Haiti: Pioneer of the New

Once again Haiti plays the role of pioneer of the new, first with its anti-slavery revolution of 1804 and, today, as a result of the physical devastation of the January 2010, earthquake. How is it able to so with the latter when so obviously devastated, you ask? Answer: its resistance to inequality.
Haitian Africans resisted the rapacious greed and unrelenting violence of the white French enslavers of the Island for whom they were cheap and expendable labour imported to the island to produce sugar tobacco and coffee, with an uprising of world historical significance, the first successful slave rebellion in human history which led to the proclamation of the independent Haitian state in 1804.
With the revolt, they spoke to their masters in his language of violence. In their victory, they called on their master’s tradition of political institutions to guide them in shaping their new path of Republican government.
The 18th century age of Haitian uprisings was one of mass enslavement of Africans in the Americas and Caribbean by French, English, Danish, Spanish, Portuguese, and American slave owners.
The revolutionaries of Haiti made their nation a supporting location for the American liberator, Simon Bolivar, for whom it served as a base for his revolutionary sojourns across the southern American continent from which the modern nations of South America were born: Colombia; Peru; Venezuela; Ecuador, Argentina, Chile, Bolivia and Uruguay. Haiti served their birthing. Haitians supported the Americans in their fight for independence from the English and the Greeks in their liberation struggle against Turkish colonialism.
Emancipated Africans existing as a pariah state in the then family of white European nations for whom slavery was economic commonsense, made their victory the source of other nations and peoples emancipation.
Their self-emancipation was a source of inspiration to other enslaved Africans and a threat to slaveholders throughout the region.
Haiti was an international example of the mutual compatibility between Africans and freedom. For Haitians, since the slave labour gave birth to the modern world then emancipated Africans had earned the right to partake in its fruits.
Haiti’s challenge to the Western dominated international order of the day was its political rejection of the economic inequality that so defined the 18th and 19th centuries, be it in the form of plantation labour in the Americas and Caribbean, manufacturing capitalism in Western Europe, or unequal trading practices by the West with the rest of the world.
In the modern era, modern Haiti finds itself, in the midst of the earthquake induced devastation, revealing to the world the consequences of a society falling prey to the perils of unbridled capitalism or, neo-liberalism: ‘the absence of things’: When the cult of profits guides the shaping and reproducing of a modern society human life is more so defined by its absences than its necessary presences for those without cash.
A careful listing of Haiti’s absences reads like a menu of basic necessities of modern life: electricity; computers; roads; water; housing; healthcare facilities; schools; literacy; medicines; trees; fire stations; city government; food; and the list goes on and on and on.
Meaningful modern life has been denied the people of Haiti and the post earthquake response of the world community broadcasts these facts for the world to see, and feel: This is what neo-liberalism means for societies that are forced to live in strict accordance its postulates of profit maximization and cost efficiencies, and are poor, underdeveloped, and, in some cases never developed.
Neo-liberalism, the diet of cheap labour, free markets, minimal government and, in Haiti’s case, total dependency on American capital and external governance, has created a playground for wealth making that makes the Haitian state, government and society redundant appendages to its rule.
That Haiti’s privileged and tiny elite has squandered the nation’s wealth, enriching itself at the expense of the well being of its peoples, the nation’s most precious resource, is in now in full glare for the world to see. The people are poor because of the unrelenting efforts by the nation’s elite- in alliance, the American state, World Bank and IMF-to ensure they remain a cheap labour pool for low cost international commodity production networks: baseballs; baseball bats; T-shirts; textiles; electronics assembly; computer assemblage; trinkets manufacture and the like. This has been a fate the people of Haiti have resisted for generations to the consternation and opposition of the local elites and their international supporters, electing in 1999, and 1994 and 2000, Jean Bertrand Aristide, their nation’s first democratically elected president, whose efforts to make the state meet the basic needs of the nation’s peoples was met with his repeated ouster and exile at the hands of the local army, and local elites, in consort the American CIA.
Haiti was as much opposed to the dominant political trend in world economy at its birth-the inequality of the plantation economy- as it is today-the neo-liberal age and its cult of privatization, profits and free markets. This is a destiny conferred upon its peoples by dint of history and circumstance. That they showed the world in 1804, the need for a new, alternative and humane way for human beings to live in the modern world predisposes them to show the world the new, of which they are abled pioneers. Haiti becomes a pioneer of the new both in terms of what is possible and what is necessary, for the struggles of its peoples have been in the past and in the present unstinting resistance against the physical, psychic and moral ravages of inequality.

921 words
Charles Simon-Aaron
Department of International Relations and Strategic Studies
University of Malaya
Kuala Lumpur

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