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Despite Haiti's Problems, Bicentennial of Slave Victory Celebrated Worldwide
December 2004

By Wilner Auguste
Special to the Reporter

This month of December would have been the last in a year-long celebration in Haiti of the 200th anniversary of the Haitian Slave Revolution Victory. But Haiti's chronic divisions, which have plunged the country into an endless social, political and economic situation, have buried the celebration right at its beginning, thus leaving the Haitian Diaspora, some other nations and international organizations to commemorate the only successful slave revolt in mankind's history.

That revolution started in "Saint Domingue," the French's richest colony in the Caribbean, on August 14, 1791. For twelve years, hundreds of thousands of Africans and African descendents fought for their freedom against the powerful colonial armies of Spain, Great Britain and France.

On November 18, 1803, at the battle of Vertieres, in the northern part of the country, those freedom fighters defeated the French forcing them to abandon the colony. Their victory led to the creation - on January 1st 1804 - of the first Black Republic in the world and the second independent nation in the hemisphere after the United States. That victory inspired slaves in the Caribbean, South America and the US to stand for their freedom. It also aided the abolition of slavery in the world.

Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide opened the 200th anniversary celebration in Port-au-Prince, on January 1st of this year, with a visit at the Museum of Heroes, a flag raising ceremony followed by some cultural events at the national palace, and a trip to Gonaives, the city where Haiti's forefathers proclaimed the independence of the country.

While the celebration was going on, anti-Aristide manifestations were held in the capital, Port-au-Prince, and other cities. On February 29, Aristide was forced to go into exile. The chaotic situation continues, despite the presence of some United Nations peacekeeping forces. Haiti could not remember its revolution that has brought justice, freedom, and equality for million in the world. The interim government that follows had a plan to come up with a commemoration last November, but the plan didn't materialize.

To add to Haiti's difficult moment in its 200 year history, on May 24, a storm hit the island and devastated the towns of Fond Verettes and Mapou leaving a thousand people dead and thousands homeless. Four months later, Hurricane Jeanne visited Gonaives, the city of the Independence, where 3,000 people died and thousands more are left without any basic necessity of life.

The Haitian Diaspora, which financially supports the country and comes to its help in any crisis, had managed to organize several patriotic and cultural events for the commemoration throughout the year. In the New England area, the Haitian-American Association started it with a Te Deum Mass at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in downtown, Boston, on January 1st, celebrated in Creole by Boston Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley. The Haitian Americans United, Inc. (H.A.U.) followed with a gala on January 3rd, a parade on May 15, and a flag raising ceremony in front of the Boston City Hall on May 18. Other events took place in Brockton and Lawrence, Massachusetts; and Connecticut, New Hampshire and Providence, Rhode Island, where the Haitian community had a ceremony to take possession of a parcel land in Roger Williams Park to build a memorial place to the Haitian Revolution with the statues of the two main generals of the revolution: Toussaint Louverture and Jean Jacques Dessalines.

In Florida, where the largest Haitian American population is found, a Haitian Independence Festival was held at Bay Front Park on January 17, followed by the One People- One Community festival on May 1st. Haitian Heritage Month celebration, the whole month of May, the unveiling of a 10 feet High bronze statue of Toussaint Louverture in the heart of Miami's Little Haiti, and the dedication of Northwest 125 Street as Jean Jacques Dessalines Boulevard.

New York's celebrations included a bicentennial concert at Carnegie Hall on January 3, the Haitian Day Parade in Nostrand Ave, Brooklyn on May 30 and the Family Day Picnic- the Bicentennial Reunion on July 17. Washington DC, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Georgia had among their festivities: Catholic masses, cultural soirees, galas, parades and conferences.

