This is the full transcript of my interview with Yahoo News. Only a small part of it was published. In the interview, I reflected upon Haitian history and culture, its landscape and landmarks, as well as contemporary Haitian politics, and Haiti’s place in the world.
“Interview for Yahoo News
With Marquise Francis
July 14, 2021
Celucien L. Joseph, PhD
1) For people who have never traveled to Haiti or experienced Haitian culture for themselves firsthand, how would you describe the people, the culture and the triumphs and challenges of Haiti?
I want to thank you for inviting me to participate in this interview about Haiti and contemporary issues in Haitian society. Your question is quite a relevant one to inform individuals who have never visited Haiti before or those who do not know much about Haitian history and culture. Allow me to comment on some fundamental issues about Haiti, the Haitian people, and the Haitian culture.
a) Let us talk first about Haiti’s location and proximity to the United States. The first thing one should know that the Republic of Haiti is a country located in the Caribbean in the American continent. It shares the island of Hispaniola with the neighboring country of Dominican Republic, situated on the East side of the island, and Haiti on the West side. Haiti is about the size of the state of Maryland and slightly smaller than the state of Massachusetts. According to the World Population Review, Haiti has a population of 11,547,400 people. Haiti is only six hundred miles from the U.S. coat or 1, 136 km. To show Haiti’s proximity to Miami, Florida, I usually tell this joke to people who have never been to Haiti. You can eat breakfast in Port-au-Prince, the capital city of Haiti, and eat lunch in Miami on the same day. In fact, the nonstop or direct commercial flight between Miami and Port-au-Prince is only 1 hour and 28 or 1 hour and 52 minutes depending on various factors such as flight path, airline, and headwinds. Haiti is surrounded by the Caribbean Sea to the West and the South, and the Atlantic Ocean to the North; it shares maritime borders with four countries: Cuba, Jamaica, the Bahamas, and Colombia.
b) Let us turn our attention to the people of Haiti, the second part of your question: the name Haiti or Ayiti means mountainous land or “land of mountains.” It is a country full of majestic and beautiful mountains and its natural world or landscape is quite mind-blowing or stunning. First-time visitors to Haiti will quickly realize that. When Christopher Columbus landed in the island of Hispaniola (Haiti) on December 5, 1492, he encountered the indigenous people of the island, the Indians. Columbus and the Spanish exploiters renamed the island La Española (which eventually became “Hispaniola”) and claimed it for the Spanish Empire; French colonists renamed the Western third of the island Saint-Domingue in 1697 at the Treaty of Rijswijk (“Ryswick”) and eventually claimed it for the French Empire. It is good to note here that that the first slaves in the island were Taíno Indians, not the Africans, the ancestors of the Haitian people. In fact, in 1516, the first sugar mill was constructed in Hispaniola and slavery was introduced in 1502 in this Caribbean region. (This is an important historical truth that should be corrected in American history and Black Studies: that the first African slaves landed in Haiti first, not in the United States in 1619 or 1618). As many accounts have maintained, when the indigenous population began to decimate in substantial number because of abuse, disease, hard labor, and exploitation, enslaved Africans were brought into the island to replace them and work in coffee, indigo, and cotton plantations; in 1517, 1500 enslaved Africans were forcibly brought there. After more than two hundred years of intense slave labor, collective suffering, colonial exploitation and subjugation, and countless human deaths, on the night of August 14, 1791, a group of slaves met at a place called Bois Caïman, about 2 miles to the city of Cap-Haitien, in the northern part of the country, to plan their liberation and independence in the context of a political-religious conference. The historic meeting was led by an anti-abolitionist slave coach and a religious leader of the Vodou faith by the name of Dutty Boukman. From 1791 to 1804, the glorious period of the Haitian Revolution, under the brilliant military leadership of General Toussaint Louverture then General Jean-Jacques Dessalines, the father of the Haitian nation, the enslaved population emancipated themselves and became free and independent from the unholy trinity of chattel slavery, colonization, and white colonial rule at Saint-Domingue.
Thus, prospective visitors or travelers to Haiti should know these basic historical facts about Haiti. The history of Africans at Saint-Domingue-Haiti began in chattel slavery and successful developed into a period of human freedom and political independence when Jean-Jacques Dessalines declared on January 1, 1804, the independence and birth of the nation of Haiti—an inseparable twin event. The former slaves became the masters of the land of mountains: Ayiti. Prospective visitors to Haiti need to know that the Republic of Haiti is one of the birthplaces of democracy in the modern world. To put it another way, Haiti is one of the oldest democracies in the Western world due to the watershed world event known as the Haitian Revolution (1791-1804). Haiti has also contributed enormously to the projects of universal emancipation, human rights, and human subjectivity in modern times. While slavery was the most challenging moment for the African ancestors of Haitians, the Haitian Revolution, and the birth of Haiti, as an indivisible moment, have become their most glorious moment of triumph in their history. The birth of the Republic of Haiti put an end to plantation slavery and promoted incontestably the idea of liberty for all.
