Fidel Castro: The lesson of Haiti

By Fidel Castro Ruz

January 14, 2010 -- Two days ago [January 12], at almost six o’clock in the evening Cuban time and when, given its geographical location, night had already fallen in Haiti, television stations began to broadcast the news that a violent earthquake -– measuring 7.3 on the Richter scale -– had severely struck Port-au-Prince. The seismic phenomenon originated from a tectonic fault located in the sea just 15 kilometres from the Haitian capital, a city where 80% of the population inhabit fragile homes built of adobe and mud.

The news continued almost without interruption for hours. There was no footage, but it was confirmed that many public buildings, hospitals, schools and more solidly constructed facilities were reported collapsed. I have read that an earthquake of the magnitude of 7.3 is equivalent to the energy released by an explosion of 400,000 tons of TNT.

Tragic descriptions were transmitted. Wounded people in the streets were crying out for medical help, surrounded by ruins under which their relatives were buried. No one, however, was able to broadcast a single image for several hours.

The news took all of us by surprise. Many of us have frequently heard about hurricanes and severe flooding in Haiti, but were not aware of the fact that this neighbouring country ran the risk of a massive earthquake. It has come to light on this occasion that 200 years ago, a massive earthquake similarly affected this city, which would have been the home of just a few thousand inhabitants at that time.

At midnight, there was still no mention of an approximate figure in terms of victims. High-ranking United Nations officials and several heads of government discussed the moving events and announced that they would send emergency brigades to help. Given that MINUSTAH (United Stabilization Mission in Haiti) troops are deployed there -– UN forces from various countries –- some defence ministers were talking about possible casualties among their personnel.

It was only yesterday morning when the sad news began to arrive of enormous human losses among the population, and even institutions such as the United Nations mentioned that some of their buildings in that country had collapsed, a word that does not say anything in itself but could mean a lot.

For hours, increasingly more traumatic news continued to arrive about the situation in this sister nation. Figures related to the number of fatal victims were discussed, which fluctuated, according to various versions, between 30,000 and 100,000. The images are devastating; it is evident that the catastrophic event has been given widespread coverage around the world, and many governments, sincerely moved by the disaster, are making efforts to cooperate according to their resources.

Why is Haiti so poor?

The tragedy has genuinely moved a significant number of people, particularly those in which that quality is innate. But perhaps very few of them have stopped to consider why Haiti is such a poor country. Why does almost 50% of its population depend on family remittances sent from abroad? Why not analyse the realities that led Haiti to its current situation and this enormous suffering as well?

The most curious aspect of this story is that no one has said a single word to recall the fact that Haiti was the first country in which 400,000 Africans, enslaved and trafficked by Europeans, rose up against 30,000 white slave masters on the sugar and coffee plantations, thus undertaking the first great social revolution in our hemisphere. Pages of insurmountable glory were written there. Napoleon's most eminent general was defeated there. Haiti is the net product of colonialism and imperialism, of more than one century of the employment of its human resources in the toughest forms of work, of military interventions and the extraction of its natural resources.

This historic oversight would not be so serious if it were not for the real fact that Haiti constitutes the disgrace of our era, in a world where the exploitation and pillage of the vast majority of the planet's inhabitants prevails.

Billions of people in Latin American, Africa and Asia are suffering similar shortages although perhaps not to such a degree as in the case of Haiti.

Situations like that of that country should not exist in any part of the planet, where tens of thousands of cities and towns abound in similar or worse conditions, by virtue of an unjust international economic and political order imposed on the world. The world population is not only threatened by natural disasters such as that of Haiti, which is a just a pallid shadow of what could take place in the planet as a result of climate change, which really was the object of ridicule, derision and deception in Copenhagen.

Real and lasting solutions needed

It is only just to say to all the countries and institutions that have lost citizens or personnel because of the natural disaster in Haiti: we do not doubt that in this case, the greatest effort will be made to save human lives and alleviate the pain of this long-suffering people. We cannot blame them for the natural phenomenon that has taken place there, even if we do not agree with the policy adopted with Haiti.

But I have to express the opinion that it is now time to look for real and lasting solutions for that sister nation.

In the field of healthcare and other areas, Cuba –- despite being a poor and blockaded country -– has been cooperating with the Haitian people for many years. Around 400 doctors and healthcare experts are offering their services free of charge to the Haitian people. Our doctors are working every day in 227 of the country’s 337 communes. On the other hand, at least 400 young Haitians have trained as doctors in our homeland. They will now work with the reinforcement brigade which traveled there yesterday to save lives in this critical situation. Thus, without any special effort being made, up to 1000 doctors and healthcare experts can be mobilised, almost all of whom are already there willing to cooperate with any other state that wishes to save the lives of the Haitian people and rehabilitate the injured.

Another significant number of young Haitians are currently studying medicine in Cuba.

