Radical Black Reading: Summer 2013

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The New York Times’ dismissive, error-strewn obituary of Una G. Mulzac, the late proprietor of Harlem’s now-closed Liberation Books, cast her as a cantankerous crank-pot holding anachronistic political beliefs. Yet for many people, folk like Mulzac were historians, vernacular archivists, and living repositories of pan-African memory. Places like Liberation Books – alongside San Francisco’s endangered Marcus Books, Toronto’s long-shuttered Third World Books & Crafts, and a host of other stores – doubled as public libraries, informal classrooms, and sites of pilgrimage. The daughter of Hugh Mulzac, author of A Star to Steer By and a shipmate on Marcus Garvey’s Black Star Line, Mulzac was an activist in her own right and through Liberation Books, she staked a claim for bookselling as a political act. Unfortunately, it’s a claim that is losing ground as fast as independent Black bookstores have been closing. While the era of Amazon and AbeBooks has provided us with greater access to Black literature than at any time in history, one-click purchases and algorithmically-determined recommendations can never replace the intimate and independent Black public spheres created by booksellers like Mulzac and bookstores like Liberation Books. No wonder the Times’ contempt.

Given the history of Mulzac and Liberation Books, it’s appropriate that Kenyan playwright, novelist, and critic Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o peers out from behind her in the above photograph. Ngũgĩ’s classic Decolonizing the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature (James Currey) demonstrates an acute understanding of the political economy of knowledge in the colonial context while arguing that alternative languages, genres, and venues were necessary for the project of post-colonial freedom. At one point abandoning the English language to write only in Gikuyu, Ngũgĩ has returned from his self-imposed linguistic exile with a productive flourish. In 2007 he published the masterful absurdist political satire The Wizard of the Crow. He has followed it with three volumes of criticism and two installments of a memoir. The criticism revisits the terrain of Decolonizing the Mind while confirming the continued importance of its interventions in the contemporary historical context. With its title borrowed from poet Kamau Brathwaite’s Islands, Ngũgĩ’s Something Torn and New: An African Renaissance (Basic Civitas), is a wide-ranging but compact exploration of African independence, freedom, and what George Lamming has called the “sovereignty of the imagination.” Globalectics: Theory and the Politics of Knowing (Columbia) approaches questions of national identity, internationalism, and literary and cultural production within the landscape of neocolonialism and neoliberal globalization. In the Name of the Mother: Reflections on Writers and Empire (James Currey) consists of critical essays on a range of writers, from Ousmane Sembene to Tsitsi Dangarembga. In his memoirs, Dreams in a Time of War: A Childhood Memoir (Random House) and In the House of the Interpreter: A Memoir (Random House), Ngũgĩ provides readers with a personal account of the experiences and transformations that led to the critical turns of his intellectual and political development.

The publication of Ngũgĩ’s memoirs has been complemented by the recent release (and in one case, re-release) of a number of biographies of major figures of anti-colonial struggle within the African diaspora. In the exceptional Eslanda: The Large Unconventional Life of Mrs Paul Robeson (Yale), historian Barbara Ranbsy has brought Elsanda Goode Robeson out from the shadows of her often-over shadowed husband. Eslanda Robeson was tirelessly committed to women’s liberation, anti-racism, and anti-colonialism. She was also a journalist and an anthropologist who trained with Bronislaw Malinowski and wrote the neglected monograph African Journey in 1941. Rambsy recounts Robeson’s intellectual and political career – including her unflinching testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee – while reconstructing the complex contours of her longstanding and unconventional relationship with Mr. Robeson. It’s an engaging history of Black politics – and of Black love. The late David Macey’s comprehensive, unsurpassed, and unsentimental Frantz Fanon: A Biography, first published in 2000, has been updated and re-issued by Verso. Macey, who remembers buying his first copies of Fanon at Francois Maspero’s La Joie de lire bookstore in Paris (which he describes as “as much a library as a bookshop”) recovers Fanon from those who dismiss him as an angry apostle of anti-colonial violence – or embrace him simply as a silly postcolonial theorist. He also claims the contemporary relevance of Fanon in Algeria, France, and the départements of Gaudeloupe and Martininque. In S is for Samora: A Lexical Biography of Samora Machel and the Mozambican Dream (Columbia/Hurst), Sarah LeFanu breaks with biographical tradition and orders the narrative of Mozambique’s independence struggle and the history of its assassinated leader around a series of charged keywords. The results make for smart, compelling reading. Claremount Chung has edited the transcriptions of his interviews with Walter Rodney’s friends, colleagues, and acquaintances for the documentary W.A.R. Stories: Walter Anthony Rodney, and collected them as Walter Rodney: A Promise of Revolution (Monthly Review). Inspired and moving, Chung’s compilation contains evocations of Rodney’s life and testimonials of his legacy from the likes of Robert Hill, Amiri Baraka, Leith Mullings, Issa G. Shivji, Clive Y. Thomas, and Rupert Roopnaraine.

