The Birds of Haiti and San Domingo

Charles B. Cory, The Birds of Haiti and San Domingo (Boston: Estes & Lauriat, 1885).

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12 Nineteenth Century Biographies of Toussaint L’Ouverture

DuBroca, The life of Toussaint Louverture : chief of the French rebels in St. Domingo. To which are added, interesting notes respecting several persons who have acted distinguished parts in St. Domingo (London: H.D. Symonds, 1802).

DuBroca, La vie de Toussaint-Louverture, chef des noirs insurgés de Saint-Domingue; : contenant son origine, les particularités les plus remarquables de sa jeunesse (Paris, 1802).

Marcus Rainsford, A memoir of transactions that took place in St. Domingo, in the spring of 1799; affording an idea of the present state of that country, the real character of its black governor, Touissant L’Ouverture, and the safety of our West-India islands from attack or revolt; including the rescue of a British officer under sentence of death. (London: R.B. Scott, 1802).

Charles-Yves Cousin d’AvallonHistoire de Toussaint-Louverture, chef des Noirs insurgés de Saint-Domingue; précédée d’un coup d’œil politique sur cette colonie : et suivie d’anecdotes et faits particuliers concernant ce chef des Noirs, et les agens directoriaux envoyés dans cette partie du nouveau-monde, pendant le cours de la Révolution (Paris, Pillot, 

James Stephen, Buonaparte in the West Indies; or, The history of Toussaint Louverture, the African hero (London: J. Hatchard, 1803).

James McCune Smith, A lecture on the Haytien revolutions; with a sketch of the character of Toussaint L’Ouverture. Delivered at the Stuyvesant Institute … February 26, 1841 (New York: Daniel Fanshaw, 1841).

Joseph Saint-Rémy, Vie de Toussaint-L’Ouverture (Paris: Moquet, 1850).

C.M.B. A glimpse of Hayti, and her negro chief (Liverpool: Edward Howell, 1850).

John Relly Beard, The life of Toussaint L’Ouverture: the Negro patriot of Hayti: comprising an account of the struggle for liberty in the island, and a sketch of its history to the present period (London: Ingram, Cooke, and Co., 1853).

Charles Wyllys ElliottSt. Domingo, its révolution and its hero, Toussaint Louverture (New-York, J. A. Dix, 

James Redpath, Toussaint L’Ouverture: A Biography and Autobiography (Boston: James Redpath, 1863).

Thomas-Prosper Gragnon-LacosteToussaint Louverture, général en chef de l’armée de Saint-Domingue, surnommé le premier des Noirs (Paris, A. Durand et Pedone-Lauriel, 

Image: Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Photographs and Prints Division, The New York Public Library. “Toussaint L’Ouverture, Governor of St. Domingo, 1802.” The New York Public Library Digital Collections.

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On Shithole Countries and Racial Capitalism: The City Bank in Haiti

Donald Trump’s recent description of Haiti, El Salvador, and Africa as “shithole countries [sic]” offered an ugly example of how US foreign policy is often shaped by the dictates of racial capitalism – by an economic system suffused with racial ideology and racist thinking.

The comment recalls an earlier episode of racial capitalism in Haiti which is depicted in my book Bankers and Empire: How Wall Street Colonized the Caribbean. On that occasion, however, the comments came from Wall Street rather than Washington, as part of the National City Bank of New York’s efforts to secure control of Haiti’s finances and banking.

Founded in 1812, City Bank is the predecessor of the contemporary multinational investment-banking and financial-services corporation Citigroup Inc. By the beginning of the twentieth century, its managers were seeking to transform it from a successful domestic commercial bank into an international financial institution that could compete with the dominant European banking houses.

Haiti was one of the earliest targets for City Bank’s internationalisation. This was part of a wider push into Latin America and the Caribbean that found support in the State Department. The US was then pursuing a policy of “dollar diplomacy”, attempting to use financial muscle to bring political stability to the region. City Bank’s initial investments in Haiti came through their participation in the financing of dock and railway projects in 1910. They used these initial investments as a springboard to take over control of Haiti’s economy and financial system, especially through the Banque Nationale d’Haiti, a privately run bank of issue controlled by French and German interests.

As City Bank’s investments in Haiti and the Banque Nationale increased, so too did their involvement in Haiti’s internal affairs. City Bank managers became critical liaisons for the State Department regarding Haiti’s politics during a period when the country was roiled by internal factionalism and disruptive pressure from French, German, and US political and business interests.

