Ronald Charles: After Haitian revolution, colonial oppression turned into oppression by its ruling elite
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome back to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay. We’re joined again by Ronald Charles. He’s a PhD student at the Department of Religion at the University of Toronto, and he used to be a lecturer at the Christianville University college in Haiti. Thanks for joining us. So Pat Robertson says the reason is there’s such terrible poverty in Haiti is a deal with the devil, and we’ve heard something similar to that said by the media, in the sense that it’s some unknown metaphysical reason for poverty. If independence doesn’t equate to poverty, what does? Why is there such poverty in Haiti?
RONALD CHARLES, DEPT. OF RELIGION, UNIV. OF TORONTO: Oh, well, you really have to go to the beginning of the history of Haiti. And here we have to be very prudent in the way we approach the whole question. And I don’t want to portray a romanticizing type of portrait of what happened during the Haitian Revolution. During the Haitian revolution, we did kick the French out, but what happened right after it, when from the outside that was not a good example, because that was the first and, to my knowledge, the only slave revolution around the world. So that was not a good thing to be done. And then you have Haitians from 1803, 1804, until 1860, they did not have any relationship with any big powers in the world. So for the French, for example, to recognize Haiti as an independent nation, we had to pay them a lot of money.
JAY: More or less was money saying you’ve lost a lot of slaves, and now we’re going to repay you for having lost your slaves.
JAY: And a US blockade, I suppose, didn’t help any.
CHARLES: No, no, nothing like this. And a couple of years later, the Americans, they came and invaded us in 1915. One of the reasons is that, well, we were to protect Americans’ interests in Haiti, and President Wilson, the American president then, he sent all these soldiers, and these soldiers introduced prostitution and so many other things in Haiti. And when you look at the history of the struggle, that was quite interesting time frame in Haitian history, from 1915 to 1934. And then from 1934 to 1956 to ’67 you have a lot of difficulties, a lot of unrest in the country. And the Americans, they knew someone who studied with them in the States, and he was quite a quiet guy. So they approached him and they actually put him in power.
JAY: You’re talking about Papa Doc.
CHARLES: Papa Doc. And he came in power in ’57 with the aid of the Americans, and then the Americans who would support him all the way, because supposedly he was against the Communists. And then in 1971, when he died, his 19-year-old son, Jean-Claude Duvalier, came into power with all his Tonton Macoutes, and then again—.
JAY: Explain who Tonton Macoute—.
CHARLES: The Tonton Macoutes are civilians, but armed by the power, and they have to protect the power. They are the volunteers for the power, and they would do everything or anything to protect the power—kill, whatever. Imagine that.
JAY: Yeah, I don’t think people get this, the extent of the viciousness of that regime.
CHARLES: It was very vicious. As a young man growing up in Haiti, I saw, for example, one of my cousins, he got shot here on a day when the Macoutes were celebrating the day of the Macoutes. And they would just go and shoot in the air or just shoot people. That’s just the way it is—you celebrate your day. I was quite young. And I realized after Jean-Claude left that my own name was on a list to be eliminated, to be killed.
JAY: How old were you?
CHARLES: I was 15 years old.
JAY: How did you find out about that?
CHARLES: Someone afterwards, he was a Macoute, and then years later he said that my name was on the list.
JAY: And why? What were you doing?
CHARLES: Well, I was just a reader, because I used to read voraciously. Because of that, some people thought that I was Communist.
JAY: So if you could read, it makes you a communist.
CHARLES: Yeah, exactly. So you could read, you could maybe question then. So you’re a communist, good to be killed.
JAY: So I think that the key point here is there would have been no Papa Doc without the support of the US.
CHARLES: No. But that’s one side. From the Haitian side, you have to understand that from the beginning, also, you have the army, and you have what was called in French the affranchi—the freed men. And they were, like, light-skin. And you have these, the two, the Army and the light-skin, controlling the whole politics of Haiti from the start. So this is why, for example, when the French came back in 1860 with the deal that we had with them and we paid them, they sent teachers not to teach the people, the mass of Haitians, but to teach the children of these light-skin, and probably the big soldiers, the children of the big soldiers. So what you have, you have a pyramid type of society, where at the bottom you have a big mass of people, and the education system was geared to this top. So at the top you would have maybe 5 percent of people knowing, and after studying in Haiti they would be going to France, mainly to study, and come back to Haiti to keep on the political, the social, the economics. They would hold on to everything in Haiti.
JAY: Well, in the next segment of our interview, let’s talk about what shape is this elite in now, post-earthquake. Their institutions, their army, their police force, everything is more or less on the ground. So what happens next? So join us for the next segment of our interview with Ronald Charles.
Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee complete accuracy.