Tag Archives: Haiti

Constitution Day – Here’s what all the hubbub’s about

The San Marino constitution of 1600

The San Marino constitution of 1600. The only thing it has going over ours is its cool cover page (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Attached below is the whole document for your fun perusal, but chew on this:

Of every country in the world with a written constitution, only San Marino, little San Marino, has a constitution older than ours (theirs goes back to 1600).

Dominican Republic – 32 Constitutions, the most of any country.

Venezuela, that bastion of “liberty” – 26 constitutions.

Ecuador, another bastion of “anti-imperialism” – 20 constitutions.

Haiti, the second oldest republic in the Western Hemisphere – 24 constitutions.

The Great Satan, the U.S.of A – just 1 (which we managed to change only 27 times in over two centuries).

Happy Constitution Day!

The Constitution in full via the National Archives.

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Review of Part 1 of PBS’ “Black in Latin America” – Haiti/Dominican Republic

A Tale of Two Countries: Haiti and the Dominican Republic

In a million years, I would never have thought to teach young students about their African heritage—especially as a white teacher.

One of the big roadblocks I’ve always had with students from Latin America (especially the Dominican Republic, where most of my kids are from) is recognizing their complex racial composition.  All too often, it’s a matter of observation: a scan of faces instantly shows the African blood permeating through almost all of them.  From other students, particularly from Mexico or Central and South America, one can notice the strong indigenous nature of their complexion.

Yet when this racial complexity is noted and explained by me, even as someone of Hispanic origin myself, it is met with pushback, denial and outright hostility.  “I’m Dominican, not some ugly Black!” or “I’m no dirty Indian!” is the common response.

(The former statement, by the way, is from a student whose skin is darker than that of the Black students in our school.)

Yesterday, I saw the first part of a 4-part PBS documentary that helped shed light on the complex nature of race in Latin America.  Hosted by Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr.—a scholar who has lately become PBS’ veritable point man on race and ethnicity—Black in Latin America highlights four areas of the hemisphere that have been shaped by African influences.  The first part was of particular importance to me, as it concerned the tense relationship between the two countries of Hispaniola: the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

The difference couldn’t be more startling: on one side, a multiracial society that shuns its African roots and embraces European identity.  On the other lies a society that openly acknowledges and respects its African heritage, and has paid an agonizing price for it.

The Dominican Republic (previously the Spanish colony of Santo Domingo), the oldest Spanish possession in the New World, was also the first to import enslaved Africans as a labor force, especially in the sugar trade.  Yet sugar quickly proved unprofitable, and the economy moved towards cattle ranching.  On the range, the distinctions between enslaved and enslaver slowly dissipated, as intermarriage and cultural intermingling created a society that associated itself primarily as landowners, hence the magnetism towards Spain.

Gates points out the heroes and patriots that grace the squares of Santo Domingo—almost all are white Europeans, and the mulattos (or mixed-race persons) had their features Anglicized according to local prejudices.   Although 90% of Dominicans have some African ancestry, it is an ancestry pushed to the background in the name of national identity and consciousness.  It is only recently that many Dominicans have even begun to discover and analyze their African roots.

This “whitewashing” of Dominican identity was also influenced by its relations to its western neighbor.  Haiti occupied Santo Domingo for 22 years, attempting to Francify the population.  Upon independence in 1844, Dominican identity crystallized: anything Haitian, Creole, even African was considered low and inferior.  When sugar was re-established as a commodity in the late 19th century, it was migrant Haitians who did the cane-cutting.  Dominicans looked on these newcomers with derision, a hatred that resulted in the horrific massacre of over 15,000 Haitians in 1937.

Haiti seems almost the exact opposite.  Even amongst the rubble and poverty of Port-au-Prince, the statues of Haitian heroes are almost all Black.  Haitian culture, language and music pay open homage to Africa, whereas Dominican culture only tacitly recognized its African antecedents.  Though both countries are Roman Catholic, Haiti also is a center for voodoo, a religion based on African and Catholic influences—a religion that helped united Blacks from various parts of Africa to begin the unthinkable: a large-scale slave revolt.

Haiti, a former French colony (Saint-Domengue, once the richest in the New World), was born not out of a struggle against its neighbor, but out of a slave rebellion that had far-reaching influence.  Starting in 1791, the enslaved Africans of Saint-Domengue revolted against their French masters in the first successful slave rebellion in the Americas.   One gruesome after-effect of the revolt—the massacre of the French masters on the island—made sure that even with many mixed-race Haitians, the culture of the country would focus not towards Europe, but towards Africa.

