Wednesday, January 13, 2010

au-dela les montagnes

Haiti, by the way, marked 200 years of independence in 2004: It's the second-oldest republic in the western hemisphere, after you-know-who. In that amount of time, it's had 21 constitutions and 33 coups. By the 31st or 32nd (something like that), U.S. State Department officials weren't angry, just disappointed:

If this problem is not solved, it won't be because of a failure of the new world order or a lack of political commitment by the White House or the OAS. It will be because Haiti is Haiti.
And the U.S. State Department would know plenty about how it came to be so ... but that's a very long story, and I prefer disjointed quotation and wobbly chronology. Let's begin, then, on an island where Lonely Planet reassures us that a throat-slitting gesture is an appeal for food.

Toussaint l'Ouverture's would have been the signature on the deal with the devil. It looks like this:


No one's got a drawing of the man done from life; depending on their politics, artists render him either simian or Washingtonian. Whatever his true jawline, l'Ouverture fought the Spanish, the British and the French with whatever came to hand. "Endeavor, by all the means of force and address," he wrote to a commander in 1802, "to set [the capital city] on fire; it is constructed entirely of wood ... . Do not forget ... that we have no other resource than destruction and flames."

Napoleon's officers also believed in any means necessary. They invited l'Ouverture to discuss terms for a peace treaty, then shipped him off to prison in the French Alps, where he died. This is how you know that Pat Robertson's theory is bogus: Charlie Daniels says the Devil honors his arangements ... he is certainly more trustworthy than the French.

Baron Samedi is a Haitian Voodoo spirit (lao), of death but also sex and resurrection. He likes rum and cigars. So did Papa Doc—a.k.a. Francois Duvalier—whose "national security volunteers" were better known as the Tonton Macoutes. They liked rum, cigars, and additionally to hang gasoline-drenched car tires around the heads of their victims and set them alight: "necklacing". After Papa Doc, incredibly, was Baby Doc. I'm 50-50 on whether that's a terrible or excellent name for a dictator.

One time, Haitians elected a guy: Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Do you remember that? In 2004 it's possible the U.S. government kidnapped the man and exiled him to the Central African Republic. Possible! Or perhaps it "took steps necessary to protect [him]" from events utterly beyond its control—as of course events in rafting distance of Miami historically so often are. What can you expect, though, really, for a onetime priest whose poetry promised that "the rocks in the water shall know the suffering of the rocks in the sun". Steady on, old chap, steady on.

Now he lives in Pretoria and studies Zulu. This is only the latest, is what I think I'm trying to say, only the latest and simplest thing.

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