Further, prospective travelers to Haiti should know these 15 historical facts about the nation of Haiti I am stressing below:
1) The first Spanish settlement or colony in the so-called New World was established in Haiti.
2) Haiti was the first independent nation of Latin America and the Caribbean.
3) Haiti and Canada are the only sovereign nations in continental America to have French as an official language, and Haiti is the only country in Latin America that adopted French as one of its official languages.
4) After the United States, Haiti was the second colony in the Western hemisphere to gain independence and became a republic.
5) Haiti produced the first and only successful slave revolution in world history.
6) Haiti was the first country in the world to abolish slavery permanently in its territory; Article 3 in its first Constitution of 1801 under the governorship of Toussaint Louverture, states: “There cannot exist slaves on this territory, servitude is therein forever abolished. All men are born, live and die free and French.” Article 2 of the Constitution of 1805 under the headship of Emperor Jean-Jacques Dessalines reiterates the legal ban and practice of slavery: “Slavery is forever abolished.”
7) Haiti was the first free Black Republic in the world.
8) Haiti was founded on the principle of racial equality, that is, Black people were equal to White people. In other words, Haiti promoted the non-negotiable equality of the human races. This essential equality of all people not only challenged contemporary discourses of the Enlightenment period on human hierarchy and human superiority based on race and intelligence; at its forced entrance into the world of the nations on January 1, 1804, Haiti legally debunked the pseudo-scientific doctrine that placed the White or Aryan race on the top of the human ladder while dehumanizing all other races and undermining the dignity of other racialized peoples and groups. As stated in Article 3 of the 1804 Constitution: “The Citizens of Hayti are brothers at home; equality in the eyes of the law is incontestably acknowledged, and there cannot exist any titles, advantages, or privileges, other than those necessarily resulting from the consideration and reward of services rendered to liberty and independence.”
9) The Haitian Revolution influenced Black slaves in the United States to strive for their own liberation, served as a model for other liberation and anti-slavery movements in Latin America and the Caribbean, and the Haitian Revolution stands today as a symbol of Black self-determination, Black freedom, and Black dignity.
10) Toussaint Louverture (1743-1803) was the first Black Governor in the Western world. He was born in Bréda, near Cap-Français, Saint-Domingue-Haiti and died in exile in prison in Fort-de-Joux, France on April 7, 1803. Toussaint was the first Black memorialist in French history; while in prison in France, he wrote his memoir entitled Mémoires Du Général Toussaint L’ouverture, Écrits Par Lui-Même (Memoir of General Toussaint L’Ouverture Written by Himself).
11) Pierre Toussaint is America’s First Black Saint. In 1996, Pope John Paull II declared Pierre Toussaint Venerable (“Venerable Pierre Toussaint”), the second step toward sainthood. He was born into slavery on June 27, 1766, in Saint-Marc, Haiti, and he died on June 30, 1853, in New York, NY.
12) Louis-Joseph Janvier (born in Haiti on May 7, 1855 – 24 March 1911) was the first Black to receive the doctorate degree in Medicine in 1881 and Juris doctor degree from a European University in Paris, France.
13) William Edward Burghardt Du Bois (“W.E.B. Du Bois”) (February 23, 1868 – August 27, 1963), whose father was born in Haiti, was the first Haitian American to receive a PhD from Harvard University in History in 1896. His doctoral dissertation is entitled “The Suppression of the African Slave Trade to the United States of America: 1638–1870” (1896). Du Bois was also a Pioneer of American Sociology and one of the founders of the discipline of Sociology along with European sociologists Karl Marx, Émile Durkheim, and Max Weber.
14) Haiti produced the first woman President in the Western world. Ertha Pascale-Trouillot (1943- ) became provisional President of Haiti for 11 months (1990-1991).
15) Michaëlle Jean (1957-) is Canada’s First Black Governor General (2005 to 2010) and was the first woman to become the third secretary-general of the Organization internationale de la Francophonie (2015-2019). She was born in Port-au-Prince and immigrated to Canada with her family in 1967 as a refugee.
c) Having provided a brief history of the Haitian people, let us now turn to the third part of your question, which pertains to the culture of the Haitian people.
The word “culture” is problematic and sometimes difficult to define. Generally, when one speaks of culture, one takes an anthropological and sociological approach. Broadly speaking, culture refers to traditions, beliefs, creative expressions, behavior, attitude, etc. The culture of a people is learned and evolves with time, and culture is not genetically decided. In other words, culture is not static, but it undergoes transformation or mutation as the people of a given culture interact with others and progress through time. For example, the African American hip hop and rap are popular music and artistic expressions in the contemporary Haitian culture. Not only Haitian music (i.e., Konpa) has been influenced by external forces and foreign musical traditions; the mother tongue of the Haitian people, Kreyòl/Creole, has undergone substantial changes over the past fifty years or so with the continuous infiltration of words and expressions from neighboring spoken-languages of English and Spanish. Similarly, as Haiti continues to receive visitors every day from different countries, the Haitian people have acquired new cultural values and practices and incorporated them into their own. The factor of global immigration and migration continue to shift and transform indigenous customs and mores and pervade other areas in a given society; these might include the country’s national literature, the performing and visual arts, mass media, even the architecture of a country. The people of Haiti are not exempt from these types of external influence or force.
