It Ended in a Whimper 504 Days Later…
Two hundred ten (210) years ago, Slaves and Freedmen who fought against France’s grip on the colony of Saint-Domingue and defeated its troops in a military campaign worthy of the most epic battles in recorded history seceded from the Empire and declared their independence. Haiti was born on January 1, 1804. Three paragraphs consecrated the Haitian military leaders’ resolve to turn their backs to France, and to fight to their last breath for independence under the leadership of their supreme military leader Jean-Jacques Dessalines.
Dessalines’ speech, prior to the adoption by the military leaders of the Declaration, praised the freedom fighters for their bravery and steady resolve during the hard-fought battles. Yet he also warned that dissent would not be tolerated:
“If you would reject or receive under your breath the laws dictated to me for your welfare by the genius that watches over your future, you would deserve the fate of an ungrateful people.” (Et toi, peuple trop longtemps infortuné… si jamais tu refusais ou recevais en murmurant les lois que le génie qui veille à tes destinées me dictera pour ton bonheur, tu mériterais le sort des peuples ingrats.)
The first Haitian Constitution was adopted 504 days later on May 20, 1805; it buried the anti-slavery struggle which had made the tenets of democracy — freedom, equality and brotherhood — its clarion call under a set of laws that elevated one-man rule, buried freedom, equality and brotherhood, and launched the neo-slavery nation that Haiti carries in its womb through today…
1. Haiti became an empire (Art. 1) and Dessalines its emperor, its supreme leader.
2. Haitians lost citizenship rights when they emigrated and took on another nationality. Since this was considered treason, they were condemned to death and their property confiscated (Art. 7) — (The genesis of Haiti’s love-hate relationship with its Diaspora? A classic François Duvalier policy, certainly!)
3. All Haitians, regardless of the color of their skin were to be known as blacks... “Blan” became synonymous with foreigner, regardless of the skin color. (Art. 14)
4. The Emperor had the right to name his successor… he could elevate a son or another to the throne before or after his death… (Art. 26)
5. All Haitians were subject to military service… the sons of the emperor had to earn their stripes just like others in the military, except they would get a head start from birth, enrolled in the 4th half-brigade. (Art. 25)
6. The Emperor drafts, signs and publishes all laws, names and fires at will Ministers, the Army Chief, Counselors, Generals and other officers of the Empire, members of local administrations, government prosecutors, judges and other civil service personnel (Art. 30).
7. Should there be a conspiracy against the State, the Constitution or himself, the Emperor will immediately arrest these conspirators and their accomplices who will be tried in a Special Court. (Art. 34)
Dessalines was overthrown and killed a little more than a year later on October 17, 1806. Three Generals fought over the spoils: Alexandre Pétion, Henri Christophe, André Rigaud… Each figured they knew better than the other… Each ruled more or less with an iron hand… Haiti survived but democracy was still-born… the neo-colony lives on within democratic trappings free of its substance…
Today’s headlines read as follows: The President appoints and fires at will mayors and heads of local administrations… The president imposes a tax on money transfers and international phone calls but remains unaccountable… no one is certain whether elections that were to be held two years ago will be held in 2014… Opposition factions call for the overthrow of the President before the end of his 5-year term of office… non-citizenship rights are the norm rather than the exception… the vestiges of slavery live on through the restavèk arrangements… A stable government and the rule of law remain but a dream deferred… Haiti is living off international assistance… Its people remain mostly functionally illiterate… their salvation is found abroad and as a result they are deemed to have committed high treason in spirit… though the extreme need for hard currency through cash transfers keeps the rhetoric of brotherhood across borders alive and well…