Friday, January 29, 2010

Howard Zinn (1922-2010)

The historian who taught us what history ought to be about has passed away. But, among so much else, he left us this Daily Show interview:

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Saturday, January 16, 2010

A couple more things about Haiti

In an article on Common Dreams, David Lindorf tells us that FOX "News," that continually self-exploding piñata filled with whatever its denizens can dream up to support their fantasy world, has done it again. According to Lindorf, FOX had reported that nearby Cuba is doing nothing to help the Haitians in the aftermath of the earthquake. And of course, as with most things FOX-related, it was not true.
There were 300-400 Cuban doctors and other health workers in Haiti, doing the job the US is mostly AWOL from of providing ongoing health care to Haitian people. Another article, this time on Granma Digital, puts the count at 344 while yet another at Granma lets us know that there were only two injured, none seriously.

From what I can garner by checking out Foxs News online, they are now reporting more accurately and even mentioning the Cuban medical teams that were already working in Haiti. But now I have to go take a shower... 

Meanwhile, in "Haitian Earthquake: Made in the USA," Ted Rall makes the important point that while the earthquake itself was a natural disaster, the devastation, injury, and death it caused in Haiti were not. Instead:
Earthquakes are random events. How many people they kill is predetermined. In Haiti this week, don't blame tectonic plates. Ninety-nine percent of the death toll is attributable to poverty.
Poverty caused, as Rall points out and as any scholar of Caribbean history can verify, by decades, even centuries, of abusive treatment on the part of imperial powers, in particular France and the US. France began it in 1825 by extorting what today would be 21.7 billion dollars ransom from Haiti in return for normalized relations, a sum the Haitians needed nearly a century to pay off.  The US picked up the torch and carried it farther than any nation based on humanitarian, moral values could have:
The story begins in 1910, when a U.S. State Department-National City Bank of New York (now called Citibank) consortium bought the Banque National d'Haïti--Haiti's only commercial bank and its national treasury--in effect transferring Haiti's debts to the Americans. Five years later, President Woodrow Wilson ordered troops to occupy the country in order to keep tabs on "our" investment.

From 1915 to 1934, the U.S. Marines imposed harsh military occupation, murdered Haitians patriots and diverted 40 percent of Haiti's gross domestic product to U.S. bankers. Haitians were banned from government jobs. Ambitious Haitians were shunted into the puppet military, setting the stage for a half-century of U.S.-backed military dictatorship.

The U.S. kept control of Haiti's finances until 1947.
Of course, it didn't end there. The US has continued to treat Haiti as, essentially, a stockyard for cheap labor for factories where people work, for less than a dollar an hour, assembling baseballs, brassieres, and so on (how earthquake-proof can you build your house when you're making less than a dollar an hour?).  And, to ensure the docility of the workforce, a parade of dictators pledged to keep their people in line and out of unions is supported by the CIA. When Haitians finally elect a leader who tries to stand up to Big Brother, the CIA has him removed. He is returned under international pressure, but then removed again, this time literally taken from his home in the middle of the night by US Marines and flown out of the country.

The Most Important Lesson: Haiti is not a natural disaster. It is, and has been, exactly what the US corporate elite have wanted all along, ever since 1910.  And it's what Cuba would have been, if the US had had its way.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Meet the devil!

From what I've been able to piece together, this is probably the "devil" that Pat Robertson and other hyperchristianists are referring to when they talk about Haitians having made a "pact with the devil" to help win their freedom from France. That's right: the "devil" is the Catholic St. George.

Wade Davis (Passage of Darkness: The Ethnobiology of the Haitian Zombie, University of North Carolina Press 1988, pp 225-226), describes the event this way:
The historic gathering was invoked by the maroon leader Boukman Dutty and was held on a secluded knoll at Bois Caiman near Morne-Rouge on the night of 14 August 1791 (Bastien 1966). An old woman possessed by Ogoun, the god of fire and metallurgical elements, drew a cutlass and sacrificed a pig. The leaders of the revolt were named—Boukman himself, Jean François, Biassou, and Jeannot—and one by one the hundreds of slaves present swore allegiance
My conclusion: the “pact with the devil” thing is the ethnocentric interpretation by Christian outsiders of a Vodoun ceremony. Vodoun is a syncretic religion that fuses West African beliefs and behaviors with Catholic ones. But of course, these Hyperchristians, past and present, take any deviation from their version of “religion” to be paganism, devil-worship, etc. The irony is that the lwa Ogoun’s iconic image (the painting is borrowed from a Vodoun web site) is that of St. George, the dragon-slayer; it makes sense that this would be one of the lwa called forth at a ceremony in which people were preparing for war.

