So What Do We Know About Haiti?

Perhaps I’ll do a Science Supplement later but this morning my mind is elsewhere.

Haiti is half the island of Hispaniola, larger and slightly to the right and South of Cuba on your map.  The Haiti part of it is the fishhead looking thing with Port Au Prince, the capital, located near the base of the lower jaw.

The epicenter was 10 miles to the Southeast and six miles deep.

It shares space with the Dominican Republic and their capital, Santo Domingo, is where TheMomCat is flying this morning.

It will be quite an adventure even getting to Port Au Prince or someplace near.

But enough about them, Haiti is the really romantic and interesting part of the island.

It was the site of one of the earliest European colonies in the Americas, La Navidad, which was promptly destroyed by the naked, weaponless, and cowardly Taíno.

The natives didn’t really ever get less restless since after the introduction of African slavery in 1517 (most of the Native American slaves being killed off by European diseases and all) it was also the site of the first and only successful slave revolt in the Americas (and I would argue about Spartacus, since it ended badly).

The Spanish mostly abandoned the Western part of the island (except when they were busy killing Indians) and it was taken over by French pirates which explains why French is the primary language today.

The Pirates also found that there was safer money to be made in exploiting slaves on indigo, tobacco, and sugar plantations and after some disputes over squatter’s rights the Western part of the island was ceded to France in the Treaty of Ryswick.

Under French rule it became the richest and most repressive part of the island, but with the successful examples of Revolution in The United States and France the African slave population became restive.

The French Revolutionary government to it’s great credit opposed slavery on ideological grounds and abolished it for certain classes of mixed race people in 1791.  After resistance from slaveholders to implementing the new laws a general rebellion of those covered by the new policies and more traditional slaves soon succeeded in seizing control of what was France’s most profitable colony.  Fearing British exploitation of the rebellion (as they themselves had exploited the American Revolution) France issued a general emancipation and abolished slavery in 1794.

Now the French Revolution is really complicated and enmeshed with the geo-political rivalries between the Continental and Colonial powers of Spain and the Holy Roman Empire, France, and Britain (I’m excluding the Dutch and Portugese because their empires were primarily Colonial, but they also had European ramifications).

It was a time of quickly shifting allegiances of which it could truly be said that there were no eternal allies or perpetual enemies, only enduring interests.

As soon as 1801 Napoleon Bonaparte dispatched expeditionary forces because he was dissatisfied with the leadership of Toussaint L’ouverture who was showing a disturbing independence.

Defeated by the French (joined by Jean-Jacques Dessalines), L’ouverture signed a treaty swearing that slavery was abolished and retired to his farm for a full three weeks after which he was seized, deported to France, and died of “pneumonia” after repeated interrogation in captivity.

Dessalines in turn promptly booted the French and proclaimed the new nation of Haiti the second independent country in the Western Hemisphere and himself Emperor for Life.

George Washington he wasn’t.

More recently Haiti has become a nation of grinding poverty where people eat dirt to ameliorate their hunger and suffered a succession of brutal dictatorships interspersed with revolutions and hurricanes.

The morning’s headlines as I write this between 5 and 6 am (et) are these-

Haiti’s capital shattered by powerful earthquake

By JONATHAN M. KATZ, Associated Press Writer

21 mins ago

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – Dazed and injured Haitians sat on darkened streets pleading for help Wednesday and untold numbers were trapped in tons of rubble brought down by the strongest earthquake to hit this poor Caribbean nation in more than 200 years.

The extent of destruction from Tuesday afternoon’s 7.0-magnitude tremor was far from clear – and estimating the number of casualties was impossible, save for the dead lying among thousands of collapsed buildings in Haiti’s capital.

The ornate National Palace crumbled into itself, the headquarters of the U.N. peacekeeping mission collapsed, and swaths of rickety shacks lay in shambles. Clouds of dust thrown up by falling buildings choked Port-au-Prince for hours.

Thousands feared dead as major quake strikes Haiti

By Joseph Guyler Delva, Reuters

1 hr 22 mins ago

PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) – A major earthquake rocked Haiti, killing possibly thousands of people as it toppled the presidential palace and hillside shanties alike and leaving the poor Caribbean nation appealing for international help.

A five-story U.N. building was also brought down Tuesday by the 7.0 magnitude quake, the most powerful to hit Haiti in more than 200 years according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Reuters television footage from the capital, Port-au-Prince, showed scenes of chaos on the streets with people sobbing and appearing dazed amid the rubble.

Hundreds feared dead as 7.0 quake strikes Haiti

by Clarens Renois, AFP

2 hrs 33 mins ago

PORT-AU-PRINCE (AFP) – The strongest earthquake to hit Haiti in over a century rocked the impoverished Caribbean nation Tuesday, toppling buildings and triggering fears that hundreds have been killed in widespread destruction.