Poet, editor, essayist and publisher Miguel D. Mena has been a force in independent publishing in the Dominican Republic since the mid-1980s. He is currently editor of Cielo Naranja, a fantastic website that serves as a portal to a rich archive of editorials, essays, and commentary on Dominican intellectual history, the place of the Dominican Republic in the context of the wider Caribbean, and of Dominican architectural and urban studies. Mena has also launched the imprint Ediciones Cielonaranja as an outlet for inexpensive though smartly-packaged re-issues of out-of-print classics of Dominican history, criticism and poetry. Thus far, Ediciones Cielonaranja has published a series of titles by Rene del Risco Bermudez, Juan Sanchez Lamouth, and Fabio Fiallo, and others under the banner Biblioteca de literature Dominicana; a number of historical compilations through its Coleccion archivos, and, via La Biblioteca Pedro Henríquez Ureña, the collected work of the early twentieth century Dominican humanist, philologist, critic and editor. The output of Mena (he has just published a remarkable three volume study of the poetry and poetics of Dominican urbanism) and Ediciones Cielonaranja has been nothing short of astonishing.

Also coming from the Spanish-speaking Caribbean are a trio of monographs that are both path-breaking and genre-busting. Alexandra T. Vazquez’s Listening in Detail: Performances of Cuban Music is a shot across the bow of the fetishistic collecting of Cuban cultural production by imperial ethnographers as well as an exploration of performance, circulation, and interpretation that is both muscular in analysis and nattily elegant in style. Bárbaro Martínez-Ruiz’s Kongo Graphic Writing and Other Narratives of the Sign is a learned, lucid and pioneering exploration of indigenous Central African writing systems and their emergence in the greater Caribbean. Exhaustively researched and full of trenchant interpretation, Jossiano Arroyo’s Writing Secrecy in Caribbean Freemasonry (Palgrave MacMillan) recovers the presence of Masonic signs, systems, and rituals in the dissident, anti-colonial writing of nineteenth-century Caribbean intellectuals Andrés Cassard, Ramón E. Betances, José Martí, Arturo Schomburg, and Rafael Serra.

Finally, Kingston, Jamaica’s Ian Randle Publishers has just released three readers dedicated to Caribbean thought. The first two, Caribbean Political Thought: The Colonial State to Caribbean Internationalisms and Caribbean Political Thought: Theories of the Post-Colonial State were edited by political philosopher Aaron Kamugisha of the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill. The Colonial State to Caribbean Internationalisms offers a simply astounding compilation of five-hundred-years worth of manifestos, constitutional excerpts, and speeches – from Jean-Jacques Dessalines famous “Liberty or Death” proclamation to the interventions of Sylvia Wynter, with contributions from Aime and Suzanne Cesaire, Antenor Firmin, George Padmore, Marcus Garvey, Frantz Fanon and others along the way. It includes the 1912 program of Cuba’s Partido Independiente de Color and Dantes Bellegarde’s 1930 appeal to the League of Nations on the threat of the United States to world peace. Theories of the Post-Colonial State comes as a continuation of the first volume and focuses on the post-World War II examination of Caribbean political life after independence and decolonization. Kamugisha assembles a jaw-dropping collection of theorists and intellectuals including Michel-Rolph Trouillot, Norman Girvan, Eudine Barriteau, Patricia Mohammed, Stuart Hall, and Edouard Glissant, to name but a representative few. The third volume, Caribbean Cultural Thought, was co-edited with Yanique Hume, a critic and dance who also teaches at UWI Cave Hill, and contains the formative interventions on Caribbean aesthetics, sexuality and gender, cultural identity, nationalism, and social change, and religion and spirituality. Dedicated to the peoples of Haiti, Jamaica, and Trinidad – and to the region’s thinkers and theorists – together, these readers are indispensible guides to the intellectual history of the region. On their publication, Kamugisha gave thanks “to the ancestors for Caribbean thought in pursuit of freedom.” We’re sure it’s a sentiment Una Mulzac would have approved.