Moreover, first-time travelers to Haiti should know that contemporary Haitian society is an amalgamation of different cultural elements (i.e., food, religion, music, dress, art, political governance, and organization) from Africa, Europe, and the indigenous Indian population that are fused together to create one creolized and syncretized culture; hence, we can speak of Haiti’s triple heritage in this manner. Because the ancestors of the Haitian people were predominantly Africans, the African element in the Haitian culture dominates and it is omnipresent in the Haitian society. For example, in Haitian Vodou, one of Haiti’s dominant religions, one could find (integrated) traditions and rituals from Central and Western African spirituality (or religious beliefs) mixed with Roman Catholic’s practices and Christian beliefs. Correspondingly, Haiti has two official languages: Creole and French; while the former is the popular language of all Haitians, the latter is spoken by a few. The sacred (Fon) language of the Vodou religion is originated from the same African regions noted above, as well grounded in the sacred vocabulary of the indigenous people of the island. Haitian creole, which is spoken by the majority of the population, is heavily influenced grammatically, phonetically, and syntactically by the French language—spoken by less than 15% of the population; arguably, the African linguistic impact in the Kreyol language is also observable.
Also, first-time visitors to Haiti who are looking to have a good time in Haiti while they are visiting should also be aware about the country’s historical landmarks and material heritage, its popular festivals (i.e., New Year’s Day/Independence Day: January 1; Ancestry Day: January 2; Carnival/Mardis Gras; 3 days in February; Rara festival; Dessalines Day: October 17; Jacmel Film Festival; Festival du Rhum Haiti) cuisine, sports (i.e., soccer), entertainment, etc. Haiti has a vibrant culture, and its festivals highlight the country’s national identity and patriotic pride, as well showcase Haitians’ attitude toward life, pleasure, and community. Below, I would like to suggest these top attractions (sightseeing) to tourists, as they consider touring different regions of the country:
· The Western region (Port-au-Prince): the Musée du Panthéon National Haïtien, Museum Ogier-Fombrun, Barbancourt Rum Distillery, Moulin Sur Mer, Marché de Fer, Champs de Mars, Notre Dame Cathedral Ruins, the Bureau of Ethnology, Saint-Anne Catholic Church.
· The Western region (Pétion-Ville) : Place Saint-Pierre, Place Boyer, Saint Peter’s Church, Galerie d’Art Nader, Fort Jacques, Fort Alexandre, Urbain de Martissant-Habitation Leclerc National Park, Wynne Farm Ecological Reserve.
· The Northern region (Cap-Haitian) : Cathédrale Notre Dame de Cap Haïtien, Cathédrale Square, Jose Marti Square, Jean-Jacques Dessalines Memorial Statue, Toussaint Louverture Memorial Statue, Citadelle Laferrière, the Palace of Sans-Souci, Labadee, Amiga Island, Cormier, Héros de Vertieres, Bois Caïman, Breda.
· The Northern region (Gonaïves) : Memorial de l’Indépendance, Place D’armes De La Ville Des Gonaïves, Toussaint Louverture Memorial Statue, Place Bouteille, Place Pétion, Place Bouteille
· The Southern region (Jacmel) : Jacmel Beach, Bassin Bleu, Marché de Fer, Jacmel Arts Center
· The Southern region : (Les Cayes) : Jardin Botanique des Cayes Haiti, Gelée Beach
· The Southern-Grand-Anse region (Jérémie): Anse d’Azur, Saint Louis King of France Cathedral, Patron Saint festival of Saint Louis, Kay Gina & Nansky Art Center.
***If visitors are interested in Haiti’s archeological heritage and its colonial past, I recommend visiting these major sites:
· The cavernes and caves (Grottes) : Marie-Jeanne Cave (Port-à-Piment) ; Grotte Kounoubwa (Camp-Perrin) ; Bellony Cave (Pestel) ; Grotte Dondon (Dondon/Saint-Raphaël) ; Grande Grotte (Port-à-Piment); Grotte Geffrard (Latique/Madame Jean Pierre); Grotte Soulas (Lévy/Camp-Perrin) ; Grotte Bois-Caïman (Caïman/Cap-Haitien).
***In Dondon (Saint-Raphael), there is an annual festival called the “Festival des Grottes (“Cave Festival”) that is open to both locals and tourists.
· The Forts : Fort des Anglais or Fort Saint-Louis (Saint-Louis-du-Sud) ; Fort des Oliviers (Saint-Louis-du-Sud) ; Citadel of Platons (Camp Perrin) ; the Fort (Fort-Liberté).
d) The final part of your question is about the challenges and triumphs of Haiti.
