In the first years of our
[20th] century the philosopher
William James passed the little-known judgment
that the country had finally vomited the
Declaration of Independence. To cite but one
example: the United States occupied Haiti for
twenty years and, in that black country that had
been the scene of the first victorious slave
revolt, introduced racial segregation and forced
labor, killed 1,500 workers in one of its
repressive operations (according to a U.S.
Senate investigation in 1922), and when the
local government refused to turn the
Nationale into a branch of New York's
National City Bank, suspended the salaries of
the president and his ministers so that they
might think again. Alternating the "big stick"
with "dollar diplomacy," similar actions were
carried out in the other Caribbean islands and
in all of Central America, the geopolitical
space of the imperial
of Fire: Genesis”
Detached, aloof, the prisoner sits at the
entrance of Christopher Columbus's house. He has
iron shackles on his ankles, and handcuffs trap
Caonabó was the one who burned to ashes
the Navidad fort that the admiral had built when
he discovered this island of Haiti. He burned
the fort and killed its occupants. And not only
them: In these two long years he has castigated
with arrows any Spaniards he came across in
Cibao, his mountain territory, for their hunting
of gold and people.
Alonso de Ojeda, veteran of the wars
against the Moors, paid him a visit on the
pretext of peace. He invited him to mount his
horse, and put on him these handcuffs of
burnished metal that tie his hands, saying that
they were jewels worn by the monarchs of Castile
in their balls and festivities.
Now Chief Caonabó spends the days sitting
beside the door, his eyes fixed on the tongue of
light that invades the earth floor at dawn and
slowly retreats in the evening. He doesn't move
an eyelash when Columbus comes around. On the
other hand, when Ojeda appears, he manages to
stand up and salute with a bow the only man who
has defeated him.
Bartholomew Columbus, Christopher's brother and
lieutenant, attends an incineration of human
Six men play the leads in the grand
opening of Haiti's incinerator. The smoke makes
everyone cough. The six are burning as a
punishment and as a lesson: They have buried the
images of Christ and the Virgin that Fray Ramon
Pane left with them for protection and
consolation. Fray Ramon taught them to pray on
their knees, to say the Ave Maria and
Paternoster and to invoke the name of Jesus in
the face of temptation, injury, and death.
No one has asked them why they buried the
images. They were hoping that the new gods would
fertilize their fields of corn, cassava,
boniato, and beans.
The fire adds warmth to the humid, sticky
heat that foreshadows heavy rain.
of Fire: Faces and Masks”
The Plains of Northern Haiti
Before a large assembly of runaway slaves,
François Makandal pulls a yellow handkerchief
out of a glass of water.
"First it was the Indians."
Then a white handkerchief.
"Now, whites are the masters."
He shakes a black handkerchief before the
maroons' eyes. The hour of those who came from
Africa has arrived, he announces. He shakes the
handkerchief with his only hand, because he has
left the other between the iron teeth of the
On the plains of Northern Haiti,
one-handed Makandal is the master of fire and
poison. At his order cane fields burn, and by
his spells the lords of sugar collapse in the
middle of supper, drooling spit and blood.
He knows how to turn himself into an
iguana, an ant, or a fly, equipped with gills,
antennae, or wings; but they catch him anyway,
and condemn him; and now they are burning him
alive. Through the flames the multitude see his
body twist and shake. All of a sudden, a shriek
splits the ground, a fierce cry of pain and
exultation, and Makandal breaks free of the
stake and of death: howling, flaming, he pierces
the smoke and is lost in the air.
For the slaves, it is no cause for
wonder. They knew he would remain in Haiti, the
color of all shadows, the prowler of the night.
Ever since she learned to walk she was in
flight. They tied a heavy chain to her ankles,
and chained, she grew up; but a thousand times
she jumped over the fence and a thousand times
the dogs caught her in the mountains of Haiti.
They stamped the
fleur-de-lis on her cheek with a hot iron.
They put an iron collar and iron shackles on her
and shut her up in the sugar mill, where she
stuck her fingers into the grinder and later bit
off the bandages. So that she might die of iron
they tied her up again, and now she expires,
Zabeth, this woman of iron, belongs to
Madame Galbeaud du Fort, who lives in Nantes.