Many international and national organizations organized several activities for the commemoration of the triumph of the Haitian revolution: The United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution requested by the 31st session of UNESCO' General Conference, proclaiming 2004 the International Year to commemorate the Struggle against Slavery and its Abolition. The proclamation said that the goal of the commemoration was "to mark the 200th anniversary of the Haitian Revolution of 1804, the overthrow of the slave system, which symbolizes the triumph of the principles of liberty, equality, dignity and the rights of the individual, as well as the history of the liberation of the peoples of the Americas and the Caribbean, and the emergence of their respective States."

Throughout the year, UNESCO had organized many commemorative events in close cooperation with its member states and governmental and non-governmental organizations, such as the launching of the research and information program "the Forgotten Slaves," an exhibit at the UNESCO's headquarters in Stockholm Sweden entitled " Lest We Forget: Triumph on Slavery," the Ceremony of the Award of Toussaint Louverture Prize, the International Conference on the theme "Issues of Memory: Coming to terms with the Slave Trade and Slavery," and the International Symposium on the Slave Trade Archives Project in Havana, Cuba, and so on.

The American Museum of Natural History in New York marked the revolution with the Haitian Experience, a series of Haitian music, dance, storytelling performances, films and discussions on the impact of the Haitian revolution. The series started in January with Grammy Award winner Wyclef Jean. The San Francisco Labor Council, which represents 80,000 members in 141affiliated unions, adopted a resolution, to hail the revolution as "an earth- shattering development in the struggle for the emancipation of labor." The City Council of Pittsburgh in the State of Virginia issued a resolution proclaiming January 1, 2004 Haitian Independence Day, January 2004, Haitian Independence Day Commemoration Month and 2004, Haitian Bicentennial Year.

There were exhibits and conferences at the African American Museum in Philadelphia, the Chicago Public Library, John Carter Brown Library in Providence R.I., Miami Dade Public Library in Florida, Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies ( CLACS,) Brooklyn Public Library, the Paul Robeson Cultural Center in New Jersey and at the OAS Permanent Council in Washington, DC ,where the council sent a press release expressing its congratulations to Haiti on the occasion.

The XXIV Caribbean Festival, Feast of Fire, in the City of Santiago, Cuba was dedicated to the Haitian Revolution as well as the 5th Annual Caribbean Sunshine Awards. The Smithsonian Folk Life Festival saluted the Haitian Revolution with "Freedom and Creativity from the Mountains to the Sea", a presentation of Haitian music, dance, arts, food, architecture, and so on. Cruising into History was a seven-day excursion organized by Haiti Support Project, an organization based in New York, with the support of actor Danny Glover. The August 14-21 Cruise was a pilgrimage of 450 people to Haiti in the occasion of the bicentennial commemoration.

Cuba marked the 200th of the revolution with a program including lectures, workshops, scientific, cultural and sports activities. South Africa added the Haitian Revolution to the commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the founding of its democracy. Cameroon and UNESCO will take the commemoration to February of next year with an international and multidisciplinary colloquium in that country: "Haiti, the First Black Republic: A Look at Contemporary Africa." The Mayor of London, England, who celebrated the third year of Black History Month at City Hall in October, had added the Haitian Slave Revolution to the purpose of the celebration. Many other countries like Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago, Martinique and Benin celebrated the revolution with different types of activities.

Many colleges and universities in the US, Canada and the Caribbean had cultural activities, lectures and exhibits for the commemoration of the revolution.

The worldwide, year-long commemoration of the 200th Anniversary of the Haitian Slave Revolution Victory was very important for Haitians and Blacks all over the world. The 1791 revolution, which took place during the 18th Century, beside the American Revolution of 1774 and the French Revolution of 1789, was excluded for years from the pages of world history textbooks, despite its contribution to the abolition of slavery in the world. This acknowledgement on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of the Haitian revolution was an overdue debt to mankind. But it was unfortunate that Haiti itself could not be the central-place of the celebration. As many observers pointed out, this sad situation should encourage all Haitians to set aside their differences and unite their forces to lift up the country to the spirit of the revolution: "Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite."

 

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