Forum Haiti : Des Idées et des Débats sur l'Avenir d'Haiti

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Forum Haiti : Des Idées et des Débats sur l'Avenir d'Haiti
Forum Haiti : Des Idées et des Débats sur l'Avenir d'Haiti
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The Lost Years: On Haiti /voici comment on nous voit

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Message  piporiko Ven 24 Juil 2009 - 20:19

he large segment of the Haitian population that is unable to read or
write inhabits an oral history culture, which produces, when looking
into the past, a curious foreshortening. First comes the Haitian
Revolution of 1791-1804, the only successful slave revolution in history
and an event with whose fundamentals practically all Haitians are
reasonably conversant. Then there's a compressed, indeterminate period
of confused and repetitious instability, ending with President Woodrow
Wilson's decision in 1915 to use the collection of outstanding American
and French loans as a pretext for installing Marines in Haiti to prevent
the election of an anti-American president. Following the close of the
US occupation in 1934 is another indeterminate period of confusion,
ending with the erection of the Duvalier dictatorship, a père
et fils
monolith that, in its iron duration from 1957 to 1986, still
stands taller than anything else on the Haitian historical horizon
except for the founding revolution. (Jean-Claude Duvalier assumed power
upon the death of his father, François, in 1971.) This
foreshortening effect is not without certain advantages; ordinary
Haitians tend to feel much more immediately connected to the events of
their nation's origin than we in the United States do to ours. Yet how
Haiti got from the radicalism of the revolution to the corrupt and
bloody Duvalier regime, and thence to the ever more desperate conditions
of the present, still tends to be a matter of mystery, both to Haitians
and also to outside observers.

In recent years, in large part because of the vogue for postcolonial
studies, many more Anglophone historians of Haiti have been drawn to the
Haitian Revolution. The American occupation has also been reasonably
well examined, as has the Duvalier regime, while the cyclical rises and
falls, from 1990 to 2004, of the once and future President Jean-Bertrand
Aristide have been practically drowned in ink. But with the exception of
the Duvalier period, these well-studied eras all involve Haiti's
critical and sometimes violent interactions with foreign powers; the
nation's politics get far less attention from non-Haitian analysts. With
Red and Black in Haiti, Matthew Smith intends to remedy that
neglect, in part, with a minutely detailed examination of the period
from 1934 to 1957, when Haiti emerged from the years of US occupation
and moved, inexorably or not, toward the Duvalier dictatorship.

In the Haitian context, black often stands for African and red for
milat, the Haitian word for people of mixed European and African
blood. This color symbolism dates to the declaration of
independence in Gonaïves on January 1, 1804, when Haiti's first
head of state, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, ordered the white band to be
removed ceremoniously from the tricolor of the vanquished French and the
red and blue bands to be sewn back together to create a new and uniquely
Haitian flag. The flag alteration represented the eradication of the
white race as a concept and suggested a new, firmer unity of the black
African and milat populations. Indeed, the Constitution issued by
Dessalines in 1805 stated, "The national colors shall be black and red."
(Smith uses the statement as the epigraph to his introduction.) Under
Dessalines, the Haitian flag was modified accordingly, but subsequent
rulers restored the red and the blue. Duvalier père, who
inhaled a great gust of inspiration from Dessalines's remarkable
ruthlessness, brought back the black-and-red flag after seven years of
rule, as Smith reminds us in his conclusion.

This article appeared in the August 3, 2009 edition of The Nation.

July 15, 2009

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