Let us look at some of the country’s challenges, both past and present. The Haitian people are a people who have known or experienced political tragedy, trauma, suffering, natural disasters, and all forms of abuse and exploitation coming from different directions and sources. The greatest challenge the Haitian people faced was chattel slavery, which they overcame in the Haitian revolution. Nonetheless, the post-independent state of Haiti and its people continue to struggle to live peacefully and democratically and to maintain national sovereignty and political freedom. The political instability that has characterized the Haitian state for many years has also become a collective experience of the Haitian people; the Haitian people have become victims of political totalitarianism, despots, authoritarianism, dictatorship, and various coups and coup attempts. Politics in Haiti is synonymous with national catastrophe, and the fragile political life continues to challenge the enduring legacy of the Haitian revolution. Yet during national tragedies and political failures of Haitian leaders, the Haitian people normally unite to solve their problems; relentlessly, they continue to maintain a thick nationalism and zealous patriotism that are full of hope and future possibilities to begin again or rehabilitate their country. The incompetence of Haiti’s politicians and leaders have intensified the collective suffering and delayed economic prosperity of the country.
One of the most challenges in contemporary Haitian society is to ensure long-term economic growth and development that would contribute to the common good and human flourishing in the Haitian society. Another challenge to the Haitian state is to secure national security and safety of all Haitian citizens. In the past two years, under the government of Jovenel Moïse, who unfortunately was assassinated on July 7, 2020, the people of Haiti have been subject to unending mass kidnapping and death, gang violence and trauma, and all forms of censorship, abuse, and humiliation; Haitian women and girls have been raped and dragged in the streets as if their individual life is meaningless. Correspondingly, the country has lost many innocent and prominent journalists, intellectuals, activists, educators, and social critics sometimes due to their public denunciation of state violence, human rights violation and abuse, and restrictions of popular freedom and democracy in the country. For example, journalist and photographer Diego Charles was fatally shot on June 29, 2021; on the same day, political activist Antoinette Duclair was also fatally wounded in her car; the police officer Guerby Geffrard was assassinated on May 1, 2021; and another police office by the name of Abdias Prophète was fatally shot in the streets of Cap-Haitian on February 18, 2021. Further, Haiti’s prominent journalist and public intellectual Jean Dominique was mysteriously murdered in 2000, and more recently the eminent Haitian Jurist and President of the Bar Association Monferrier Dorval was shot dead on August 28, 2020. Unfortunately, none of these individuals or their families have yet to receive justice from the country’s Justice system.
Moreover, it is correct to call Haiti the “suffering Republic” in the Western world. Haiti went through four civil wars (1791-1804, 1883-1884, 1902, 1908); four presidential assassinations (Jean-Jacques Dessalines: October 17, 1806; Sylvain Salnave: January 15, 1870; Jean Vilbrun Guillaume Sam: July 27, 1915; Jovenel Moïse: July 7, 2021), two American military occupations or interventions (1915-1934, 1994-2000); the brutal Dictatorial Duvalier Regime (1957-1986); and numerous military coups and coup attempts in post-Duvalier repression (1986-1991). The legacy of slavery and colonialism and Haiti’s repayment to France to recognize its independence in 1825, which is equivalent to $ 21 billion today, are equally responsible for Haiti’s economic disparity and underdevelopment. These tragic events have not only affected Haiti’s civil and political societies; they destabilized the country’s political configurations and democratic life, negatively impacted Haiti’s economy, and tragically transformed the living conditions in the nation.
Also, the United States has contributed enormously to the suffering of the Haitian people and Haiti’s economic challenges and decline, and political troubles. For example, during the period of the American occupation of Haiti (1915-1934), the United States (1) imposed Martial law in the country in September 1915; (2) the 1916 convention or treaty gave the U.S. rights over customs houses in Haiti’s main ports, finances (Haiti’s national bank and treasury), public health, the Gendarmerie (a new police force composing of police and army the occupation created), and the country’s infrastructures. In addition, in 1918, the US government drafted a new Constitution that allowed foreigners or non-Haitian citizens to become landowners in the country; the previous Constitution banned foreign land ownership. The new Constitution contained articles that preemptively protected the United State from possible future accusations by the Haitian government or the International Community. One of the lasting effects of the occupation was the centralizing of state power in Port-au-Prince, and the destabilization of the countryside’s economy; as a result, rural Haiti is heavily dependent on the market power and control of merchants and businesses in the capital. During the U.S. occupation, more than fifteen thousand Haitians were killed. Interestingly, even after the end of the occupation in August 1934, the United States continued to exert control over Haiti’s finances until 1947.