Some of the country’s most venerable buildings, including Haiti’s presidential palace, were destroyed by the late-afternoon, 7.0-magnitude quake, and bodies were seen arrayed in the streets as darkness enveloped a panic-stricken capital Port-au-Prince.

Injured, homeless and horrified residents of the crowded capital of two million suffered through the terror of dozens of strong aftershocks, according to scattered eyewitness reports.

Fears of major catastrophe as 7.0 quake rocks Haiti

by Clarens Renois, AFP

Tue Jan 12, 7:33 pm ET

PORT-AU-PRINCE (AFP) – A huge quake measuring 7.0 rocked the impoverished Caribbean nation of Haiti Tuesday toppling buildings and causing widespread damage and panic, officials and AFP witnesses said.

“I think it’s really a catastrophe of major proportions,” Haiti’s ambassador to the United States, Raymond Alcide Joseph, told CNN television.

All communications with the island went down after the earthquake and no details were immediately available on any people killed or injured in the disaster.

Haitian presidential palace leveled after quake: report

by Clarence Renois, AFP

Tue Jan 12, 7:07 pm ET

PORT-AU-PRINCE (AFP) – Haiti’s presidential palace and numerous other government buildings in the country’s capital Port-au-Prince collapsed Tuesday after a massive 7.0 earthquake, Haitian television streaming online reported Tuesday.

Communications to the island, the most impoverished in the western hemisphere, were cut in the wake of the massive earthquake, which produced several aftershocks and prompted a tsunami warning.

A journalist with Haitian television station Haitipal, interviewed by telephone from Port-au-Prince, told the station that public buildings across the capital had been destroyed.

UN says Haiti headquarters collapsed in earthquake

By EDITH M. LEDERER, Associated Press Writer

Wed Jan 13, 1:13 am ET

UNITED NATIONS – The headquarters of the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Haiti collapsed in Tuesday’s earthquake and a large number of U.N. personnel are missing, the U.N. peacekeeping chief said late Tuesday.

Alain Le Roy told reporters that U.N. troops, mostly from Brazil, were surrounding the wreckage of the five-story building trying to rescue people, but “as we speak no one has been rescued from this main headquarters.”

“The main building that was the headquarters building has collapsed,” he said. “We know clearly it is a tragedy for Haiti, and a tragedy for the U.N., and especially for the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Haiti.”


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  1. I’m going to pick the Front Page and take a nap.

  2. Why did they HAARP Haiti.

  3. I did  snoop around last night some and came across this one for you science minded folks. Charts and stuff.


    Heading over to Diane’s essay next.

    • Edger on January 13, 2010 at 3:44 pm

    hat tip to Jeralyn Merritt @ Talkleft:

    Haiti is the poorest country in the Americas. Unicef is asking for donations. So is the Red Cross. Here is the link to their disaster newsroom. If you can’t access their website, follow along on their twitter feed. Via the State Department:

    To help, text “HAITI” to “90999” and a donation of $10 will be given automatically to the Red Cross to help with relief efforts, charged to your cell phone bill. Or visit Red Cross and Mercy Corps to contribute. Also call 1-888-407-4747

  4. Debbie W-S (Florida) saying there are approx 245,000 Haitian-Americans in Dade area, worried sick about family there.

    “Agonizing. Unimagineable devastation. No one to come to help inside Haiti. These are human beings.” good for her. She continues, saying that we need to go beyond the immediate crisis and provide ongoing assistance to this desperate nation. Urging USA guv to grant TPS to Haitians in teh USA! woot. go Debbie! Temporary Protected Status.

    Okay… essay in the works.

    Obama to speak shortly. On now.

    • Robyn on January 13, 2010 at 4:24 pm

    They tend to be on the low end in motivation, preparation (some of them tell us they never saw a computer until arriving in the US), and respect for their teachers and fellow students (some of them tell us the teachers would send them home if they came without money for the teacher).  They tend to be on the high end in whining, cheating, and homophobia.

    But they are ours and we love them and try to make a difference.

    • Edger on January 13, 2010 at 5:07 pm

  5. I hope TMC will arrive safely and be safe while there.  We can only hope that we will get in there and so something, as Obama promises.

    Thanks, ek hornbeck!

  6. This is an essay I did some time ago. I think it is worth reading.

    • Temmoku on January 13, 2010 at 10:21 pm

    I was just wondering who the Bas***d was that signed that pact with the devil……Maybe someone in the Philippines can enlighten us because Pat seems to know all about it!(snark)

    Great diary!  

  7. Keepimg TMC and these medical teams in my thoughts and prayers.

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