This independent spirit just could not stand, according to the slaveholding powers of France, Great Britain and especially the United States.  Through embargoes, economic strangulation and outright military intervention, Haiti has paid a dear price for daring to exist as an independent nation of Africans.  Political instability, poverty, corruption—these are but a sampling of the abuses suffered by Haitians since independence.  Yet through all these hardships, Haitians are still immensely proud of who they are, and especially where they came from.

The show is extremely important to educators who teach multiracial classrooms, especially those with Latin American immigrants.  While the episodes are a little too short (I really wished for two hours to really go in-depth), the first episode gives an important synopsis of how race affects societies in the New World.  Thus, it also gives a window on how students view their own racial identity, and why they treat their ancestry in such complex ways.

Going back to my classroom, my Dominican students came from a culture where race was not confronted head-on, as it is in the United States.  Their identity is based on their nationality, which was based on ties to former colonial powers and shunning of more “Africanized” neighbors.  Yet it is important for them to see the complete picture of themselves, which may be very uncomfortable given their ingrained prejudices.

Race, or racial identity, often needs to be taught outright in order to be recognized.  As Dominicans, these kids may have given lip service to Africans of the past, but nothing more.  As Americans, it is important for them to acknowledge and embrace a culture that is theirs, whether they like it or not.

There is no shame in being of African descent.

Whether or not that sentiment can permeate the wall of Dominican identity remains to be seen.

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Update on Status of L’Ouverture Movie

Looks like the earlier posts were removed due to copyright problems, so here’s the same documentary from another user.  Hope this keeps up.

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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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If We Lose, It Doesn’t Count – America’s “Small Wars”

“There are no good wars, with the following exceptions: the American Revolution, World War II and the Star Wars Trilogy.” – Bart Simpson

There have been times in our history when a declaration of war could not come fast enough.

Most students have knowledge of a list of conflicts considered the major wars of US history: the American Revolution, the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, World Wars I and II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War and the Iraq War (I don’t think we count Afghanistan yet.  If I’m wrong, let me know.)

Yet these have not been our only use of military force.  According to a report published by the Congressional Research Service, the United States has been involved in hundreds of military actions since independence.  Most have been actions recommended by the President and authorized by Congress.  In some cases, a country declares war on us, and we don’t bother–we simply blow them up.

Whatever the case, here are some of our “small wars”, our smaller military engagements overseas.

USS_Constellation

 

 

 

 

 

Undeclared War with France 1798-1800

What happens when you have to pay a  bill from a restaurant that’s “under new management”?  You get a naval war with France.  The French Revolution put a stopper on the alliance the United States signed with the old Kingdom of France in 1778.  Along the way, the US decided to no longer repay its debts to France, arguing that they made a treaty with the previous government, not the current one.  Furthermore, the 1795 Jay Treaty helped smooth things over with Great Britain.  France responds by going ape-shit on our shipping, capturing hundreds of tons of US cargo.  This brief scuffle existed mostly at sea, and a sit-down with Napoleon Bonaparte in 1800 settled the matter–far too late to get John Adams re-elected President.   Maybe Johnny should’ve turned this one into the real thing.

Burning_of_the_uss_philadelphia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First and Second Barbary Wars 1801-1805, 1815

The Middle East was always a pain in our ass, dating back to Thomas Jefferson.  The Barbary States of Tunis, Algiers and Tripoli were supposedly part of the Ottoman Empire, but they decided to ignore Constantinople since the 17th century for big money.   These states supported pirate fleets across the Mediterranean, and demanded tribute from European powers wishing to sail in its turf.  The British and French could afford the payouts, but not the US.  They tried paying out in the 1780s, but the Barbary demands proved too much.  Cue the nascent US Navy, whose four frigates and numerous small craft dealt a four-year pounding to the Barbary fleets–and helped create the Navy’s first heroes.  It also helped that Britain and France were too busy fighting each other to mind.  Treaties were signed by 1805, but apparently didn’t stick.  By 1815, another whupping was needed.  This time, they got the message.

CANTON

 

 

 

 

 

Chinese Intevention 1843, 1854, 1866, 1894-1895, 1898-1899, 1900, 1911-1912, etc.

Sometimes it just doesn’t pay to be the nice guy.  The United States had a mission in China since the early 1800s, when the European powers were carving up the country into “spheres of influence.”  The US decided to take the high road and enforce all countries to trade equally with China through the “Treaty ports” as in Canton, pictured above.   Our forces found out, really quickly, that (a) keeping the foreigners in line was no easy task, and (b) keeping the locals in check was even harder.  Throughout the 19th Century, the US would be engaged in skirmishes with locals, pirates, smugglers, other navies, etc.  The climax was the 1900 Boxer Rebellion, which pitted rebellious Chinese–and their do-nothing government–against an eight-nation supersquad armed to the teeth.  By now, the Americans were sick of being the nice guy and just wanted to get what’s coming.  Our forces would be in China, off and on, until the Communist takeover of 1949.  Something told me Chairman Mao was not thrilled about having us there. 

