Monday, January 18, 2010

Haiti Earthquake Notes & Essay by Robert Parry

I won't here describe the already well known disaster that has hit Haiti. I will simply say that many of my friends there are in the earthquake zone and their communities have been damaged or destroyed. The ones I have heard of are alive, but beyond that I don't have any details about individuals, their homes, etc. I do know that the community of La Vale de Jakmel, which I have visited a number of times, is cut off from food and water and medical aid, as are many rural communities. Many people are organizing aid of various kinds for the people of Port au Prince and surrounding areas. One service being provided by CBC News is a site for placing photos of missing people, in an attempt to find where they are. I'll list a few of the available urls below. Please, if you can spare a donation, or if you are a medical practitioner capable of helping out, please consider stepping in.

Attached below you'll find
an interesting article on the elder history of the relationship between Haiti and the USA. (For more recent history, Paul Farmer's excellent book The Uses of Haiti is a great resource.)

Blessings on Haiti. We love you very much.


Donations for La Vale can be sent through:

Finding folk lost in Haiti: CBC News photo gallery to post pictures and provide info.

@MSF_Canada Medecins Sans Frontieres - Doctors Without Borders treating wounded in #Haiti. Pls give -

The following is lifted from Bob Belenky's webpage:

How to help: Don’t go there yet - unless you have medical training and are affiliated with an appropriate organization. Instead, make monetary contributions to a solid, close-to-the-ground organization that has a history of effectiveness and takes minimal overhead fees. I believe that such may be found among the following (listed in no particular order):

  1. Partners in Health - Paul Farmer's outfit:

  2. Doctors Without Borders, a very well known and respected NGO: Reports have it that its offices in Haiti were destroyed by the earthquake. But they surely continue to function at a very high level.

  3. Mercy Corps which provides all sorts of emergency help including technical assistance:

  4. Beyond Borders - a progressive Protestant outfit that has a strong focus on Haiti:

  5. The Lambi Fund - a Washington-based, well run, Haitian founded NGO:

  6. Fonkoze - a micro-lending, Haitian-American bank that has been extremely helpful in Haiti in both development and response to emergencies:

  7. Yéle Haiti ( - “Yéle’s community service programs include food distribution and mobilizing emergency relief. Grammy-Award winning musician, humanitarian and Goodwill Ambassador to Haiti Wyclef Jean founded Yéle Haiti in 2005.” - website. Questions have recently been raised, however, about Yéle’s high overhead and transparency.

  8. The Haitian Ministries of the Norwich, CT Diocese, a progressive Catholic organization that has a long, honorable history of work in Haiti:

  9. A joint effort: SOA (School of the America’s) Watch is joining other Latin America and Caribbean solidarity and human rights groups in raising funds for food and water, health and shelter relief for those affected by the earthquake and for community re-building efforts:

  10. This came as a suggestion from a friend: It is a British NGO that deals specifically with international disaster relief and reportedly takes NO overheard!

  11. There is Madre, a marvelous women’s rights organization that is taking an active role in the relief operation in concert with Partners in Health:

  12. “Plan” ( is an international agency that supports children in poor countries. It has had a strong presence in Haiti since 1937 and is very active in the current crisis. Its focus is in the beautiful city of Jacmel, hard hit by the earthquake but out of the international media’s view.

  13. “Mercy and Sharing,” an American organization I have only recently run across sponsors a program called, “Haiti Children” I know nothing about it beyond what is on the web site. But it sounds good. They are deeply involved in earthquake relief work and have many on-going support services for poor and abandoned children as well. They provide volunteer opportunities.

Two more organizations. They are small, unique but effective and worthy of support:

  1. Dr. Carolle Jean-Murat, a Haitian-American ob/gyn, has a small NGO ( that supports women and children in La Vallee de Jacmel, a mountain region high above the city of Jacmel. She is particularly interested in the work of a long-time friend of mine, Godfroy Boursiquot, “Gody,” through his youth group, CODEA. Gody is a highly respected educator in La Vallee and in Port-au-Prince as well.

