Books by Edwidge
The Dew Breaker
Breath, Eyes, Memory
/The Farming of
Brother, I'm Dying
The Butterfly's Way: Voices from the Haitian
Dyaspora in the United States /
Eight Days /
Anacaona: Golden Flower, Haiti, 1490
After the Dance: A Walk Through Carnival in Jacmel,
Behind the Mountains
Beacon Best of 2000: Creative Writing by Women and Men
of All Colors
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The hate and the
By Sir Hilary
The University of
the West Indies is in the process of conceiving how best
to deliver a major conference on the theme Rethinking
and Rebuilding Haiti. I am very keen to provide an
input into this exercise because for too long there has
been a popular perception that somehow the Haitian
nation-building project, launched on January 1, 1804,
has failed on account of mismanagement, ineptitude,
Buried beneath the
rubble of imperial propaganda, out of both Western
Europe and the United States, is the evidence which
shows that Haiti's independence was defeated by an
aggressive North-Atlantic alliance that could not
imagine their world inhabited by a free regime of
Africans as representatives of the newly emerging
The evidence is
striking, especially in the context of France.
The Haitians fought
for their freedom and won, as did the Americans fifty
years earlier. The Americans declared their independence
and crafted an extraordinary constitution that set out a
clear message about the value of humanity and the right
to freedom, justice, and liberty.
In the midst of
this brilliant discourse, they chose to retain slavery
as the basis of the new nation state. The founding
fathers therefore could not see beyond race, as the free
state was built on a slavery foundation.
The water was
poisoned in the well; the Americans went back to the
battlefield a century later to resolve the fact that
slavery and freedom could not comfortably co-exist in
the same place.
The French, also,
declared freedom, fraternity and equality as the new
philosophies of their national transformation and gave
the modern world a tremendous progressive boost by so
slavery, but Napoleon Bonaparte could not imagine the
republic without slavery and targeted the Haitians for a
new, more intense regime of slavery. The British agreed,
as did the Dutch, Spanish, and Portuguese.
All were linked in
communion over the 500 000 Blacks in Haiti, the most
populous and prosperous Caribbean colony.
As the jewel of the
Caribbean, they all wanted to get their hands on it.
With a massive slave base, the English, French and Dutch
salivated over owning it—and the people.
The people won a
ten-year war, the bloodiest in modern history, and
declared their independence. Every other country in the
Americas was based on slavery.
Haiti was freedom,
and proceeded to place in its 1805 Independence
Constitution that any person of African descent who
arrived on its shores would be declared free, and a
citizen of the republic.
For the first time
since slavery had commenced, Blacks were the subjects of
mass freedom and citizenship in a nation.
The French refused
to recognise Haiti's independence and declared it an
illegal pariah state. The Americans, whom the Haitians
looked to in solidarity as their mentor in independence,
refused to recognise them, and offered solidarity
instead to the French. The British, who were negotiating
with the French to obtain the ownership title to Haiti,
also moved in solidarity, as did every other
nation-state the Western world.
Haiti was isolated
at birth—ostracised and denied access to world trade,
finance, and institutional development. It was the most
vicious example of national strangulation recorded in
The Cubans, at
least, have had Russia, China, and Vietnam. The Haitians
were alone from inception. The crumbling began.
Then came 1825; the
moment of full truth. The republic is celebrating its
21st anniversary. There is national euphoria in the
streets of Port-au-Prince.
The economy is
bankrupt; the political leadership isolated. The cabinet
took the decision that the state of affairs could not
The country had to
find a way to be inserted back into the world economy.
The French government was invited to a summit.
and told the Haitian government that they were willing
to recognise the country as a sovereign nation but it
would have to pay compensation and reparation in
exchange. The Haitians, with backs to the wall, agreed
to pay the French.
government sent a team of accountants and actuaries into
Haiti in order to place a value on all lands, all
physical assets, the 500 000 citizens were who formerly
enslaved, animals, and all other commercial properties
The sums amounted
to 150 million gold francs. Haiti was told to pay
this reparation to France in return for national
government agreed; payments began immediately. Members
of the Cabinet were also valued because they had been
enslaved people before independence.
Thus began the
systematic destruction of the Republic of Haiti. The
French government bled the nation and rendered it a
failed state. It was a merciless exploitation that was
designed and guaranteed to collapse the Haitian economy
Haiti was forced to
pay this sum until 1922 when the last installment
was made. During the long 19th century, the payment to
France amounted to up to 70 per cent of the country's
foreign exchange earnings.
Jamaica today pays
up to 70 per cent in order to service its international
and domestic debt. Haiti was crushed by this debt
payment. It descended into financial and social chaos.
