Random Thoughts

Haiti: America’s Serendipitous Benefactor

Some two decades ago Martin Bernal wrote “Black Athena” and raised a firestorm in America and the world. His contention was and is that Egypt is the root of Greek civilization. There is no doubt that Egyptian art and monuments predate Greek ones and the sculptures of the Middle Kingdom of Egypt are vastly superior to its contemporary works in Crete. There are many authorities who dispute and refute Bernal’s thesis and  not all of them can be dismissed as racially  biased. Therefore my thesis may also meet with vehement protests, summary denial and contrived  arguments, but the facts are undeniably in my favor.

Columbus landed in Hispaniola (now divided into Haiti in the west and the Dominican Republic in the east) in December 1492 and claimed the island for Spain despite existing  multiple Taino Indian kingdoms. In typical colonizing atrocities, the Taino were massacred, killed off by smallpox, enslaved, terrorized and required to bring their weekly quota of gold or be subjected to cruel punishment or death. Similar behavior by the Portuguese occurred in Brazil and Africa, Dutch in Indonesia, British in Africa and Australasia, Germans in Namibia, Belgians in the Congo and still occurs in Sierra Leone and some African countries like Sudan, Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, now by African warlords instead of European colonists. Joseph Conrad’s “Heart Of Darkness” is a novel but also a reflection of true history.

Within two decades most of the native Indian population had been decimated , killed or had died off and many of the remaining few ran off to the mountains to escape and there was no gold left to mine. The Spanish then imported slaves from Africa and converted the island to a plantation. Sugar, indigo and tobacco were the main crops and French pirates used the western harbors and Tortuga as their operations base. Eventually the island was divided into French colony Haiti in the west and the Spanish colony of Santo Domingo in the eastern half. Haiti became the richest and most productive real estate of France and was efficiently and ruthlessly run as a slave plantation causing death of a third of its slaves every few years. A small but important Haitian French contingent fought the British in the American colonies in the war of independence.

After the French Revolution, the Jacobins abolished slavery in the colonies and the Black slaves rebelled and slaughtered the white French (40,000) at a cost of quarter million of their own casualties. A little later Napoleon had taken over the rule of France and sorely missed the riches from Haiti and sent a force of 20,000 to recapture Haiti. Yellow fever killed most of the French army, but the surviving general invited the victorious slave leader Toussaint L’Ouverture for a parley, kidnaped and sent him back to France where he died in prison (The British did the same with Tippu Sultan’s children in Mysore and America has done so and tortured in Central America, Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam and other countries).

The betrayal did not bring victory and the French army lost and was decimated and rich Haiti became the first independent colony to achieve nationhood and that of an enslaved black population in the Americas. 

Unfortunately the leaders then and until now, like those of  Pakistan (good if any, were overthrown by military coups) have learned nothing from history. France demanded heavy crippling reparations from Haiti and the new American Republic mortally scared that its slaves would take the same path, continued the intimidation and exploitation of Haiti even until today, as in repeated invasions, occupations and overthrow of the elected government of Aristide. America has done the same with Cuba, Guatemala, Hawaii, Indonesia, Iran, Brazil, Argentina, Peru, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Mexico, Colombia, Panama, Chile, Kirghizstan, Georgia, Ukraine, Lebanon, Somalia, Ethiopia and more recently tried that in Venezuela, Bolivia, Honduras and Ecuador. 

The defeat and decimation of the French invasion force in Haiti is what resulted in the serendipitous benefit to America. It put Napoleon’s France in some economic difficulty, as an upstart revolutionary power, it was threatening the established monarchies of Europe. Napoleon in need of money was compelled to sell the Louisiana Territory. Jefferson ignored the newly formed Constitution and purchased the land, more than doubling the territory of the nascent republic. It also removed the roadblock to usurp the whole continent and pursue “Manifest Destiny” from sea to shining sea. Spain which had been embroiled and conquered by France was in no shape to pursue its territorial rights in north America and conceded to be bought out of a Florida which it had already lost to the American armies (from Jackson on) and thus the new USA got a foothold on the Gulf. It was only a matter of another forty years before the muscular, strong and aggressive USA took Texas, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada and California from Mexico, which had become independent of Spain but was weak. The US which had failed to conquer Canada in 1776 and 1812 from Britain, in its stronger avatar browbeat Britain to relinquish any claim to Washington state and Oregon and achieved its objective in the lower 48. By that time it was ready to purchase Alaska from an overextended Russia and its Czar and had sent missionaries to Hawaii.  It took another fifty years to fulfill its aggressive desires for an overseas empire, but the Spanish American war was cooked up under false pretenses (like the Gulf of Tonkin resolution against Vietnam and WMD against Iraq) to annex Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines.

Thus, if Napoleon had not lost in Haiti and not needed money, which compelled him to sell Louisiana, American ambitions would have met stifling resistance from the combined pressures of France, Spain and Britain. France was vital in winning the war of independence against the British (siege of Yorktown and its embargo by the French navy) and its defeat in Haiti began the fall of the other dominoes to the benefit of America. Haiti’s actions were for its own survival but caused overwhelming unintended (serendipitous) benefit to the infant republic.

And since the legal philosophy of America is that no good deed should go unpunished, it is fitting that it has turned Haiti (like El Salvador, Homduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kosovo and Somalia) into a basket case. After all, what Job got was biblical justice, vigorously defended by orthodox Jews and Christians. And they like Muslims follow a religion of peace, as every victim of oppressive tyranny, slaughter and enslavement can vouch for, no matter what caste they belong to, as the devout Hindu proclaimed while boasting about equality!

No wonder Columbus was looking for rich India where as Herodotus proclaimed, wool grew on trees (cotton), plants made honey (sugarcane), spices were abundant and giant ants mined gold, while children starve to death today.  


More by :  Gaurang Bhatt, MD

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