Opinions & Features July 31, 2021 at 09:00 am

Haiti and Jamaica – The deep connection that binds both countries

Winston Donald July 31, 2021 at 09:00 am

July 31, 2021 at 09:00 am | Opinions & Features

Jamaica, The One Love country, has been at the forefront as a country compassionate and ready to provide a helping hand especially in times of need and times of economic or political upheaval. For years, the Haitian Flag flew on its embassy in the Kingston and St. Andrew metropolis, and students from the prestigious British type grammar schools where French is taught religiously make the trek to Haiti as they attempt to practice the French language and explore the French-creole culture of a sister and neighboring Caribbean country.

Haiti, the Caribbean peninsula and sister nation of the twin island known as Hispaniola is in the news recently and again for the wrong reasons — the assassination of its President Mr. Jovenel Moise.

There are some Caribbean countries such as the Bahamas and the Dominican Republic which have a terrible history of poor relations and particularly physical maltreatment of Haitian immigrants. Not so Jamaica, the island state of One Love, my island has had a warm and serious historical connection and welcoming arms towards Haiti, despite its lack of resources.

Blood Connection

In the 17th and 18th centuries, the evil British Slave Trade and plantation economy led to an evil practice — dividing black families and weeding out rebellious slaves by shipping them off from one island to another. This includes selling them to plantation masters in the various Caribbean countries including those that were French, Spanish, and Dutch-controlled islands. Haiti was no exception as a recipient of Jamaican slaves, although on a small scale.

To date, there are people in Haiti who are obviously with Jamaican Black Blood. Such was the case of Dutty Boukman, the precursor of the Haitian revolution and a stalwart, perhaps a hero against plantation tyranny. Boukman, because of his intelligence and literary skills was sold to a French plantation owner. He was therefore exiled to Haiti but he never forgot his duty to help free his fellow black slaves held in bondage by the exploitative French slave masters. The slave masters were fearful of Boukman as they believed he would motivate and influence the slaves of Haiti to rebel and overthrow their slave masters. In fact, Boukman started a revolt which caused the death of a number of French plantation elites.

Boukman fueled the revolutionary fever motivating the suffering slaves in Haiti (then Saint Domingue) to take up arms against the French slave masters and plantocracy. He inspired the call to freedom and Independence and although he was killed by the French slave masters, his spirit lived on to influence his people in bondage to rise up against a tyrannical plantation system. And in true form, Boukman’s revolutionary zeal and achievements were continued by the great Haitian revolutionary and freedom fighter Toussaint L’Overture.   

Pre-Revolution Period in Haiti

At the onset of the revolution in Haiti in 1794, many French planters and their slaves exited Haiti for a number of countries and cities such as Nova Scotia and Arcadia in Canada; New Orleans, Louisiana; and Kingston, Jamaica. The legendary White Witch of Rose Hall was purportedly of French Haitian descent. She made lives miserable for her slaves on her near Montego Bay sugar plantation. Those who came to Jamaica also brought the skills involved in coffee plantation and established themselves in the high mountains and hills of Jamaica as coffee planters. Soon after, the  French Haitian planters in the mountain lands of Jamaica saw increased cultivation of coffee and led to Jamaica’s coffee brand being world recognized.

A significant bourgeoisie of the French Haitians who settled in Kingston became urban merchants and activists who continually harbor ill will towards the newly independent black republic. To meddle in international politics was their pastime. These now French Haitian Jamaicans with their evil intention called upon the US government to send troops to Haiti. The Americans did not send troops at that time to influence the outcome of the French Revolution but the meddling of these French families (white Haitians) continued to shape American policy and was instrumental in the Americans invading and colonizing Haiti for nineteen years beginning 1912. The descendants of the French Haitian bourgeoisie are still here prominent in business and hegemonic just like the other ethnic minorities.

The coffee industry has benefitted however from the input of the French-Haitian emigres. An interesting take which our history books have not explained was the British making life easy for them in Jamaica, knowing Britain and France had a hostile and envious relationship during the 19th century. 

Haiti and Jamaica in the Cuban War of Independence

When Cuba sought its Independence from Spain, Jamaican ex-slaves and Haitian free men living and working in Cuba were the first to respond eagerly, apart from native Cuban mulattoes and black Cubans.

Without the forces and bravery of Haitians and Jamaicans, Cuba could not have achieved its independence. Caucasian  Cuban input in the war showed a lack of determination and bravery compared to the natives. Under the black general Garvey Maceo, the mixed freedom fighters included significant numbers of Jamaicans and Haitians working in the sugar lands of eastern and central Cuba.

Of note was that Cuba won its War of Independence without significant guns and arms. The skilled use of machetes and cutlasses worked efficiently to slaughter the Spanish as any guns. Only the Jamaicans, Haitians and black Cubans could have mastered the use of machetes as arms. The skill of using the machetes/cutlasses on the sugar cane plantations and peasant farming was transformed into use as war implements and killing tools, which served effectively in the latter part of the nineteenth century, especially the Cuban War of Independence against Spain.

