Petition to President elect Obama
Justice in Haiti
Three weeks ago we
circulated a proposed petition to the President-elect of
the United States, Barack Obama. We asked then for
comments and critiques of the petition. Two of the
first responses suggested that the letter was too long,
others suggested that we should present the
President-elect with a list of things we would like him
However, since then, the prevailing sentiment is that
the letter is not too long and that it does what it is
intended to do .I believe we have now collected all the
comments we can reasonably expect.
The reasoning has been
1 It is presumptuous to present Mr Obama with a list
of proposed actions because we cannot speak for the
Haitians although we my speak on their behalf, as
advocates for justice in Haiti. We would expect that if
he takes notice of our petition he will find ways of
informing himself about what needs to be done to promote
justice for the Haitians and proper respect for their
history and culture.
2 The purpose of the petition is not simply to inform
Mr Obama about the present situation in Haiti; it is
rather to document how and why the situation there has
developed as it has.
If I may be permitted to extrapolate from what I have
been told I would say the following:
The petition is a political document intended to be a
kind of brief providing the historical, political,
economic and social reasons for any action which the
President may take;
and explaining why so many of us believe that Haiti
deserves better treatment at the hands of the outside
world and particularly of the United States of America
Haiti has been libelled for two centuries by people and
nations who wish to diminish the respect and honour
Haiti should enjoy because of her contributions to
civilisation. The injustices visited upon Haiti are not
accidental, but direct responses to her exemplary
leadership role in the long struggle for freedom,
Liberty and universal human rights and against slavery,
racism, neo-colonialism and great power exploitation.
These facts are not generally known and documenting them
in the petition is to explain the overwhelming
justification for the petition. We are not simply
arguing for programme relief for just another highly
indebted poor country, we are making the case that there
must be redress for the long lasting and continuing
mistreatment Haiti has received in return for the heroic
achievements of her people.
The judgment of the majority is that we should send the
petition as originally drafted, taking in some omissions
and correcting some errors.
I hope we all concur in this position.
If you do, please circulate the petition immediately to
people who will join us in signing it. Those who wish
their names to be added should email me attaching their
names, titles/positions and postal addresses. There is
no need to send the petition back to me.
I believe we should conclude this exercise as quickly as
possible, so that the petition will be delivered to the
President-elect before the end of the year.
I would be grateful if you would point out any errors
that may still remain in the text, so that the final
version will be as fault-free as possible.
You will then be informed about the mode of transmission
and delivery to the President-elect. We have been
offered delivery by someone who knows the
president-elect well and is in harmony with our views.
Peace and Love, John
* * * *
The United States of America
The history of Haiti will break your heart.
Knowing it, the weak will despair, but the
caring will strive to break the chains of
– Ramsey Clark, former Attorney General,
the United States of America
Dear President Obama
Today, and for
nearly two hundred years, the Haitian people are
demanding justice, freedom from external oppression and
an end to the denial of the human rights of their nation
undersigned, are a group of people of many nations, of
all classes and callings moved by what we consider an
overwhelming moral imperative to seek assistance for
Haiti in breaking a vicious circle of defamation,
economic oppression, external political and military
interference that has unjustly constrained for nearly
two centuries, the exercise of Haiti’s hard-won
independence, freedom and liberty.
Because of these
malign factors the Haitian people have been reduced to
penury, most are unemployed, many are starving and their
land and environment degraded by decades of
over-exploitation. A proud people whose forefathers once
produced enough to make other peoples wealthy and
powerful, are now prevented from exercising their own
free will and genius in deciding their own destiny.
Because of these
factors the Haitian people are among the poorest, most
malnourished, unfree and frustrated people in the world.
They are oppressed by repayments for debt largely
incurred by corrupt dictators.
factors the Haitian spirit remains free, undaunted and
optimistic. The Haitians want to be free—to
be themselves, to employ their own genius and strength
as they did in their unique struggle for independence,
defeating powers mightier than themselves to abolish
slavery and to assert their independence and freedom
Now, as they
languish prisoners in their own land, justice and
humanity demand that the Haitian people should be able
to reclaim the dignity and respect they have earned by
centuries of their struggle for human rights and dignity
for themselves and for other nations and peoples.
surrounding this demand are so important and so
extraordinary that we believe it is important to set
them out in some detail.
Establishing Universal Human Rights
In 1893, Frederick
Douglas, himself an emancipated slave, in an address to
open the the Chicago World’s Fair, said:
Until Haiti struck for
freedom, the conscience of the Christian
world slept profoundly over slavery. . . .
