Ripe for Revolution Part 1

The first part of Ripe for Revolution: Ayiti’s Ascension Out of the Imperial Apparatus served as an introduction to the topic of US Imperialism in Ayiti. We cannot fully understand the present-day conflicts in Ayiti without connecting them to the country’s larger imperial/colonial history.

Rebecca Haynesworth

2/1/202314 min read

On the second day of January in 1893, at the World’s Columbian Exchange in Chicago, Illinois, Frederick Douglass delivered a speech as the World Fair’s commissioner on Haiti. Without strife and hesitation, Douglass stood tall at the podium that day in Jackson Park, delivering a daring speech composed of statements rooted in Pan-African sentiments and unification politics. Douglass declared, “We should not forget that the freedom you and I enjoy today is largely due to the brave stand taken by the Black sons of Haiti ninety years ago…..striking for their freedom, they struck for the freedom of every Black man in the world”. Neary 130 years later, his statements hold even more weight than they historically did, given the contemporary struggle our African brothers and sisters are engaged in on the island of Ayiti (Ayitian Creole for “Haiti''). For almost two centuries Ayiti has been on severe political punishment, chastised by the global community for taking an uncompromising stance against white supremacy garland in imperialist politics, colonial application, and capitalist exploitation. “My subject is Haiti, the Black Republic; the only self-made Black Republic in the world”, Douglass says. “I am to speak to you of her character, her history, her importance and her struggle from slavery to freedom and to statehood. I am to speak to you of her progress in the line of civilization…..of her probable destiny; and of the bearing of her example as a free and independent Republic, upon what may be the destiny of the African race in our own country and elsewhere”. African Americans have always identified with the insurrections that took place on the island due to the similarity in struggle against white domination. American slave rebellions crafted strategy around the genius of military scientists Toussaint Louverture and Jean–Jacques Dessalines, placing at the center of their action the Ayitian Revolution. Ayiti has always been looked upon around the world as the highest personification of resistance in not only African history, but human history.

At the climax of Douglass’ speech, he begins listing some of the world’s greatest contributors of knowledge, government, philosophy, and religion. Douglass places Ayiti on this list stating, “Among these large bodies, the little community of Haiti, anchored in the Caribbean Sea, has had her mission in the world….she has taught the world the danger of slavery, and the value of liberty. In this respect she has been the greatest of all our modern teachers''. The exploitative relationship Ayitians historically, and currently have found themselves in with the United States, reflects similar experiences of African/Black folk right here in America. Cultural demonization, state surveillance, labor exploitation, and state sanctioned police terrorism only begin to describe the atrocities inflicted on African people at the hands of the United States empire, domestically and abroad. In Ayiti the people are currently engaging in mass demonstrations in response to years of neocolonialism, political theater, resource and land theft, and labor exploitation. Ayitians are firmly placing their sights on autonomy and self determination, and as African Americans whose plight is intrinsically linked with that of any other group of Black folk in the world, we reject and denounce any form of United States military intervention/ invasion of Ayiti. We salute and champion our brethren engaged in the African liberation struggle.

The First Black Republic

Sitting East of Cuba and positioned in between the Caribbean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean is Ayiti. According to World Atlas, Ayiti is a very resource rich country, particularly in oil, natural gas, gold, copper, limestone, and marble. In 2019, World Atlas reported that Ayiti may have some of the largest oil reserves in the world, surpassing Venezuela, which has the world’s largest proven oil reserves. Most of Ayiti’s mineral wealth is untapped, making the island an open target for exploitation and excavation from foreign piranhas. Although mineral plentiful, the economic wealth of Ayiti and her people simply do not reflect these factual findings. The island’s historical colonial history and contemporary neo-colonial history is to be blamed for it. To better understand the apparent political turmoil, the stagnation of Ayiti’s economy, and the national unequal distribution of wealth, we must turn towards when the country first came in contact with the European world.