  2. Finally: The NEGES Foundation, a Haitian-American outfit co-founded and co-led by Marie Yoleine Gateau-Esposito and James Philemy, friends I have worked closely with over the past five years. NEGES runs many impressive programs in the city of Leogane ( at the very epicenter of the earthquake ( Yoleine and James will use any and all contributions effectively and with transparent honesty. NEGES will soon sponsor work camps in Leogane through Volunteers for Peace: That would probably be one of the best ways to visit Haiti in the near future while making a useful personal contribution, learning a tremendous amount and changing one’s life in profound but unforeseeable ways..

Note: During the emergency, Western Union will transfer money to Haiti at no cost! It also offers a simple link for making contributions to Mercy Corps.

* * *

A review of Haitian/US history:

Haiti's Tragic History Is Entwined with the Story of America

By Robert Parry, Consortium News
Posted on January 14, 2010, Printed on January 14, 2010

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 understand how important Haiti’s contribution to U.S. history was.

In modern times, when Haiti does intrude on U.S. consciousness, it’s usually because of some natural disaster or a violent political upheaval, and the U.S. response is often paternalistic, if not tinged with a racist disdain for the country’s predominantly black population and its seemingly endless failure to escape cycles of crushing poverty.

However, more than two centuries ago, Haiti represented one of the most important neighbors 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 U.S. 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. 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.

Despite the atrocities committed by both sides of the conflict, 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. Hamilton, the first U.S. 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. “If something is not done, and soon done,” Jefferson wrote in 1797, “we shall be the murderers of our own children.”

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. Jealous of L’Ouverture, who was regarded by some admirers as a general with skills rivaling Napoleon’s, the French dictator had L’Ouverture shipped in chains back to Europe where he was mistreated and died in prison.

Foiled Plans

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 – denied his foothold in the New World – 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, according to Jefferson scholar Paul Finkelman of Virginia Polytechnic Institute.

“Had Toussaint lived, it’s very likely that he would have remained in power long enough to put the nation on a firm footing, to establish an order of succession,” Finkelman told me in an interview. “The entire subsequent history of Haiti might have been different.”

Instead, 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.

Though the Haitian resistance had blunted Napoleon’s planned penetration of the North American mainland, Jefferson reacted to the shocking bloodshed in Haiti by imposing a stiff economic embargo on the island nation. In 1806, Dessalines himself was brutally assassinated, touching off a cycle of political violence that would haunt Haiti for the next two centuries.

Jefferson’s Blemish

For some scholars, Jefferson’s vengeful policy toward Haiti – like his personal ownership of slaves – represented an ugly blemish on his legacy as a historic advocate of freedom. Even in his final years, Jefferson remained obsessed with Haiti and its link to the issue of American slavery.

In the 1820s, the former President proposed a scheme for taking away the children born to black slaves in the United States and shipping them to Haiti. In that way, Jefferson posited that both slavery and America’s black population could be phased out. Eventually, in Jefferson’s view, Haiti would be all black and the United States white.

Jefferson’s deportation scheme never was taken very seriously and American slavery would continue for another four decades until it was ended by the Civil War. The official hostility of the United States toward Haiti extended almost as long, ending in 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. Personal and political connections between Haiti’s light-skinned elite and power centers of Washington also have lasted through today.

Recent Republican administrations have been particularly hostile to the popular will of the impoverished Haitian masses. When leftist priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide was twice elected by overwhelming margins, he was ousted both times – first during the presidency of George H.W. Bush and again under President George W. Bush.

Washington’s conventional wisdom on Haiti holds that the country is a hopeless basket case that would best be governed by business-oriented technocrats who would take their marching orders from the United States.

However, the Haitian people have a different perspective. Unlike most Americans who have no idea about their historic debt to Haiti, many Haitians know this history quite well. The bitter memories of Jefferson and Napoleon still feed the distrust that Haitians of all classes feel toward the outside world.

“In Haiti, we became the first black independent country,” Aristide once told me in an interview. “We understand, as we still understand, it wasn’t easy for them – American, French and others – to accept our independence.”

Robert Parry's new book is Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq."

© 2010 Consortium News All rights reserved.

* * *


1 comment:

Essays Writing said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.