Conspirators of Haiti
The old slave woman, intimate of the gods,
buries her machete in the throat of a black wild
boar. The earth of Haiti drinks the blood. Under
the protection of the gods of war and of fire,
200 blacks sing and dance the oath of freedom.
In the prohibited Voodoo ceremony aglow with
lightning bolts, 200 slaves decide to turn this
land of punishment into a fatherland.
Haiti is based on the Creole language.
Like the drum, Creole is the common speech of
those torn out of Africa into various Antillean
islands. It blossomed inside the plantations,
when the condemned needed to recognize one
another and resist. It came from African
languages, with African melody, and fed on the
sayings of Normans and Bretons. It picked up
words from Caribbean Indians and from English
pirates and also from the Spanish colonists of
eastern Haiti. Thanks to Creole, when Haitians
talk they feel that they touch each other.
Creole gathers words and Voodoo gathers
gods. Those gods are not masters but lovers,
very fond of dancing, who convert each body they
penetrate into music and light, pure light of
undulating and sacred movement.
Remedy for Man is Man,"
say the black sages, and the gods always knew
it. The slaves of Haiti are no longer slaves.
For five years the French Revolution turned a
deaf ear. Marat and Robespierre protested in
vain. Slavery continued in the colonies. Despite
the Declaration of the Rights of Man, the men
who were the property of other men on the far
plantations of the Antilles were born neither
free nor equal. After all, the sale of blacks
from Guinea was the chief business of the
revolutionary merchants of Nantes, Bordeaux, and
Marseilles; and French refineries lived on
Harassed by the black insurrection headed by
Toussaint L'Ouverture, the Paris government
finally decrees the liquidation of slavery.
Mountains of Haiti
He came on the scene two years ago. In Paris
they called him the Black Spartacus.
He was a coachman on a plantation. An old
black man taught him to read and write, to cure
sick horses, and to talk to men; but he learned
on his own how to look not only with his eyes,
and he knows how to see flight in every bird
The Caribbean Sea
Squadrons of wild ducks escort the French army.
The fish take flight. Through a turquoise sea,
bristling with coral, the ships head for the
blue mountains of Haiti. Soon the land of
victorious slaves will appear on the horizon.
General Leclerc stands tall at the head of the
fleet. Like a ship's figurehead, his shadow is
first to part the waves. Astern, other islands
disappear, castles of rock, splendors of deepest
green, sentinels of the new world found three
centuries ago by people who were not looking for
"Which has been the most prosperous
regime for the colonies?"
"The previous one."
"Well, then, put it back," Napoleon
No man, born red, black, or white can be
his neighbor's property, Toussaint L'Ouverture
had said. Now the French fleet returns slavery
to the Caribbean. More than 50 ships, more than
20,000 soldiers, come from France to bring back
the past with guns.
In the cabin of the flagship, a female
slave fans Pauline Bonaparte and another gently
scratches her head.
Island Burned Again
Toussaint L'Ouverture, chief of the free blacks,
died a prisoner in a castle in France. When the
jailer opened the padlock at dawn and slid back
the bolt, he found Toussaint frozen in his
But life in Haiti moved on, and without
Toussaint the black army has beaten Napoleon
Bonaparte. Twenty thousand French soldiers have
been slaughtered or died of fevers. Vomiting
black blood, dead blood, General Leclerc has
collapsed. The land he sought to enslave proves
Haiti has lost half its population. Shots
are still heard, and hammers nailing down
coffins, and funeral drums, in the vast ash-heap
carpeted with corpses that the vultures spurn.
This island, burned two centuries ago by an
exterminating angel, has been newly eaten by the
fire of men at war.
Over the smoking earth those who were
slaves proclaim independence. France will not
forgive the humiliation.
On the coast, palms, bent over against
the winds, form ranks of spears.
Haiti lies in ruins, blockaded by the French and
isolated by everyone else. No country has
recognized the independence of the slaves who
The island is divided in two.
In the north, Henri Christophe has
proclaimed himself emperor. In the castle of
Sans-Souci, the new black nobility dance the
minuet – the Duke of Marmalade, the Count of
Limonade – while black lackeys in snowy wigs bow
and scrape, and blacks hussards parade their
plumed bonnets through gardens copied from
To the south, Alexandre Pétion presides
over the republic. Distributing lands among the
former slaves, Pétion aims to create a nation of
peasants, very poor but free and armed, on the
ashes of plantations destroyed by the war.
