Monthly Archives: January 2010

Movies for the classroom: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the Haitian Revolution

It’s a minor miracle that this documentary wasn’t yanked by YouTube for copyright reasons.

In keeping with our Haiti focus, I found this excellent documentary–in suprisingly good picture quality–about the 1791-1804 Haitian Revolution.  Students who only know about Haiti from the earthquake would do well to watch this important early chapter in the country’s history.

NOTE: The original copy of this film had its last part missing (yanked by YouTube), so I found a substitute with lesser picture quality.  Once the original last part resurfaces, I will replace it on this post.


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It takes an Earthquake…or, why we can’t abandon Haiti again

Acts of God, more often than not, expose the fallibilities of man.

In 2006, Hurricane Katrina swept through the Gulf states, particularly Louisiana and Mississippi.  Yet Katrina herself played second fiddle to official malfeasance, incompetence and corruption.  It took a hurricane to expose the rotten mess of both Louisiana government and federal disaster response programs.

In 2010, a 7.0 earthquake showed to the world what many historians knew for centuries.  In a region already known for political instability, official corruption, widespread poverty and economic disaster, Haiti has consistently ranked dead last in the hemisphere in every category. 

Haiti didn’t become a catastrophe…it was one already. 

I have a message for all the Hollywood morons with their massive relief efforts, concerts, their colorful designer pins and their canned expressions of hope on the red carpet:

Where were you for the last 200 years?

Where were you when the first successful slave rebellion in the western hemisphere occurred?

Where were you fighting for democracy and the rule of law?  Was it during number 4 or 6 of Haiti’s 32 military coups?  Was it during the infighting between the mulatto elites and the rural Africans? 

Where were you when a US military occupation from 1915 to 1934 brought limited stability to an unstable country, only to be saddled with a crushing debt that forever hampered economic progress?

Where were you when a country doctor, Francois Duvalier, became president in a sham election in 1957 and subsequently ruled through superstition, corruption and terror, at an estimated 30,000 lives lost?

Where were you when his son, Jean-Claude Duvalier, lived the life of a playboy as his country sank deeper into the economic and social abyss?

Where were you when the fickle preferences of world powers caused a violent merry-go-round of political leaders between 1990 and 2009, destroying any semblance of respect for political institutions?

Where were you when 80% of Haiti’s population lived in poverty, with a per capita GDP of US$790—about $2 a day?

Where were you when Haiti suffered 50% illiteracy—the highest in the region—and over 8 in 10 college graduates emigrate to more prosperous countries?

Where were you when only 40% of Haitians have access to basic health care, at least 50% of children have no vaccinations and were nearly half the deaths reported are due to HIV/AIDS, meningitis, respiratory infections, cholera, and typhoid?

Where were you when the economy desperately needed a solid foundation—mostly to pay off its massive $1.3 billion dollar debt?  Is it a “stable” economy where 40% of the national budget is foreign aid?

Where were you when a lush, fertile country was systematically deforested for the sake of subsistence farming—a system that barely feeds its own people?

Where were you when, for the sake of expediency, buildings were built without regard for structural integrity, even with the knowledge of an impending tremor?

Where were you when Haiti really needed you—and not as a convenient photo opportunity?

With this recent earthquake, Haiti has experienced the worst disaster in its recent history.  Yet it is just the last dump of a monumental pile of manure that has been the Haitian political and economic system.

My sincere hope is that unlike so many times in the past, the developed world does not abandon Haiti.  Rather, Haitians should be working with foreign aid to create a more stable, more viable country that finally destroys the vestiges of its turbulent past whilst maintaining its own vibrant culture.

Political institutions must be reorganized and strengthened so that the rule of law is not only maintained, but respected.  Democratic success needs institutional respect.

Instead of nameless packages of aid and relief, real investment must become a priority.  Haiti cannot be a charity case forever—no one understands this better than the Haitians themselves.  The country must start creating its own revenue.

Finally, with renewed institutions of government and finance, programs must be implemented and supported for the long-term needs of Haiti’s citizens.  Health care, education, utilities, etc. not only makes Haitians’ lives better, but also entice investors and companies to put their dollars into Haitian enterprises.

This is a laundry list that has been repeated again and again.  Yet it remains relevant.  Once the humanitarian crisis is dealt with in the wake of the earthquake, Haiti has a chance—a real chance—to redefine itself.  It can finally become serene republic envisioned by those early rebels some two centuries ago.