City Bank managers Roger L. Farnham and John H. Allen were critical in this regard. At one point, Allen was called to a meeting at the State Department by William Jennings Bryan and asked to explain Haiti’s history and current political climate. Allen described a country whose citizens were the descendants of formerly-enslaved Africans but whose culture was heavily influence by France. “Dear me, think of it!”, Bryan allegedly exclaimed in response, “Niggers speaking French!”

Bryan’s comments were not unusual. Not only did they reflect the sentiments about Haiti held by most Americans at the time, they also spoke to particular registers of disdain for the country within City Bank itself. Indeed, for Allen, Farnham, and other City Bankers the population of Haiti, like that of much of the Caribbean and Central America, constituted an inferior race whose biological impediments were compounded by the climate-induced degeneracy and torpor of the tropics.

In his dispatches from Haiti, Allen oscillated between describing Haitian people as unbridled savages and innocent but ignorant children. As he once wrote in the City Bank journal The Americas: 

Haiti’s dark millions can be a menace to the United States, but under wise and thoughtful guidance can be developed into a self-respecting and dignified nation that could perhaps help in the solution of one of the greatest problems before us today, the future of the colored race.

Haiti, according to Allen, was “truly a virgin territory ready for the white man’s guiding mind to help it to get back to the conditions existing when, as history tells us, Haiti was the richest of all the colonies of France.” Farnham described the Haitian masses as “nothing but grown-up children.” Like Allen, he believed that Haiti’s regeneration could occur through the paternalistic tutelage of the US, that black self-government could only occur through white intervention. The Haitian people, Farnham stated, “must be taught.”

For City Bank in Haiti, racial designations guided financial considerations and economic policy was embedded in racist ideology. Such considerations, and the belief in the power of “the white man’s guiding mind,” undergirded a memorandum on Haiti that Farnham wrote for Secretary Bryan in 1914. Known as the “Farnham Plan” it argued that Haiti’s internal political conflicts could only be settled by the takeover of the country by a stronger nation and that such a takeover would be welcomed by the majority of the Haitian people given that they were used to strong-men in power.

While the Farnham plan was a call for US military intervention based on racial paternalism, it was also a means through which the US military could be used to protect City Bank’s financial and commercial interests in Haiti. City Bank worked to make intervention inevitable. They used the Banque Nationale to manipulate the price of the gourde, Haiti’s national currency, withheld public salaries, and starved the government of its operating budget.

In 1914, in what was seen as a deliberate challenge to Haiti’s sovereignty, the bank ordered the transfer of Haiti’s gold reserve from the vaults of the Banque Nationale to Wall Street aboard a US gunship. By 1915, Haiti’s sovereignty was extinguished entirely when the Farnham Plan was effectively enacted with the landing of US Marines, an action justified in terms of Haiti’s internal political turmoil, the supposed threat of Germany in the Caribbean, and a desire to protect US interests.

The US military occupation of Haiti acted as a guarantee on the City Bank’s investments in the country. By 1922, French and German interests in the Banque Nationale were eliminated and it came under the total control of City Bank. Customs collection was regularised, ensuring bond payments on the bank’s railroad and dock projects, while the political risk to investors on the bank’s $30 million loan to the country was eliminated. Farnham, in particular, benefited from the occupation, receiving a substantial payout and annual salary as the receiver of one of Haiti’s railroads.

While one City Banker described Haiti as “a small but profitable piece of business”, such profits came at great cost to the Haitian people. Their business was written in a ledger of violence: in the brutal suppression of a series of peasant insurgencies that left dozens of villages burned, thousands of Haitians dead, and hundreds more jailed or forced to work on chain-gangs that recalled the days of slavery.

The occupation lasted nineteen years (until 1934) and only ended because of a country-wide protest movement and adverse publicity for City Bank in the US. While the Marines were withdrawn in 1934, the Banque Nationale remained under the direct control of City Bank until 1941, when it was sold to the Haitian government for $500,000. Yet even after 1941, Banque Nationale continued to be managed by City Bank appointees, and City Bank continued to act as its international correspondent bank.

City Bank’s history in Haiti shows how imbrication of racial ideology and economic policy can occur. It also suggests that finance capital is embedded in cultural and racial discourse – that banking and investment are constituent parts of racial capitalism.