We are also cooperating with the Haitian people in other areas within our reach. However, there can be no other form of cooperation worthy of being described as such than fighting in the field of ideas and political action in order to put an end to the limitless tragedy suffered by a large number of nations such as Haiti.

The head of our medical brigade reported: "The situation is difficult, but we have already started saving lives." He made that statement in a succinct message hours after his arrival yesterday in Port-au-Prince with additional medical reinforcements.

Later that night, he reported that Cuban doctors and ELAM’s Haitian graduates were being deployed throughout the country. They had already seen more than 1000 patients in Port-au-Prince, immediately establishing and putting into operation a hospital that had not collapsed and using field hospitals where necessary. They were preparing to swiftly set up other centers for emergency care.

We feel a wholesome pride for the cooperation that, in these tragic instances, Cuba doctors and young Haitian doctors who trained in Cuba are offering our brothers and sisters in Haiti!

[Fidel Castro Ruz is the former president of Cuba.]


Thanks to Tim Anderson for this ...

US Aid: Hilary Clinton calls the Haiti earthquake "biblical", while tele-evangelist Pat Robertson says the little country is "cursed" by a "pact to the devil". US southern command troops on their way - but will they do better than in Hurricane Katrina? Meantime the 344 resident Cuban health workers are treating the wounded.
'Cubans amongst the first to assist Haiti

'A terrible scene, tens of thousands of victims ... 60 members of Cuba's Henry Reeve Brigade (medical emergency group) arrived to reinforce the 300+ Cuban health workers already in Haiti. Many victims have been brought to the capital, many require surgery. Cuban doctors are working without rest to attend ... See Moreperson after person, many wounded and mutilated. The queue is unending, just like the constant arrival of people looking for medical attention. At the time of writing, Cuban doctors have treated over a thousand people in a little over 24 hours. Dozens have required surgery ...'
from Radio Cubana, 14 January 2010
'To increase help for Haiti, Obama should let U.S-Cuba cooperation take flight
Sara Stephens in the Huffington Post, 15 Jan

"[Obama's aid] efforts [in Haiti] will move faster because of an agreement with Cuba's government made public today that the United States can operate relief flights destined for Haiti over Cuban airspace.

No one should be surprised by Cuba's decision; they have a decades' long commitment to international cooperation in the face of national disasters, and our government has previously received cooperation from Havana on over-flights for weather detection and fighting hurricanes, on matters relating to security, and during disasters in Venezuela and Pakistan.

But the President should think about this: If Cuba is willing to cooperate with the United States in the air, shouldn't we cooperate with Cuba on the ground on initiatives that reflect our countries' shared interests in helping the people of Haiti? Doing so would quickly multiply the force of our efforts.

Let's not forget, Cuba is already there ...
Good will in the US towards Haiti - but can their *system* turn this into genuine assistance?

Rightwingers fail to dent US donations
By Edward Luce in Washington
Financial Times, January 15 2010 19:59

Private US aid groups on Friday said that donations for disaster relief in Haiti could break all records in spite – or perhaps partly because – of a series of discouraging comments by rightwing figures.
But remember the terrible legacy of US intervention

'Imperialist intervention and capitalism lie behind Haiti's nightmare

"Although freed from slavery, Haiti was forced by military threats to pay compensation to France of 150 million francs (the equivalent of $25 billion today) – which it did not finally finish paying until 1947.

In 1915, the US invaded Haiti to police debt repayments and to protect US firms. The troops stayed until 1934, running Haiti as a virtual colony.

The US then backed the brutal Duvalier dictatorships from 1957 on the basis that they represented a barrier against Communism.

In 1986, a massive uprising overthrew “Baby Doc” Duvalier, who fled the country. But Western interference continued.

Haitians elected Jean-Bertrand Aristide to be president after he promised land reform, better housing and improved wages but the US then backed a coup that removed him from office.

US president Bill Clinton eventually restored Aristide – but only on the condition that he implement the US neoliberal plan – which Haitians called the "plan of death."

When Aristide was slow to do his master’s will, the US conspired with Haiti’s rich to drive out Aristide again.

US and then UN troops have occupied the country ever since."
The 1991 coup and its aftermath

"In 1990, the United Nations sponsored and monitored free elections. A liberation theologian priest by the name of Aristide swept the election. The vast majority was fed up with the authoritarian right and went with the populist left. It was a grassroots movement with seventy percent of the voters backing him, claiming to be from the people, by the people. Father Aristide’s emergence as president could be characterized as a political revolution, in the sense that it attempted to change the entire system and reverse the status quo. The military had been, for once, sidelined in politics. The priest turned politician spoke of redistribution of wealth, social equity, workers rights, eradication of poverty and against foreign domination, issues that had long plagued the Caribbean island for decades. In return, the left wing leader was condemned by the Vatican, revoked of the priesthood, and labeled a Marxist priest by Washington.