In December 1492, Christopher Columbus arrived on the crystal-clear shores of what is present day Ayiti, introducing a kind of barbarity unbeknownst to the Western Hemisphere. With the white man’s burden coated in his intention, he named the already operating civilization “La Espanola”, which translates to “Little Spain”. The genocide of the Taino people, accredited to early Spanish colonization on the island, spanned from 1492 to 1494 and was responsible for the deaths of one third of the population. Commodified and dehumanized, the Taino were made property of the Spaniards, and in nearly two years the indigenous population was completely exterminated. Indigenous resistance was met with Spanish instituted mutilations, lynchings, and sexual torture. By the late 1540’s nearly all indigenous culture had vanished from the island, leaving under five hundred Taino in the territory. The growing necessity for bodies to toil the land, due to the rapid decline in the Taino population, motivated the Spanish to not only look towards Africa, but hoist their sails in her direction.

What we consider the West Indies, or the Caribbean, was once marked as the land of “breaking the African''. Often before being sent to the United States, Africans were sent to plantations in the Caribbean to adapt to the back breaking, and generally fatal, demands of forced labor and bondage. This process was known as seasoning. During seasoning the African was physically and mentally made into a slave/Negro/Nigger. The average African in Ayiti did not live past the age twenty-one. Ayiti was regarded as one of the harshest sites of slavery in the Americas. Over the course of three centuries, the island witnessed the rotation of three European imperial occupiers: the Spanish, French, and English, each bringing a more severe tenure than their predecessor.

African enslavement in Ayiti began in 1505, by Spanish navigator and eldest son of Christopher Columbus, Diego Columbus. The African slave trade stimulated the Spanish crown for nearly one hundred and ninety-two years, through the exploitation of minerals such as gold and silver, and its most lucrative agricultural goods; coffee, sugar, and indigo. France gained control over the island in 1697, when Spain began placing its sights on other territories in Central and South America, prioritizing its expansionist policy. La Espanola was renamed Saint-Domingue, and with it a newfound and more brutal culture bled the island. The wealth that the occupied territory was bringing to Europe and her economy, primarily France, could only be sustained by high enslaved labor.

The tiny island of Ayiti produced more sugar and coffee than all of Britain's Caribbean colonies combined, and to do so a very high percentage of Africans had to perish. Forty thousand enslaved Africans were needed annually in Ayiti to build France’s economy up as a hegemonic force in the global market. From 1697 to 1791 France enriched herself proudly with the stain of African blood on her hands.

It was not until August 22, 1791, that the enslaved population would successfully threaten the European’s normality on the island. Bois Caïman was the first important meeting held by enslaved Ayitian Africans who were planning an insurrection against the slave owners. The ceremony proved the Africans not only knew their geographical surroundings better than the opposition but had a much more intimate connection to the land that transcended the physical senses, using this to their advantage. When enslaved Africans were taking their sovereignty by any means necessary, the United States positioned itself as a French sympathizer, rushing to provide support for the doomed empire.

The United States has always acted as a Pan-European force of imperialism, whether aiding, partaking in, or defending injustice in Ayiti. The incumbent United States President at the climax of the Ayitian Revolution was Thomas Jefferson. As a subscriber of revolutionary thought and practice, particularly that of the French Revolution, but also an uncompromising white supremacist, Jefferson could not empathize with the Africans in Ayiti leading a violent revolution against their white slave masters. Battling fear of Black resistance and the possibility of it traveling to North American coastlines, Jefferson cut off aid to Ayitian Revolutionary General Toussaint Louverture, and pursued a policy to isolate Ayiti. The revolution sustained itself by the will of the people, without US aid. The Ayitian revolution lasted for thirteen years, and it has been recorded that 200,000 Ayitians, 75,000 French, and 45,000 British persons died during the struggle. Although Ayitian Africans collectively proclaimed their freedom long before the nation's declaration of full independence, their liberation was achieved on the 1st day of January in 1804. After the unfortunate death of General Toussaint Louverture, Jean Jacques Dessalines ultimately led the Africans to victory. After gaining independence and freedom, Dessalines was collectively hailed ruler of Ayiti. Not only under Dessalines was slavery completely abolished from the country, but the land prior owned by white invaders was redistributed to the African people on the island. Hence why in the nation's original constitution, foreigners could not own land by law. By taking a socialist governing approach, rule under Dessalines was overwhelmingly welcomed by the Ayitian people. Although it appeared as though Ayiti had completely rid herself of imperial conquest, the nation was far from removed from the marauding gaze of the United States Empire.

