toiled from dawn to dusk to keep his treasury solvent. Once the King spotted, far below him, a subject asleep in the door of a hut. A 56-pounder was loaded, aimed, touched off; loafer and house vanished.

But such cruelty taught the Negroes, as they say now, that "the stick that beats the white dog will beat the black dog too." In the end, led by the rebel Duke of Marmelade, they revolted, and in 1820 Christophe, brought to bay, killed himself with a silver bullet—providing a theme, a century later, for Eugene O'Neill's The Emperor Jones.

In the south, meanwhile, a mulatto general, Alexandre Petion, held office as President over a government of elite former freedmen. He gave black war veterans bits of land and ruled with an easy hand. When Christophe died, Haitians gratefully turned their backs on the Emperor's ruthless labor discipline and embraced the subsistence economy Petion developed. Sugar production, 67,000 tons in 1791, dropped to 15 tons in 1826. The less populous, Spanish-speaking eastern end of the island broke away, resumed the old Spanish name Santo Domingo, and became the Dominican Republic. The world forgot the drowsy little island, and Haiti itself seemed somehow hypnotized for nearly a century, while rivers ran dry, land was worked out, men grew torpid, and government degenerated into a quickening cycle of revolutions.

Enter the Marines. By 1912, rebellions had ousted eleven of 18 Haitian Presidents. Then, in the space of 43 months, one President was blown up in his palace, another was poisoned, three more deposed. The U.S., fearing the European powers might try to intervene, decided to act first.

A new revolt was forming near Cap-Haitien, under an ambitious politico named Guillaume Sam. Admiral William B. Caperton, U.S.N., on the U.S.S. Washington, met Sam unofficially and offered him tacit support, urgently warning Sam not to "loot or burn down the cities." But once in office, Sam balked at signing a treaty for U.S. occupation of Haiti. Instead, he jailed and massacred 167 suspected revolutionaries—then panicked and fled for asylum to the French legation. A raging mob broke into the building, found Sam hiding under a bed, dragged him out, literally tore him limb from limb, and paraded through Port-au-Prince with his head on a pole. Haiti's history had hit bottom. Admiral Caperton, waiting in the harbor, immediately landed two companies of marines and three of bluejackets, and the U.S. occupation began.

Exit the Marines. There was much in the occupation to trouble the U.S. conscience. Puppet Presidents, all of the elite class, were shuttled in & out. With almost embarrassing speed, the U.S. gave Haiti a new constitution, masterminded by Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt; the document removed the defiant clause of all 16 previous Haitian constitutions forbidding foreigners to own land. Officers from the U.S. South ("they know how to handle the blacks, you know") humiliated highbred Haitians.

But the Marines effectively ended the cycle of revolutions, disarmed rebels and bandits in mountain warfare (the death toll: 1,500 Haitians), restored peasants to the land, improved health and sanitation, built roads. Setting up a small gendarmerie, they lifted from Haiti the crushing burden of an army that once had 6,500 general and staff officers. They trained civil servants, building a nucleus of Haitians competent to run the machinery of government. Most important, they set up rural schools, where peasants could begin to get the education they needed to compete with the elite. Such was the reputation of the Americans for efficiency that the surname of Dr. W. W. Cumberland, customs receiver, became an accepted Creole word meaning shortcut.*

With the Good Neighbor policy, occupation became obsolete. In 1934, Roosevelt visited Port-au-Prince, ordered the Marines to run down the U.S. flag and pull out. For Haiti, it was the end of one era, the opening of another.

Under the Citadel. When the marines were first splashing ashore at Port-au-Prince in 1915, Paul Eugene Magloire had just turned eight years old. His birthplace was Quartier-Morin, a few miles southeast of Cap-Haitien. His father was Eugene Magloire, a peasant so energetic that he rose to be one of the many generals then running Haiti's army. The general was killed in a shooting accident in 1908, and the infant Paul was brought up by two brothers in Cap-Haitien. The Brothers of Christian Instruction gave him a Catholic education, stressing French and Latin, while in his family's fields he learned the peasant's ways and Creole tongue. Cap-Haitien, "Paris of the New World" under the French but since burned and sacked a dozen times, gave him a sense of past glory and present despair.

Magloire got a degree in arts and letters from the National School in Port-au-Prince and taught school for a year, but soon concluded that he could not live on a teacher's pay. He transferred his ambitions to the military, and graduated from a Marine-supervised gendarmerie training school. Soon Magloire's political education began.