On Haiti's southern coast Simón Bolívar
lands, in search of refuge and aid. He comes
from Jamaica, where he has sold everything down
to his watch. No one believes in his cause. His
brilliant military campaigns have been no more
than a mirage. Francisco Miranda is dying in
chains in the Cadiz arsenal, and the Spaniards
have reconquered Venezuela and Colombia, which
prefer the past or still do not believe in the
future promised by the patriots.
Pétion receives Bolívar as soon as he
arrives, on New Year's Day. He gives him seven
ships, 250 men, muskets, powder, provisions, and
money. He makes only one condition. Pétion, born
a slave, son of a black woman and a Frenchman,
demands of Bolívar the freedom of slaves in the
lands he is going to liberate.
Bolívar shakes his hands. The war will
change its course. Perhaps America will too.
of Fire: Century of the Wind”
Procedure Against the Black Menace
The condemned are Haitian blacks who work in the
Dominican Republic. This military exorcism,
planned to the last detail by General Trujillo,
lasts a day and a half. In the sugar region, the
soldiers shut up Haitian day-laborers in
corrals--herds of men, women, and children--and
finish them off then and there with machetes; or
bind their hands and feet and drive them at
bayonet point into the sea.
Trujillo, who powders his face several
times a day, wants the Dominican Republic white.
Two weeks later, the government of Haiti conveys
to the government of the Dominican Republic its
about the recent events at the border. The
government of the Dominican Republic promises
In the name of continental security, the
government of the United States proposes to
President Trujillo that he pay an indemnity to
avoid possible friction in the zone. After
prolonged negotiation Trujillo recognizes the
death of 18,000 Haitians on Dominican territory.
According to him, the figure of 25,000 victims,
put forward by some sources, reflects the
intention to manipulate the events dishonestly.
Trujillo agrees to pay the government of Haiti,
by way of indemnity, $522,000, or $29 for every
officially recognized death.
The White House congratulates itself on
an agreement reached within the framework of
established inter-American treaties and
procedures. Secretary of State Cordell Hull
declares in Washington that
Trujillo is one of the greatest men in Central
America and in most of South America.
The indemnity duly paid in cash, the
presidents of the Dominican Republic and Haiti
embrace each other at the border.
Alejandro Carpentier discovers the kingdom of
Henri Christophe. The Cuban writer roams these
majestic ruins, this memorial to the delirium of
a slave cook who became monarch of Haiti and
killed himself with the gold bullet that always
hung around his neck. Ceremonial hymns and magic
drums of invocation rise up to meet Carpentier
as he visits the palace that King Christophe
copied from Versailles, and walks around his
invulnerable fortress, an immense bulk whose
stones, cemented by the blood of bulls
sacrificed to the gods, have resisted lightning
In Haiti, Carpentier learns that there is
no magic more prodigious and delightful than the
voyage that leads through experience, through
the body, to the depths of America. In Europe,
magicians have become bureaucrats, and wonder,
exhausted, has dwindled to a conjuring trick.
But in America, surrealism is as natural as rain
Condemns to Death Anyone Who Says or Writes Red
Words in Haiti
Article One: Communist activities are declared
to be crimes against the security of the state,
in whatsoever form: any profession of Communist
faith, verbal or written, public or private, any
propagation of Communist or anarchist doctrines
through lectures, speeches, conversations,
readings, public or private meetings, by way of
pamphlets, posters, newspapers, magazines,
books, and pictures; any oral or written
correspondence with local or foreign
associations, or with persons dedicated to the
diffusion of Communist or anarchist ideas; and
furthermore, the act of receiving, collecting,
or giving funds directly or indirectly destined
for the propagation of said ideas.
Article Two: The authors and accomplices
of these crimes shall be sentenced to death.
