Thursday, January 1, 2009

Independence or Death:
Celebrating the 205th Anniversary of The Haitian Revolution

Jean Jacques Dessalines, Father of
Haitian Independence, 1804
Haiti's founding father Jean-Jacques Dessalines proclaimed Haiti's independence on this day 205 years ago in Gonaives, Haiti. It was a monumental achievement that marked the first successful slave revolution in world history and in the establishment of the independent Republic of Haiti.

Haitians celebrate and honor Papa Dessalines--the founding father of Haiti. Although the former house slave Toussaint "The Opening" L'Ouverture played a vital part leading the start of the revolution, it was the former field slave, Jean-Jacques "Le Tigre" Dessalines who won freedom and independence from the French. There is considerable and rampant misinformation about this fact -- but it was Jean-Jacques Dessalines who defeated the French and won Haiti's independence, not Toussaint L'Ouverture.

Toussaint L'Ouverture mistakenly believed in French honor and was seduced by the decorous words of the French Revolution, which stated that "All men are created equal, natural rights of liberty, security, property, and resistance to oppression were given to all citizens," In practice this declaration did not include anyone of his complexion. He was betrayed -- lured to a meeting, where he was detained and shipped off to France -- to die in a cold dank French dungeon. But historians credit Toussaint (perhaps rising on the third day?) with defeating the French and winning the Haitian Revolution.

These revisionist historians find the house slave's decorous manners and Francophile ways to be more palatable to the unrefined field slave, Dessalines. It was Dessalines' name which struck fear in the hearts of slaveowners. His triumph is often repudiated by those who deem him unworthy of acclaim -- who have labeled him a violent tyrant. But it is clear that Dessalines possessed the same "killer instinct" of today's celebrated "war heroes." He was a true hero, who fought and won for the noble cause of freedom from slavery and for independence.
PROCLAMATION OF HAITI'S INDEPENDENCE BY THE GENERAL IN CHIEF, Jean Jacques Dessalines, January 1, 1804
Translated by Noe Dorestant

Citizens, it is not enough to have expelled from your country the barbarians who have bloodied it for two centuries; it is not enough to have put a brake to these ever reviving factions which take turns to play-act this liberty, like ghost that France had exposed before your eyes; it is necessary, by a last act of national authority, assure forever an empire of liberty in this country our birth place; we must take away from this inhumane government, which held for so long our spirits in the most humiliating torpor, all hope to re-subjugate us; we must at last live independent or die.

Independence or death... May these sacred words bring us together, and may they be the signal of our struggles and of our gathering.
As Haitians begin another year under UN occupation, they wonder when the struggle will be over. Today Haiti is burdened with the task of wrestling its freedom from the jaws of their oppressors again. In 2004, the U.S., Canada and France engineered another intervention that robbed Haitians of self-rule and its first democratically elected president. Today Haiti is not an independent sovereign nation because of the occupying force of MINUSTAH. Haiti is also enslaved by oppressive corporatist interests who hold the reigns of power and crack the whip of neo-liberal structural adjustment measures. These outside forces keep Haiti poor, underdeveloped and burdened with an onerous and unjust debt. France began this cycle when it managed "to extort an agreement" that condemned Haiti to pay a substantial annual indemnity to France for the success of the revolution. This criminal burden was faithfully respected by the Haitians, though it caused them no end of grief. With much of their revenue exported to France, there was little left to develop Haiti.

The endless struggle continues for Haitians, but they are honed and scarred by many decades of an undeclared war and are up to climbing the difficult road ahead towards freedom.

Today is also the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution; a struggle that involved many Haitians on the ground in Cuba. Cuba gives safe harbor to many Haitian immigrants and has a significant Haitian population, as evidenced by the fact that Haitian Creole is Cuba's second language. VIVA!

While the U.S. and world media show remarkable ignorance in not recognizing the historical and deep impact of the Haitian Revolution, they do live daily with the repercussions. It is not an exaggeration to say that Haitians changed the map of the world and hastened the end of chattel slavery in the Americas. In defeating Napoleon, Haiti dashed the ambitions of France to build an American empire, resulting in the sale of its Louisiana Territory, which doubled the size of the U.S. Simon Bolivar benefited from the aid he received when he appealed to Haiti for help in winning the liberation of Venezuela, Columbia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and Panama; all the Haitian president Petion asked in return was that Bolivar also free the slaves.

One, Respe! Here's to the courageous men and women who fought and died in a heroic war that lasted 14 years and involved defeating three powerful nations and established the first independent Black Republic. Haitians will never forget the great achievements of the Haitian Revolution.

Remember the Haitian revolution achievements by:
1. Circulating Boukman's Prayer; and
2. Send letters demanding France pay Haiti back the Independence Debt.
(See sample letter).

5 comments:

AL said...

The haitian revolution was one if not the greatest revolt in world history but do you honestly think that the US would not have had a war with france and took that land from them, this country has had 11 major wars against other nations mostly with expansionist interests, just some food for thought? America has never been a peaceful nation.Black americans have fought and died in every one of those 11 major wars from the american revolutionary war to the present, about 300,000 black men fought in the civil war and 38,000 died to end slavery just to give those guys some credit.

thezenhaitian said...

I agree, Haitians saved Americans from a lot of bloodshed.

Also, Black Americans are very loyal and patriotic in spite of the discrimination, racism and terror that have been perpetrated against them and their ancestors.

jasminedearborn said...

Of interest -- You can see a clip of Toussaint's last moments in prison from the award-winning new short film "The Last Days of Toussaint L'Ouverture" at http://www.imdb.com/name/nm2468184/ This film is the basis for a new feature (not with Danny Glover) that is in development.

thezenhaitian said...

Thank you Jasmine! Gonna check that out.

I've been mulling over the Danny Glover film that was in development a while back about Toussaint/Haiti, only to get shut down because he did not find production money. Boy oh boy 8 million (from Venezuela) doesn't get a fellow very far, does it? This is a mystery to me. The answer I got seemed insufficient..."He wanted to make an epic." So scale back Danny!

thezenhaitian said...

@Jasmine
I saw the clip at IMDB of the film. It was almost laughable really, if it wasn't so typical and sad.

So predictably, the feral, dangerous beastly black man (Toussaint) is backed into a corner, his eyes gleaming with fear, danger and hostility. He is questioned by the urbane, weary, heroic White Frenchman, who is loath to, but must carry out his irksome duty of finding out where the gold/money is -- the White man's God.

According to HIStory (and the White script), Whites must be the heroes in such world class dramas--when truthfully, they are (generally) the brutal criminals committing the unspeakable acts of cruelty and murder.

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