This is not limited to Haiti. Such questions shaped City Bank’s engagements in Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and Panama – but also in “white” countries like Argentina. Nor was it limited to City Bank. Similar considerations were at work in Chase Manhattan’s engagements with Cuba and Panama and those of Brown Brothers in Nicaragua. Indeed, Nicaragua was described as the “Republic of Brown Brothers” in the 1920s due to its degree of control, with the manager of one of its subsidiaries there, W. Bundy Cole, commenting, “I do not think any Indian or any negro is capable of self-government.”

Trump’s “shithole countries” comment continues this long tradition of entangling racial denigration and economic policy. It came in the midst of an ongoing and contentious national debate over citizenship, economics, race, and immigration, and it was followed soon after by an announcement barring Haitian citizens from visas for agricultural labourers and temporary workers.

But if Citigroup’s recent takeover of Puerto Rican debt and public utilities in the wake of Hurricane Maria is any indication, investing in shithole countries remains just as lucrative for Wall Street as it has been for centuries.

This post originally appeared on the LSE Latin American and Caribbean Centre’s blog as Banking on a ‘shithole’: US-led racial capitalism in Haiti began long before Trump.

Image source: Haiti, Banque Nationale De la Republique, 1 gourde (1916). Engraved by the American Bank Note Company. Depicting Jean-Jacques Dessalines. National Numismatic Collection, National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian Institution via Wikipedia.

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Oxfam: Investigation into Sexual Abuse and Misconduct in Haiti. Final Report. Confidential (2011).

“This is Oxfam’s final internal investigation report from 2011 into allegations of sexual misconduct and other unacceptable behaviour during Oxfam’s humanitarian response to the 2010 Haiti earthquake.

We are making this exceptional publication because we want to be as transparent as possible about the decisions we made during this particular investigation and in recognition of the breach of trust that has been caused. We are also meeting with the Government of Haiti to apologise for our mistakes and discuss what more we can do, including for the women affected by these events. We hope this also contributes to rebuilding trust with those who support our work.

However difficult it is to meet the demands of transparency, and however hard it is to confront mistakes of the past, we believe that ultimately, this will help us take meaningful action and become more effective in our mission to tackle poverty and help people hit by disaster.”

To download the report visit


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Black Inhabitants of France

Lying so much off the beaten track, the village of Port Lesne, in the Jura department of France, is visited by but few from the outside world, and consequently this tiny community of men and women of color is but little known. It is not a large village, for its inhabitants number only about a hundred, but everyone is either black or copper colored. It owes its origin to the fact that about a century ago the famous negro chief, Toussaint L’Overture was brought from Haiti and imprisoned in Fort de Joux. Many of his friends, all negroes, followed him and encamped near his prison on the bank of the little River Loue. From that encampment grew the village of Port Lesne, and when Toussaint L’Overture died more than 100 years ago his friends decided to remain in France. The passing of years and intermarriages have transformed the settlement into a French village of colored folk, all of whom are enfranchised.

“Black Inhabitants of France,” Poughkeepsie Daily Eagle, February 27, 1911.

Image: Fort de Joux, [juin 1923] : [photographie de presse] / [Agence Rol], Bibliothèque nationale de France, département Estampes et photographie, EI-13 (1029)


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Lubaina Himid and the History of Haiti


Turner Prize-winning Black British artist Lubaina Himid has had a long standing interest in the intersections of the politics of race, representation, history, and memory. This interest has included a concern with Haiti. In the 1980s, she created a series of fifteen watercolors as part of the series Scenes from the Life of Toussaint L’Ouverture. More recently, her  1792, above, depicted L’overture and was part of a set of portraits of Black historical figures.

Image: Lubaina Himid, 1792, (2015).


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Langston Hughes, A Poem for Jacques Roumain

Source: New Masses, October 2, 1945 via

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Hunger Strikers at California’s Adelanto Detention Center

Miami’s Krome Service Processing Center has a well-deserved reputation for the particular cruelties it has dispensed upon the Haitian asylum seekers detained within its walls. Yet Krome’s notoriety may soon be superseded by a new breed of detention centers in the southwestern United States. A string of private prisons contracted by ICE operate near the US-Mexico border. In Chaparral, New Mexico the Otero County Prison Facility is run by the Management & Training Corporation, as is Calexico, California’s Imperial Regional Detention Facility. San Diego’s Otay Mesa Detention Facility is managed by CoreCivic, a company previously known as the Corrections Corporation of America, while the Adelanto Detention Facility, in Adelanto, California, is run by the GEO Group, formerly Wackenhut. While the majority of detainees locked up in these facilities are from Central America, they also hold increasing numbers of Haitians, non-criminal asylum seekers who journeyed to the US not by sea across the treacherous Florida Straits – but seven-thousand miles overland from Brazil, through South and Central America.

