Consult any encyclopedia. Ask which was the
first free country in America. You will get the same answer: the
But the United States declared
its independence when it was a nation with 650,000 slaves who
remained so for another century, and its first Constitution said
that a black slave was equal to three fifths of a person.
And if you ask any encyclopedia
which was the first country to abolish slavery, you will always
get the same answer: England.
But the first country that
abolished slavery was not England, but Haiti, which is still
expiating the sin of its dignity.
The black slaves of Haiti
defeated Napoleon Bonaparte’s glorious army, and Europe never
forgave the humiliation. For over a century and half, Haiti paid
France a huge compensation for being guilty of its freedom, but
not even that was enough.
This black insolence still
hurts the world’s white masters. Of all that, we know very
little or nothing.
Haiti is an invisible country.
It only attained fame after the earthquake of January 2010 that
killed more than 200,000 Haitians. The tragedy put the country
fleetingly in the media spotlight.
Haiti is not known by the
talent of its artists: scrap magicians capable of transforming
garbage into beauty. Nor is it known for its historical feats in
the war against slavery and colonial oppression.
It is worth repeating it once
again, so that the deaf can hear: Haiti was the founding country
of the independence of America and the first one that defeated
slavery in the world. It deserves much more than the fame sprung
from its misfortunes.
At present, the armies from
several countries, including mine, are occupying Haiti. How is
this military invasion justified? By alleging that Haiti
endangers international security. Nothing more.
Throughout the 19th
century, Haiti’s example was a threat to the security of
countries that still continued practicing slavery. Thomas
Jefferson has said: “From Haiti came the pest of rebellion.”
In South Carolina, for example,
the law allowed imprisonment of any black sailor while his ship
was at dock, because of the risk that he could contaminate with
the anti-slavery pest. And in Brazil, this pest was called “Haitianism.”
In the 20th century,
Haiti was invaded by the U.S. Marines for being an insecure
country for its foreign creditors. The invaders began by taking
possession of the customs offices and giving the Haitian
National Bank to the City Bank of New York. Since they were
already there, they decided to stay for 19 years.
The crossing of the border from
the Dominican Republic to Haiti is named: “The wrong step.”
Maybe the name is a call to
arms: Are you entering the black world, black magic,
Vodou, the religion that slaves
brought from Africa, was nationalized in Haiti; it has no right
to be called a religion. From the point of view of proprietors
of civilization, Vodou is a black thing, ignorance,
backwardness, pure superstition. The Catholic Church, with
plenty of followers capable of selling the saints’ fingernails
and the Archangel Gabriel’s feathers, enabled this superstition
to be officially forbidden in 1845, 1860, 1896, 1915, and 1942,
without the people paying that any mind.
But for a few years now,
evangelical sects have been in charge of the war against
superstition in Haiti. Those sects come from the United States,
a country that does not have a 13th floor in its buildings, nor
row 13 in its airplanes, and that is inhabited by civilized
Christians who believe God made the world in one week.
In that country, the
evangelical preacher Pat Robertson explained on television the
earthquake of the year 2010. This shepherd of souls revealed
that the Haitian blacks had won their independence from France
with a Vodou ceremony that invoked the Devil’s help from the
depths of the Haitian jungle. The Devil, who gave them their
freedom, sent the earthquake to collect.
How long will foreign soldiers
remain in Haiti? They arrived to stabilize and help, but for
seven years, they’ve been eating their breakfast and
destabilizing this country which does not want them.
The military occupation of
Haiti is costing the United Nations more than $800 million a
If the UN dedicated these funds
to technical cooperation and social solidarity, Haitians could
get a good boost to develop their creative energies. Then they
would be saved from their armed saviors who have a certain
tendency to violate, kill, and give fatal illnesses.
Haiti does not 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 food sovereignty, killed by the
International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and other
For us, Latin Americans, that
solidarity is a debt of gratitude: it will be the best way to
say thanks to this little great nation that in 1804 opened for
us, with its contagious example, the doors of freedom.
(This article is dedicated to
Guillermo Chifflet who was forced to resign from Uruguay’s
Chamber of Deputies when he voted against sending soldiers to
Eduardo Galeano is a Uruguayan
journalist, writer and novelist, whose best known works are
“Memoria del Fuego” (Memory of Fire Trilogy, 1986) and “Las
venas abiertas de América Latina” (Open Veins of Latin America,
1971). He gave this speech on Sep. 27, 2011 at the National
Library in Montevideo in a panel debate entitled “Haiti and