Their movable and immovable property shall be
confiscated and sold for the benefit of the
Republic of Haiti
Despised by All,” an article for the Inter
Press Service in September 1996
Haiti is the poorest country in the Western
hemisphere. It has more foot-washers than
shoe-shiners: little boys who, for a penny, will
wash the feet of customers lacking shoes to
shine. Haitians, on the average, live a bit more
than thirty years. Nine out of every ten can't
read or write. For internal consumption the
barren mountain sides are cultivated. For
export, the fertile valleys: the best lands are
given to coffee, sugar, cacao, and other
products needed by the U.S. market. No one plays
baseball in Haiti, but Haiti is the world's
chief producer of baseballs. There is no
shortage of workshops where children assemble
cassettes and electronic parts for a dollar a
day. These are naturally for export; and
naturally the profits are also exported, after
the administrators of the terror have duly got
theirs. The slightest breath of protest in Haiti
means prison or death. Incredible as it sounds,
Haitian workers' wages lost 25 percent of their
wretched real value between 1971 and 1975.
Significantly, in that period a new flow of U.S.
capital into the country began.
Haiti is the country that is treated the
worst by the world's powerful. Bankers humiliate
it. Merchants ignore it. And politicians slam
their doors in its face.
Democracy arrived only recently in Haiti.
During its short life, this frail, hungry
creature received nothing but abuse. It was
murdered in its infancy in 1991 in a coup led by
General Raoul Cédras.
Three years later, democracy returned.
After having installed and deposed countless
military dictators, the U.S. backed President
Jean Bertrand Aristide – the first leader
elected by popular vote in Haiti's history – and
a man foolish enough to want a country with less
In order to erase every trace of American
participation in the bloody Cédras dictatorship,
U.S. soldiers removed 160,000 pages of records
from the secret archives. Aristide returned to
Haiti with his hands tied. He was permitted to
take office as president, but not power. His
successor, René Préval, who became president in
February, received nearly 90 percent of the
Any minor bureaucrat at the World Bank or
the International Monetary Fund has more power
than Préval does. Every time he asks for a
credit line to feed the hungry, educate the
illiterate, or provide land to the peasants, he
gets no response. Or he may be told to go back
and learn his lessons. And because the Haitian
government cannot seem to grasp that it must
dismantle its few remaining public services, the
last shred of a safety net for the most
defenseless people on Earth, its masters give up
The U.S. invaded Haiti in 1915 and ran
the country until 1934. It withdrew when it had
accomplished its two objectives: seeing that
Haiti had paid its debts to U.S. banks and that
the constitution was amended to allow for the
sale of plantations to foreigners. Robert
Lansing, then secretary of state, justified the
long and harsh military occupation by saying
that blacks were incapable of self-government,
that they had "an inherent tendency toward
savagery and a physical inability to live a
Haiti had been the jewel in the crown,
France's richest colony: one big sugar
plantation, harvested by slave labor. The French
philosopher Montesquieu explained it bluntly:
"Sugar would be too expensive if it were not
produced by slaves. These slaves are blacks ....
it is not possible that God, who is a very wise
being, would have put a soul . .., in such an
utterly black body." Instead, God had put a whip
in the overseer's hand.
In l803, the black citizens of Haiti gave
Napoleon Bonaparte's troops a tremendous
beating, and Europe has never for given them for
this humiliation inflicted upon the white race.
Haiti was the first free country in South
America or the Caribbean. The free people raised
their flag over a country in ruins. The land of
Haiti had been devastated by the sugar
monoculture and then laid waste by the war
against France. One third of the population had
fallen in combat. Then Europe began its
blockade. The newborn nation was condemned to
solitude. No one would buy from it, no one would
sell to it, nor would any nation recognize it.
Not even Simon Bolivar had the courage to
establish diplomatic relations with the black
nation. Bolivar was able to reopen his campaign
for the liberation of the Americas, after being
defeated by Spain, thanks to help from Haiti.
The Haitian government supplied him with seven
ships, arms, and soldiers, setting only one
condition: that he free the slaves – something
that had not occurred to him. Bolivar kept his
promise, but after his victory, he turned his
back on the nation that had saved him. When he
convened a meeting in Panama of the American
nations, he invited England, but not Haiti.
The U.S. did not recognize Haiti until 60
years later. By then, Haiti was already in the
bloody hands of the military dictators, who
devoted the meager resources of this starving
nation toward relieving its debt to France.
Europe demanded that Haiti pay France a huge
indemnity to atone for its crime against French
The history of the abuse of Haiti, which
in our lifetime has become a tragedy, is also
the story of Western civilization's racism.