IUS policies toward Haiti have been detrimental to the country’s economic development and autonomy. By 1984, under the Duvalier administration (“Baby Doc”), the United States slaughtered more than a million black pigs in rural Haiti and replaced them with imported foreign pigs, which low-income Haitian peasants could not afford to raise. Prior to this imperial crime, Haitian peasants depended on raising pigs to feed their family, give their children an education, and maintain an economically-independent life. The trade policies of the Clinton administration had destroyed Haitian rice farming and production, and it had increased poverty and famine in Haiti, and heightened the country’s economic dependence on the US market. Evidently, decades of inexpensive products, including rice from the U.S. and other forms of imports to Haiti have destroyed local agriculture and production of Haitian goods. In the 1990s, President Clinton encouraged the developing country of Haiti to significantly cut tariffs on imported subsidized U.S. rice and other goods. In 2010, he publicly apologized for his destructive capitalist policy toward Haiti and affirmed to the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee: “It may have been good for some of my farmers in Arkansas, but it has not worked. It was a mistake. “I had to live every day with the consequences of the loss of capacity to produce a rice crop in Haiti to feed those people because of what I did.” Such trading policy has added to Haiti’s economic woes and its inability to be self-sufficient. Philippe Girard, a prominent historian of the Haitian Revolution and Haiti’s national history, makes this important observation about the US-Haiti relations in his book entitled Haiti: The Tumultuous History–From Pearl of the Caribbean to Broken Nation:
The United States has played a central role in Haiti over the past two hundred years. Aside from regularly sending troops to Haiti—particularly in the past decade—the United States has been the country’s main trading partner, the preferred destination for Haitian exiles, and six-hundred-pound political gorilla whose support (or lack thereof) can throw Haitian leaders in and out of office (p. 13).
Interested readers who would like to learn more about matters and interrelated historical events should read the following books:
· Paul Farmer, The Uses of Haiti (1994)
· Robert Debs Heinl, Jr., and Nancy Gordon Heinl, Written in Blood: The Story of the Haitian People, 1492-1971 (1978)
· J. Michael Dash, Culture and Customs of Haiti (2001)
· Robert Fatton Jr., Roots of Haitian Despotism (2007)
· Laurent Dubois, Haiti: The Aftershocks of History (2012)
· Alex Dupuy, Haiti: From Revolutionary Slaves to Powerless Citizens: Essays on the Politics and Economics of Underdevelopment, 1804-2013 (2014)
· Chantalle F. Verna, Haiti, and the Uses of America: Post-U.S. Occupation Promises (2017)
Finally, the other aspect of your first question has to do with the triumphs of Haiti. Observably, since 1804, the Haitian people have known more challenges and faced more traumas than living moments of triumph. Nonetheless, I would like to highlight five historic moments of triumph in our history:
· The Haitian Revolution that ended slavery and white rule in Saint-Domingue on November 18, 1803, at the Battle of Vertières—the final War that led to our glorious independence and the founding of the Haitian nation; as a result, Haiti had served as a beacon of light to all enslaved and oppressed people in the world.
· The birth of the only free Black Republic in the modern world on January 1, 1804.
· The fall of the Duvalier Regime in 1986, a symbol of the expressive will and collective determination of the Haitian people.
· The successful democratic-election of Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1990 and 2001, respectively; these two historic elections had rekindled Haitian optimism and strengthened the solidarity and unity of the Haitian people toward a better Haitian democracy and future possibilities in the country.
· All the attempts our ancestors made to resist human bondage in various historical epochs in colonial times and their collective struggle to gain their freedom should be regarded as heroic moments of triumph in our history; correspondingly, in modern Haitian society, all the attempts the Haitian people have made to say NO to political totalitarianism, NO to dictatorship, and NO to state-orchestrated violence and death, and YES to democracy, YES to collective freedom, YES to popular democracy, and YES to human rights and freedom of the press are memorable moments of victory in our national archive.
2) France forced Haiti to pay reparations in the 19th century after they fought for their freedom and paid for over 100 years. How has the economic weight of paying back more than (the equivalent to) $20 billion U.S. dollars compounded in the country over time? And is there a movement to get that money back?
Before I answer this question. It is important to understand the historical context in which Haiti had to pay France that large sum of money for the recognition of Haiti’s independence. It was President Jean-Pierre Boyer, who governed Haiti for twenty-seven years (1818-1843), who had agreed to pay reparations for slavery. Under Boyer’s presidency, both countries in the island of Hispaniola (Haiti and the Dominican Republican) were united. Boyer inherited a political structure from his predecessor President Alexandre Pétion; he was a dictator who squashed all political opposition and dissent. Like Pétion, he was worried about safeguarding Haitian freedom and independence and against external threats, especially from France. He conquered the East side of the island to protect Haitian independence, in case the French attempted to recolonize the country through the East side. King Henri Christophe in the North was also worried about possible attacks from the French, but he rejected France’s idea of reparations for slavery. In 1814, when France attempted to reestablish slavery and return the exiled plantation masters and colonizers to Haiti, the French Empire miserable failed in its attempt because of strong Haitian resistance and the general self-determination of the Haitian people to remain free and independent. By the mid-1820s, the planters of Saint-Domingue eventually realized that imperial France will not be able to reconquer independent Haiti and that they were not going to return to the Pearl of the Antilles, which they exploited and sucked its blood. Nonetheless, they pressured the French government for compensation for their economic lost associating with the Haitian Revolution. Before Boyer, in 1814, President Pétion had agreed with King Charles X of France that Haiti would pay an indemnity of 15 million francs to compensate the exiled French planters and former colonizers; in return, France would recognize the independence of Haiti. This promise would be fulfilled in 1825 under Boyer’s presidency.