The Beginning of US Occupation

To completely comprehend how and why the nearly twenty-five year United States occupation of Ayiti took place, following the revolution, one must have a basic understanding as to what imperialism not only looks like, but represents. Imperialism in simple terms refers to expansion of power with the ultimate goal of domination. Imperialism involves political policy, military action, and even diplomatic strategy. Colonialism and neocolonialism is imperialism in practice, and has been historically legitimized by religion, pseudo-science, and a so-called superiority complex among its victimizers. Colonialism is the institutional application of cultural, political, and economic subjugation of one territory and her people, for the benefit of another territory and their own. Colonialism is a much more overt practice than neo-colonialism and can be identified by its visible exploitation of the land and people of the colonized nation. Colonialism manifests itself into the erasure of a mother tongue in the collective memory of an indigenous population. It can even be the demonization of a group's spiritual belief systems, folkways, and moreways, replacing all elements of a culture with an alien interpretation of reality. Neo-colonialism is covert, and is recognized as the last and most dangerous stage of imperialism. According to Kwame Nkrumah, who coined the term, “the essence of neo-colonialism is that the State which is in theory independent and has all the outward trappings of international sovereignty, but in reality its economic system and thus its political policy is directed from outside.” In the colonized nation among the colonized masses are a ruling class who are agents of colonialism, and practice neo-colonialism. The ruling class is made up of elites, which are a small minority of the larger colonized group and are legitimized by their ties to the colonizer’s values and systems of thought. They seek to enrich themselves and maintain exploitation of the larger group. History has proven and ultimately vindicates the work of Kwame Nkrumah, as he states; “Elitism is an ingredient of capitalism, and is further intensified by racism, which in its turn is a result of the growth of capitalism and imperialism. The inherent elitism of the ruling classes makes them contemptuous of the masses. Elitism is an enemy of the working class”. Neo-colonialism is ultimately political theater, and confuses not only the colonized masses, but also the onlookers of such abuse.

This briefly attest to what has taken place in Ayiti and every pocket of the globe, due to Europe’s contact with the rest of the world. After the Ayitian Revolution of 1804, Ayiti was forced to pay her former imperialist master, France, an indemnity totaling 112,000,000 francs (which today totals twenty to thirty billion US dollars). As a newly independent nation, this debt crippled the Ayitian government’s capacity to begin developing economically, thus stagnating national independence. During this French call for restitution, the nation was already facing an internal crisis between the Ayitian elite, working, and peasantry classes. A crisis surrounding the nation’s mode of production and the future of the export-oriented economy. Newly freed Ayitians refused to return to the sugar cane and coffee plantations that would restore the former plantation system. Instead they flocked to vacant plots and sustained themselves through subsistence farming.

After the assassination of uncompromising Revolutionary Leader Jean-Jacques Dessalines, the orbit of national leaders of the 19th century intensified national divisions. Internal class and social conflict between mixed raced (acien libres) and African Ayitians (nouveau libres) heightened the looming threat of the French reconquering the territory ensued until the 20th century. In the midst of domestic bickering and French gunboat diplomacy, American capitalists licensed by the United States Federal government exploited these conflicts by sinking their claws in Ayiti through banking and railroad institutions. Many regard the internal socio-political instability and so-called growing German influence in Ayiti as reasons prompting the 35 year United States military occupation in the region. However, it was the falsified and exaggerated testimony of American bankers to US legislators that led to United States Marines walking into the Ayitian national bank on December 17, 1914, and taking custody of Ayiti's gold reserve of about $500,000 US dollars, equivalent to over 13,000,000 US dollars in 2021, and ultimately tenanting the island from 1915-1940.

In the 1890’s, the United States was Ayiti’s largest importer of goods and by the early twentieth century the United States was Ayiti’s largest trade partner. In 1909, the National City Bank of New York became very interested in internationalizing its services, and saw Ayiti as a vessel for such burgeoning business. Since the inception of this banking institution, City Bank had always had close inner workings with the government, it was founded in 1812 as a state-chartered institution in New York City. Its long list of historical directors and appointees were either capitalist who acquired their wealth and prestige through direct ties to the slave trade, or former government officials involved in US expansionist/imperalist policy. In its early years National City Bank had very intimate connections with some of America’s largest industries such as: Union Pacific Railroad, Standard Oil, and Amalgamated Copper. It should be of no surprise that National City Bank is renowned as the primary United States banking subsidiary. After several independent attempts at internationalizing their services failed, National City Bank joined forces with the State Department with objectives of “ developing the United States’ presence in international banking”. Starting in South America and then the Caribbean, City Bank established several foreign banks including: Banco de la Habana and the Banque Nationale de la République d’Haïti. Frank A. Vanderlip, former journalist and ex-Assistant Secretary of the United States Treasury Department, became president of National City Bank in 1909, and that same year accepted a business offer from Speyer & Company which involved buying bonds of the National Railroad of Haiti. Along with the purchase of the National Railroad of Haiti, National City bank also acquired stocks in a dock company that had a monopoly on imports in Port-au-Prince, the capital of Ayiti, and all of the company’s surroundings.