Nine months into his term the democratically elected president was overthrown in a coup d’etat carried out by the military but sponsored by the Haitian elite and the US government. Communities of Haitians throughout the world rejected the idea of military rule, and organized a massive campaign demanding the return of President Aristide. Human right activists, liberals in the American Congress, the international community, and others who were just genuinely concerned, echoed their pleas. That the US covertly operated behind the scenes to topple a government had become apparent and obvious to many. It had become simply unacceptable and the US was cornered into deploying troops to reinstate Aristide back in power in 1994. This was the first time in history such an act had occurred.
The 2004 coup - the Bush gang at work

"Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide told Democracy Now! that Aristide says he was “kidnapped” and taken by force to the Central African Republic. Congressmember Maxine Waters said she received a call from Aristide at 9am EST. “He’s surrounded by military. It’s like he is in jail, he said. He says he was kidnapped,” said Waters. She said he had been threatened by what he called US diplomats. According to Waters, the diplomats reportedly told the Haitian president that if he did not leave Haiti, paramilitary leader Guy Philippe would storm the palace and Aristide would be killed. According to Waters, Aristide was told by the US that they were withdrawing Aristide’s US security."

"What happened in Haiti [in 2004] was a coup d'état, and it's almost funny to hear Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell and Scott McClellan call that claim "absurd" and "nonsense." The coup didn't come in one fell strike, which fact camouflaged it for a time; we're used to a coup being a coup--which means a cut or blow in French--something sudden. But the coup against Aristide, and by extension against the Haitian people, was prolonged, a chronic coup.
Further reading on Haiti's recent history


Published on Friday, January 15, 2010 by

Cuba is Missing... From US Reports on the International Response to Haiti's

by Dave Lindorff

There are only two US media outlets that have reported on Cuba's response to the
deadly 7.0 earthquake that hit Haiti. One was Fox News, which claimed, wrongly,
that the Cubans were absent from the list of neighboring Caribbean countries
providing aid. The other was the Christian Science Monitor (a respected news
organization that recently shut down its print edition), which reported
correctly that Cuba had dispatched 30 doctors to the stricken nation.

The Christian Science Monitor, in a second article, quoted Laurence Korb, former
assistant secretary of defense and now based at the Center for American
Progress, as saying that the US, which is leading the relief efforts in Haiti,
should "consider tapping the expertise of neighboring Cuba", which he noted,
"has some of the best doctors in the world--we should see about flying them

As for the rest of the US media, they have simply ignored Cuba's role and

In fact, left unmentioned is the reality that Cuba already had over 400 doctors
posted to Haiti to help with the day-to-day health needs of this poorest nation
in the Americas, and that those doctors were the first to respond to the
disaster, setting up a hospital right next to the main hospital in
Port-au-Prince which collapsed in the earthquake.

Far from "doing nothing" about the disaster as the right-wing propagandists
at Fox-TV were claiming, Cuba has been one of the most effective and critical
responders to the crisis, because it had set up a medical infrastructure before
the quake, which was able to mobilize quickly and start treating the victims.

The American emergency response, predictably, has focused primarily, at least
in terms of personnel and money, on sending the hugely costly and inefficient US
military -- a fleet of aircraft and an aircraft carrier -- a factor that should be
considered when examining that $100 million figure the Obama administration
claims is being allocated to emergency aid to Haiti. Considering that the cost
of operating an aircraft carrier, including crew, is roughly $2 million a day,
just sending a carrier to Port-au-Prince for two weeks accounts for a quarter of
the announced American aid effort, and while many of the military personnel sent
there will certainly be doing actual aid work, delivering supplies and guarding
supplies, many, given America's long history of brutal military/colonial
control of Haiti, will inevitably be spending their time ensuring continued
survival and control of the parasitic pro-US political elite in Haiti.

Otherwise, the US has basically ignored the ongoing day-to-day human crisis in
Haiti, while Cuba has been doing the yeoman work of providing basic health care.

But that's not a story that the American corporate media want to tell.

[Dave Lindorff is a Philadelphia-based journalist and columnist. He is author of
Marketplace Medicine: The Rise of the For-Profit Hospital Chains (BantamBooks,
1992), and his latest book The Case for Impeachment (St. Martin's Press,
2006). His work is available at]


Source: Crooked Timber (Blog) (1-15-10)

[By Scott McLemee, essayist and critic. His reviews, essays, and interviews have appeared in The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, the Nation, Newsday, Bookforum, the Common Review, and numerous other publications. In 2004, he received the Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing from the National Book Critics Circle.]

One hesitates to refer to the rational kernel in any statement coming from Pat Robertson, of course. But his recent venture into explaining the earthquake in Haiti does contain a small, heavily distorted, yet recognizable fragment of historical reality.