Until she spoke no Christian nation had
abolished negro slavery. Until she spoke no
Christian nation had given to the world an
organized effort to abolish slavery. Until
she spoke the slave ship, followed by hungry
sharks, greedy to devour the dead and dying
slaves flung overboard to feed them,
ploughed in peace the South Atlantic
painting the sea with the Negro's blood.
Until she spoke, the slave trade was
sanctioned by all the Christian nations of
the world, and our land of liberty and light
You are aware that
two hundred and four years ago the people of Haiti,
having defeated the armies of France (twice) and of
Britain and Spain, the greatest powers of that time,
declared their independence and simultaneously abolished
slavery. The Haitians were the first and only people in
the world to abolish the evil system that enslaved them.
effectively destroyed the Slave Trade and accelerated
freedom for those enslaved in the British and other
The Haitians did
more: the Haitian Revolution invented the concept of
universal emancipation, guaranteeing the freedom of any
enslaved person who set foot on Haitian soil.
The Haitians went
even further: Haiti was the first, and for a long time,
the only state in the world to recognise the universal
equality of rights for all human beings regardless of
sex, economic condition or any other consideration. It
was the first state to implement human rights
universally and unconditionally at a time when the only
free men in other modern states were white adult male
Human freedom was
then and is now, of transcendental importance to the
formed a large part of the French military assistance to
the United States in its own war of Independence from
Britain; Haitian soldiers were crucial in the Battles
of Yorktown and Savannah, Georgia.
A few years later,
Haiti made an even more important though indirect
contribution to the development of the fledgling United
States. The Haitian War of Independence so weakened
France that Napoleon felt compelled to shed his
country’s enormous territories in North America. Thomas
Jefferson’s purchase of the Louisiana territory—nearly
a million square miles—doubled
the size of the United States. It added all of Arkansas,
Missouri, Iowa, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, large
portions of 9 other U.S. states and the city of New
an area which today comprises almost a quarter (23%) of
the total area of the United States.
their economy still in ruins after a twelve year war of
independence, while blockaded by greater powers and
prevented from international trade, the Haitians made an
heroic and decisive contribution to the independence of
six major countries in Spanish South America. Haiti
gave the then penniless and friendless liberator Simon
Bolivar soldiers, ships, arms,, ammunition and
provisions to prosecute the liberation of South America.
The Haitians asked in return only one thing from
Bolivar: that whenever he liberated a country he should
also liberate the slaves.
It was the Haitian
support of Bolivar in his liberation of South America
which made possible the Monroe Doctrine by which the US
forbade European attempts to re-colonise South America.
Clearly, Haiti has
made enormous contributions to the cause of human
freedom and the world owes her an unpayable debt..
The world has not
been as kind to Haiti.
At the first
conference of free American states in 1824, Haiti, the
seminal influence, was not invited.
American & French
Emancipation and the offer of freedom to slaves from any
other country had provoked the hostility of the United
States, with its own economy still rooted in slavery.
France resented the loss of the richest economy outside
of Europe and, with Britain, feared the contagion of
freedom on the remaining West Indian colonies of both
empires. Haiti was barred from international trade by
the great powers and suffered considerably since it was
unable to earn its way to development.
To survive, Haiti
had to be able to sell its products, mainly sugar. After
20 years of Haiti’s independence and a blockaded and
deteriorating economy, Haiti was told that France would
recognise Haitian independence only if Haiti paid an
indemnity of 150,000,000 gold francs – nearly three
times the cost of the Louisiana Purchase. The Americans
refused to recognise Haitian independence unless France
The Haitians were
in no position to bargain, weakened by the trade embargo
and by internal conflict.
The French demand
to Haiti was delivered by a fleet of ten warships armed
with 500 cannons. Haiti agreed to pay the ransom which
was equivalent to the value of France’s total national
budget or ten years of all Haitian exports. In 2004 it
was worth an estimated 21 billion US dollars.
Haiti borrowed the
first installments from a French bank and over the next
honorably and sometimes unsuccessfully to pay for the
right to be free.
No other country in
known history has been so penalised.
The consequence was
the continuing deformation of Haiti’s economy and the
stunting of its development by the continuing transfer
of a substantial proportion of Haiti’s national product
to its former slave-master, which had already grown rich
and powerful on three centuries of exploitation of
Haiti’s land and slave labour.