Enjoy the summer.

The Public Archive <editor@thepublicarchive.com>

Image: Una G. Mulzac (April 19, 1923 – January 21, 2012) in Liberation Books, Harlem, USA. Source: Harlem World Magazine.

Radical Black Reading: 2011. 2012. Reading Haiti: 2011. 2012. Radical Black Cities: 2012.

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Insularity & Internationalism: An Interview with Kaiama L. Glover

Kaiama L. Glover is an associate professor of French at Barnard College and the author of Haiti Unbound: A Spiralist Challenge to the Postcolonial Canon. Published by Liverpool University Press in 2010, Haiti Unbound is the first full-length critical study of the Spiralists: an extraordinary Haitian and Caribbean literary movement whose principle players are writers Frankétienne, Jean-Claude Fignolé, and René Philoctète. Spiralism emerged during the dictatorship of Francois Duvalier but the literary output of Frankétienne, Fignolé, and Philoctète has remained undiminished in its wake. Glover offers serious consideration to the aesthetics and stylistics of Spiralism while considering the movement within the broader context of the canon formation of francophone Caribbean literature. In addition to her research on the Spiralists, Glover is a founder of the Transnational and Transcolonial Caribbean Studies Research Group, a regular contributor to the New York Times Book Review, and the editor of Order, Disorder, and Freedom: an Homage to Maryse Condé, a special double issue of the Romanic Review and a co-editor of New Narratives of Haiti, a special issue of Transition Magazine.

Who are The Spiralists and how did you come to writing about them?

In the mid-1960s, Haitian writers Frankétienne, Jean-Claude Fignolé, and René Philoctète, began crafting an aesthetic philosophy based on the spiral as literary metaphor and creative tool. Distinct from the many literary-cum-socio-political projects that dominated the early to mid-century Haitian cultural landscape – from the Africa-centered Indigenist movement of the late-1920s through 1940s to the social realist aesthetic that marks so many of the century’s most canonical texts – Spiralism adamantly privileges form over politics, refusing any kind of explicit ideological agenda.

For the three authors, the spiral functioned on several levels. As the geometric form structuring the most basic elements of existence – from the double helix of the human genetic sequence to the hurricanes that regularly devastate the Americas to the swirl of the Milky Way galaxy – the spiral provided a primal point of relation to a world beyond the claustrophobia and creative asphyxiation of François Duvalier’s totalitarian state. It also operated for the three writers with some measure of cultural specificity: its form evokes that of the conch shell, symbolic artifact of the Haitian Revolution, and decorates the full vertical length of the poto-mitan, the wooden post positioned at the center of every Haitian Vodou temple and around which all ceremonies revolve. On a formal, literary level, the spiral’s perfectly balanced maintenance of the centrifugal and centripetal offers a neat allegory of the tension between insular boundedness and global intention that marks their work.

I began writing about the Spiralists more than a decade ago, having first encountered Frankétienne in a Columbia University graduate course taught by Maryse Condé. We’d spent several early class sessions looking at the work of the great Martinican writer-intellectual Edouard Glissant, both his prose fiction and his theoretical writings. Later on in the semester, we briefly discussed an excerpt from Frankétienne’s Les Affres d’un défi. I remember being struck by what appeared to be clear parallels in the intellectual perspectives of the two authors and, therefore, very surprised by the fact that they had not ever been placed in sustained dialogue with one another. As I began trying to sort out the underlying determinants of Glissant and Frankétienne’s distinctly unequal critical fates, I became enthralled by Spiralism’s expansiveness and specificity as a literary, philosophical, and cultural offering.

What relationship do The Spiralists have to their better-known Indigenist forebears? How does their approach to Haitian folklore – and the “primitive” — compare?

I have always understood Spiralism as a sort of humanist prolongation of Haitian Indigenism. Like Indigenism, Spiralism emerged from a deeply felt desire to contest existing cultural and aesthetic epistemologies; and like Indigenism, Spiralism very much relies on the popular and the folk as fertile sources of poetic inspiration. Unlike Indigenist intellectuals and writers, however, the Spiralists relate more metaphorically than literally to traditional culture and do not privilege in any explicit way the specifically “black” or African dimensions of that culture. An arguably nativist spirit certainly infuses their work at both the level of form and content, but their aesthetic perspective cannot be articulated along ethno-racial lines. Having seen firsthand how Duvalier’s brutal philosophy of black empowerment, noirisme, had emerged from Indigenist calls for Afro-pride, the Spiralists were always hyper-vigilant to the potential dangers of any racially or culturally essentialist worldview.

