Despised by All," by Eduardo Galeano
World Press Review - December 1996
The Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano has written several books denouncing
foreign intervention in Latin America. Decidedly to the left, his views
have a large following among Latin American intellectuals.
Haiti is the country that is treated the worst by the world's powerful.
Bankers humiliate it. Merchants ignore it. And politicians slam
their doors in its face. Democracy arrived only recently in Haiti.
its short life, this frail, hungry creature received nothing
but abuse. It was murdered in its infancy in 1991 in a coup led
Raoul Cedras. Three years later, democracy returned. After having
installed and deposed countless military dictators, the U.S.
backed President Jean Bertrand Aristide-the first leader elected
vote in Haiti's history-and a man foolish enough to want a country
with less injustice. In order to erase every trace of American
participation in the bloody Cedras dictatorship, U.S. soldiers
pages of records from the secret archives. Aristide returned
to Haiti with his hands tied.
He was permitted to take office as president, but not power. His successor,
Rene Preval, who became president in February, received nearly 90 percent
of the vote. Any minor bureaucrat at the World Bank or the International
Monetary Fund has more power than Preval does. Every time he asks for
a credit line to feed the hungry, educate the illiterate, or provide
land to the peasants, he gets no response. Or he may be told to go
back and learn his lessons. And because the Haitian government cannot
seem to grasp that it must dismantle its few remaining public services,
the last shred of a safety net for the most defenseless people on Earth,
its masters give up on it.
U.S. invaded Haiti in 1915 and ran the country until 1934. It withdrew
when it had accomplished its two objectives: seeing that Haiti had paid
its debts to U.S. banks and that the constitution was amended to allow
for the sale of plantations to foreigners. Robert Lansing, then secretary
of state, justified the long and harsh military occupation by saying
that blacks were incapable of self-government, that they had "an
inherent tendency toward savagery and a physical inability to live a
civilized life." Haiti had been the jewel in the crown, France's
richest colony: one big sugar plantation, harvested by slave labor.
The French philosopher Montesquieu explained it bluntly: "Sugar
would be too expensive if it were not produced by slaves. These slaves
are blacks .... it is not possible that God, who is a very wise being,
would have put a soul . .., in such an utterly black body." Instead,
God had put a whip in the overseer's hand.
In l803, the black citizens of Haiti gave Napoleon Bonaparte's troops
a tremendous beating, and Europe has never forgiven them for this humiliation
inflicted upon the white race. Haiti was the first free country in
South America or the Caribbean. The free people raised their flag over a country in ruins. The land of
Haiti had been devastated by the sugar monoculture and then laid waste
by the war against France. One third of the population had fallen in
combat. Then Europe began its blockade. The newborn nation was condemned
to solitude. No one would buy from it, no one would sell to it, nor
would any nation recognize it.
Not even Simon Bolivar had the courage to establish diplomatic relations
with the black nation. Bolivar was able to reopen his campaign for
the liberation of the Americas, after being defeated by Spain, thanks
to help from Haiti. The Haitian government supplied him with seven
ships, arms, and soldiers, setting only one condition: that he free
the slaves-something that had not occurred to him. Bolivar kept his
promise, but after his victory, he turned his back on the nation that
had saved him. When he convened a meeting in Panama of the American
nations, he invited England, but not Haiti.
The U.S. did not recognize Haiti until 70 years later. By then, Haiti
was already in the bloody hands of the military dictators, who devoted
the meager resources of this starving nation toward relieving its debt
to France. Europe demanded that Haiti pay France a huge indemnity to
atone for its crime against French dignity.
The history of the abuse of Haiti, which in our lifetime has become
a tragedy, is also the story of Western civilization's racism.
--Eduardo Galeano, Inter Press Service
(Third World-oriented news agency)