Boyer signed the terms and conditions of the indemnity on July 11, 1825. It was good for France, but bad for the young Republic of Haiti. According to the royal ordinance, the Republic of Haiti would pay 150 million francs (the equivalent to $ 20 billion U.S. dollars today) to compensate the former colonists who requested collateral damage for their lost revenues from chattel slavery and plantation economy. (At the time, the indemnity to France was more than 10 times Haiti’s total annual budget. In 1825, the Republic of Haiti had only been in existence for only 24 years; what kind of economic progress and development a small country like Haiti could make in 24 years—giving the fact of the long-lasting effects of Western slavery and colonization in the new nation? It is also important to note in its first 25 years, no country in the Western world would commit legally to trading and exchanging goods with Haiti. They excluded Haiti from participating in international trading and commerce.) The royal agreement was that Haiti would pay France in five equal instalments, beginning in December 1825 and ending in 1830. King Charles X knew the young nation of Haiti could not afford to pay that large sum; France also knew Haiti’s annual budget for the past 24 years. In that era, Haiti’s economy and national productions were not substantial, and the young nation was still developing and finding itself politically, economically, and strategically. The reaction of the Haitian people toward Boyer’s decision was negative and furious; they contested the agreement giving the country’s poor economic efficiency. Historian Laurent Dubois in his excellent book, Haiti: The Aftershocks of History, comments on this tragic imperial exchange, Haiti’s debt to France:
In November 1825, Boyer took out a huge loan from a French bank in order to pay the first installment of the indemnity. The terms of the loan were highly disadvantageous: the Haitian government was obliged to repay 30 million francs over 25 years at annual interest rate of 6 percent, but the bank charged an additional 20 percent free just to provide the money to Haiti, so in fact only 24 million francs went toward the indemnity. This arrangement helped create what Haitians came to refer to as the “double debt” of independence, with the original amount of the indemnity significantly increased over the long term by loan fees and interest…With the indemnity, Haiti suddenly became a debtor nation, an unlucky pioneer of the woes of postcolonial economic independence (p. 102).
Every year, President Boyer struggled to pay France because of the country’s economic deficit and additional national and foreign debts. Haiti defaulted on the payment. King Charles would not negotiate. France threatened Haiti with warships in Haiti’s main ports. Being under pressure of possible invasion or war and the fear of losing the country’s independence, President Boyer had to drain the country’s treasury of its reserves to pay the immoral debt to Haiti’s former masters and colonizers. One historian observes, “In the years 1825 to 1831 inclusive, Haiti’s annual expenditures exceeded revenues by amounts ranging from 220,000 gourdes to 1.3 million gourdes” (Heinl, Written in Blood, p. 171). About 1838, it was reported that 30 percent of Haiti’s annual budget went to the French treasury to pay for the colonial debt. In the same year, France and Haiti signed another treaty called Traité d’Amitié”/ “Treaty of Friendship” that reduced the outstanding balanced to 60 million francs. Haiti went into further debt to pay the remaining sum owed to imperial France.
***A note of reminder: It is good to note here under Boyer and other preceding presidents, Haiti had experienced foreign hostility and exclusion, and no country was willing to legally trade with Haiti. The world’s great powers (France, Britain, the United States) at the time did not recognize Haiti’s independence because France would not legally validate it. Boyer was concerned to remove Haiti from this trade and commercial predicament with these powerful international countries. After the official recognition, Haiti was able to establish commercial relations with the noted countries and those in Latin American region. Yet it was until 1947 that Haiti was able to pay off the loan with the accrued interests associating with the indemnity to France. The 90 million francs which Haiti paid to France had contributed enormously to Haiti’s gross economic development and abject poverty; the indemnity harshly injured the country’s ability to flourish in the modern world. This large sum of debt reimbursed to France could have been used to improve Haiti’s education and agriculture, enhance national healthcare and public housing, and build stronger infrastructures in the country. The institution of slavery along with colonization and finance capitalism do have severe consequences and their effects continue to haunt Haiti today.
To respond to the last part of the question, to my knowledge there is not an existing movement in Haiti or in the Haitian Diaspora that is pressuring France to do the most moral and ethical thing: to return the money back to Haiti. There is not an international movement outside of Haiti demanding reparations from France. By contrast, France was supposed to pay reparations to independent Haiti for chattel slavery and for receiving unpaid labor from the enslaved African population in the French colony of Saint-Domingue for almost 300 years. Instead, they did the most unthinkable thing, what I call the grand colonial theft against the people of Haiti. In 2002, former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide demanded France to pay formal recompense to the people of Haiti. France ignored Aristide’s moral demand. Just like slavery and colonization, the 150 million francs indemnity was an international crime against humanity and a categorical violation of the economic rights of the Haitian state and the Haitian people.
3) How would you describe the overall sentiment of Hatians following the assassination of President Jovenel Moise? And what was your personal reaction? And what do you think is next for the government?