Gaining control of integral public institutions in Ayiti, allowed these private American companies to extort the Ayitian government and soon gain control over the country’s finances. In 1910 Vanderlip in a letter to the Chairman of the Bank, James Stillman, wrote “this stock will give us a foothold [in Haiti]”, and described how he intended for the company to “undertake the reorganization of the Government’s currency system”. President William Taft, pursuing dollar diplomacy, and the State Department gave clearance to a group of American businessmen to gain a position of power within the country’s national bank between the years 1910 and 1911. The cohort was spearheaded by the National City Bank of New York. Once again, as a force of repression the United States sought entry into the ill treatment of Ayiti rather than the eradication of it. The United States sought a position of power at the National Bank of Haiti, which was a French financial institution set up to oversee the nation’s payment of debt to France. This Pan-European banker alliance allowed the formation of the Bank of the Republic of Haiti, which served as the nation’s only commercial bank and the Ayitian government’s treasury. In 1914, National City Bank and BNRH began to formulate a plan to destabilize Ayiti by threatening the nation with United States intervention if they did not adhere to policy that was favorable to foreign investment. To say that capitalist interests do not, or have not, influenced American foreign policy, is to deny history and to deny the truth. Former Secretary of State William Jeggins Bryan, under the Woodrow Wilson Democratic Party Administration, looked to National City Bank managers Roger L. Farnham and John H. Allen to inform the White House on Ayitian affairs. Throughout the 1910’s, Roger Farnham, who was also the vice president of the National Bank of Haiti and president of the National Railroad of Haiti, demanded consecutive Ayitian governments to grant National City Bank control of the nation's customs, which was their only source of revenue. While extorting the Ayitian government Farnham simultaneously fed the State Department lies about the Ayitian’s inability to self-govern. When the Ayitian government refused to grant National City Bank control of their customs, recalling their achievement of national independence, an Ayitian smear campaign spearheaded by Roger Farnham called the “Farnham Plan” ensued. Farnham’s briefs on Ayiti to the State Department were racist outlandish fabrications, he is even recorded lying about a fraudulent German and French plot to take control of the port Mole Saint-Nicholas in northern Ayiti. From 1910 to 1915, American capitalists informed their government that Ayiti would not ameliorate “until such time as some stronger outside power steps in”, affirming that military intervention was necessary to protect United States economic interests. The United States invaded Ayiti on July 28, 1915, and at the height of this thirty-five-year occupation some fifteen thousand Ayitians had already died. The Ayitian people’s lives were completely disregarded, and their autonomy was strategically uprooted in America’s imperial conquest to enrich herself through dollar diplomacy.

Introduction to the Series

The first part of Ripe for Revolution: Ayiti’s Ascension Out of the Imperial Apparatus served as an introduction to the topic of US Imperialism in Ayiti. We cannot fully understand the present-day conflicts in Ayiti without connecting them to the country’s larger imperial/colonial history. In the next part of this tripartite article, I will uncover the installment of a United States backed Ayitian government and an exploitative system called Corvée, which was composed of forced unpaid labor. This system began two months after United States Marines arrived in Ayiti, in 1915. Throughout the thirty-five year United States occupation of Ayiti, Ayitians participated in organized resistance against United States Imperialism. Regarded as heroes and heroines of Ayiti, the Cacos resisted United States imperialism at the highest form, mobilizing and organizing the Ayitian exploited (peasant and working) classes against American control of their land. Labor movements birth liberation movements, and that ultimately disrupts and threatens the interests of international capitalists. So, when we see Ayitians currently engaging in anti-capitalist mass demonstrations, we understand that they are evoking their Cacos forebears and taking an uncompromising stance against imperialism. Be on the lookout for part two of this three-part series, Ripe for Revolution.

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