By Eduardo Galeano
You can consult any encyclopedia and ask which was the first free country in the Americas. You will always receive the same answer: the US. But the US declared its independence when they were a nation with 650,000 slaves (who remained so for another century) and in its first constitution they established that a black slave was equal to three-fifths a person. And if you ask any encyclopedia which country first abolished slavery, you will always receive the same answer: England. But the first country that abolished slavery was not England; it was Haiti.
The black slaves of Haiti defeated Napoleon Bonaparte’s glorious army. Europe never forgave that humiliation. Haiti paid huge compensation to France for over 150 years, but not even that was enough. That black insolence still hurts to the world’s white masters.
Of all this, we know very little or nothing. Haiti is an invisible country. It only attained fame after the earthquake of 2010 which killed more than 200,000 Haitians. The tragedy fleetingly gained the spotlight of the media. Haiti is not known by the talent of its artists, of its scrap magicians capable of transforming garbage into beauty, or for its historical feats in the war against slavery and colonial oppression. It’s worth repeating once again so that the deaf can listen: Haiti was the founding country of the independence of America and the first one that defeated slavery in the world. It deserves a lot more than the fame sprung from its misfortunes.
At present, the armies from several countries, including mine, are still occupying Haiti. How is this military invasion justified? It is alleged that Haiti puts international security in danger. Throughout the 19th century, Haiti’s example was a threat to the security of countries that still continued practicing slavery. Thomas Jefferson had already said: from Haiti came the pest of rebellion.
In South Carolina, for example, the law allowed the imprisonment of any black sailor while his ship was at dock, simply because of the risk that he might spread the antislavery pest. In the 20th century, Haiti was invaded by the marines for being an insecure country for its foreign creditors. The invaders gave the National Bank to the City Bank of New York. Since they were already there, they decided to stay another 19 years.
The crossing of the border between the Dominican Republic and Haiti is named the wrong step. Maybe the name is a call to arms: you are entering the black world, the world of voodoo, the religion that slaves brought from Africa and was nationalised in Haiti and that has no right to be called religion. From the point of view of the proprietors of civilization, voodoo is a black thing symbolising ignorance, backwardness and pure superstition. The Catholic Church, with plenty of followers capable of selling the saints’ fingernails and the feathers of Archangel Gabriel, made sure that this superstition was officially forbidden in 1845, 1860, 1896, 1915, and 1942.
But for a few years now, the evangelical sects are in charge of the war against superstition in Haiti. These sects come from the US, a country that doesn’t have 13 floors in their buildings or line 13 in their airplanes and is inhabited by civilised Christians who believe God made the world in one week.
In that country, the evangelical preacher Pat Robertson explained on television the earthquake of 2010. This shepherd of souls revealed that the Haitian blacks had achieved their independence from France through a voodoo ceremony, invoking the devil’s help from the depth of the Haitian jungle. The devil that gave them their freedom, had sent the earthquake.
How long will foreign soldiers remain in Haiti? They arrived to stabilise and help, but have been having breakfast, and destabilising this country that doesn’t want them for seven years. The military occupation of Haiti is costing the UN more than 800-million dollars annually. If the UN dedicated those funds to technical cooperation and social solidarity, Haitians would be given a boost to their creative energy. Then they would be saved from their armed saviours who have a certain tendency to violate, kill, and transmit fatal illnesses. Haiti doesn’t need anyone to come and multiply its misfortunes. Neither does it need anyone’s charity. Or, as an ancient African proverb goes, the hand that gives is always above the hand that receives.
But Haiti does need solidarity, doctors, schools, hospitals, and a true collaboration that makes possible the rebirth of its alimentary sovereignty, killed by the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and other philanthropic societies. For us, Latin Americans, that solidarity is a debt of gratitude: it will be the best way to say thanks to this little and great nation that in 1804 opened for us, with its contagious example, the doors of freedom.
This is based on a text read by Eduardo Galeano on 27 September at the national library in Montevideo in the panel-debate ‘Haiti and Latin American’. This article is dedicated to Guillermo Chifflet, who was forced to give up the Chamber of Deputies of Uruguay when he voted against the sending of soldiers to Haiti.English translation by Cubasi Translation Staff. Originally published at Cubasi.