President Stenio Vincent, a poet-nationalist elected on an oust-the-U.S. platform when the Marines supervised an honest election in 1930, picked Lieut. Magloire for his aide-de-camp. But Vincent's government stumbled in 1937, when the Dominican Republic's Dictator Rafael Leonidas Trujillo, in a moment of rage, let his forces massacre an estimated 15,000 Haitian cane-cutters who had crossed the border to seek harvest work. The Haitian President settled for an indemnity of $550,000 from Trujillo. With murdered Haitians thus officially priced at $37 each, Haiti soured on Vincent, and his government succumbed in 1941. The next President was Elie Lescot, a member of the elite, who chose Magloire first to be chief of the national police, then head of the palace guard, a key position.

Tableau in the Palace. President Lescot was snobbishly antiblack, and word got around that he had accepted favors, up to & including a $35,000 gift from the hated neighbor. Dictator Trujillo. One day early in 1946, blacks appeared in the streets carrying signs "A bastesmulatres!" Stores hastily shuttered their windows and women in the hills refused to come to town with food for the market.

Soon Magloire and other officers called on the President. The scene that followed had the studied formality of an 18th-century tableau. Magloire informed the President that he could not fire on the people. The military men offered Lescot safe conduct to the airport and a ticket to Canada. Lescot, essentially a logical man, accepted. Thus ended a classic Haitian coup de langue—a "tongue revolution" in which rumors of discoatent, troubles or violence brewing in the capital bring on a spontaneous general strike and shake the regime down.

To rule the country, the officers first set up a temporary military junta, then ordered an election for Congressmen who would choose a President. One candidate was a brooding, ulcer-afflicted lawyer named Dumarsais Estime, son of black peasant parents who lived in the voodoo-haunted pine forests near Mount La Selle. His strongly anti-mulatto position made him the idol of the blacks, and won him the election.

Heyday of the Authentiques. Black Haiti entered a time of tumultuous transformation. For his peasants, his "authen-tiques," (his "real" Haitians) Estime schemed to smash the elite and create a new ruling group of rich, powerful blacks. The authentiques quickly caught the idea: the soul of Africa began to show itself in novels and paintings. A written form of Creole was devised. Voodoo, which elite laws passed under Catholic pressure had driven underground, was openly tolerated again. Estime dreamed big: schools, hospitals, roads, docks, industrialization. He did succeed in raising wages for black workers. But all he really built was a rainbow-painted fairgrounds for a pathetically unsuccessful 1950 International Exposition. He crippled the U.S.-owned Standard Fruit Co.'s Haitian operation, then found that the country had no banana business left. Meanwhile, official corruption got out of hand; a few insiders got rich quick; word got around that $10 million of the $26 million spent for the fair had never been accounted for. The big wheel that turns once and flips out a Haitian President began to move.

Decline & Fall. The President lost control of his ministers; some of the followers he had enriched turned on him and the newspapers called his government a "tremendous scorpion." Frustrated and frenzied, but sure that he was still the choice of the blacks, Estime tried to alter the Constitution so that he could run for a second six-year term; to back him, 20,000 of his supporters rioted in the streets of Port-au-Prince. But the disorder was quelled, and presently the same junta that had deposed Lescot marched again on the same red carpet to Estime's office and sped him on his way to Manhattan (where he died last year, a lonely exile).

For Magloire, the moment of decision had come. The boy who had played in the ruins of Haiti's glory below the Citadel, who had ushered in one President and sent two on their travels, resolved to be President himself. He had the election law changed to allow direct vote of the people, staged a sure-fire campaign with festive bamboches with free rum, food and dancing. By 151,115 votes to 2,000 for his opponent, an obscure architect, the people voted him in.

Magloire took office—and took with him his conviction that 1) neither blacks nor mulattoes should dominate Haiti at the expense of the other group, and 2) he must avoid quick, flashy works (e.g., Estime's Exposition) and concentrate on long-haul technological advances.