In both their stylistic and thematic deployments of traditional elements of Haitian culture, then, all three authors highlight the universal value, dynamism, and de facto modernity of the folk. Privileging the spiral – as form, as idea – above politicized notions of blackness or Haitianness, Frankétienne, Fignolé, and Philoctète all very pointedly refuse anything that might smack of a fetishization of the folkloric or the so-called primitive in their writing. Yet they borrow heavily from Haiti’s rich storytelling tradition. Their narratives are, without exception, alinear and arrythmic, dialogic and polyphonic; their texts are rooted in the oral and, as such, are incredibly demanding – both in that they pose a real intellectual challenge to the reader and that they ask real questions of their presumed interlocutors.

One of the few works by The Spiralists translated into English is René Philoctète’s Massacre River, about the 1937 massacre of Haitians at the Haiti-Dominican border during the Trujillo-Vincent years. How does Philoctète’s account differ from Edwidge Danticat’s The Farming of Bones? What is the significance of Philoctète’s style in terms of remembering and memorializing the massacre?

I suppose I would argue that form follows function in both novels, and that it is in this relationship between stylistics and content that the differences between the two authors’ accounts of this moment in Hispaniola’s history emerge. Both Danticat and Philoctète tell big History via small stories, focusing on individuals who would not be considered heroes in any traditional sense. Both of their narratives individuate known statistics and very deliberately complexify binarist notions of good guys and villains.

Yet where Danticat relates the experiences and relationships of one sympathetic character, telling in a linear fashion the before-during-after of the massacre, Philoctète offers no such structural coherence. There is a woman and the man she loves at the ostensible center of his tale as well, but his narrative moves in and out of her experience to tell its story from multiple perspectives and in multiple voices. The narration is unreliable – verb tenses move from past to present and even to future anterior, there is no clear beginning, middle, or end to the story in a chronological sense – and, as a result, the massacre simply will not be fixed in the past. By maintaining this fundamental narrative instability, Philoctète mimetically produces the uncertainties of the event itself. Why did it happen? Why then? Who and how many were killers? Who and how many were killed? I would argue that his intention is perhaps not (only) to remember and memorialize the massacre, but to collapse the history that ostensibly separates the atrocities of 1937 from the socio-political realities of present-day Hispaniola.

While the Spiralists are little known outside of Haiti, they have a large and popular following within the country. Could you say something about why that is and how their work circulates within Haiti?

It is true that the Spiralist authors have been largely marginalized with respect to the geo-cultural space of the wider Americas. Their tangible physical internment in Duvalier’s Haiti meant very limited international circulation of their works until the latter years of the twentieth century. Given this, as far as the literary institution (publishers, translators, academics) is concerned, these authors have had to play quite a bit of “catch-up” vis-à-vis their contemporaries from other parts of the Caribbean.

This being said, if the Spiralists were relatively neglected in the international literary arena – and this has certainly been changing in the last decade or so thanks to the work of people like Philippe Bernard, Yves Chemla, Rachel Douglas, and Jean Jonassaint – within the island it has been a different story altogether. Frankétienne, the most well-known of the three writers, is something of a phenomenon in Haiti. Having written and staged several of his plays in Kreyòl and produced audio recordings of many of his prose writings, he has long been very well known in the country. Not just a writer, but also a painter, singer, actor, and math teacher, Frankétienne has worn multiple hats and circulated in multiple insular spaces. As a result, he has always been profoundly connected to the Haitian people and, even well prior to his post-January 2010 extra-insular celebrity, has been valued as something of a national treasure. And while the Euro-North American academy has arguably been slow to recognize his contribution, widely celebrated diasporic Haitian writers like Edwidge Danticat, Dany Laferrière, and René Depestre consistently point to Frankétienne as one of Haiti’s most important literary voices. Fignolé, a journalist and teacher as well as a creative writer, has been a political presence in rural Haiti beginning in the 1980s. He served as progressive mayor of the municipality of Les Abricots, in the westernmost department of Haiti, overseeing reforestation endeavors, health and education initiatives, and infrastructural projects for the community that ultimately became the focal point of his early fiction. Like Frankétienne, Fignolé organically collapsed the traditional distance separating the elite writer and the popular “masses” that are the subject of much Haitian fiction. Philoctète (the only one of the three Spiralists to travel outside of Haiti during the Duvalier regimes – for a six-month stay in Montreal) is known first and foremost as a poet by most Haitians. Prior to his co-founding of Spiralism, he participated in the notorious “Haïti Littéraire” group, an informal collective of politically-minded poets creating dangerously (here borrowing Danticat’s elegant formulation) in the 1960s under Duvalier. One of the five founding members of this group, Philoctète had an established reputation in Haiti for formal innovation and political commitment. It has been largely thanks to a younger generation of Haitian writers in Haiti and in the diaspora – people like Lyonel Trouillot and Rodney Saint-Eloi – that Philoctète’s voice has continued resonating long after his death in 1995.

