Haiti and the slave route

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Haiti and the slave route

Post by Guysanto » Sun Jan 18, 2009 10:57 am

Granma Internacional
http://www.granma.cu/ingles/2009/enero/ ... Haiti.html

Haiti and the Slave Route

Gabriel Molina

• THE 205th anniversary of the emancipation of Haiti calls for a vindication of the country that on January 1, 1804, initiated the dawn of liberation in Our America.

The liberator Toussaint L'Ouverture is the symbol of the abolition of slavery and also the rise and fall of the French Revolution, inspired by the people of Saint Domingue, which became Haiti after the slave rebellion, but which was betrayed by Napoleon Bonaparte in the principles that will have been in place 220 years this July 14.

Karfa Diallo and Patrick Serrés, president and general secretary, respectively, of the Divers Cités Association, created in France 10 years ago with the aim of dispersing a collective amnesia on colonization and the slave route, have committed themselves to make Bordeaux acknowledge that its wealth was in the main derived from the trafficking of African slaves, despite the French Revolution.

The memory of the Haitian hero, son of a slave from Dahomey, now Benin, who led the first and only triumphant slave rebellion in contemporary history, and the second defeat of colonialism in Latin America, endures in his cell in Fort de Joux, in the Loraine hills of Franche Compté in eastern France.

Although a slave, L'Ouverture learned to read and write. A coachman by trade, he became such a good horse rider that he was known as the Centaur of the Savannah. In 1791, aged 48, he joined the rebel movement and was selected to enter into fruitless negotiations with landowners, who were able to recover their properties. Toussaint then made a pact with the Spanish who, in alliance with the British, controlled part of the island (the eastern coast), and advanced to the rank of general. On August 29, 1793, faced with indications of a British invasion, the French Assembly in Paris proclaimed the abolition of slavery and declared that, "From now on, black slaves are free, as long as they rally to the cause."

L'Ouverture broke with Spain and moved over to the French side with 4,000 of his men, defeating the Spanish in approximately two years. Overcoming 60,000 British invaders took a further three. According to journalists of the period, he found an ally in the United States of Alexander Hamilton. Thus, Haiti was able to stimulate agricultural production and began to trade with the young American republic. The working day was reduced to nine hours for the first time in history, and gave workers the right to a quarter of all income. But in 1800, Jefferson won the presidential elections and was inaugurated on March 4, 1801. Being a slave owner himself, he turned against Toussaint and informed Talleyrand, the French minister of overseas colonies, that he could provide him with anything he might need to re-conquer Haiti. After the end of the war with Britain, Napoleon could count on the two Anglo-Saxon forces for an attack on the Caribbean island.


In 1802 the French emperor equipped a huge fleet to invade Haiti, under the command of General Victor Emanuel Le Clerc, the husband of his sister Pauline. The plan was to disarm the Haitians, deport Toussaint and restore slavery. The black general was invited to talks aboard one of the ships, was arrested and taken to Fort-de-Joux. Soon, he was found dead, "seated, with his forehead leaning on the chimney wall, on April 7, 1803."

Diallo, of Senegalese origin, considers that the slave uprising in Saint Domingue made the system stop working and prompted Bonaparte's merciless attack. "Some people believe that Napoleon's action was motivated by his wife Josephine, the daughter of a wealthy family, the Tascher de la Pagerie, who owned plantations in Martinique," he adds. In reality he was moved by economic reasons: the pressure of influential colonialists, among them, those of Bordeaux.

The slave trade and slavery were not definitively abolished until 1848. "But the system could not be ended even then," Karfa Diallo affirms.

And Patrick Serrés illustrates that point by relating how, at the end of the 18th century, although the French state had prohibited the preparing ships to that end, this beautiful city in which we are talking continued fitting them to maintain the slave trade. Researcher Danielle Petrissans-Cavalles "demonstrates how the visible traces of that period still exist here, in street names of our time."

It has been a veritable voluntary amnesia, as their wealth and the beauty of their construction are attributed to wine production and trade with the colonies. But it has been intentionally forgotten that one part of that wealth is also linked to slave trafficking."

