In the first part of a two-part article, Elegua looks at the global impact of Haiti’s revolution — and its ongoing relevance for global justice today.
The Haitian Kreyòl proverb, “kat je kontre, manti kaba” translates to “when 4 eyes meet, you cannot tell a lie.” This saying is about meeting on a level playing field. It’s about being accountable to truth, that gives way to progress. And it applies to the Haitian Revolution and all it did for people of African descent all over the world.
The Haitian Revolution embodies a truth about humanity that reshaped the world’s economic structures — the free labor extracted from slavery that had built the western world. Haiti’s freedom caused a ripple effect, sparking many rebellions that jeopardized this system of exploitation. France, a major colonial presence in the Americas, had to sell the vast expanse of the Louisiana territory after losing Haiti. The Haitian revolution was cataclysmic and still echoes today in the reverence of statues erected all over the Latin American region and in the hearts and minds of descendants of enslaved Africans everywhere.
After the revolution, Haiti was a sanctuary for all those who were still in chains; anyone who was enslaved would be free upon touching Haitian soil. This reinforced the truth that people of African descent are human and don’t deserve to be in bondage — against what the colonial powers of the time championed. Haiti’s liberation was about Black liberation and liberation of all who were not free.
Beyond its borders, it inspired and resourced anti-colonialism and anti-slavery efforts on many fronts. When the revolution sparked rebellions in neighboring Santo Domingo, Haiti sent arms and sugar to strengthen these uprisings. Haitian president Alexandre Pétion helped Simón Bolívar fight Spain in exchange for freeing all the slaves in la Gran Colombia (present-day Colombia, Venezuela, Panama, Northwestern Brazil, Northern Peru, and Ecuador). Haiti inspired struggles for liberation throughout the rest of the region and beyond, and it remains a critical reference point in present-day struggles for social justice.
Without Haitian independence in 1804, there would be no Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Venezuela, Paraguay, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Peru, Brazil, Bolivia, or Uruguay as we know them today. This is why homage is paid to Haiti all over Latin America: by Plaza Haiti in Quito, Ecuador; by the statue of Alexandre Pétion in Caracas, Venezuela; by Colombia’s flag, designed in Haiti by Francisco Miranda, with a red and blue stripe reminiscent of the Haitian flag. Homage is even paid to Haiti in Savannah, Georgia’s Franklin Square, where the Haitian memorial honors the largest unit of men of African descent who were recruited from Haiti to fight for the United States’ independence from Great Britain.
The spirit of international cooperation of the Haitian Revolution is reflected in the solidarity initiative between the Dessalines Brigade of Brazilian agroecology specialists and the peasant platform “Kat Je Kontre.” Kat Je Kontre (often written as 4G, Kat Je, G4 or 4 Je), deriving its name from the above proverb, is composed of Grassroots International partners MPP and MPNKP and grantees CROSE and Tet Kole Ti Peyizan Ayisyen. These groups have joined together in an effort to strengthen peasant-based agriculture across Haiti, as a collective step toward food sovereignty.
The Dessalines Brigade was sent to Haiti by MST, the Landless Workers Movement of Brazil. It was a response to Brazilian troops coordinating MINUSTAH, seen by movements as an occupying military force sent by the U.N. to Haiti to pacify the population after the U.S.-backed coup of a democratically elected president. Brazilian troops carried out operations in Haiti using the same tactics enacted to repress the poor in Brazil’s favelas. When Afro-Brazilian singer Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso sang “Haiti é aqui,” a song about the struggles of Black Brazilians entrapped by structural inequity, did they imagine that Brazil would be a military occupier of the first independent Black nation in the world? Activists in Brazil, Mexico, and the U.S. marched to end the occupation. MINUSTA did eventually leave Haiti after a cholera outbreak and at least 134 sexual abuse scandals were attributed to its “peace keepers.” The current relationship between 4G and the Dessalines Brigade, set up to counter neocolonialism through solidarity and anticolonial Black liberation, exemplifies the legacy of transnational cooperation ever-present throughout Haiti’s history.
A Beacon of Hope
Presently, Haiti is not what it once was; independence is costly. Nevertheless, despite everything from political upheaval derived from repeated political repression and stalled democracy, to the assassination of a sitting president, to another major natural disaster, Haitians have done what they do best. They move on, and move forward. Haitian civil society, including peasant movements, has come together to craft a new revolution for Haiti, a way forward for the people by the people, via the Montana Accord.
Will the U.S. allow Haitians to lead the solution to the multiple crises that it helped create? No one knows for sure, but what is certain is that Haitians, particularly Haitian peasants, have always been on the cutting edge of liberation struggles.
At the heart of the Haitian revolution is the truth of the humanity of all who are oppressed, particularly Afro-descendants around the world. That spirit of anticolonialism and Black liberation continues through the work of our partners. Throughout history, Haitians have diligently resisted, helped others, and picked up the pieces as the struggle for a more dignified life and freedom from systemic oppression persists. Haiti was and remains a beacon of hope.