You’ve written of a “Martinican hegemony in the scholarship of French-speaking Caribbean literature.” What do you mean by this and how has it impacted our knowledge of Haitian letters?

This actually links very much to the preceding question. It seems to me that the relative isolation of the three Spiralist writers not only has to do with their physical anchoring in the space of Haiti, but also is a function of the deliberate theoretical imprecision they have cultivated as writers. Unlike Martinique where, as I argue in the introduction of my book,  many of the most celebrated writers “not only write books, but write books about the books they write,” the Spiralists have steadily refused to propose any predetermined message that would define or otherwise codify their aesthetic philosophy. Unlike the founders of Negritude, antillanité (Caribbeanness), or créolité (Creoleness), the Spiralists offer little by way of paratextual support for their creative praxis. This refusal of theory, in combination with their refusal of exile, has meant that in the past they have not participated – were not invited to participate – in spaces and conversations that largely kept “movement-affiliated” Aimé Césaire, Edouard Glissant, and Creolists Patrick Chamoiseau and Raphaël Confiant at their center. Although Frankétienne, Fignolé, and Philoctète have all self-identified as “Spiralists,” the fact of the matter is that they have mobilized the spiral – as formal tool, as metaphor – in divergent ways. Part of the joy (at least for me) in reading these three writers alongside one another was the creative responsibility they implicitly allocate to the reader-theorist, encouraging their interlocutors to tease out and make something of the points of intersection and dialogue between the various texts.

On a broader scale – beyond the international reception of the Spiralists, that is – I think that the critical attention paid to the “big voices” from Martinique, during the 1990s and into the early 2000s in particular, has to an extent been of a piece with the phenomenon of Haiti’s relegation to the realm of the exceptional and the extreme. Yes, of course, there is no denying the singular elements of Haiti’s history and present-day reality. Yet there is also no question but that Haiti’s past, Haiti’s contemporary fate, and Haiti’s possible futures are very much imbricated in regional and global networks. In the dialectic of alterity and exemplarity that marks Haiti’s position in the current world order there has been a tendency to emphasize the former relational state over the latter – a tendency to insist on Haiti’s difference that ultimately disavows the myriad ways in which both the long view and the immediate circumstances of its nationhood look just like so many other postcolonial spaces.

This ends up meaning that Haitian literature most often gets read within the frame of its own national tradition and primarily as a literature of pessimism, exile, and violence. And sure, a Haitian literary tradition exists and should be theorized as such; and sure, there’s a strong dystopian current that runs through that tradition. But something is lost when “Haitian literature” remains unintegrated into regional (Afro-)Caribbean traditions; and something is lost when presumptions about Haiti’s political failings are the primary focus in readings of its cultural production.

The aesthetic of The Spiralists emerged in response to the Duvalier’s totalitarian state. Can you comment on the nature of Haitian writing after Duvalier?

At the risk of giving too “spiralic” a response, I would like first to push back against the notion of decisive break that is implicit in the phrase “after Duvalier.” The Duvalier regime cast a very long shadow over Haiti. The atmosphere of distrust it fostered – of the government, of law enforcement, of one’s neighbor – remains pervasive and in many ways paralyzing. Insofar as the republic has not entirely come to terms with the dictatorship – not only with Duvalier but with the conditions that made Duvalier possible – Haiti’s writers continue to excavate and narrate the social, political, and cultural phenomena that produced this historical horror-show and that this dysfunctional history left in its wake. Writers like Lyonel Trouillot, Dany Laferrière, Gary Victor, Kettly Mars, and Edwidge Danticat, among others relentlessly probe the more-and-less obvious remnants of this devastating period in Haiti’s past. Although current events seem to suggest that there has been a certain level of political forgetting with respect to the Duvalier regimes, Haiti’s writers are unwilling to just move on.

