Saturday, May 21, 2022

Truth Clinic: Haiti’s Duplicitous Relationship With The Devil

By James W. Breedlove

As the headlines on Haiti’s monstrous earthquake and subsequent recovery efforts begin to fade controversy still remains over the validity of the curse that, according to Pat Robertson, resulted from the Haitian slaves making a pact with the devil in 1791 to obtain their freedom from their French overseers.

While the main stream media has covered the emotional comments of both supporters and detractors of Pat Robertson’s curse theory very little factual information has been provided regarding the negative impact on Haiti over the years by America’s duplicitous foreign policy.  Tim Matthewson’s “A Pro-Slavery Foreign Policy”, Henry Louis Gates “The Curse on Haiti”, and Noam Chomsky’s “Year 501” provide excellent background information.

In the emotional debate there is an ambivalence of public attitudes.  There are some that believe that the very poor in Haiti, like Katrina victims, are not worth assisting and that these culturally dysfunctional misfits should be sent elsewhere.  New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote in a recent op-ed that, “Haiti, like most of the world’s poorest nations, suffers from a complex web of progress-resistant cultural influences.”  Brooks, however, fails to mention the role of U.S. trade policy in destroying Haiti’s former thriving economy.

The Republic was established on January 1, 1804 following a slave uprising against the French colonial rulers.  Hans Schmidt wrote that, “Saint Domingue was the wealthiest European colonial possession in the Americas”, producing three-quarters of the world’s sugar by 1789 and also leading the world in production of coffee, cotton, indigo, and rum. The slave masters provided France with enormous wealth from the labor of their 450,000 slaves. The white population, including poor overseers and artisans, numbered 40,000. of Haiti

Despite American support, in principle, for independence movements there was little enthusiasm for the efforts of Haiti’s slaves to end their enslavement and establish the New World’s second republican government.

Between 1791 and 1804, the slave population of the French colony of Haiti revolted against the white minority. The revolt appalled Europe as well as the newly independent United States of America. The United States because of its commercial interests with the French colony, sent the French $750,000 in military aid as well as some troops to help quell the revolt.

The Treaty of Alliance of 1778 signed by France and the United States required that the United States protect French colonies in the New World.  American merchants also hoped to exploit the loss of French control over the colony and extend the commercial interests of the United States into the West Indian market.  The ongoing French Revolution, the Quasi War, and anxiety about the future of the Louisiana Territory and the port at New Orleans also effected American policy decisions.

The French commander in Haiti wrote Napoleon that it would be necessary to wipe out virtually the entire black population to impose French rule.  However, his campaign failed and Haiti became the only case in history of an enslaved people breaking its own chains and using military might to beat back a powerful ruler.

The Haitian victory came at tremendous cost.  Much of the agricultural wealth of the country was destroyed, along with perhaps a third of the population. The victory horrified Haiti’s slave-holding neighbors, who backed France’s claims for huge reparations, which Haiti finally accepted in 1825 as a precondition for participation in the global marketplace.

The result was decades of French domination of Haiti’s financial well being.  Assisted by an American embargo, trade fell from $6.7 million in 1806 to $1.5 million in 1808.  The United States did not recognize Haiti as a nation until 1862.

While Presidents Washington, Adams and Jefferson made policy decisions detrimental to Haiti it was during Jefferson’s tenure that the revolt’s critical mass developed.

There has always been a contradiction between Jefferson’s ownership of slaves and his expressed belief in the rights of all to enjoy liberty.  One aspect of Jefferson’s beliefs was both Blacks and Whites would always view each other in racial terms and when slavery no longer existed blacks would rebel due to the long years of intense and cruel oppression. This view of slavery led Jefferson to support the concept of colonization in a new country as the ultimate solution to the slavery problem.

Jefferson had initially expressed to the French in 1801 that the “United States opposed Haiti’s independence under Black rule and wanted to see French authority restored.  The French emissary reported to Paris that it was Jefferson’s “dread of the blacks, not devotion to French interests” that motivated his offer of assistance to the French.

Jefferson reconsidered his offer to aid the French against the Haitian rebels when he learned in August 1802 about Napoleon Bonaparte’s plan to use Haiti as the first step towards building a colonial empire in the western hemisphere. His policy change at the time when Napoleon was in desperate need of money to support his army resulted in Jefferson making the largest land acquisition in American history, the Louisiana Purchase.

Thus, the ultimate change in Jefferson’s policy that contributed to France’s defeat in Haiti was due to geopolitical and commercial implications impacting the balance of power in the Caribbean and not a moral imperative to support the emancipation of an oppressed people.

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