Are Haitians capable of ruling themselves?
January 1, 2004
As we are approaching a milestone in the history of our nation, the debate has been raging as to whether or not we should rejoice and celebrate the 200th Anniversary of the Independence of Haiti. The questions raised by Rosalvo Bobo and Antenor Firmin, one hundred years ago, seem to be germane even as we write today. This seemingly vicious circle has led many disgruntled Haitians to question whether Haitians are capable of ruling themselves! Going even further, some of our compatriots have concluded that people of African descent are unable to take charge of their own destiny and lead their countries to successful achievements. They would go as far as considering that the government of the entire island be given to our neighbors to the east, since their side of the land is obviously more stable and enjoys some degree of economic prosperity.
This senseless verbiage all but saddens me. It is enough that the rulers of the world, throughout history, have justified the pillage of the resources of other countries or even the enslavement of their people, by demonstrating by all sorts of pseudoscience and dishonest propaganda that their only concern was the welfare of an inferior race that needed to be redeemed, peoples that needed to be salvaged from damnation by forcing their conversion from their “barbaric” or “pagan” customs. The African Slave Trade and the massacre of the native Haitians by the Spanish conquerors are two quick examples that come to mind. Thousands of other similar situations can easily be quoted. However, when the oppressed peoples start believing these lies, when we start seeing ourselves as incompetent, pitiful souls that cannot lead ourselves, without the assistance of foreigners, specifically those of European descent, the work of the racist exploiters is completed. We start seeing ourselves as inferior and are ready to accept our neo-enslavement.
To all this sad group of my fellow countrymen, I ask these questions: Why would that be? Why do you think peoples of African heritage cannot prosper? Why do you think that only peoples of European descent can prosper? Could it be that Africans are genetically inferior? Could it be that Africans are mentally deficient? Could it be that these ideas are being driven into our psyche by the same groups that raped our nations before and are setting themselves for the ultimate coup de grace, the terminal domination of the non-Europeans, also called the peoples of color or the peoples of the south of the world?
The idea that the human races could be stratified by different levels of intelligence is not new. In the 19th century, Gobinot thought he had proven just that. Using anthropometric measurement, he tried to convince the skeptics that the Caucasians were innately superior to the Negroid people. We will not waste our time disputing these theories, since Antenor Firmin has already done it so eloquently in “The Equality of Human Races”, a masterful piece that I encourage you to read again. Furthermore, the Human Genome Project has, I believe, laid this discussion to rest, because we know that the genetic material for all the “races” is 99.9% identical. Great leaders, scientists, poets, inventors, military strategists, physicians, economists, athletes are found in all countries and all races. Yves Antoine has compiled in “Inventeurs et Savants Noirs”, the achievements of some of these outstanding Negroes. Haiti has produced a plethora of great minds and exceptional past and present individuals. Suffise to mention; Toussaint Louverture, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, Sylvio Cator, Leslie F. Manigat, Dr, Rodrigue Mortel, etc…
The grandiose civilization that blossomed on the shores of the Nile river, was it not the works of Africans, with dark skins, flat noses and fleshy lips? I would refer the readers to the following books: “Great Black Leaders” by Van Sertima and “Stolen Legacy” by George G. M. James. Great achievements can be reported that lasted for centuries and centuries on both sides of the Atlantic and in Asia, that had no connection whatsoever with the Europeans. The Mayans created a well-structured and advanced culture in the Yucatan peninsula and the neighboring land. The Moors (Arabs) brought poetry, music, medicine, mathematics, architecture to new heights in Northern Africa, in the Middle East, in southern Europe and indeed the entire world. The Five-Nation Confederacy of the Iroquois knew something about government, because the newly independent American settlers to some extent patterned their own government after that set up by this League of Native Americans. Finally, did Haiti not lead the world in creating some thing that was unheard of at the dawn of the 19th century? A free nation ruled by African people! Our country remained for a long time a beacon of hope, a model for the African nations as well as the Caribbean nations. Haiti had a key role in the liberation of South America.
Then, one may ask, if so, why are all the negro-ruled nations, including our own, at the bottom of the list of countries with the highest so-called “quality of life”?
This answer can be simple or complex. A simple analogy would be why Argentina cannot reclaim its Malvinas islands from the British, or why Haiti cannot reclaim La Navase from the Americans. It is the old principle of “Might is Right”, attributed to Otto Von Bismarck but always prevalent in the World History. It is why the monstrous multinational corporations can, almost at will in the under-developed countries, install and bring down a government deemed sympathetic or detrimental to their interests. Who will stop them? The budget of these industrial giants is bigger than that of any nation of Africa, South America or the Caribbean Islands. When they want oil, diamonds, gold or simply the lion share of your market, they armed rebel factions at a level that cannot be equaled by local governments usually strapped for funds. Just think of Chile, Congo, Liberia, Nigeria, Haiti…
Thousands of local citizens can be murdered, maimed or displaced. Yet, the sponsors of these actions, I mean the corporate giants or the interfering foreign powers and not the local goons or warlords, are never prosecuted. Ask the Chilean people who are still seeking justice for the atrocities of the 1960s. The International Tribunal of La Hague has yet to condemn ITT or other multinational industrial entities for their subversive criminal activities.
Yet, in this circle of despair, we see a glimmer of hope. We see instances where David still can defeat Goliath, where the will of the people has defeated colossal foes. The cessation of the bombing of the island of Vieques is a mere example of the power of a people united against oppression. Mahatma Gandhi freed India, through peaceful resistance.
