US would also be a ‘shithole’ today if not for Haitian bravery 200 years ago!

TRUMP’S IGNORANCE OF HISTORY IS MONUMENTAL . . .



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by Selvam Canagaratna


"The whole family of pride and ignorance are incestuous, and mutually beget each other."
– Charles Caleb Colton, Lacon, 1825.


Perhaps understandably, Donald Trump᾿s inexcusable description of Haiti and African nations as ‘shithole countries’ at a recent bipartisan Oval Office meeting on immigration, and his coupling that utterance with his own view that the US should try to attract more immigrants from countries such as Norway merely helped further confirm what many already knew – that his deep racism was as obvious as his colossal ignorance!


In 2010, when announcing emergency help for Haiti after a devastating 7.0-magnitude earthquake, President Barack Obama noted America’s ‘historic’ ties to the impoverished Caribbean nation, but few Americans today, wrote Robert Parry, perhaps understand how important Haiti’s contribution to US history was.


It’s the details of those historic ties that Parry, the founder of Consortiumnews.com, first revealed in 2010 and retold once more on January 12 this year for the benefit of readers who may have missed it the first time round eight years ago.


More than two centuries ago, Haiti represented one of the most important neighbours of the new American Republic and played a central role in enabling the United States to expand westward. If not for Haiti, the course of US history could have been very different, with the United States possibly never expanding much beyond the Appalachian Mountains.


In the 1700s, then-called St. Domingue and covering the western third of the island of Hispaniola, Haiti was a French colony that rivaled the American colonies as the most valuable European possession in the Western Hemisphere. Relying on a ruthless exploitation of African slaves, French plantations there produced nearly one-half the world’s coffee and sugar.


Many of the great cities of France owe their grandeur to the wealth that was extracted from Haiti and its slaves. But the human price was unspeakably high. The French had devised a fiendishly cruel slave system that imported enslaved Africans for work in the fields with accounting procedures for their amortization. They were literally worked to death.


"The American colonists may have rebelled against Great Britain over issues such as representation in Parliament and arbitrary actions by King George III," wrote Parry. "But black Haitians confronted a brutal system of slavery. An infamous French method of executing a troublesome slave was to insert a gunpowder charge into his rectum and then detonate the explosive."


So, as the American colonies fought for their freedom in the 1770s and as that inspiration against tyranny spread to France in the 1780s, the repercussions would eventually reach Haiti, where the Jacobins’ cry of "liberty, equality and fraternity" resonated with special force. Slaves demanded that the concepts of freedom be applied universally.


When the brutal French plantation system continued, violent slave uprisings followed. Hundreds of white plantation owners were slain as the rebels overran the colony. A self-educated slave named Toussaint L’Ouverture emerged as the revolution’s leader, demonstrating skills on the battlefield and in the complexities of politics.


The rebels known as the "Black Jacobins" gained the sympathy of the American Federalist Party and particularly Alexander Hamilton, a native of the Caribbean himself and a fierce opponent of slavery. Hamilton, the first US Treasury Secretary, helped L’Ouverture draft a constitution for the new nation.


But events in Paris and Washington soon conspired to undo the promise of Haiti’s new freedom. Despite Hamilton’s sympathies, some Founders, including Thomas Jefferson who owned 180 slaves and owed his political strength to agrarian interests, looked nervously at the slave rebellion in St. Domingue. Jefferson feared that slave uprisings might spread northward.


Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, the chaos and excesses of the French Revolution led to the ascendance of Napoleon Bonaparte, a brilliant and vain military commander possessed of legendary ambition. As he expanded his power across Europe, Napoleon also dreamed of rebuilding a French empire in the Americas.


In 1801, Jefferson became the third President of the United States and his interests at least temporarily aligned with those of Napoleon. The French dictator was determined to restore French control of St. Domingue and Jefferson was eager to see the slave rebellion crushed.


Through secret diplomatic channels, Napoleon asked Jefferson if the United States would help a French army traveling by sea to St. Domingue. Jefferson replied that "nothing will be easier than to furnish your army and fleet with everything and reduce Toussaint [L’Ouverture] to starvation."


But Napoleon had a secret second phase of his plan that he didn’t share with Jefferson. Once the French army had subdued L’Ouverture and his rebel force, Napoleon intended to advance to the North American mainland, basing a new French empire in New Orleans and settling the vast territory west of the Mississippi River.


In May 1801, Jefferson picked up the first inklings of Napoleon’s other agenda. Alarmed at the prospect of a major European power controlling New Orleans and thus the mouth of the strategic Mississippi River, Jefferson backpedaled on his commitment to Napoleon, retreating to a posture of neutrality. Still terrified at the prospect of a successful republic organized by freed African slaves Jefferson took no action to block Napoleon’s thrust into the New World.


In 1802, a French expeditionary force achieved initial success against the slave army, driving L’Ouverture’s forces back into the mountains. But, as they retreated, the ex-slaves torched the cities and the plantations, destroying the colony’s once-thriving economic infrastructure.


L’Ouverture, hoping to bring the war to an end, accepted Napoleon’s promise of a negotiated settlement that would ban future slavery in the country. As part of the agreement, L’Ouverture turned himself in. Napoleon, however, broke his word. Napoleon had L’Ouverture shipped in chains back to Europe where he was mistreated and died in prison.


Infuriated by the betrayal, L’Ouverture’s young generals resumed the war with a vengeance. In the months that followed, the French army already decimated by disease was overwhelmed by a fierce enemy fighting in familiar terrain and determined not to be put back into slavery.


Napoleon sent a second French army, but it too was destroyed. Though the famed general had conquered much of Europe, he lost 24,000 men, including some of his best troops, in St. Domingue before abandoning his campaign. The death toll among the ex-slaves was much higher, but they had prevailed, albeit over a devastated land.


By 1803, a frustrated Napoleon agreed to sell New Orleans and the Louisiana territories to Jefferson. Ironically, the Louisiana Purchase, which opened the heart of the present United States to American settlement, had been made possible despite Jefferson’s misguided collaboration with Napoleon.


"By their long and bitter struggle for independence, St. Domingue’s blacks were instrumental in allowing the United States to more than double the size of its territory," wrote Stanford University professor John Chester Miller in his book, The Wolf by the Ears: Thomas Jefferson and Slavery.


But, Miller observed, "the decisive contribution made by the black freedom fighters went almost unnoticed by the Jeffersonian administration."


The loss of L’Ouverture’s leadership dealt a severe blow to Haiti’s prospects. The island nation continued a downward spiral. In 1804, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, the radical slave leader who had replaced L’Ouverture, formally declared the nation’s independence and returned it to its original Indian name, Haiti. A year later, apparently fearing a return of the French and a counterrevolution, Dessalines ordered the massacre of the remaining French whites on the island. In 1806, Dessalines himself was brutally assassinated, touching off a cycle of political violence that would haunt Haiti for the next two centuries.


The official hostility of the United States toward Haiti continued until 1862 when President Abraham Lincoln finally granted diplomatic recognition.


By then, however, Haiti’s destructive patterns of political violence and economic chaos had been long established continuing up to the present time.


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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