When the Haitians
faltered in their payments because of natural disasters
such as drought, flood or hurricane, American bankers
undertook to lend the money to pay the French. When the
Haitians fell behind on their payments to the US, a
series of armed interventions ensued, in protection it
was said of American lives and property. These
culminated in the seizure of the Haitian banking system
and its tax collection system in the most drastic
intervention of all, in 1915. That lasted 19 years and
involved the bloody suppression of two attempts by the
Haitians to regain their sovereignty by armed struggle.
was notable for introducing the Jim Crow system of
racial discrimination into Haiti, the strengthening of
class and colour antagonisms and the installation of a
brutal and corrupt army modeled on the Jim Crow
occupation force. It was also notable for the first use
of dive-bombing against civilian targets and the
introduction of forced labour.
Haitians lost their constitution when the occupiers
imposed a Constitution which repealed certain
guarantees including that forbidding foreign ownership
of land and imposed a one term limit on Presidents.
The result was a
flood of foreign investment and as the second world war
loomed the frantic clearing of land for rubber and
sisal plantations. Thus began the deforestation of
accelerated by a campaign by the Church to reject the
Haitian living tradition of Vodun which is a blend of
African spiritual systems for good community governance,
interaction and for elevating the sacred. Trees were
sacred things in Haitian/African culture, looked upon as
living energies that provided strength to the people.
Cutting down trees was relatively taboo. But these core
African values were uprooted during the anti-Vodun
‘Rejete’ campaigns (1940-41) as the Catholic Church
attempted to get rid of Vodun as its rival religion and
philosophy in Haiti. A century and a half before, the
Haitians had been described by Europeans and Americans
as devil worshippers and cannibals. The 18th century
libels were resurrected in the Vodun ‘Rejete’ campaign
and they were again resurrected in the first decade of
the twenty-first century to justify the decapitation of
democracy in Haiti .
From Duvalier to
After the official
end of the Occupation in 1935, the Haitian Army
continued the campaign against Haitian democracy and
self determination. Heads of state—selected
by the elite and endorsed by the army—functioned
at their pleasure. In the disputed ‘election’ of 1960
the Haitian army met its match in a Haitian physician
with sociological credentials—Francois
Duvalier. Quietly and without fanfare he built up an
army of barefoot thugs whose unquestioning personal
obedience shielded Duvalier and enabled him to control
the Army and to anoint his playboy son as his successor.
The history of the
last decade and a half of the 20th century and of
Haiti’s brief taste of democracy do not need retelling
A brief recital of
the salient facts is, however, in order.
The Duvalier era
ended when massive public protests drove the young
dictator, Jean Claude Duvalier from office in 1986. The
hero of these protests and the spokesman for the people
was a young parish priest, Jean Bertrand Aristide who
was the target of many murderous assaults by the
Duvalierists and their allies.
departure was succeeded by a period of confusion which
ended in 1991 with the election of a new President of
Haiti under a new Constitution which limited heads of
state to one four year term at a time.
The new President’s
aims were simple: that all Haitians be treated justly as
God’s children, that all have food and shelter, and that
all take pride in heir own Kreyol language and culture.
He said he wanted “to build Utopia on the dungheap” left
behind by the dictators
Elements of the
Duvalier army, backed by elements of the business and
elite classes promoted a coup which ended with the
attempted assassination and departure into exile of he
lawfully elected President Aristide after only six
months in office.
Robinson, a distinguished Jamaican jurist ( now
President of the International Criminal Court for the
former Yugoslavia in the Hague) went to Haiti on behalf
of the InterAmerican Human Rights Commission in 1994. He
The people in Haiti have
the same emotions and aspirations as the
citizens of any other state in the
organisation. They have within themselves an
enormous capacity for warmth and love and
friendship and endurance and a great
yearning for peace, justice and democracy.
But a people do not endure the hardships,
the deprivation, the violence, the
victimisation and the enormous
disappointments that the Haitians have
experienced over the past 32 months without
their faith in humanity and their
expectations of decency and justice being
challenged in a serious way .…[We] received
information of severely mutilated bodies
deposited on the streets, and a member of
the delegation actually saw one such body.
The purpose of these acts is to terrorise
the population. Human corpses are being
eaten by animals. Numerous reports of
arbitrary detentions routinely accompanied
by torture and brutal beatings. . . . The
Commission received reports of rape and
sexual abuse of the wives and relatives of
men who are active supporters of President
Aristide; women are also raped, not only
because of their relationship to men who
support President Aristide, but because they
also support President Aristide; thus,
sexual abuse is used as an instrument of
repression and political persecution.