This being said, there are clearly certain freedoms, albeit elite freedoms, that mark the post-1986 literary sphere: freedom to stay and write in Haiti and freedom to move back and forth across its borders, freedom to name names and to tell stories without allegory – freedom to say “this is what was done to me, and this is who did it.” Realist depictions of trauma and/as testimony are prevalent.

Can you tell us about your current projects?

I’m at work on a number of projects at the moment. Probably too many. Some are independent, some are collaborative, and all are directly or tangentially preoccupied with the question of Caribbean community and the challenges of true transnational exchange within the region and beyond – questions of tensions maintained between the insular and the individual, on the one hand and the regional, global, and communal, on the other. I’ve just completed two co-edited special journal issues: one with Laurent Dubois for Transition magazine titled “New Narratives for Haiti,” and the other with Martin Munro for Small Axe titled “Translating the Caribbean, “ which will actually comprise two issues of the journal – one this fall and the other in fall 2014.

In the next months I’ll be moving forward on two other collaborative projects. The first is a Haiti Reader for Duke UP, which I’m co-editing with Laurent Dubois, Nadève Ménard, Millery Polyné, and Chantalle Verna. Part of Duke’s country series, the reader will offer translated extracts from numerous and varied texts that have emerged out of seminal moments in Haiti’s history – from the revolution to the present day. The second project is a special issue of Yale French Studies I’m co-editing with Alessandra Benedicty. Its tentative title is Revisiting Marie Chauvet: Paradoxes of the Postcolonial Feminine. I’m very excited about this project because we’ve brought together scholars from outside the proverbial box to try to think Chauvet both in and beyond Haiti and the literary. We’ve solicited contributions from people in Queer Studies, Ecocriticism, Postcolonial Studies, Sociology, Religious Studies and elsewhere to consider Chauvet’s œuvre in less obvious critical contexts.

I’m also at work on a slow-burning manuscript titled “Disorderly Women,” in which I consider the ethical possibilities of narcissism in the context of coercive community. I look at prose fiction works from various parts of the Caribbean in which “disorderly,” self-narrating central female characters challenge gendered expectations regarding maternity, self-sacrifice, sexual respectability and other expressions of loyalty to communities that do not necessarily have their best interests at heart. I’ve been leaning on theorists from Freud to Fanon to Foucault and Butler in an effort to rebuild – or at least to think more capaciously – about representations of narcissism as justifiably protective self-interest in a region that in many ways understands itself as anti-individualist and resolutely communal.

And then, finally, I’ve taken on a real passion project: I’m blissfully translating Frankétienne’s first novel-spiral, Mûr a crever, for Archipelago Books.

Image: Frankétienne, from L’Oiseau schizophone (Éditions des Antilles, 1993). Source: Christophe Wall-Romana, “Cinégraphie, ou la marge á dérouler,” Textimage.

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Continental Conference to end the military occupation of Haiti by the United Nations & MINUSTAH

Delegates from around the world will converge on Port-au-Prince May 31 to take part in a two-day Continental Conference aimed at bringing an end to the United Nations Mission to Stabilize Haiti or MINUSTAH, which marks its ninth anniversary on Jun. 1.

The military occupation force, which now comprises about 9,000 armed soldiers and police officers from some 50 countries and costs some $850 million per year, was deployed by the UN Security Council at the behest of permanent members U.S. and France following the Feb. 29, 2004 coup d’état (which Washington and Paris fomented) against former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. At the time, the world public was told that the mission would be deployed for only six months, time enough to hold new elections. Instead, MINUSTAH is now entering its 10th year. Its latest one-year mandate ends Oct. 15, 2013.

The Continental Conference, spearheaded by a Brazilian political action committee called “To Defend Haiti Is To Defend Ourselves,” will be attended by activists from the Dominican Republic, Guadeloupe, Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, Mexico, France, Spain, the United States, and other countries. Over 150 delegates from all corners of Haiti will also attend the conference, to be held at the Plaza Hotel in downtown Port-au-Prince.

The Haitian organizing committee, composed of unions and popular organizations, is also organizing a public rally from 3 to 6 p.m. on May 31 in the Place Dessalines on the Champs de Mars in conjunction with the conference.

