The following text was read on September 27 by Uruguyan writer and historian Eduardo Galeano at the National Library in Montevideo during a panel-debate titled "Haiti and Latin America". Appearing there with Galeano was Haitian researcher Camille Chalmers, and Jorge Coscia.
You can consult any encyclopaedia. Ask which was the first free country in America. You will always receive the same answer: the United States. But the United States declared its independence when they were a nation with six hundred fifty thousand slaves who remained so for another century, and in its first Constitution they established that a black slave was equal to the three fifth parts of a person.
And if you ask any encyclopaedia which was the first country to abolish slavery, you will always receive the same answer: England. But the first country that abolished slavery was not England, but Haiti which is still expiating the sin of its dignity.
The black slaves of Haiti had defeated Napoleon Bonaparte's glorious army and Europe never forgave that humiliation. Haiti paid France, for over a century and half, a huge compensation, for being guilty of its freedom, but not even that was enough.
That black insolence still hurts to the world's white masters.
Of all that, we know very little or nothing. Haiti is an invisible country. It only attained fame after the earthquake of 2010 which killed more than two hundred thousand Haitians. The tragedy had the country reaching, fleetingly, the spotlight of the media.
Haiti is not known by the talent of its artists, scrap magicians capable of transforming garbage into beauty, neither for its historical feats in the war against slavery, and colonial oppression. It's worth to repeat it once again, so that the deaf can listen: Haiti was the founding country of the independence of America and the first one that defeated slavery in the world. It deserves a lot more than the fame sprung from its misfortunes.
At present, the armies from several countries, including mine, are still occupying Haiti. How is this military invasion justified? Because of allegations that Haiti puts international security in danger. In other words, more nothing, once more.
Throughout the nineteenth century, Haiti's example was a threat to the security of countries that still continued practicing slavery. Thomas Jefferson had already said: from Haiti came the pest of rebellion. In South Carolina, for example, the law allowed to imprison any black sailor while his ship was at dock, for the risk that he could contaminate the antislavery pest. And in Brazil, that pest was called Haitianism.
In the twentieth century, Haiti was invaded and occupied (1915) by the U.S. Marines for being an insecure country for its foreign creditors. The invaders began to take possession over custom offices and gave the National Bank to the City Bank of New York. Since they were already there, they decided to stay other nineteen years.
The crossing of the border between the Dominican Republic to Haiti is named The wrong step. Maybe the name is a call to arms: are you entering the black world, the black magic, the witchcraft...
Voodoo, the religion that slaves brought from Africa and was nationalized in Haiti; it has no right to be called religion. From the point of view of proprietors of Civilization, voodoo is a black thing, ignorance, backwardness, pure superstition. The Catholic Church, with plenty of followers capable of selling the saints' fingernails and the feathers of Archangel Gabriel, made possible that this superstition was officially forbidden in 1845, 1860, 1896, 1915, and 1942, without the town even notice it.
But for a few years now, the evangelical sects are in charge of the war against superstition in Haiti. Those sects come from the United States, a country that doesn't have 13th floors in their buildings, nor aisle number 13s in their airplanes, that is inhabited by civilized Christians who believe God made the world in one week.
In that country, the evangelical preacher Pat Robertson explained on television the earthquake of 2010. This shepherd of souls revealed that the Haitian blacks had conquered their independence from France from a voodoo ceremony, invoking the Devil's help from the depth of the Haitian jungle. The Devil that gave them their freedom has now sent the earthquake to collect its due.
How long will foreign soldiers remain in Haiti? They arrived to stabilize and help, but have been having breakfast and destabilizing this country that doesn't want them for seven years.
The military occupation of Haiti is costing the UN more than eight hundred million dollars yearly. If the United Nations dedicated those funds to technical cooperation and social solidarity, Haiti could receive a good boost to its creative energy. Then they would be saved from their armed saviors who have a certain tendency to violate, kill, and deliver fatal illnesses.
Haiti doesn't need anyone to come and multiply its misfortunes. Neither does it need anyone's charity. Or as an ancient African proverb goes, the hand that gives is always above the hand that receives. But Haiti does need solidarity, doctors, schools, hospitals, and a true collaboration that makes possible the rebirth of its alimentary sovereignty, killed by the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and other philanthropic societies.
For us, Latin Americans, that solidarity is a debt of gratitude. It will be the best way to say thanks to this little great nation that in 1804 opened for us, with its contagious example, the doors of freedom.
This speech is dedicated to Guillermo Chifflet, who was forced to give up the Chamber of Deputies of Uruguay when he voted against the sending of soldiers to Haiti. (For background to that story, see http://lo-de-alla.org/2011/09/uruguay-haiti-and-united-nations-missions/) English translation by Cubasi Translation Staff. Originally published in Spanish here.