No Little Troubles. "Zafair nèg pas jamm piti" say the Haitians. "Negro troubles are never small." But before facing the troubles of his country upon taking office, Magloire counted his assets. The economy was stable at its simple, garden level; the currency was sound (and convertible) at five gourdes to a dollar. The culture, traditions and national vitality were so rich and varied that only overwhelming reasons could justify much social tinkering. And land reform, the crying need of most of Latin America and the Far East, had been a fact in Haiti for more than a century. Nevertheless, the central problem was land and agriculture, partly because the population was shooting up (at the present rate of growth, it will reach 6,300,000 by the year 2000). Magloire singled out more efficient food production as his No. 1 task.

Man with a Plan. In 1951, Magloire announced a five-year development plan emphasizing agriculture. Its cost—$40 million—was a measure of his political daring; in impact it was as though the U.S. were to put $100 billion toward a single end. The plan's axis is the damming of Haiti's biggest (and only main) river, the central Artibonite, and the irrigation of some 80,000 acres that are now dusty desert in the dry season and muddy lakes in the wet. The U.S. Export-Import Bank lent $14 million, Haiti voted $8,000,000, and last year the engineering contract was let to Houston's Brown & Root, Inc. Concrete work is about to start on the storage dam, to be 225 ft. high and 1,075 ft. long. Downstream, a diversion dam and a net of canals will distribute the Artibonite's tamed waters, better the lives of 160,000 peasants. Forty thousand kilowatts of power can be added later, doubling Haiti's present output of electric energy.

Magloire's plan also calls for agricultural schools, a county-agent system, cooperative use of tractors, a farmers' bank, reforestation and grain storage. Construction of 300 miles of new roads is an important corollary, raising hope for the time when a peasant can send more to market than his wife can carry down a mountain trail. And because three-R learning is basic to all up-to-date farm technology, Magloire's modern Black Magic includes new schools: 74 have been built, with room for adults as well as one-third more children than ever before.

FOA & FAO. Impoverished Haiti draws valuable technical aid from the U.S. and the U.N. The FOA and FAO (the U.S. Foreign Operations Administration and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization) are among seven alphabetical agencies helping in Magloire's plan. One man leads a Brahma bull through the country to help breed good Haitian cattle. Another patiently instructs peasants in the use of the wheelbarrow. Another explains what a plow is, and how to guide oxen. One group of U.S. technical experts set up several dozen credit unions to fight usurers lending to farmers at 20% a month; others showed how to grow 1,600 Ibs. of rice on an acre that formerly gave 280 Ibs.

The technical aid men's biggest achievement has been in health; the loathsome, running-sore disease of yaws, which once infected 62% of Haitians, has been almost wiped out by the injection of one massive shot of penicillin into each of 2,623,141 peasant rumps. 'Now Magloire and FAO are tackling malaria, venereal disease and tuberculosis. The U.S. has spent $5,959,000 in technical aid for Haiti, the U.N. $617,800. Haiti has matched these contributions with $8,200,000.

Magloire's be-kind-to-mulattoes policy has not slowed the cultural tempo of Estime's authentique movement. Over Francophile opposition the President has made Creole the beginning language in schools rather than French; formerly children entered school to be confronted for the first time with a language that, however admired in diplomacy, was gibberish to them.

The greatest flowering of Haitian self-expression, the primitive painting that bloomed in Estime's time, goes on. This explosion of art, the most spectacular since Mexico's, has made painting one of the best-paid professions in Haiti and planted colorful pictures in fine collections from Paris to Beverly Hills.

Supply & Demand. Most of the elite still cannot bring themselves to hang this peasant art in their homes. Nor has the extravert President Magloire much time to puzzle out its moody meanings. He has other worries. He knows that the cold historical odds are against his serving through the end of his term in 1956; only twice has a Haitian President been on hand to smile a welcome to his legally chosen successor. And not every citizen is singing. "He can stay in the palace as long as he wants!"

Haiti's supply of government jobs at any given time is only about one-third as great as the number of people qualified by education or training to fill them. After any President has been in office three years, it is plain who the lucky ones are, and the hungry outsiders naturally begin to grumble, agitate, fire bitter charges of inefficiency and graft. Magloire's good friend, Chief of Police Marcaisse Prosper, has provided an unfortunate focus for criticism. The juiciest current gossip of Haiti concerns Prosper's new hilltop home in fashionable Petionville, big as a U.S. small-city high school, lavishly furnished by Manhattan's W. & J. Sloane. The prosperous Prosper's salary is $350 a month.

The 6,000-man army backs Magloire (Congress made him its commanding general), but might be helpless against a popular coup de langue. On the other hand, he has many strengths. Items:

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