The Cuban War on Haitians and Jamaican residents in Eastern Cuba, The Race War of 1912

Having received their Independence with significant help from black Cubans, the Cuban mulatto and white population foolishly listened to the American state machinery and then President that state power or power-sharing with the black Cuban population would lead to the situation in Haiti where blacks dominated. With cries of disenfranchisement in the new Cuban state, some black Cubans sought to dialogue with their white Cuban citizens about sharing power, knowing their role in freeing Cuba from Spanish rule. Instead, the white Cuban power base listened to the racism of those who had disenfranchised the ex-slaves in the USA.

So devastating was the call and lies by the Americans that white Cubans and their mulatto allies took up arms against the Party of the Blacks in Cuba (Partido de Independiente de Colour de Cuba) and terrorized the black population especially in the Eastern Cuban Province of Santiago de Cuba. Called The Race War of 1912, over 2,000 black people, many of Haitian and Jamaican descent were slaughtered and their bodies mutilated. It was savagery with many black Cubans of Jamaican and Haitian descent losing their heads. Unofficial statistics placed the deaths of 6,000 black Cubans murdered viciously by the order of President Miguel Gomez.

Again, I reiterate that the onslaught on black Cubans was felt by mostly Haitians and Jamaican workers who were the majority working the sugar plantations in  Santiago province. Incidentally, most black people who were murdered were murdered by being black in color. The racist attitudes and attacks by the white Cubans terrorized the black population during the war. The heads of many black innocent victims were cut off and placed on spikes. This was in a modern period, not the dark ages or the seventeenth century. Haitians and Jamaicans were most of the targets of this racist war.

Today, despite the benefits such as education and health, the racism of white Cubans continues despite a Communist regime whose ethos is egalitarianism. I can add that no black face is in the Cuban national media nor national dramatic arts today. Black Cubans have to develop their own dramatic groups, there is no Black Cuban ballerina and only one prominent black Communist ruling class executive.

Haiti under Papa Doc Duvalier – Flight of the Entrepreneurial Class to Jamaica

In the 1960s, Haiti’s strongman, Vodou Practitioner and President for life nearly destroyed the social and economic life of Haitians. Papa Doc Duvalier was an evil and corrupt President who oversaw the destruction of families and murder of thousands of citizens at the hand of his henchmen — the feared Tonton Macoutes, otherwise called the Mongoose men. 

Papa Doc had a hatred for the mulatto bourgeoisie who he relentlessly pursued, accusing them of being collaborators of 19 years of American occupation where Haiti’s finances and security exempt native Haitians in favor of the US Marines. However, Papa Doc became so paranoid he went after his black intellectuals and emergent black entrepreneurs. The murders, disappearances and atrocities by the Mongoose men led to another flight of Haitians. Jamaica was privileged to get some of those black intellectuals and entrepreneurs. In fact, Jamaica’s nascent plastic industry was transformed by Haitian businessmen and by the mid-sixties became a developed industry, changing the domestic utensils culture of the Jamaican masses. 

Boat People – Exodus of Poor Haitians to Jamaica during the 1990s

As if the ’80s, ’70s and ’60s were not politically and socially bad enough, the 1990s did no better for the people of Haiti. Despite the growth in tourism in the 1970s and business trips from Jamaica and other countries, the Haitian people continued to experience social, political and economic misery as Haiti became the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.

Despondent with no hope for the future, hundreds if not thousands of Haitians escaped in rickety boats to mainly the Bahamas, Florida and Jamaica.  Many did not make it as there was always frequent news of Haitian boats capsizing in the Caribbean sea, sometimes just a short distance from shore.

Unwelcome by the USA as they are seen as opposites of the Cubans in terms of refugee status, many on entering the shores of the USA were deported. Those arriving illegally in Jamaica were held in refugees centers, fed and well treated for months until the Jamaican government in discussion with the Haitian embassy found a way to repatriate them. Even with deportation, Haitians kept coming to Jamaican waters as the situation in Haiti was so tense and dangerous. Jamaica recognized, however, that many Haitians might have slipped through and are living with the local population presently.

There was a time in the 1990s when every two months the island witnessed a boat full of Haitians arriving at our North Eastern shores as geographically Haiti is north of Jamaica. While seen as problematic for those who are very pro-national, the plight of the Haitians aroused compassion and moved thousands of my Jamaican countrymen to give a lending hand and to provide for our black brothers and sisters while being processed in Jamaica.

Summing up, Jamaica has long been connected with Haiti through historical and ethnic ties. The island has also played a significant role in the modern era of Haitian society. As an island practicing One Love, Jamaica stands tall in rendering assistance to a fellow Caribbean country which has been in turmoil since the day it took up arms against the French slave masters, plantation owners and local exploitive bourgeoisie especially those who represented oppression.

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