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Lessons to learn and practices to unlearn from Haiti and its revolution


Published: Jul 17, 2013

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The small Republic of Haiti has given three important lessons to the entire world.

Two centuries ago, it taught the world that taking arms to defend the dignity of all human beings irrespective of their skin color is invaluable. Haiti sets out the motto that, “The right to equality is the right of all human beings to be equal in dignity, to be treated with respect and to participate in an equal basis with others in all perimeters of economic, social, political, cultural and civil life.”

After some 300 years of the world order of slavery imposed upon the black man, Haiti succeeded in 1804 in forcing the liberation of the slaves, opening the doors to the liberation of slaves in Latin America in 1825 and the black emancipation in the United States in 1863.

One generation ago, on February 7, 1986, Haiti again was first to teach the world that dictatorship could be dismantled with people power. It forced Jean Claude Duvalier, the dictator who, along with his father, ruled Haiti ruthlessly for 33 years, to depart in the middle of the night to exile in France. The model has been followed by the Philippines to kick out Marcos, by Poland and countless other countries including, recently, the Arab nations under the spring upheaval or the Lavender Revolution.

Last but not least, Haiti was first again to teach the world that radicalism in power could also be dismantled through people power. It forced Jean Bertrand Aristide to leave the country for Africa on February 29, 2004, for stirring violence amongst the civilian population.

We are seeing today people power in action in Egypt, where millions of Egyptians forced the army to step in to remove the current president Mohamed Morsi, under the charge that his radicalism fosters national disunity amongst its people.

It is the story of Haiti repeated all over again when, in the same circumstances, some nine years ago the country forced President Jean Bertrand Aristide to leave Haiti because he was fostering internal strife and civil warfare amongst the have and the have-nots.

While the world should learn from Haiti the bravura of its gallant people in dismantling slavery, dictatorship and radicalism, it should also unlearn from Haiti the detested practice of not promoting national reconciliation at the end of the revolutionary period. Soon after the proclamation of the first black republic in the Western Hemisphere, its general president ordered the elimination of all the previously white colonists. Haiti never recovered from that policy.

In 1986, after the forced departure of the dictator Duvalier, the Haitian Constitution enshrined a ban of 20 years against the zealous Duvalier partisans. Haiti is still suffering from the convulsion of that period. And last but not least, after the departure of Aristide, it did not promote nor did it implement social welfare and wealth creation for the wretched of the land. As such, to this day the ghost of a so-called benevolent Aristide is still lingering around amongst the masses.

The lesson is clear and simple. Peace, harmony and prosperity in a nation depend on whether the opposing factions are willing to break bread together, to forget the past and to build the future together. This policy practice is not promoted by the human rights organizations or by the United Nations that insisted on the primacy of justice over the primacy of reconciliation, pardon and love for each other.

History has proven that justice has never occurred even in the best circumstances. The International Court of Justice has few success stories on its roster; as such one should concentrate on fostering national reconciliation as the best chosen path to democracy.

Haiti under Toussaint Louverture was the model that the entire world wanted to emulate. John Adams, the second president of the United States, was so enamored of the First of the Blacks that he was openly helping him to become emperor of Haiti then St. Domingue. Louverture, after defeating first Spain, then England and last the French, established the seedling of a nation where white and blacks would share the vision of a common destiny.

The defeat of John Adams in his quest for re-election in 1800 in the United States thwarted the Haitian experience and changed the course of history not only for Haiti but also for the entire humanity. Napoleon and his egomaniac ambition to conquer the world found a fertile ally in Thomas Jefferson, who won the American presidency over John Adams.

Two hundred years later, the Napoleon doctrine of striking first and worrying about the consequences later is the preferred law in this world. Little funding is earmarked for promoting national reconciliation, whether the funds would come from the United Nations, the United States or the European Union. Billions are being spent in the name of political stabilization but with zero funding earmarked for conflict resolution, negotiation and nation building.

The initial lesson from Haiti is very telling. The concept of human rights must include all the citizens of the same nation aspiring to dignity and participating in all aspects of social, economical and political life of the country. It is also the duty of the citizens to butt out all dictators and radicals, whether they are of the stuff of Attila the Hun, or Hitler or Morsi.

The lesson to unlearn from Haiti is that reconciliation must take place immediately after the departure of the dictator or the radical leader. There should be no reprisals and the moving party in promoting peace and reconciliation must be the winner of the revolution. Abraham Lincoln showed the way after the Civil War in proclaiming what Frederick Douglas called the second sermon on the mount: “With malice toward none, with charity for all” we shall reconstruct this land. This spirit of respect is the best way in any age to foster reconciliation through open and healing intercourse.

From now on, the business of peace and reconciliation is too grave and too important to leave only to the governments. The learned citizens of the world must devise ways to offer to governments and to the opposing factions the necessary tools and funds and expertise to come to the negotiation table. The unfolding story in Egypt can become another imbroglio as it was in Haiti, where peace and prosperity did not take place even after some 30 years after the last uprising; or it can become a soothing lavender flower that sends its balm not only throughout the Middle East but throughout the world.

Caveat emptor, Egypt! If you do not make peace and embrace your brethren from the Muslim Brotherhood you might become the Haiti of tomorrow, with convulsion, strife and poverty for generations!


• Jean H. Charles LLB, MSW, JD is a syndicated columnist with Caribbean News Now. He can be reached at jeanhcharles@aol.com and followed for past essays at caribbeannewsnow/haiti. Published with the permission of caribbeannewsnow.com.

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