Culture

Haiti Has One Of The Most Expansive And Influential Histories In The World

Located on the western side of Hispaniola, Haiti is a nation rocked by revolutions and steeped in culture. We take a look at 21 highlights of the country’s history ranging from courageous slave revolts, rum-soaked pirates, murderous despots, and change-making visionaries.

The Indigenous Haitians

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Ancestors of the Taíno people, an Arawak-speaking population, were the first to inhabit Haiti. They are rumored to have arrived as early as 4000-5000 BC and researchers of this indigenous group debate whether they originated from the Amazon Basin, the Yucatán Peninsula or even as far as the Colombian Andes. Despite a wave of smallpox and slavery in the 16th century driving the Taíno to extinction, their language is immortalized in Haiti’s name, which is a transliteration of Ayti, meaning Mountainous Land.

The Arrival of Christopher Columbus

Credit: John Vanderlyn / Wikipedia

Christopher Columbus arrived in Haiti on Dec. 5, 1492, whilst sailing around the Caribbean Islands during his iconic expedition funded by the Spanish Empire. In an act of imperial uncouthness, he swiftly renamed it La Isla Española and established La Navidad, the first European colony in the Americas, which was located near to present-day Cap-Haïtien on the north coast. 

Bartolomé de las Casas

Credit: Unknown / James Bishop

Bartolomé de las Casas was ordained as the first priest in the Americas in 1510. He was one of the first to propose the use of African slaves as a method for offsetting the decline of the Taíno, who were rapidly dying from enslavement and foreign disease. It’s estimated that there were up to 8 million Taíno, before the arrival of Europeans, and by 1548 less than 500 were left. Las Casas later denounced all forms of slavery, but historians and abolitionists have since indelibly labeled him as one of the founders of the transatlantic slave trade.

Queen Anacaona

Credit: Unknown / Wikipedia

Queen Anacaona, born in Léogâne, Haiti, was the last Taíno chief. After being captured by the Spanish and refusing to become a concubine she was executed. Her bravery has been praised in modern Haitian music, such as by Ansy and Yole Dérose.

Bottoms Up

Credit: Howard Pyle / Wikipedia

In the 17th century the swashbuckling Welshman, Henry Morgan, was contracted by the British to invade the colonial Spanish settlements scattered throughout Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Failing to succeed he turned his attention to plundering wealthy Caribbean ports for gold and used Isla Vaca on Haiti’s south coast as a base of operations. After years of government-sponsored marauding, including accidentally blowing up his most prized battleship after a night of hard drinking, he fled to Jamaica with his bounty and bought 5,000 acres of land for cultivating sugar cane for the British. In 1944 his notoriety was spread even further around the world with the founding of the Captain Morgan rum brand.

An Island of Outcasts

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Tortuga Island on Haiti’s north coast was an epicenter for piracy. Previously fortified by the Spanish, a small number of French and English buccaneers began their first attempts to settle here in 1625. Over four decades the nations battled for ownership of the island, with Spain gaining and losing control four times. In 1684, the European superpowers signed the Treaty of Ratisbon, which effectively outlawed piracy and led to many of Tortuga’s settlers to seek out more legitimate work in the navy or cutting and trading wood.

Kings of Coffee

Credit: jlanghurst / Wikipedia

When Spain ceded Haiti to the French in 1697 it was renamed Saint-Domingue and in less than a century became an agricultural powerhouse producing 60 percent of all coffee and 40 percent of sugar for Europe. So productive was this new French colony that it became referred to as The Pearl of the Antilles.

The Slave Rebellion

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The Haitian Revolution starting in 1791 was the most successful slave rebellion in world history. The three-year rebellion led to the abolishment of slavery across all of France’s territories, the country’s independence and kick-started slave revolts in the United States and elsewhere in the Caribbean.

