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Haiti: an inquiry into violence

By Matthew Woolford

According to Fr John Hardon’s Modern Catholic Dictionary, violence may be defined as “Physical or psychological force used to compel one to act against one’s choice…Violence may be absolute or relative. Absolute violence …destroys free will…If the victim does not oppose the act with every possible external resistance, violence is called relative.”

In the Gospel of St John (2:14–17), Jesus, in preparation for the Passover, decided to do some housecleaning: “He found in the temple area those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves, as well as the moneychangers seated there. He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the moneychangers and overturned their tables, and to those who sold doves he said, ‘Take these out of here, and stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.’ His disciples recalled the words of scripture, ‘Zeal for your house will consume me’.”

I believe that violence is something that human beings struggle with more than we are willing to admit. Its public manifestations are often evidence of a deeper struggle within the temple, individual or collective, to which one belongs.

Jesus was not particularly violent in this situation, but I do believe that He was trying to address the violence within it. In fact, I see in His whip mastery, someone who dislikes unfairness, and the confusion it generates.


The Haitian conundrum

According to Dr Eric Williams, in From Columbus to Castro: “The worst hell on earth in 1789, Saint-Domingue (modern day Haiti) was absorbing 40,000 slaves a year.…Moreau de Saint-Méry cites as a typical case that of a sugar plantation in Léogane, begun in 1750 with 78 creole slaves… By 1787 the proprietor had purchased 255 other slaves, in addition to which 150 Negroes were born on the plantation during the interim. Notwithstanding this, the plantation contained only 203 Negroes in 1787. This represented a loss, in the thirty-seven years of nearly four times the original stock.”

The history of Haiti, I believe, depicts a paragon of unfairness of biblical proportions. Yet, it was by persevering through these and other atrocities that its descendants have grown in resilience.

In the same book, Dr Williams also commented: “Toussaint was captured by a treachery which he should have foreseen… On the deck of the ship, he uttered his memorable prophecy: ‘In overthrowing me, you have cut down… only the trunk of the tree of liberty. It will spring up again by the roots for they are numerous and deep…

His successors, Dessalines and Christophe, continued the struggle to decide, in the words of Leclerc, ‘whether Europe will preserve any colonies in the Antilles’…

On January 1, 1804, at a meeting of all his generals, at the very spot where Toussaint had been treacherously captured, Dessalines’ secretary read out the declaration of independence of the new republic—the second in the New World—which, to remove every vestige of detested rule, took its ancient name Haiti and struck out from its flag the white of the French tricolour. The generals abjured for every allegiance to France, and swore to die rather than live under French domination.”

In a BBC article entitled, Haiti crisis: Can Kenyan police officers defeat the gangs?, dated October 2, 2023, and written by Gloria Aradi & Pascal Fletcher, the following was recounted: “Haiti…has a history of foreign interventions.

  • “The US invaded and occupied Haiti from 1915 to 1934, sending in marines and military administrators. Further US military interventions occurred in 1994 and 2004, to ‘defend democracy’ and restore order. The interventions made many Haitians wary of outside interference, especially involving the US.”
  • “Past UN peacekeeping deployments in Haiti, for example by the Brazilian-led Minustah force from 2004 – 2017, did not escape controversy either, when Nepalese troops were blamed for bringing in cholera after the devastating 2010 earthquake.”
  • “Even the massive US military-led foreign humanitarian intervention that responded to the quake, while certainly welcomed by many Haitians, raised sensitive debates about aid dependency and alleged abuses by some aid workers and peacekeepers.”

I am neither a foreign affairs diplomat nor a historian but would be disappointed, though not totally surprised, to find Haiti the victim of another veiled attempt to capture the ‘Pearl of the Antilles’, because Haiti, in my opinion, has never needed any superlative outside help to solve any of her problems or to win any of her wars.

What I believe Haiti needs, is intervention that is full of love and mercy. This type, however, may only be capable by nations who have already completed their own internal house-cleaning, an extremely high threshold for many, even in the developed world, to overcome!