Diallo adds that when the first slaves began to arrive in Bordeaux, the authorities initially opposed it. But then they conceded the bonuses that the French state had attributed to the ship owners to develop that so-called trade with the Americas. Those subsidies financing a veritable genocide continued even after the first proclamation of the French Revolution against slavery in the Declaration of the Rights of Man, given that the Bordeaux ship owners, who already had wealthy plantations in the Caribbean, took themselves to the Paris Convention and convinced the Assembly that as slavery was, more than anything else, a colonial enterprise, the equality proclaimed in 1789 was for men of the metropolis and not of the colonies. That argument also worked in Cuba.

"In that period black people were hardly known. Hearing that they had created a state and disrupted a system after fighting a fierce war, was something extraordinary."

On the other hand, Bonaparte and the kings of the period had a very strong reaction, as Saint Domingue was the laboratory of colonization in America. It was coveted by Spain and Britain because of its production of sugar, coffee, indigo, cotton, cacao and tobacco, supported by colonists with effective drainage systems. The wealth of the more than 2,000 estates responded to the brutal exploitation of half a million African slaves, justified by the fallacy that they were not human beings, but beasts. The Africans were forced to work for more than 12 hours per day under the burning tropical sun which, as the national poet would say, "scorches everything everywhere," and collapsed exhausted.

Women slaves were systematically raped which, over the years, gave rise to a layer of mixed-race people, likewise in their majority subjected in various ways. They were beaten or had their faces branded for the most insignificant infractions. Others were punished by having their limbs or even genitals cut off. For those reasons the uprising was very bloody.

"Haiti was able to win thanks to the political and military skill of L'Ouverture, but remained besieged, everyone abandoned it," states Diallo. Then France obliged Haiti to pay 10 million in gold in order to grant its independence, an enormous and incalculable sum in the parameters of the time, which completely bled it dry. That forced it to enter into a system of corruption."

Diallo insists on the need for more research into the reality of colonization. There are territories that are rich in resources and should be prosperous but which have suffered from being dominated and exploited over the centuries. "The assertion that Africa has been the victim of Africans is just an excuse, although some coastal kings did participate in capturing Africans in the interior. They went to them and offered them alcohol, cheap trinkets and weapons, which they needed to fight against their adversaries. I believe that is what is missing in Africa is research work and the rescue of the historical memory. I studied in Senegal, where blacks were trafficked on the Island of Gorée. Scholars should know everything that is behind that, what the history of colonialism is. It is also necessary to demand reparations. Africans are not demanding that, but it is necessary, reparations can and should be made to Haiti, a change in international policy on Haiti.

Diver Cités is calling on Europe and America to participate in reparations. For example, priority education for the barrios, the most backward territories, the most needy. This has been proposed to President Bush, but he refused to acknowledge the existence of any debt to Africa or African Americans. In any event Diallo believes that Africa now has the possibility of moving on to Affirmative Action, although problems are not the same everywhere. "We should do something to promote the truth of what colonization and slavery were.

"Everyone is in agreement with erecting a memorial to those effects here; it was a unanimous decision, especially in Bordeaux University, and the city council appointed a commission that approved the idea."

But when the memorial was unveiled on the Colbert dock in the Place de la bourse, it was such a modest one that it was difficult to locate. Granma's initial search was fruitless.

"A UNESCO agreement calls for celebrating every August 23 as Abolition of Slavery Day and asks culture ministers in all countries to promote that date. It would be a good suggestion for President Obama. Little by little we can sensibilize the world, every government."

Diver Cités also dreams of the reality of the diversity being promoted by President Sarkosy. France acknowledged five years ago that it had committed a crime against humanity. Now, together with the United States, Britain, Spain and all those nations that enriched themselves via slavery, and the international community in general, could act together, above all in terms of Haiti, which has been reduced from the richest colony to the most impoverished. With reason, Diallo believes that in order to solve the problem of the black world, one has to begin with Haiti.

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