The assassination of President of Jovenel Moïse on Wednesday, July 7, 2021, at 1:00 a.m. created a mix feeling among the Haitian people in Haiti and the Haitian Diaspora. I would like to highlight three chief reasons for this ambivalent sentiment and attitude toward the President’s tragic death. First, many Haitians believe that President Moïse was challenging and attacking Haiti’s bourgeoisie class (the Haitian oligarchy) and small-elite minority that are exploiting the Haitian masses, during the first two years of his presidency. Thus, those same Haitian citizens saw him as one who will change the order of things in the country, improve its bad infrastructures, and strengthen Haiti’s economy and national productions. These Haitian individuals interpret his death as heroic, even some claimed that he died as a martyr for the Haitian people. They judged that they killed President Moïse because he was defending the interests of the Haitian people. I would like to call these Haitian citizens the Pro- Moïse Group.
Second, there is another group of Haitian citizens who did not trust Jovenel Moïse from the beginning, particularly when he announced his presidential campaign five years ago. The former President Joseph Martelly, who is despised by most of the Haitian population because of his corruption and association with the Haitian oligarchy, actively campaigned with Moïse and independently mobilized the Haitian people to cast a vote for Jovenel Moïse. Other corrupt Haitian politicians and national leaders, some of whom are neo-Duvalierists, also campaigned on behalf of Moïse. Let us call those who have opposed Moïse the Anti-Moïse Crew. Third, just like his predecessor, many Haitians believe that President Moïse was a tool of American imperialism in Haiti and was a puppet president; this collective belief led to overwhelmingly mass-street protests and criticism and distrust of his policies, political interventions, and his ability and willingness to govern in the best interest of the Haitian people. Finally, what both groups share (the Pro-Moïse Group and the Anti- Moïse Crew) can be summarized in two major points: 1) both groups had lost trust in Moïse’s governance because they claimed that he has become a ruthless leader and dictator for two chief reasons: a) he refused to leave power when his term was over, and b) under his presidency, the country has witnessed regularly deaths of innocent Haitian citizens, gang violence, state-sponsored crimes, kidnapping, and rape were rampant in the country; 2) Both groups believe that President Moïse failed to hold parliamentary elections about a year and half ago because he was a power-hungry leader and wanted to accumulate more power. For about a year and a half, President Moïse was ruling the country by decree.
Overall, regardless of one’s political standing or affiliation, I believe the assassination of a functioning president in any country is not a good intervention for a country and its citizens. In the case of Haiti, the assassination of President Moïse is creating more political instability and chaos, social incoherence, group disunity, and political division in the country. When I heard about the President’s assassination early Wednesday morning, I was in shock and spent the night deprived of sleep. I was thinking about this political catastrophe and the devastating effects it will have on contemporary Haitian society. I could not believe that we would witness such a barbaric and inhumane act in 2021 in the Haitian society.
What do I think is next for the Haitian government?
That is another good question. Evidently, I believe that Haiti needs a new political system and climate grounded on Haiti’s democratic ideals and thick patriotism, as the past generations of Haiti have witnessed in the persons, ideas, and activist works of Jacques Roumain, Jean Price-Mars, Jacques Stephen Alexis, Marie-Vieux Chauvet, and the Haitian feminist political activists and Women rights advocates (i.e. Madeleine Sylvain, Yvonne Sylvain, Fernande Bellegarde, Marie-Thérèse Poitevien, Lucienne Heurtelou, Alice Garoute, Thérèse Hudicourt, Alice Téligny Mathon, Marie-Thérèse Colimon) who came together to create the Ligue Féminine d’Action Sociale (Feminine League for Social Action) in 1934. The current political system in Haiti is fraudulent and the country’s contemporary political leaders cannot be trusted. The system is rigged and represents a neocolonial tradition that continues to devour its own people; it is devoid of thick love for the Haitian people and patriotic zeal to move Haiti toward prosperity and human flourishing. These men and women who are currently involved in Haiti’s current political system need to leave the political sphere and make room for young progressive and democratically-minded Haitian politicians who will lead the Haitian people to promising future possibilities and take the country to an alternative path toward economic development and political sovereignty.
Further, I do not believe the current interim Prime Minister should move quickly to organize elections in September (parliamentary) and November (presidential), respectively. Haiti is in a state of fragility and a very divided country politically and ideologically; its institutions and systems are wounded and rigged, and the people of Haiti are hurting and suffering massively. There are too many factions among Haitian politicians and the Haitian people. Before we can hold parliamentary and presidential elections, we need to sit down as a people and nation; we need to take suggestions from one another and plan jointly the future of our beloved native land. We need to listen to each other and understand one another’s concern. It is important for us as a people and nation to make a new pact, even a national covenant with each other—as our ancestors did to break the shackles of slavery and white rule at Saint-Domingue (they took an oath to live or die free)—and devise a constructive plan for the next 40 to 50 years about the rebirth and future of Haiti. Without this national pact, intergenerational dialogues, and national reconciliation, future elections will not change anything in Haiti. Traditionally, elections in Haiti are not democratic and never worked in the best interest and welfare of the Haitian people. It is the same people and same associates who are elected and leading and placed in political power and influence over the suffering Haitian masses. If we do not work together and make this necessary patriotic oath that will lead to national repentance and reconciliation, we will continue repeating the same mistakes of the past and make further false political moves and interventions that will generate greater collective suffering and economic dependency, and a bankrupt Haitian democracy. Right now, the Haitian people and Haitian politicians have a great opportunity to rebuild the country and to begin again.
