From Wed Jan 7 13:45:11 2004
Date: Wed, 7 Jan 2004 11:59:38 -0600 (CST)
From: Bob Corbett <>
To: Haiti mailing list <>
Subject: 17622: This Week in Haiti 21:42 12/30/2003 (fwd)

To rebel is justified: Cuba, Haiti and John Brown

First of two articles. By Sara Flounders, Haiti Progres, Vol. 21 no. 42, 30 December 2003 - 5 January 2004

Haiti’s bicentennial is finally upon us. January 1, 2004 is being marked by official celebrations... and marred by the continued war of former slave-owning powers against the descendants of Haiti’s liberators. Haiti’s propertied classes and their agents, rather than show solidarity with their compatriots, are siding with the formerly slave-owning and colonialist powers in an effort to destabilize and overthrow Haiti’s popularly elected government. It is but one more episode in two century’s of punishment that the U.S. and Europe have inflicted on Haiti for its vanguard role in the Americas.

But the roots of Haitian resistance run deep. They are traced in a new book, Haiti: A Slave Revolution, co-published by the Haiti Support Network (HSN) and the International Action Center (IAC). We present here, in the first of two installments, a chapter from that book, which traces the effects of Haiti’s revolution on the U.S. and the echo the U.S. abolitionist movement had in Haiti. The author, one of the book’s editors, is also a co-director of the IAC. Footnotes have been omitted.

Why is the main boulevard in Port-au-Prince named for John Brown?

Revolutionary ideas carry across vast miles and through centuries. Those resisting brutal oppression draw inspiration both from living struggles and from historic examples.

Just as Cuba is today considered liberated territory by so many of the world’s peoples, who live in societies of enormous racism and repression, Haiti in the 19th century shone as an example and a beacon of hope. It was the only liberated territory—in a region where chattel slavery was still the dominant social relation.

Today, although Cuba lacks rich natural resources or great military capability, its very existence continues to be seen as a threat to U.S. imperialism. The blockade and the threats have continued through Republican and Democratic administrations. Cuba’s survival for 43 years is a challenge to total U.S. domination of Latin America and of the globe. Two hundred years ago this is how revolutionary Haiti was viewed.

The many U.S. efforts to overthrow the Cuban revolution through economic sabotage, blockade, sanctions, and encirclement, military aid for invasions, efforts to capture or assassinate Fidel Castro and other Cuban leaders are well documented.

All of these same tactics were used against the Haitian revolution in an age when Haiti had no allies and survived in extreme isolation. The slave owning President Thomas Jefferson imposed sanctions on Haiti in 1804 that lasted until 1862. These decades of sanctions cut Haiti off from the world and even from the rest of the Caribbean. Every ship that docked from a European country or from the U.S. could be an invasion or carry new demands for onerous concessions. Without normal trade or economic relations, the Haitian economy contracted and withered. But the very fact that Haiti survived was a challenge and the nightmare of every slave master—especially in the U.S. slave South.

In this epoch Cuba at great sacrifice has politically and often materially aided the struggle for liberation by giving safe haven to political prisoners and resistance fighters while providing thousands of doctors, technicians and soldiers throughout Africa and Latin America.

Haiti, although ravaged by years of war and sanctions, played a vital role in the liberation of all of Latin America from Spanish colonial rule. Ships, soldiers, guns and provisions from their meager supplies were provided to the Great Liberator—Simon Bolivar—in the hour of his most desperate need.

Brutal class rule survives by ensuring that there is no alternative. The ruling class of every age well understands that ideas and example are enormously powerful. Nothing is more dangerous than success. It is their doom—staring at them.

A living example of how connected revolutionary Haiti was to the abolitionist movement in the U.S. and how Haitians viewed the struggle against slavery in the U.S. can be seen in how the raid at Harpers Ferry in 1859 and the execution of John Brown and his co-conspirators were viewed in Haiti.

The bold attempt of John Brown to seize the arsenal and armory at Harpers Ferry was not much different in planning or in its disastrous outcome than Fidel Castro’s bold attack on the Moncada armory 50 years ago. Both leaders had hoped that their action would trigger an insurrection. Both defiantly used their trial as a public forum to put the system itself on trial.

While the slave owners branded John Brown a lunatic and a madman for the armed raid of the Federal Armory, the bold effort to end slavery through armed resistance and through Black and white participation had impassioned interest in Haiti.

The Haitian French language newspapers, Le Progresse and Feuille de Commerce, were filled with commentary on Harpers Ferry and on the trial and execution of John Brown and the other participants in the raid at Harpers Ferry, reflecting the interconnection between the struggle of enslaved people for freedom in Haiti and in the United States.

The slave master of the U.S. had reason to fear the revolutionary example of Haiti. Haiti was not an isolated uprising of slaves. It was a living reality—whenever there was opportunity and capacity. Constant armed slave rebellions were attempted in the slave states of the U.S. south. Gabriel Prosser (1800), Denmark Vesey (1822) and Nat Turner (1831) led rebellions involving thousands of slaves. An entire military machine of militias, patrols, guards and slave catchers, using the most brutal forms of torture, was created in an effort to stop the conspiracies, uprisings and escapes.

The fervor to abolish slavery through the first half of the 19th century was a surging political movement. Abolitionists in New England organized huge rallies of tens of thousands and held international conferences. They built an underground network to give escaping slaves safe passage. Harriet Tubman, an escaped slave herself, lead more than 300 enslaved people to freedom. Hundreds of safe houses were maintained. Black and white abolitionist broke into jails and attacked federal marshals to free escaped slaves to prevent their forced return south.

To be continued