General liberties for all
With this watchword the ex-slave Toussaint L’Ouverture lead the revolution in Haiti, from 1791 to 1803. It became the first black republic in the world and the first independent state in Latin America. Today it has the sad honour of being the poorest of the continent, situated amongst the 25 poorest countries in the world.
With a population of less than 8 million, 60% of which cannot read and write, with an infant mortality rate of 10% and a maternal mortality rate of 0.6%, Haiti counts on one doctor for every 8.000 inhabitants of which only 28% have access to potable water.
Colón had discovered the island in 1942 and the indigenous population disappeared shortly after. They imported African slaves that, when Haiti became part of the French empire in 1697, reached up to 20.000 to work the sugar fields. When the French Revolution arrived in 1789 that was to liberate the oppressed by the Old Regime, under the slogan “Liberty, Equality and Fraternity”, there were 480.000 black slaves and 60.000 mulattos while the whites who owned the land and the resources didn’t reach the 20.000 mark.
It’s necessary to recuperate the historical memory in order not to repeat it and to make an effort for making a future with more solidarity and justice. Slavery was abolished by the French National convention in 1974, but a coup d’etat by Napoleon re-established slavery and prevented the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen to circulate for a whole century.
In its colonies, France denied the rights it had proclaimed in Europe. Haiti’s whole history is plagued of military dictatorships and of vexations for the population. The French exploited it and the United States invaded it in 1915, taking control until 1934. The US supported François Duvalier, one of the most sinister dictators of modern history and who was to exert his dictatorship through tonton-macutes (more than 300.000 volunteers) that gave the government the monopoly of terror.
It’s impossible to ask for forgiveness for errors centuries back nor to demand the fulfilment of human rights to other countries while millions of beings are living misery, suffered repeated embargos by the UN and suffer the beating of AIDS up to the point that one of the four “h’s” with which the disease was defined (homosexual, heroin addict, homoderived) corresponded to Haiti people.
José Carlos Gª Fajardo
This article was published in the Center of Collaborations for Solidarity (CCS) on 08/03/2004