My hope is that the interim government will work together with the Haitian masses to create a “National Dialogue and Reconciliation Committee” to work on those vital issues that have been hurting our nation for so long and delaying human flourishing in our country. The interim government must allow the voice and will of the Haitian people to triumph, that is, to let the Haitian people choose their own representatives to create such committee. Such committee must be at the regional, departmental, communal, and federal level in the country. It will help us deal with issues of accountability and responsibility, and the moral framework that is desperately needed to rebuild our nation, reconstruct ourselves, and empower Haitian youths to reach the stars.
Finally, I am very optimistic that the new Haitian government should consist of young progressive Haitian citizens and competent politicians who will prioritize the country’s healthcare system and the general welfare of the Haitian people. The new administration should invest in Haitian youths and public education (both secondary and higher learning), especially in STEM, so that Haiti could produce skilled engineers, scientists, technicians, mathematicians, entrepreneurs to take the country to another economic dimension and prosperity. These new professionals will be important to boost our economy and improve our infrastructures in various areas, including water sanitation, electricity, national safety and security, cyber security, medical and science technology, environment, etc. Evidently, we also need radical change in our Justice system so popular justice could reign supreme in the country. The new administration should also exploit the country’s agriculture and natural resources so the country could be self-sufficient and economically strong. National production is necessary for Haiti to maximize its exports and trade with the international community and strengthen its economic power nationally and internationally. Haiti needs new trading partners that will not exploit us or take advantage of our people and resources. We need to create. We need to produce. We need to build. We need to invent. We need a new Haiti for the Haitians.
4) can you share with me a bit about your background? I know you live in Florida now with your family based on your bio but were you born and raised in Haiti? If so, what part and what was that experience like?
Of course! I was born in Haiti and grew up in Haiti’s second largest and most historic city, Cap-Haitien. I am from a family of seven siblings: 4 men and 3 women. I am the sixth one in the family. My father Louis Joseph was an excellent father and an incredible human being; he was a good Haitian-American citizen and hard-working man. He came to the United States in 1979 to find a better life for his family. I was one year old. My mother Helene Joseph was the most wonderful person who has graced my life and that of my siblings; she was the most loving and caring individual I have known. Both my parents have instilled in us love for education, passion for learning, and a remarkable spiritual legacy. All of us live in the state of Florida except for one brother who still lives in Haiti with his family.
I had a wonderful childhood in Haiti full of great memories and exceeding joy. I enjoyed going to my school’s library when I was growing up in Haiti. I was an avid reader of fiction and enjoyed reading short stories. In particularly, I loved Haiti’s national history and it was my passion to learn about our national heroes and heroines and take frequent trips to Haiti’s heritage landmarks and historical sites. My favorite place to visit with my family was the countryside. I still love Haiti’s countryside and enjoy hanging out with Haitian farmers, peasants, and fishermen. (Even today when I return to Haiti, I often spend my time in the countryside.) My older brother Sam and I regularly spent our summer vacations in the countryside of Port-Margot. Over the years, we cultivated good relations and made sustaining friendship with children of our age. We often played hide and seek together and participated in many soccer tournaments in the countryside. When I was still in Elementary and Middle school in Haiti, we would often visit historic sites and landmarks such as Citadelle, Palais Sans-Souci, Breda, Vertieres, etc., in the Northern part of the country. Those were wonderful moments of my childhood in Haiti that I will never forget. Haiti has permanently marked my life and my identity; my soul lives in Haiti because Haiti lives in me.
I came to the United States and immigrated to Florida when I was 15 years old. I went to High School in Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, and attended College in Florida, graduate school in Kentucky and Texas, and in Pretoria, South Africa, respectively. Professionally, I have been an educator for twenty years, and currently serve as professor of English at Indian River State College (Florida). I have two research doctoral degrees: A PhD in (English) Literary Studies (Emphasis in African American Intellectual History, African American Literature, Caribbean Literature and Culture) from the University of Texas at Dallas (Texas), and another PhD in Systematic Theology and Ethics from the University of Pretoria. I was trained in history, literature, religion, and theology, and in my scholarship and research, I often bring these academic disciplines in conversation. Thus, I consider myself an intellectual historian, a literary scholar, and a religious scholar. I am a researcher and scholar in Haitian History and Literature, Caribbean, Black, and Africana Studies. I single-authored six academic books and edited five volumes on major thinkers such as Jacques Roumain, Jean Price-Mars, Wole Soyinka, James Cone, Edwidge Danticat, Joseph Antenor Firmin. I write about things that interest me. I have also published five popular books, including one children’s book.