People of the third world must unite to change the bismarckian paradigm. Gunpowder, then nuclear power has helped the Europeans to dominate the world. Maybe, the will of the people may bring down this domination and exploitation. Maybe all peaceful people in the world can look into themselves and find that there are more that connect us than separate us. Peaceful people of Africa, America, Asia, Europe and Oceania can join hands and make the world so that every nation can enjoy the right to self-determination and peaceful coexistence. Then Haiti may have a chance…Yes, a chance to resolve its own internal obstacles to progress, that need to be addressed as well.
Louis J. Auguste, MD
Haitian American Cultural and Educational Foundation
Are Haitians Capable of ruling themselves? (Part II)
Louis J. Auguste, MD
On the eve of the 200th anniversary of the creation of the Haitian Nation, our brothers and sisters remain divided as to how to celebrate this memorable date, so full of meanings for so many. For a fraction of the population, at home and abroad, plans are being set for commemorative masses followed by parties, while others would prefer to attend a thanksgiving mass, dressed in mourning attire and spend time for reflection on the past, the present and the future of their beloved country.
Certainly, Haitians as well as the whole world should celebrate the epic deed of our ancestors who bravely fought for their freedom and in some way, started the cascade reaction that led to the decolonization of the Americas, the withdrawal of Europe from the Americas and eventually to the abolishment of the African slave trade. Haitians can be proud of being, at least chronologically, the first black republic of the world and the second independent nation of the Americas. However, whatever one’s political views may be on the present state of affairs in our homeland, one cannot help but sadly consider that out of a total of 225 countries of the world for which statistics are available, Haiti ranks 198th in literacy rate (45%). Our country rates 191st in life expectancy at birth (51.6 years), 190th in infant mortality (76.1/1000), 179th in gross domestic product per capita ($1.700) and 24th in highest prevalence of AIDS/HIV in the adult population. It does not take a great philosopher to ascertain that something is wrong there. How did we get there? Certainly not overnight and not by the fault of one individual, but it appears appropriate that the thinking Haitian man or woman would, instead of partying, take the time to meditate on these sad statistics and start discussing ways to revert this downward spiral, lest we want to be soon an extinct species.
It would be certainly arrogant on anyone’s part to pretend to know all the answers to our woes, let alone discuss them within the limited confines of this editorial. However, we dare today to offer a modest contribution to this important debate.
Most of us have traveled through many countries, where we have had abundant opportunities to observe that despite the apparent differences, “man” is the same everywhere. In general, he does not follow rules and regulations out of his good nature. As an example, surveys have shown that if they were sure that they would not be caught, the overwhelming majority of Americans would cheat on their income tax files. This number is kept to a minimum because of audits by the Internal Revenue Service and known penalties that can be incurred for false reporting. A nation therefore needs institutions that protect men from their own weaknesses and temptations and protect evenly the rights of everyone. Laws are made generally to improve the welfare of the entire population and various agencies see that these laws be blindly followed.
Another constant of human behavior is that given any amount of power, “man” will try
to hold on to it as long as he can and try to remove any possible barrier to the absolute exercise of this power. The behavior of a policeman is similar on any continent and in any country, be it rich or poor. At a higher level, American presidents always try to extent their regime to a second term and if the Constitution allowed it, William J. Clinton would certainly have sought a third term in office. Thus many of our American friends, in different capacities, would certainly behave in manners similar to our Haitian brothers. However, one of the reasons why their country is on top of the ladder of nations and ours closer to the bottom, once again is the presence of strong institutions that create checks and bounds and maintain the rule of the Constitution.
The American Forefathers distrusted the federal government and looked for a system that would survive any future assault. They created a government with three branches: the legislative, the judiciary and the executive. The legislators include the representatives of every locality of the country. They are directly elected by the people and are charged with the duty to defend their interest, but also with the duty to oversee the selection of the members of the judiciary and the legislative branches. The final responsibility rests on the shoulders of the president who is also practically elected by the people, for a finite period of time. However, the forefathers also established mechanisms to censor or impeach any member of the three branches that would betray the constitution or at least make it difficult to deviate from the country’s basic charter.
The Haitian Constitution has changed almost as often as our governments, at times with the best intentions, but often to suit the malevolent wishes and whims of this or that leader. In addition, our institutions, as you can recall, were born innately weak. Colonists seldom prepare their former slaves to assume responsibility for their own destiny. In 1804, we did not have enough indigenous professionals to properly organize a government and most of the French officials that were still in the country were not willing to cooperate with the newly freed people to make a smooth economical and political transition. Furthermore, even if they wanted to, they were soon massacred in one of the most questionable moments of our history. Over our 200 years of existence, these institutions have failed either because of inborn defects or because various leaders sought deliberately to undermine them, in order to rid themselves of any obstacle to absolute power. Very few presidents have left voluntarily at the end of their terms. The legislative branch of the government has been dissolved many a time or its members have been handpicked or eliminated to serve the personal ambitions of a given leader. The army and the police forces, a brief review of our history shows us, have never been the neutral institutions they are supposed to be. Indeed, at least 29 out of our 54 presidents or national leaders have emerged from the military or have gained access to the presidency through an armed struggle. More often than not, political affiliation, rather than competence, has been the key factor in the advancement of the officers. The same can be said of all branches of the government, be it in medicine, in education, in diplomacy or even in the clergy. Thus, the first independent black country in the world find itself in 2004 unable to feed its citizens, unable to provide them with basic services, such as education, electricity, drinking water, health care, etc… All our institutions are undermined, crumbling or in ruins and lest we want to revert to a primitive tribal state in the midst of this age of most advanced technology, changes are imperative and urgent. Haiti cries for the establishment of strong institutions and for truly patriotic leaders that will uphold the Constitution and start building a nation worthy of its place in history and within the world community.