Of these detentions centers, Otero reportedly holds the most Haitian detainees. But Adelanto has the worst reputation. It sits isolated in the bleak desert of San Bernadino County, eighty-five miles northeast of Los Angeles, in a depressed municipality desperate for revenue for its government and jobs for its residents. Adelanto is the largest immigrant detention center in California. It holds some 1800 immigrants, including 240 women. ICE guarantees the Geo Group a minimum occupancy rate, paying the corporation $112 dollars a day per inmate, and allowing them to clear a cool $40 million per year. Adelanto ranks third amongst immigrant detention centers for sexual assaults by guards on inmates and with three detainees dying in custody since the beginning of 2017 (and five since July 2016), it is arguably the deadliest immigrant detention center in the US. Medical care is inadequate and indifferent and has been cited as the direct cause of inmate deaths. When not making $1 a day cleaning, inmates have been used as forced labor. Racism, maltreatment, and abuse is pervasive and inmate suicide is not uncommon. Bond amounts are set at excessively high rates: between $15,000 and $25,000 is the norm though some bonds have been set at $50,000.  The bond rates work to both deny and delay detainee release, keeping cells profitably filled for the GEO Group in the process. In addition to frequent check-ins with ICE officials and parole officers, those detainees who are released must wear electronic ankle monitors – shackles, really – embedded with satellite tracking chips. Provided by BI, Inc, a subsidiary of the GEO Group, the monitors cost close to $500 a month. Those wearing the shackles shoulder their costs.

On the morning of June 12, 2017, a hunger strike was initiated by a group Adelanto detainees from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, their solidarity forged through their participation in a Refugee Caravan that carried them to the border. Soon known as the Adelanto 9, the strikers presented a list of demands they wanted delivered to ICE and asked for a meeting with the agency to discuss conditions in the detention facility. They spoke of the costs of bonds, the denial of the right to political asylum, the humiliation and discrimination meted out on the detained by the GEO Group guards, the poor administration of paperwork and processing and the lack of Spanish-language forms, the incompetence of medical staff, and the quality of the food. Their demands included that bonds be set at fair rates for all prisoners, that they be given the right to political asylum, that conditions within the detention center (from new and hygienic underwear to better food to clean water) be improved, and that inmates be given more time for religious services.

The protests were quickly broken up. Communication between the strikers and media outlets Univision and La Opinion was severed. GEO Group employees beat and peppered sprayed the hunger strikers, breaking the nose of one of the group, before throwing them into hot showers, exacerbating the intense burn of the pepper spray. Members of the Adelanto 9 were placed in solidarity confinement. One was deported. Others were threatened by guards who claimed they would inform the immigration judges of their conduct as a way to undermine their asylum cases.

The Adelanto detainees were undeterred. Two days after the first strike, thirty-three women prisoners began a short hunger strike, demanding better medical care, high bond amounts, basic respect from staff and guards, and to reunification with their children and families. On July 4th, another group of Central American inmates began a hunger strike, this time joined by twenty Haitian detainees.

The strikes did not lead to their release but it did alert many in the outside world to the conditions of Adelanto and the collusion of the GEO Group, the City of Adelanto, ICE, the bond companies, and the US Department of Justice in the mistreatment and monetization of asylum seekers. Now, emerging from those efforts, there is a push by a coalition of organizations to raise the bond funds to release the remaining hunger strikers. Led by CLUE (Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice) and sustained by a tireless group of activists, academics, lawyers, and most importantly, the detainees themselves, they are trying to raise $60,000 to create a bail fund for the remaining Adelanto detainees. They are also working to help support, settle, and integrate asylum seekers upon their release.

Donations in any amount will help free the asylum seekers imprisoned in Adelanto. And each individual freed helps alert the world to those still detained.

Please donate to: Set the Captives Free: Adelanto Bond Fund.

For further information:

Clergy and Laity United For Economic Justice

Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement CIVIC

Inland Coalition for Immigrant Justice 

Black Alliance for Just Immigration

Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

Detention Watch Network (DWN) 



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