On Jun. 1, dozens of Haitians will testify before the Conference about MINUSTAH’s many alleged crimes, including thievery, rape, murder, and massacres.

From Apr. 15 to 24, outspoken Sen. Moïse Jean-Charles conducted a speaking tour in Brazil and Argentina to build support for the conference, where he will be a leading speaker. “It is an outrage that Brazil and Argentina are doing Washington’s dirty work in Haiti,” Moïse told a large public meeting held at the Legislative Assembly in Sao Paolo on Apr. 18. “Brazilian and Argentinian troops are not helping Haiti. They are merely defending U.S. imperial interests.”

Brazilian soldiers make up MINUSTAH’s largest contingent, about 2,200 soldiers. There are about 600 Argentinian troops in the force.

During the 10 day trip to the two countries, Moïse met with governement officials, parliamentarians, unionists, students, popular organizations, and the general public, in meetings both large and small.

On Apr. 16, for example, Senator Moïse met with the Foreign Relations Committee of the House of Deputies in Brasilia. Four deputies, Committee president Nelson Pellegrino and Fernando Ferro, both of the ruling Workers Party (PT), and Luiza Erundina and José Stédile, both of the Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB), held a cordial meeting of over 90 minutes with the senator, who stressed, as he did at other meetings, that the Haitian Senate had unanimously voted a resolution in 2011 calling on MINUSTAH to completely withdraw from Haiti by October 2012. That resolution has been flagrantly ignored by the UN.

Then later that same day, Sen. Moïse met for almost two hours with students at the University of Brasilia, who asked him many questions. “Everybody knows that Brazil is heading up the UN military occupation in Haiti,” he said in response to one question. “But who is making the big money in Haiti? The Americans. Who is giving the orders? The Americans. This game of bluff has to stop.”

Senators, deputies, city councilmen, leaders from large union federations, and prominent activists from Brazil, Argentina, and around Latin America and Europe have pledged to attend the event.

In the build-up to the Continental Conference, meetings have been held in numerous countries. On May 17 in New York, a political and cultural fundraising rally was held at the Riverside Church featuring the renowned musical group Welfare Poets and several other artists. Other speakers included Dr. Fritz Fils-Aimé of the  Haitian American Veterans Association (HAVA), Dr. M. Alexendre Sacha Vington of Humanity Haiti, Nellie Bailey of the Harlem Tenants Council, Ralph Pointer, the husband of jailed human rights lawyer Lynne Stewart, and Kim Ives of Haïti Liberté.

“People around the world are standing with the Haitian people in their call for UN troops to get out of Haiti,” said Colia Clark, a veteran civil rights activist who worked alongside Medgar Evers and Martin Luther King, Jr., and who organized the May 17 event. “The upcoming Continental Conference in Port-au-Prince will be the first time people and organizations from around the world will sit down together to see how we can assist our Haitian brothers and sisters in their struggle to regain their sovereignty and send MINUSTAH packing.”

Kim Ives, “Haiti: Continental Conference to End Military Occupation by UN’s MINUSTAH,” Haïti Liberté, 22 May 2013 via Global Research.

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Miami Peniel Church of the Nazarene / Eglise du Nazareen Peniel

Miami Peniel Church of the Nazarene-Eglise du Nazareen Peniel, Reverend Delanot Pierre, Pastor, (December 11, 1945, Ennery, Haiti — April 20, 2013, Miami, Florida). Rest in Peace.

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The Sufferings of Madame Toussaint

The widow of the unfortunate Toussaint has just landed upon our continent. Her account of her own and her husband’s sufferings, from Bonaparte’s tyranny, would be incredible, were they not already equaled by the Corsican’s former atrocities, and those of his accomplices. Her mutilated limbs and numerous wounds, are, besides, visible proofs of the racks and other instruments of torture from which she has suffered in the dungeons of free, enlightened, and civilized France, and under which, little doubt remains that General Toussaint expired.