After years of
official terrorism against his supporters, the United
States negotiated the restoration of President Aristide
who served out the few remaining months of his term. The
international community which had promised Haiti help in
restoring order, in developing a trustworthy police
force and assistance to build Haiti’s infrastructure,
reneged on almost every promise. Even commitments by the
IDB to lend money to build sanitary water supplies were
sabotaged by order of the US Treasury.
A new president,
Preval, was elected and he served out his term, the
first Haitian President to do so.
In 2001 former
President Aristide was again inaugurated as President
after another overwhelming electoral victory. A
campaign, led by the same elements responsible for the
first coup but this time directed and openly supported
by various agencies of the US and Canadian governments,
including the CIA, the State Department, the
International Republican Institute, USAID and the
Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA),
promoted the formation of a small and divided Opposition
formed by an assemblage of Haitian NGOs and supported
by elements of the corrupt army dissolved by President
This opposition, on
the basis of a few disputed election results unconnected
to the election of the President and before he took
office, refused to work or even speak to President
Aristide to resolve political problems. The opposition,
which at all times represented a small minority of the
Haitian people, was supported by non-Haitian elements—American,
Canadian and French—in
their demand that President Aristide must leave office.
reason has ever been presented to support this demand.
In the early
morning of February 28, 2004 the US Ambassador arrived
at Haiti’s Presidential Palace and left with the
President and Mme. Aristide in a heavily guarded
motorcade to the airport where the Aristides were placed
on a plane to Africa, manifested as cargo.
aircraft was later identified as one that had previously
been used in the illegal rendition of suspected
terrorists. This plane sat on the tarmac in Antigua
while arrangements were apparently being made for the
delivery of President and Mme Aristide to Bangui,
capital of the Central African Republic, whose President
had apparently agreed to accept the Aristide on terms
that have never been disclosed.
A worldwide wave of
disapproval of this apparent kidnapping placed the blame
squarely at the door of the United States.
A delegation led by
Randall Robinson of TransAfrica and Congresswoman Maxine
Waters of California together with Sharon Hay Webster,
a Jamaican member of Parliament and aide to Prime
Minister Patterson of Jamaica, travelled to Bangui by
chartered plane to rescue the Aristides and bring them
back to the Caribbean, to asylum in Jamaica.
The government of
Jamaica, threatened by the US Secretary of State,
Condoleezza Rice, accepted the Aristides until they
could arrange permanent asylum. They were received by
President Thabo Mbeki to South Africa where they remain
to this day.
The United States,
Canada and France, operating through the UN Security
Council, then imposed upon the Haitian people a
government headed by a Haitian businessman who had lived
outside of Haiti for most of his adult life.
unelected regime, a so-called ‘peacekeeping” force of
American Marines and later, of soldiers from other
countries, provided the armed state power to maintain
law and order.
However, this force
in collusion with remnants of the discredited Haitian
Army and police, (according to credible journalistic
and other investigators) presided over a reign of
terror in Haiti, where convicted mass murderers and
other known criminals held the real authority. They
behaved as they had after the 1991 coup, employing
widespread torture, systematic rape, horribly mutilated
bodies left in the streets, women and children
slaughtered in random assaults on the habitations of the
On one notorious
occasion, various foreign diplomats including the
Canadian representative of the OAS, attended a
celebration at which the criminal gangsters were
saluted by the “President” as “freedom fighters”.
More than ten
thousand supporters of the legitimate government have
been murdered or are missing presumed dead, many more
have been arrested or went into hiding to avoid arrest,
torture including rape, or murder.
The former Prime
Minister was arrested and imprisoned without cause or
due process as were other prominent Aristide supporters
including Anne Auguste, Haiti’s leading folklorist, Fr
Gerard Jean-Juste, a nationally prominent Catholic
priest, and others who were considered threats to the
illegal regime. They were all treated inhumanely and
with total disrespect.
The consequences of
the destruction of popular democracy in Haiti have been
catastrophic, The national disaster preparedness system
became non-functional and thousands of Haitians have
died in weather-related events that they may otherwise
Last year, millions
of the legitimate regime—stood
in long lines in the heat of the Haitian sun for hours
to vote, as they said, for the return of President
overwhelming support for one candidate, one of the other
candidates threatened to go to court to try to annul the
election in which his votes were less than a third of
the winning candidate. Nothing can better illustrate the
intransigence of those who oppose the unlawfully deposed
president of Haiti.
Terror is still
abroad in Haiti. Two prominent supporters of the Lavalas
movement, Lovinsky Pierre Antoine and Marlyse Narcisse
were kidnapped last year. Mme Narcisse has been
restored to her family after a worldwide outcry. Pierre
Antoine is still missing and the government has done
nothing to investigate his disappearance.