Gunpowder and Guano

Credit: USGS / Wikipedia

Since 1857 there has been a territorial dispute between Haiti and the U.S. over uninhabited Navassa Island. The US maintains its control under the Guano Islands Act of 1856, which was passed as federal law, to allow U.S. citizens to claim unoccupied islands for collecting guano deposits which were readily used in the production of gunpowder and agricultural fertilizer.

Dezafi

Credit: Unknown / repeatingislands.com

The first book to be written entirely in Haitian Creole, Dezafi by Frankétienne, was published in 1975 and described daily life during the Duvalier regime. It wasn’t until 1987 that Haitian Creole was recognized, alongside French, as the official language of the country.


Good Juju

Credit: Dominik Schwarz / Wikipedia

There’s a saying in the country that “Haitians are 70 percent Catholic, 30 percent Protestant, and 100 percent voodoo.” It’s believed that voodoo’s roots go back 6,000 years to Benin and was brought over to Haiti during the slave era where it was practiced in secret. It’s even said that a single ceremony led by Duty Boukman, a voodoo priest, instigated the Haitian Revolution. As a steadfast part of Haitian culture for centuries, it was formally considered in 2003 by Haiti’s Catholic President at the time, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, as having equal standing to Catholicism.

Hideouts

Credit: J. Outhwaite & K. Girardet / wilderutopia.com

During the 17th and 18th centuries, large numbers of slaves managed to escape the French to hide away in Haiti’s mountains. They were known as mawon which means “escaped slave” in Haitian Creole. Their clandestine communities, known as maroons, survived through hunting, agriculture, and capturing and returning other slaves who tried to escape. The most well-known maroon leader, François Mackandal, poisoned the drinking water of hundreds of plantation owners throughout the 1750s.

L’Ouverture’s Vision

Credit: Unknown / Roosevelt Jean-Francois

Toussaint L’Ouverture was the eldest son of an African prince. L’Ouverture led the revolutionary forces during the Haitian Revolution and after France abolished slavery he allied with them to overthrow the British and Spanish on the island. After his success, he wrote Haiti’s first constitution. A visionary, he ratified that “All men can work at all forms of employment, whatever their color.” and “There can be no slaves on this territory; servitude has been forever abolished. All men are born, live and die there free and French.”

Record Breakers

Credit: Auguste Raffet / Wikipedia

Haiti’s independence from France in 1804 makes it the world’s oldest black republic and after the United States, it is the second oldest independent nation in the Western Hemisphere.

Genocide

Credit: France Militaire / Wikipedia

Between 1804-1915 over 70 dictators ruled Haiti. Jean-Jacques Dessalines, who was the first ruler of independent Haiti carried out the genocide of 3,000-5,000 white native French and French Creoles. The only people spared were Polish who defected from the French army, medical professionals and a handful of German colonists.


The Citadel Laferrière

Credit: United States Army / Wikipedia

The imposing Citadel Laferrière is the largest fortress in the Americas and was built by slave rebellion leader Henri Christophe after gaining independence from France. Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982, the mountaintop citadel was designed to sustain 5000 men with food and water for up to one year.

Jewel of the Caribbean

Credit: Rémi Kaupp / Wikipedia

The Sans-Souci Palace, 3 miles from Citadel Laferrière, was the royal residence of Henri Christophe. The palace’s ornate stonework and majestic architecture have been compared to the Palace of Versailles in France.


A Mix-Up

Credit: Bundesarchiv, B 145 Bild-P017045, Frankl, A. / Wikipedia

At the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, when Liechtenstein and Haiti unveiled their country’s flags they realized they were identical. Soon after Liechtenstein added a crown to their flag to avoid any further confusion.

Duvalier Dynasty

Credit: Unknown / learning-history.com

François Duvalier was elected as president in 1957. After an attempted military coup d’état, Duvalier’s regime exerted a totalitarian rule over Haiti. He consolidated his power by creating an undercover death squad which Haitian’s referred to as the Tonton Macoute (Uncle Gunnysack) which is named after a local mythological creature that kidnaps children and carries them away in a sack to be eaten. His aim was to spread fear, crush dissent and assassinate his opponents. An estimated 30,000 were killed. Duvalier declared himself President for Life until his 19-year-old son took over in 1971 and ruled until 1986 when he was forced to flee during a revolt.


