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(en) France, UCL AL #318 - 1804-1825, Dossier Haitian Revolution, epilogue: Facing imperialism, challenge or reconcile? (ca, de, it, fr, pt)[machine translation]

Date Tue, 7 Sep 2021 08:50:05 +0300

At the end of December 1803, independence was won. Two challenges remained: ensuring the survival of the "first black republic" in the face of threats of revenge; respond to the aspirations of a people who were certainly ready to defend their revolution, but also wanted to taste the freedom acquired. ---- During the first twenty years of independence, the new ruling class, resulting from the army, oscillated between two tendencies. Either a state capitalism, nationalist and militarist, which would maintain the plantation economy; it was the line of Dessalines then Christophe. Or a liberal capitalism, which would privatize land for the benefit of the peasants and the bourgeoisie, and normalize its relations with the old metropolis; it was the line of Pétion, then of Boyer.

Citadel island
From 1804 to 1806, under the rule of Dessalines, Haiti was a nation in arms, feverishly preparing for a possible new aggression. As the Constitution of 1805 stipulated: "At the first alarm gun, the cities disappear and the nation is standing." It is therefore rebuilt the coastal cities, torch in hand; a dense network of fortresses, sometimes disproportionate, equipped with hundreds of cannons was erected in the mountains; an army of 60,000[1]was maintained ; "agrarian caporalism " was reinforcedon the plantations, which were massively state-controlled; we sought American and English neutrality by promising that Haiti would notAnti-slavery " proselytism "[2]. Finally, the Haitian nation was demarcated by the sword, in a "last act of national authority"[3].

From 1804 to 1820, 20,000 workers erected the gigantic Laferrière citadel, then, nearby, the Sans-Souci Palace, home of King Christophe.
Painting by Ulrick Jean-Pierre (1993)
The extermination of the "French whites"
The revolution and the war of independence had generated a Haitian national consciousness, uniting the yellow (mulatto) and black "races", to the exclusion of the white minority, compromised by its support for the Leclerc expedition. At that time, there were only a few hundred white families left in Haiti, either they did not have the means to flee, or they chose to stay, reassured by promises of non-retaliation.

Henry Christophe (1767-1820)
This former slave is one of the main generals of Toussaint Louverture. After independence, he carved out a state in the north of the country and was crowned king.
However, the general staff was thinking of a more definitive solution for this "enemy of the interior": either deportation or extermination. The second option won. It was supervised by Dessalines himself, from February to April 1804, to ensure that local officers, even the most reluctant, carried out the massacre. "I want the crime to be national," he will say, "for everyone to dip their hand in blood[...]. What matters to me the judgment of posterity on this measure commanded by politics, provided that I save my country." [4]Each town, in turn, was surrounded by the troops, and the soldiers entered the houses to kill systematically, with bayonets. Without a shot, so as not to alert the next locality. There were sometimes public celebrations and popular participation in the killings, but also families who tried to hide the condemned. Once all the men and male children were killed, we deliberated and then decided to slaughter the women and girls as well. There were at least 3,000 dead.

Later, this massacre of civilians will revolt Haitian historians: "bloody reprisals, like the crimes which provoke them, are the domain of barbarism", wrote Beaubrun Ardouin, who saw it as the ultimate atrocity of a war that had it. counted many others[5].

Dessalines crowned himself emperor in October 1804, and his authoritarianism soon alienated from him both the peasantry who toiled under the cocomacac, the bourgeoisie who exploited the plantations for rent, and some of his senior officers who, like Alexandre Pétion and Henry Christophe, held him for a brute[6]. From October 1806, the South was in revolt, and the emperor was killed in an ambush.

Abandonment of the plantation economy

Alexandre Pétion (1770-1818)
This mulatto general close to André Rigaud did a lot to unify the resistance to the French in 1802-1803. President after the fall of Dessalines, he embodies the "normalization" of the revolution.
The Dessalines tomboys, however, could not come to an agreement. The republic, restored in 1807, was quickly divided between Pétion, in the south, and Christophe, in the north. Pétion, who embodied the return oftherather liberal " mulatto party ", conceded to the peasantry the end of agrarian caporalism and the hated large plantations. The lands were sold at a low price to the cultivators, who lived there as they wished. Sugar and cotton production fell, with coffee becoming the only export crop.

On the other hand, Christophe, tireless legislator and builder, prolonged Dessalines, and made the black proletariat toil like never before: on the sugar cane plantations, on the construction sites of its fortresses and its palaces. Crowned king in 1811, when the revolt was already raging, he committed suicide in 1820, cornered by a revolution.

His northern kingdom then returned to the Haitian Republic, now chaired by Pétion's successor, General Jean-Pierre Boyer. In 1822, he annexed the Spanish-speaking east of the island, which since 1809 had resumed its autonomy under the aegis of the former colonists, then placed itself under the protection of Spanish imperialism. Haiti remained unified until 1844, when the East gained its independence definitively under the name of the Dominican Republic.

By this date, the generation of revolutionaries of 1791-1803 was extinct. And the Haitian Revolution was becoming a fascinating object of history.

Guillaume Davranche (UCL Montreuil)

During the decade 1815-1825, peace returned to Europe reopened the possibility of French action against Haiti. Not a risky invasion, which was quickly dismissed by the restored monarchy, but a maritime blockade, with a view to obtaining compensation for settlers expropriated from their domains. According to historian Beaubrun Ardouin, President Jean-Pierre Boyer feared that such a blockade would precipitate a new secession from the East, or even from the North, which had just been reunited with the Haitian Republic. He therefore considered planning to "buy" the tranquility. In exchange for a peace treaty and recognition of independence, Haiti would pay tribute.

The transaction was concluded in 1825, on disastrous terms. President Boyer accepted both an astronomical indemnity (150 million gold francs, reduced to 90 million in 1838) and a 50% reduction in customs duties for French ships. To pay, he got into debt with French banks. And to reimburse the banks, he squeezed the peasantry. His Rural Code, in 1826, attempted to resuscitate "agrarian caporalism" in an attempt as anachronistic as it was futile.

Perhaps Boyer hoped that this normalization-humiliation would be beneficial in the medium term. On the contrary. It bled the population for decades. It sucked in the income from coffee exports, the price of which was steadily declining, then from timber exports, leading to dramatic deforestation. Two hundred years later, Haiti still suffers from the delay due to the payment of the "independence debt". Civil society is demanding "restitution and reparation".

Illustration: President Jean-Pierre Boyer, successor to Pétion, who accepted the "debt of independence".

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