[Update Jan 16 2009]

Other sources, including the Sage Encyclopedia of African Religion (vol 1, p 262) suggest that the lwa that possessed the old manbo at Bois Caiman in 1791 was Ezili Dantò. She is the country cousin of Ezili Freda, and she is, apparently, pretty feisty: a good source of support for a revolution. Her icon image is on the right. She also has a web site at the American Museum of Natural History.

The same source also identifies the old woman who was possessed as Cécile Fatiman.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

M pa pi mal

Haitians, especially rural, traditional Haitians, tend to answer the question "how are you" (ki jan ou ye?) with one of several one might say guardedly pessimistic responses. One is m la, literally 'I am present.' Another is m ap kenbe, "I'm hanging on." Still another is m pa pi mal, 'I'm no worse.' Answering too positively by saying, for example, m byen (I'm well) might be tempting fate; better to stay below the radar.

Haitians have good reason to prefer guarded pessimism. Their society was founded as a French exploitation colony dedicated to producing wealth for France with the use of involuntary migrant labor from Africa- slaves. And produce they did. In 1789, just before the Revolution, Haiti accounted for one-third of France's overseas trade and two-thirds of France's tropical produce. And then, inspired, ironically enough, by the American and French revolutions, and led by military geniuses like Tousent Louvèti, the African slaves overthrew their masters, defeated Napoleon's army, and took over their country. They returned to it the name its Amerindian inhabitants had called it: Ayiti. They ripped the white stripe from the French tricolor to create a new flag, and set about building a new nation.

But then, things pretty much started going south. The US declined to recognize the new republic, fearing that their own slaves might get ideas (the US did finally recognize Haiti during Lincoln's administration). The French demanded reparations for their losses in exchange for recognition and the Haitians, backs against the wall, agreed: a bizarre case of the defeated side dictating the terms of disengagement. Haiti took almost a century to comply with this extortion, handing over to France a total of over 20 billion dollars in today's money, 20 billion dollars that France has been asked to return, but, well, you know...

The list goes depressingly on and on: 19 years (1915-1934) of occupation by virulently racist US military personnel; years of abuse under the kleptocratic regime of "Papa Doc" Duvalier and later his son, "Baby Doc"; the US-supported removal, not once but twice, of elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the second removal actually carried out by US Marines; more kleptocrats; the US-ordered slaughter of all Haitian pigs; the ongoing dysfunction of an educational system reluctant to allow Kreyòl, the language of everybody, as a medium for teaching; and so, and on.

And these are the human-caused disasters. Let's not forget the malaria, the hurricanes (a word that comes to us from Haiti's original inhabitants), and now, the Earthquake.

And on top of all of this, Haitians have to endure commentary by abysmally ignorant, racist loons like Pat Robertson:
Something happened a long time ago in Haiti and people might not want to talk about it. They were under the heel of the French. Napoleon the Third and whatever. And they got together and swore a pact to the devil...But ever since, they have been cursed by one thing after the other.
And from Rush Limbaugh, this:
Yes, I think in the Haiti earthquake, ladies and gentlemen -- in the words of Rahm Emanuel -- we have another crisis simply too good to waste. This will play right into Obama's hands. He's humanitarian, compassionate. They'll use this to burnish their, shall we say, 'credibility' with the black community -- in the both light-skinned and dark-skinned black community in this country. It's made-to-order for them. That's why he couldn't wait to get out there, could not wait to get out there.
Limbaugh, of course, is just an idiot. Robertson is worse, perhaps: a mendacious kleptomaniac fraud who extracts money from easily-manipulated people who think they're buying their way into heaven. His remark reflects the racist, ethnocentric attitudes those occupying US forces brought back from Haiti in the 1920s and 30s. If he were a functioning human being, he would be ashamed of himself.

M pa pi mal, indeed.