Fil-American_War_Feb_04%2C1899

 

 

 

 

 

 

Philippines Rebellion 1899-1913

America got into the imperialism business late: by the time we entered whole-hog in 1898, all the good stuff was taken–damn you, Belgium!  Anyway, the only way to get our own foreigners to boss around was to steal them from someone else.  Who better to steal from than the wounded gazelle that is the Spanish Empire.  The Spanish-American War in 1898 gained us a colonial empire virtually overnight.  The Philippines, however, did not understand this, and had the nerve to revolt against their US “liberators”.  So began a brutal war of attrition that officially ended with the surrender of the rebels in 1902,  but would continue sporadically in the hinterlands until 1913.  The intervention was extremely controversial in the States, with Mark Twain doing his best Sean Penn impression as a celebrity meddling in politics.  Thus began another great American tradition–celebrities sticking their noses in places where they don’t belong.

 VillaUncleSamBerrymanCartoon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mexican “Pancho Villa” Expedition 1914-1917

Another one of America’s great sticking points is Mexico–or as Zachary Taylor may have called it, “the part we didn’t steal.”  I think they’re better off without California, to be honest.  Anyway, the Mexican Revolution of 1910-1929 was putting Mexico into political and social turmoil.  The American military was monitoring the situation closely, especially that of an erratic guerrilla leader named Francisco “Pancho” Villa.  In 1915, in retaliation for US support of a rival presidential candidate, Villa’s forces crosse the border and attacked the town of Columbus, New Mexico.  A 10,000 man force led by General John Pershing was sent to find and punish Villa.  The men found tequila and the brothels, instead, as Pershing was bogged down by orders and directives from Washington.  The men withdrew in January 1917, just in time for the big dust-up across the Atlantic.

Sandinoflagusmc

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nicaraguan Intervention 1912-1933

Remember the Monroe Doctrine?  That 1825 protocol that stated that European nations cannot meddle in affairs in the Western Hemisphere?  Well, for at least a century, the United States felt this was carte blanche to do whatever we wanted.  Teddy Roosevelt even said so in his Roosevelt Corollary of 1904, when he extended US “police powers” to any Central or South American country that reneged on its debt payments.   In this case, the US felt that the Panama Canal wasn’t enough: a bigger canal was needed across Nicaragua.  Federal troops entered the country in order to (a) make sure no other country tries to build a canal, and (b) prop up the conservative governments in Nicaragua that have been so friendly to US interests.  Yet time and the Great Depression would take their toll.  The long-standing–and expensive–occupation ended in 1933 when Augusto Sandino led a group of revolutionaries against the occupation forces.  US forces would withdraw, only to fight a proxy war with the same group fifty years later.  Who do you think the Contras were fighting against?  Does the word Sandinista ring a bell?

Ocupacion-1916

 

 

 

 

 

Dominican Republic 1916-1924

In 1916, after a period of political instability, the United States issued a warning to the Dominican Republic: pick a president or we’ll pick one for you.  The guy the Dominicans picked turned out to be a dud, so the United States invaded the island nation and established a military dictatorship that lasted until 1924.  The Dominicans, naturally, resisted this foreign rule, and rebellions were met with brutal suppression by US forces.  However, the dictatorship managed to do what previous Dominican governments couldn’t–balance the budget, preserve order and stability, lowered the debt, built new roads and created a professional military for the country.  By 1924, agreements between the DR and the US provided for free elections  to be held, and the occupation was over.  Today, Santo Domingo’s greatest ballplayers have come to return the favor. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Haiti 1915-1934

Hispaniola is a small island, after all, and Haiti wanted its share of US aggression, as well.  By 1915 Haiti had 6 presidents in 4 years, all of whom were killed or forced into exile.   The US was worried that a German contingent in Haiti would wield too much power, so forces were sent in 1915 to “protect American and foreign interests.” They stayed as the de facto government until 1934.  All decisions by the Haitian government had to be okayed by the military occupation.  Infrastructure was built using forced labor gangs.   Education was reorganized so that both rich and poor were equally pissed off.  A rebellion in 1918 was crushed by Marines to the tune of 2000 Haitians dead.  Even withdrawal between 1932 and 1934 didn’t help: Haiti would see a series of US-backed military dictatorships for the next half century.

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