From the moment Le Clerc, by perfidy and breach of treaties, got her husband and herself into his possession, they were loaded with chains, and during their whole passage to France, they continued in irons, with hardly food enough to support life. At their landing in Bourdeaux, they were separated, though shut in the same prison. What happened since to her husband she does not know, nor is she yet certain whether he has perished, as the French papers have published, in a dungeon at Besançon; or whether, with a mutilated body, he continues to breath the pestilential air of French gaols, exposed to the cruelties of, and enduring that refinement in torment which French ingenuity so ably invents, and of which Corsican barbarity so willingly makes use…

“An Account of the Wife of Toussaint L’Ouverture,” The Christian Observer(1804)

Image taken from Jean Ledan fils, “La saga de Mme Louverture,” Le Nouvelliste (May 25, 2012)

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The National City Bank of New York & Haiti

With American influence becoming so strong in Haiti through the United States permanent control and administration of customs, finances, etc., followed, as it naturally would be, by American investment in the island and increased trading between the two countries, it was natural that the National Bank, heretofore almost entirely in Europe, should pass into full American ownership. Being already interested in a small degree in the institution, The National City Bank with full faith in the future development of Haiti, contemplates acquiring the entire business of the bank, and, while its independent organization would continue, the bank’s affairs would be directed from New York instead of from Paris. This change will bring to the merchants of Haiti a full City Bank Service, and more adequate and efficient facilities to our merchants trading with the republic.

John H. Allen, “American Co-Operation Assures a Better Era for Haiti,” The Americas (May 1920)

To know the reasons for the present political situation in Haiti, to understand why the United States landed and has for five years maintained military forces in that country, why some three thousand Haitian men, women, and children have been shot down by American rifles and machine guns, it is necessary, among other things, to know that the National City Bank of New York is very much interested in Haiti. It is necessary to know that the National City Bank controls the National Bank of Haiti and is the depository for all of the Haitian national funds that are being collected by American officials, and that Mr. R. L. Farnham, vice-president of the National City Bank, is virtually the representative of the State Department in matters relating to the island republic.

James Weldon Johnson, Self-Determining Haiti (1920)

Citigroup’s history in Haiti is remembered as both among the most spectacular episodes of U.S. dollar diplomacy in the Caribbean and as an egregious example of officials in Washington working at the behest of Wall Street. It’s also a story marked by military intervention, violations of national sovereignty and the deaths of thousands.

“Where does Haiti fit in Citigroup’s Corporate History?” Bloomberg (June 2012)

Image: Cover of Le Matin (Port-au-Prince, Haiti), February 26, 1927: Source: Digital Library of the Caribbean.

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Marie-Louise Christophe, Queen of Haiti

The planters talked over their billiards and their wine, and the longer they played and the more they drank the more they talked. They said things not intended for slave ears. The wine loosened their tongues and blurred their intellects.

Christophe listened with amazement and then coolly digested what they said; and within the short tropic twilight told what had been said, with his disgusted reflections to Marie-Louise. It was as new to her as to Christophe. First it amazed her as it had her lover. Then she cogitated upon it. Then it was that Christophe became teacher.

What he had heard the planters say was that Saint Domingue was a powder barrel and liable to blow up at any time. There were, they said, twenty thousand planters with five hundred thousand black slaves, and between them were twenty-four thousand people neither white or black, and the three classes were opposed to each other. If the slaves ever found out the power of numbers, it would be death to the whites; also, if the jealousy of the mulattoes increased to the boiling point, so they could join the blacks, the boiling would become fiercer. But they were so jealous that they would not unite.

Marie-Louise listened and thought as she listened to Christophe.

“There may be a revolution,” she mused. “A black kingdom may take the place of the white one.”

Charles E. Waterman, Carib Queens (1935) [As transcribed by Bob Corbett]

Image: Aaron P. Garcia, Marie-Louise Christophe, Milot, Haiti, 2008.

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Jamaica and the Saint-Domingue Slave Revolt, 1791-1793

Leonard Parkinson, a Captain of Maroons.

When the slaves and free coloureds of Saint Domingue rebelled in the autumn of 17791, Jamaican society faced the greatest challenge of its history. The dramatic spectacle of violent self­liberation was acted out almost before the eyes of its blacks and mulattoes, while the ruling white elite experienced a dilemma that seemed to oppose its prosperity to its survival.

David Geggus, “Jamaica and the Saint Domingue Slave Revolt, 1791-1793,” The Americas 38 (October 1981): {pdf}

Image: Abraham Raimbach, “Leonard Parkinson, a captain of the Maroons,” B. Edwards, The Proceedings of the Governor and Assembly of Jamaica, in Regard to the Maroon Negroes… to which is prefixed an Introductory Account… of the Maroons (1796). Source: NYPL Digital Gallery. Also see: Nova Scotia Archives.

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