All over Haiti poor
people have been reduced to eating earth to stave off
hunger. The women mix clay, salt and a little fat to
produce patties which are baked in the sun before being
eaten. Women, too malnourished to breastfeed their
newborns, watch them die in their arms.
What Haiti needs
Haiti needs, first
of all, reconciliation, a period of peace and order and
negotiation to reclaim its democracy and to develop
among all its citizens, a true respect for the
universal human rights implemented in Haiti, for the
first time on the planet, two centuries ago.
Haiti needs peace
and order to build the institutions, facilities and
infrastructure which it has been unable to build because
of foreign interference and exploitation
Haiti needs a
programme of long-term development, designed and
implemented by the Haitians themselves without
interference from outside.
Haiti is hungry and
its farmlands and forests have been depleted, degraded
and destroyed as a result of the fatal interventions
from abroad. Haiti needs assistance to feed its people
and to restore the population to acceptable standards of
Haiti needs to
resume and accelerate its programme of building schools
and universities and training people to prevail against
the threat of HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis.
Haiti needs roads
and water supplies and a governmental apparatus that
will design and implement them.
Haiti should be
able to expect, as of right, justice and fair treatment
from the United Nations, the Organisation of American
States and the Multilateral Financial Institutions.
Haiti has suffered and is suffering from unfair
treatment by many of these organisations of which she
was a founding member.
Obama, we who sign this letter do not presume to speak
for Haiti. We believe that you will want to hear from
the Haitian people themselves. They have spoken
eloquently over the centuries in which they have built
the economies of other countries, in which they have
fought for and won their own freedom and have
accelerated the freedom of others. But we believe we
speak on behalf of humanity, being moved by the
unbearable suffering of a people who have contributed so
much to human freedom and dignity.
We believe that
achieving justice for Haiti is an undertaking important
to the history and integrity of our civilisation and
to the cause of the human rights of all people,
We believe that you
are uniquely qualified by history by temperament and by
your office to make the decisive intervention that will
cure centuries old injustices and free your country and
Haiti from an entanglement which devalues and in some
ways, delegitimizes humanity’s constant struggle for the
secure establishment of the inalienable rights of
Abraham Lincoln, humanity cannot be half slave and
If Haiti is not
free, none of us is free.
It is long past
time for outsiders to stop their deadly interference in
Haiti’s affairs and time for any who can come to Haiti’s
assistance to do so, on Haiti’s terms. Haiti need a new
relationship with the United States, a partnership that
promotes human rights, debt relief, reciprocal trade,
sustainable development, Haiti's domestic agriculture,
an end to foreign occupation and justice for the
victims of official terror.
This is a long
letter, but as one of our signatories has noted, for
Haiti, the suffering has not simply been long, but
We are confident
that you will see the justice of the Haitian case.
Millions of people
in the United States and in the Caribbean and Latin
America and in Africa owe a debt of freedom to Haiti. It
is a debt that is long past due.
posted 8 December 2008
* * *
* * * * *
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.—
* * * * *
The New Jim Crow
Mass Incarceration in the Age of
By Michele Alexander
Contrary to the
rosy picture of race embodied in Barack
Obama's political success and Oprah
Winfrey's financial success, legal
scholar Alexander argues vigorously and
persuasively that [w]e have not ended
racial caste in America; we have merely
redesigned it. Jim Crow and legal racial
segregation has been replaced by mass
incarceration as a system of social
control (More African Americans are
under correctional control today... than
were enslaved in 1850). Alexander
reviews American racial history from the
colonies to the Clinton administration,
delineating its transformation into the
war on drugs. She offers an acute
analysis of the effect of this mass
incarceration upon former inmates who
will be discriminated against, legally,
for the rest of their lives, denied
employment, housing, education, and
public benefits. Most provocatively, she
reveals how both the move toward
colorblindness and affirmative action
may blur our vision of injustice: most
Americans know and don't know the truth
about mass incarceration—but her
carefully researched, deeply engaging,
and thoroughly readable book should
* * * * *
The White Masters of the
The World and Africa, 1965
By W. E. B. Du Bois
W. E. B. Du Bois’
Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization
* * *
Ancient African Nations
* * * * *
If you like this page consider making a donation
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Negro Digest /
Browse all issues
* * * * *
The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan
The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll
Only a Pawn in Their Game
Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for
George Jackson /
* * *
The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg
Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804
January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of
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(Books, DVDs, Music, and more)
update 26 March 2012