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From a segment on Bill Moyer´s Journal on the history of Haiti

January 25, 2010

A Poem for the Poorest Country In the Western Hemisphere, and ironically at one point the richest colony in the New World whose wealth was funneled to Spain first, then France, then the US.

Oh poorest country, this is not your name.
You should be called beacon, and flame,

almond and bougainvillea, garden
and green mountain, villa and hut,

little girl with red ribbons in her hair,
books-under-arm, charmed by the light

of morning, charcoal seller in black skirt,
encircled by dead trees.

You, country, are the businessman
and the eager young man, the grandfather

at the gate, at the crossroads
with the flashlight, with the light,

with the light.


And now a little bit about Haiti´s history:

The written history of Haiti begins with the fateful landing of Christopher Columbus on the island, which he named Hispaniola, in 1492. That “discovery” of America signaled demise for the island’s native population, and soon, to Haiti’s place as one of the largest slave colonies in the Caribbean. In 1697 Spain ceded the western part of Hispaniola to France.

A little over a hundred years later in 1801, Haiti became the scene of one of the most successful slave revolts in the Western Hemisphere. Led by the charismatic Toussaint L’Ouverture, a former slave who had been inspired by the French Revolution, a string of military victories led L’Ouverture to be nicknamed by some “The Black Napoleon” (as well as “Black Spartacus” or “Moses of Haiti”.) Ultimately betrayed and captured during negotiations with the French, his successor in the rebellion, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, led the island to independence in 1804. The Haitian rebellion terrified slave-importing and owning societies like the United States. L’Ouverture remained an important symbolic leader among Haitians and societies seeking liberation for generations.

As rulers and battle came and went in the next centuries — Haiti’s history of the rebellion remained center stage as in the “Chant National” by 19th century statesman and poet Oswald Durand: “When our forefathers broke their shackles, it was not to stand idly. Slaves embraced, body to body, their demise. Their blood, afloat, fattened our hill. It’s our turn. Yellow and black let us go! Dig the ground bequeathed by Dessalines!”

In the early 19th century the United States began a troubled century of military and financial involvement in the country — invading in 1915 to combat black-mulatto friction which was thought to endanger US property and investments. Troops stayed until 1934, and some level of financial control was maintained by the US until 1947.

After Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier seized power in a military coup in 1956, Haiti suffered under the brutal dictatorship of Papa Doc and his son Baby Doc for nearly thirty years. A series of coups, democratically-elected governments and US and UN interventions followed — and Haiti continually ranked as the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.

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