The republic did
not stand a chance. France was enriched and it took
pleasure from the fact that having been defeated by
Haitians on the battlefield, it had won on the field of
finance. In the years when the coffee crops failed, or
the sugar yield was down, the Haitian government
borrowed on the French money market at double the going
interest rate in order to repay the French government.
When the Americans
invaded the country in the early 20th century, one of
the reasons offered was to assist the French in
collecting its reparations.
The collapse of the
Haitian nation resides at the feet of France and
America, especially. These two nations betrayed, failed,
and destroyed the dream that was Haiti; crushed to dust
in an effort to destroy the flower of freedom and the
seed of justice.
Haiti did not
fail. It was destroyed by two of the most powerful
nations on earth, both of which continue to have a
primary interest in its current condition.
The sudden quake
has come in the aftermath of summers of hate. In many
ways the quake has been less destructive than the hate.
Human life was
snuffed out by the quake, while the hate has been a long
and inhumane suffocation—a crime against humanity.
During the 2001 UN
Conference on Race in Durban, South Africa, strong
representation was made to the French government to
repay the 150 million francs.
The value of this
amount was estimated by financial actuaries as US$21
billion. This sum of capital could rebuild Haiti and
place it in a position to re-engage the modern world. It
was illegally extracted from the Haitian people and
should be repaid.
It is stolen
wealth. In so doing, France could discharge its moral
obligation to the Haitian people.
For a nation that
prides itself in the celebration of modern diplomacy,
France, in order to exist with the moral authority of
this diplomacy in this post-modern world, should do the
just and legal thing.
Such an act at the
outset of this century would open the door for a
sophisticated interface of past and present, and set the
Haitian nation free at last.
Sir Hilary Beckles is
pro-vice-chancellor and Principal of the Cave Hill
In Haiti, Desperation Mounts As
Bottlenecks Slow Aid
thanksgiving mixed with mounting cries of desperation in
Haiti's earthquake-shattered capital, Port-au-Prince, on
Sunday. While dozens gathered for an open air Mass
beside the ruins of the city's cathedral, logistical
bottlenecks continued to keep much of the aid pouring
into the country from reaching victims.
Even when aid was
delivered, there was not yet enough security in place to
prevent chaotic scuffles over water and food. U.S.
military air traffic controllers have brought some order
to the landing and unloading process at the capital's
small airport, but officials say the problem now is
getting aid safely and fairly distributed in the streets
of the ruined city.
that mounting hunger and thirst could trigger violent
struggles for survival among desperate people roaming
and heavy equipment have been slow to arrive,
fast-moving international rescue teams are still freeing
people who've been entombed for days in collapsed
buildings. U.S. and international appeals for aid are
growing, as officials assess what one U.S. general calls
"a disaster of epic proportions." The Red Cross is
calling for $100 million to cover emergency relief and
long-term assistance to Haiti over the next three years.
(January 17, 2010)
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Salvage the Bones
A Novel by Jesmyn Ward
On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family that’s about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrina’s inexorable winds is the voice of Ward’s narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her family’s raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brother’s “blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt.” Her father’s hands “are like gravel,” while her own hand “slides through his grip like a wet fish,” and a handsome boy’s “muscles jabbered like chickens.” Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isn’t usually just metaphor for metaphor’s sake. She conveys something fundamental about Esch’s fluid state of mind: her figurative sense of the world in which all things correspond and connect. She and her brothers live in a ramshackle house steeped in grief since their mother died giving birth to her last child. . . . What remains, what’s salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.—
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Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist
By Edwidge Danticat
is an eloquent and moving expression of
Danticat's belief that immigrant artists
are obliged to bear witness when their
countries of origin are suffering from
violence, oppression, poverty, and
In this deeply personal book, the
celebrated Haitian-American writer
Edwidge Danticat reflects on art and
exile, examining what it means to be an
immigrant artist from a country in
crisis. Inspired by Albert Camus'
lecture, "Create Dangerously," and
combining memoir and essay, Danticat
tells the stories of artists, including
herself, who create despite, or because
of, the horrors that drove them from
their homelands and that continue to
haunt them. Danticat eulogizes an aunt
who guarded her family's homestead in
the Haitian countryside, a cousin who
died of AIDS while living in Miami as an
undocumented alien, and a renowned
Haitian radio journalist whose political
assassination shocked the world.
Danticat writes about the Haitian novelists she
first read as a girl at the Brooklyn Public Library,
a woman mutilated in a machete attack who became a
public witness against torture, and the work of
Jean-Michel Basquiat and other artists of Haitian
descent. Danticat also suggests that the aftermaths
of natural disasters in Haiti and the United States
reveal that the countries are not as different as
many Americans might like to believe..—CaribbeanLiterarySalon
Review and Interview by Kam Williams
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posted 17 January 2010