Haiti: A Case Study in Social In/Justice

 
The problem with Haiti began with the slave trade. People were kidnapped from the west coast of Africa, especially the areas of Guinea, Congo, and Dahomey. One hundred different tribes were represented, with one hundred different languages. The survivors of the ships were forced into the sugar cane fields, and the profits flowed back to France. By the 1780s, Haiti was the prize producer of sugar and coffee in the Caribbean, supplying all of Europe with 40% of its sugar and 60% of its coffee. France used the money to wage war against its European neighbors.

The masters were brutal in their treatment of the Africans. As a consequence, out of the 790,000 slaves in Haiti in the late 1700s, 40,000 had to be brought in every year to replace those who had died. This meant that practically the whole popu

From the dark hole at the center of Trump’s brain, Haiti has been thrust into the news. There will no longer be visas for entry level workers, and the 200,000 persons welcomed into the US because of the earthquake devastation must now leave and go back to their sh*thole country. In appealing to the basest racial element among his fans, Trump has created the image of a black, welfare dependent people who have nothing to offer the US and should stay in their own country, as should all the people of Africa, and practice their voodoo.

Listen up, America, to a history lesson. 

The problem with Haiti began with the slave trade. People were kidnapped from the west coast of Africa, especially the areas of Guinea, Congo, and Dahomey. One hundred different tribes were represented, with one hundred different languages. The survivors of the ships were forced into the sugar cane fields, and the profits flowed back to France. By the 1780s, Haiti was the prize producer of sugar and coffee in the Caribbean, supplying all of Europe with 40% of its sugar and 60% of its coffee. France used the money to wage war against its European neighbors.

The masters were brutal in their treatment of the Africans. As a consequence, out of the 790,000 slaves in Haiti in the late 1700s, 40,000 had to be brought in every year to replace those who had died. This meant that practically the whole population had recently arrived from various parts of Africa, with no common language or traditions. In the years 1791-1802 the slaves revolted and created the first black republic in the Caribbean. That a disparate group of slaves could achieve such a remarkable form of government in so short a time is a testament to their intelligence, commitment and perseverance.

Of course, the French were outraged, and enlisted the support of their allies, including the United States of America, to conduct an economic boycott of the fledgling country. Haiti had no choice but to acquiesce to the French demand for reparations for their “loss” in the revolt. The loss, of course, was mainly the value that they placed on the slaves who were now free. The amount was 150 million francs in gold, later reduced to 90, and Haiti was forced to borrow from banks, especially American banks at high rates, in order to satisfy the demand. In 1915, when political turmoil threatened stability in the impoverished country, at the behest of American bankers and investors, the US Marines invaded and occupied Haiti for 20 years. The final payment on the loans, principal and untold interest, was made in 1947, about 150 years after the slaves had created their own country and declared themselves free. 

After the rebellion was squashed and until 1915, Haiti was a colony of the US. People were enslaved or killed, the marines quelled any signs of further unrest, the entire national treasury of $500,000 in gold was taken and put into a bank in New York City, and American enterprise, especially the banks, prospered at the expense of the Haitians. When the marines left in 1935, an American trained national guard was left to police the country. Emerging from that chaos was the brutal dictatorship of Papa Doc Duvalier, his will enforced by the dreaded Tonton Macoute who slaughtered an estimated 100,000 of their countrymen. The US looked the other way, the Duvalier dictatorship propped up as a counter to the threat of international communism

Then came the dictatorship of Baby Doc Duvalier, so unpopular that Reagan whisked him away for retirement in a French villa. There was a hopeful attempt at democracy under the brief tenure of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who received 70% of the vote. Aristide was a Catholic priest who was a proponent of Liberation Theology, a perspective on the gospel that asserted that God had a preferential option for the poor, and for that reason, no doubt, he was removed by the CIA. And then another US invasion.

The devastating earthquake that killed perhaps 300,000 and leveled Port-au-Prince inflicted more pain and hardship, but the root cause of the poverty hearkens all the way back to the Western response to those slaves who would be free way back in 1791.

The situation today is exacerbated  by the economic situation around the world. According to a new report by Oxfam, eight men own the same wealth as the 3.6 billion people who make up the poorest half of humanity. The report details how big business and the super-rich are fueling the inequality crisis by dodging taxes, driving down wages and using their power to influence politics. The richest 1 percent got 82 percent of wealth created last year while the poorest half of humanity got nothing.

Haiti is an example, not of ignorant, helpless, unprincipled people, but of what happens when rampant greed controls the engines of economy.

I mentioned earlier that Liberation Theology asserts that God has a preferential option for the poor. The Hebrew prophetic tradition confirms that belief.

From Ezekiel:

“The Lord’s word came to me: Human one, prophesy against Israel’s shepherds. Prophesy and say to them, The Lord God proclaims to the shepherds: Doom to Israel’s shepherds who tended themselves! Shouldn’t shepherds tend the flock? You drink the milk, you wear the wool, and you slaughter the fat animals, but you don’t tend the flock. You don’t strengthen the weak, heal the sick, bind up the injured, bring back the strays, or seek out the lost; but instead you use force to rule them with injustice. So, shepherds, hear the Lord’s word! … The Lord God proclaims: I’m against the shepherds! I will hold them accountable for my flock, and I will put an end to their tending the flock. The shepherds will no longer tend them, because I will rescue my flock from their mouths, and they will no longer be their food.” I will feed my sheep in justice.

Too often Christians have in mind a Jesus who, as the Good Shepherd, holds a staff in one hand and a lamb in the other. Better we take our cue from Ezekiel. The crucifixion of Jesus by the Roman Empire was the culmination of a life of protest. Jesus lived at a time when the “shepherds” of the people, the wealthy, the aristocracy, the business leaders and the religious leaders, were strangling the peasantry in the pursuit of mammon, and his heart was with the people. I am against the shepherds, says the Lord. I am against the perpetrators of injustice.

Food to eat. A roof over our heads. Basic medical care. Enjoyment of family and friends. As humankind, surely this is our will for all people. Surely that is God’s will for all people. Surely the pursuit of this end is why Jesus was crucified. Who can doubt that distributive social justice is both our vision and the vision of God for the planet?

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