There is a real opportunity here.  We cannot wait for another natural disaster to present itself.

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The Complexities of the “Dream” — Quotes by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

When a person becomes famous, or important, he/she often ceases to have any humanity.

 That person becomes marble, a statue, a painting, an inanimate idol to be worshipped and adored like a vacant pagan god.

Yet it is in their complexity that people truly arise as great.  Such is the case with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Much too often, classrooms distill Dr. King’s legacy into a neat little narrative: The Montgomery Bus Boycott, the March on Washington, the Nobel Peace Prize (and the Letter from a Birmingham Jail, if that teacher’s adventurous) and his assassination.  For must students, King is frozen in time at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963, giving his now-ubiquitous “I Have a Dream” Speech.

Yet the King from 1964 to 1968 is even more fascinating.  The civil rights movement shifted towards more militancy, with Black Power and the Black Panthers.  The Vietnam War moved the focus of many young people towards more radical peace initiatives.  Even Dr. King’s rhetoric had shifted, from one primarily of fighting for civil rights for Blacks to one of social justice and anti-war advocacy.

What follows are a collection of quotes by Dr. King from 1964 to about 1968.  Many of the 1967 quotes come from his “Where Do We Go From Here?” address to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, wherein the group is re-assessing their mission in the wake of the tumultuous decade.  Notice how Dr. King addresses subjects such as poverty, war, science, black nationalism, and global affairs. 

To our ears, these words may seem disconcerting, even radical.  Yet they are important in understanding the path King was to take if he had not met his end by an assassin’s bullet in 1968.

“The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. So it goes. … Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”   – 1967

“Many of the ugly pages of American history have been obscured and forgotten. A society is always eager to cover misdeeds with a cloak of forgetfulness, but no society can fully repress an ugly past when the ravages persist into the present. America owes a debt of justice which it has only begun to pay. If it loses the will to finish or slackens in its determination, history will recall its crimes and the country that would be great will lack the most indispensable element of greatness — justice.” – 1967

“I endorse it (banning prayer in public schools). I think it was correct. Contrary to what many have said, it sought to outlaw neither prayer nor belief in god. In a pluralistic society such as ours, who is to determine what prayer shall be spoken and by whom? Legally, constitutionally or otherwise, the state certainly has no such right.” – 1965

“If a city has a 30% Negro population, then it is logical to assume that Negroes should have at least 30% of the jobs in any particular company, and jobs in all categories rather than only in menial areas.” – 1968

“Science investigates; religion interprets. Science gives man knowledge which is power; religion gives man wisdom which is control. Science deals mainly with facts; religion deals mainly with values. The two are not rivals. They are complementary.” – 1963

“I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a ‘thing-oriented’ society to a ‘person-oriented’ society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.” – 1967

“As long as the mind is enslaved, the body can never be free. Psychological freedom, a firm sense of self-esteem, is the most powerful weapon against the long night of physical slavery. No Lincolnian emancipation proclamation or Johnsonian civil rights bill can totally bring this kind of freedom. The negro will only be free when he reaches down to the inner depths of his own being and signs with the pen and ink of assertive manhood his own emancipation proclamation. And, with a spirit straining toward true self-esteem, the Negro must boldly throw off the manacles of self-abegnation and say to himself and to the world, ‘I am somebody. I am a person. I am a man with dignity and honor. I have a rich and noble history.’” – 1967

“Don’t let anybody make you think God chose America as his divine messianic force to be a sort of policeman of the whole world.” – 1967

“The problem (of poverty) indicates that our emphasis must be twofold. We must create full employment or we must create incomes. People must be made consumers by one method or the other. Once they are placed in this position we need to be concerned that the potential of the individual is not wasted. New forms of work that enhance the social good will have to be devised for those for whom traditional jobs are not available.” – 1967

“Communism forgets that life is individual. Capitalism forgets that life is social, and the kingdom of brotherhood is found neither in the thesis of communism nor the antithesis of capitalism but in a higher synthesis. It is found in a higher synthesis that combines the truths of both.” – 1967

“Let us rise up tonight with a greater readiness. Let us stand with a greater determination. And let us move on in these powerful days, these days of challenge to make America what it ought to be. We have an opportunity to make America a better nation.” – 1968

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