That kernel has passed through his system without giving him any nourishment, but I’ll try to pluck it out of all the batshit craziness.

C.L.R. James wrote The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution (1938) after about ten years of research, having been inspired, it seems, by a condescending biography of Toussaint that irritated him so much that he decided he needed to do something better. About halfway through the process, he discovered Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution. I won’t go into all the consequences now (it is among the topics discussed here) except to note that reading Trotsky had a big effect on his own effort to write revolutionary history.

The first three chapters of Jacobins analyze the economy, social hierarchy, and governance of the island, situating the slave system in the context of global capitalist accumulation. This tracks pretty closely to how Trotsky begins. Then we come to chapter four, “The San Domingo Masses Begin,” with its distinctive twist on the question of how to characterize the class position of the slaves:

The slaves worked on the land, and, like revolutionary peasants everywhere, they aimed at the extermination of their oppressors. But working and living together in gangs of hundreds on the huge sugar-factories which covered the North Plain, they were closer to a modern proletariat than any group of workers in existence at the time, and the rising was, therefore, a thoroughly prepared and organised mass movement. By hard experience they had learnt that isolated efforts were doomed to failure, and in the early months of 1791 in and around Le Cap they were organising for revolution.

This is interesting as an example of what Trotsky had called combined and uneven development. But in the interest of topicality, let’s get instead to the bee buzzing in the fundamentalist bonnet:

Voodoo was the medium of the conspiracy. In spite of all prohibitions, the slaves travelled miles to sing and dance and practice the rites and talk; and now, since the revolution [in France], to hear the political news and make their plans. Boukman, a Papaloi or High Priest, a gigantic Negro, was the leader. He was the headman of a plantation and followed the political situation both among the whites and among the Mulattoes.
James had provided, in earlier chapters, an analysis of the gradations of Haitian society along the color line. This plays itself out in complex ways throughout the rest of the book. What matters at this point in the narrative, however, is that the people at the very bottom of the structure have both a medium to communicate amongst themselves and a leadership willing to seize the moment:
Carrying torches to light their way, the leaders of the revolt met in an open space in the thick forests of the Morne Rouge, a mountainside overlooking Le Cap. There Boukman gave the last instructions and, after Voodoo incantations and the sucking of the blood of a stuck pig, he stimulated his followers by a prayer spoken in creole which, like so much spoken on such occasions, has remained. “The god who created the sun which gives us light, who rouses the waves and rules the storm, though hidden in the clouds, he watches us. He sees all that the white man does. The god of the white man inspires him with crime, but our god calls upon us to do good works. Our god who is good to us orders us to revenge our wrongs. He will direct our arms and aid us. Throw away the symbol of the god of the whites who has so often caused us to weep, and listen to the voice of liberty, which speaks in the hearts of us all.” The symbol of the god of the whites was the cross which, as good Catholics, they wore around their necks.
Naturally this god—like any of the loas presumably also invoked before the uprising began—would not count as a “devil” in the eyes of the believers. But then you can’t exactly expect Rev. Pat to be that interested in the nuances of Voodoo theology.

After the uprising began, Boukmon was captured and executed—his head mounted in public with a placard explaining that he was the chief of the rebels. But it was too late. Leadership passed to Toussaint.

Rather than discuss the later phases of the revolution, let me just recommend that anyone who has not done so yet read the book. I’ll end with a passage assessing the initial phase of the revolt, in the aftermath of this torchlit meeting on the mountainside:

The slaves destroyed tirelessly. Like the peasants in the Jacqueries or the Luddite wreckers, they were seeking their salvation in the most obvious way, the destruction of what they knew was the cause of their sufferings; and if they destroyed much it was because they suffered much. They knew that as long as these plantations stood their lot would be to labour on them until they dropped. The only thing was the destroy them. From their masters they had known rape, torture, degradation, and, at the slightest provocation, death. They returned in kind. For two centuries the higher civilization had shown them that power was used for wreaking your will on those whom you controlled. Now that they held power, they did as they were taught…Yet in all the records of that time there is no single instance of such fiendish tortures as burying white men up to the neck and smearing the holes in their faces to attract insects, or blowing them up with gun-powder, or any of the thousand and one bestialities to which they had been subjected. Compared with what their masters had done to them in cold blood, what they did was negligable, and they were spurred on by the ferocity with which the whites in Le Cap treated all slave prisoners who fell into their hands.
Shortly after The Black Jacobins appeared, James wrote a sort of overview or summary essay that Paul LeBlanc and I reprinted in C.L.R. James and Revolutionary Marxism. It also available online, although without all the other material that made our book such a pleasure to His Satanic Majesty.

Thank you for posting this. I learned a tremendous amount (I've watched hours of CNN and its amazing how little information is being conveyed by this so-called "news channels"). Was completely unaware of Haiti's revolutionary history. Will be checking out books in the library on this topic very soon - Julia