By Jean H Charles:
This past Wednesday on November 18, Haiti celebrated the 206th anniversary of the victory of its troops: 7,000 men in rags and ill nourished, who crushed the 40,000 well trained soldiers sent by Napoleon from France to re-establish slavery in that rebel island that dared to declare itself the land of the free!
We were in 1800; John Adams, who entertained a cozy relationship with Toussaint Louverture, the mighty leader of the whole island of Hispaniola, was crushed in his attempt to win a second mandate as president of the United States. Thomas Jefferson did win the election, and entered instead into a secret pact with Napoleon to allow the French troops to cross the Atlantic and reach Haiti.
The Haitians, who have tasted the sweet smell of liberty, did not conceive the idea of coming back into slavery. Under the leadership of Toussaint, first, Dessalines and Henry Christophe later, they submitted the French troops to defeat after defeat until the last battle that took place near Cape Haitian, at Vertieres on November 18, 1803. There, one of the generals, Capois La Mort, distinguished himself with bravado and gallantry that the French General Rochambeau ordered the battle to stop to pay homage to Capois. His horse and his hat were hit with a bullet; he regained his composure to call his troops to move with the slogan: En Avant! En avant! Move forward, Move forward!
It was the end of the French fantasia to bring Haiti and the Haitians back into slavery. It was also the beginning of the end of the wide world order of black subjugation. This epic story did not have a long life in Haiti. Dessalines was assassinated two years later by his own comrades in arms. His successor, Henry Christophe, lasted fifteen years, but ruled only the northern part of the island. His rival Alexander Petion and his successor Jean Pierre Boyer delivered on a platter what the French could not get on the battle field. Boyer accepted to pay to the French government the equivalent of 2 billion dollars to compensate the settlers for their loss. Petion and Boyer imprinted the Haitian ethos with the culture of exclusion, which is the imprimatur of Haitian society today. The 565 rural counties of Haiti have not received individually or collectively one million dollars for the past two hundred years in structural infrastructure!
Desolated and left to fend for them, the rural world of Haiti is leaving en masse, building a shanty town at the rate of one a month in the capital and in the main cities. They are also trying to reach the Dominican Republic, Turks and Caicos, as well as the Bahamas through clandestine departures. In spite of the international help and concern, Haiti is sinking deeper into extreme poverty. Port au Prince, the capital city has electricity only from 9pm to 6 am. There is no potable water, no night life, no major industry and no tourism.
Yet the forces in power are mounting an armada (with some foreign assistance) to perpetuate themselves into power. Haiti at this juncture must play the same battle that it engaged on November 18, 1803, not with cannon but with its bulletin of vote. In November 2010, the people of Haiti will have a clear choice of remaining in the status quo of misery, arrogance and neglect from its own government or choose a new leader with the vision and the bravura to break down the culture of exclusion against the majority of the population.
It will need, using the words of Professor Kenneth Clark, talking about the black man in American politics, to utilize the election process to change society from an unjust one to a just one. It will also need to transform rhetoric into reality. So far the concept of one man one vote has been prostituted and did not help Haiti. I am observing the Haitian government using the resources of the state and those of the international organizations to organize a so called unity coalition!
The Haitian people have a way of defying the odds. As in 1803; in November 2010, they will survive this attempt to keep them in a de facto bondage. May the spirit of the gallant founding fathers guide them!