Military Rule

Credit: U.S. Coast Guard / military.com

Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a Roman Catholic priest, was elected in December 1990, but in less than a year was overthrown in a coup d’état giving rise to General Raoul Cédras. Under military rule up to 5,000 Haitians were killed and thousands of Haitians tried to flee the country by boat. Between 1991 and 1992 the U.S. Coast Guard intercepted over 41,000 trying to flee the country.

Natural Disaster

Credit: Marco Dormino, The United Nations Development Program / Wikipedia

On Jan. 12, 2010, an estimated 217,000 people were killed by a 7.0 magnitude earthquake which destroys most of the capital, Port-au-Prince. The international community came together to help the country rebuild.

READ: This Tijuana Restaurant Has Become The Hub Of The Haitian Migrant Community Stuck In Mexico

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Filmmaker’s Short Documentary Shines A Light On Woman Who Fought For Cuban Revolution

Entertainment

Filmmaker’s Short Documentary Shines A Light On Woman Who Fought For Cuban Revolution

Filmmaker Celina Escher wanted to capture a historic moment in the Caribbean through the eyes of someone you might not expect. As an assignment from the Escuela Internacional de Cine y TV (EICTV), Escher was tasked with finding a compelling character to cover. Her response was a woman who fought for the Cuban revolution and her excitement for President Barack Obama’s historic visit to Cuba in a film titled “Verde Olivo.” CiNEOLA is bringing the short documentary to the U.S. audience to have a peek into this historic moment.

“Verde Olivo” captures one of Cuba’s most historic moments through the eyes of a revolutionary soldier.

Escher wanted to speak to someone from the Cuban Revolution because of the influence it had on her own home country: El Salvador. The filmmaker wanted to see the people who encouraged the guerilla fighters she learned about growing up. Her search led her to Teresa, a woman who fought for the revolution and has maintained her unwavering support for Fidel Castro and his vision.

“When I met Teresa we spoke about her life and the woman’s role in the Cuban Revolution. On one occasion, Teresa mentioned that she needed to repair her television for the arrival of Obama,” Escher says. “It was a historical moment for Cubans, and especially for Teresa who had devoted her life to the revolution. I was inspired by her and it was then I began to film Teresa’s preparation process.”

Escher appreciated that Teresa and her husband were getting their television repaired in order to watch President Obama’s visit. Cubans are known for maintaining old cars and appliances because of the scarcity of stuff available on the island.

“In Cuba, what is broken is repaired. The Cuban people don’t throw away what is broken and replace it with a new one, like most other western consumerist societies,” Escher says. “Cubans found a way to survive and thrive despite the U.S. embargo. In this precarious situation, the Cubans have been forced to be creative, to repair and recycle.”

“Verde Olivo” shows the resilience of some in Latin America to retain socialist ideals.

The documentary, according to Escher, is important to highlight the strength some in Latin America have maintained against “U.S. imperialism.” Despite the U.S. embargo, life has continued to go on in Cuba after the revolution.

“There have been numerous U.S. military interventions and coups d’etat throughout Latin America where left wing leaders have been replaced with authoritarian military regimes,” Escher says. “There are 76 U.S. military bases in Latin America and the Caribbean with the purpose of securing their economic and political interests. It’s remarkable how Cuba managed to survive all the aggressions and violence.”

The civil war in El Salvador is a strong example for Escher. She grew up knowing of the violent civil war the killed tens of thousands of Salvadorans. The civil war was funded in part by the U.S. government and adds to the overall narrative of U.S.-backed coup d’etats in Latin America.

President Obama’s visit was a wonderful experience while on the island.

Escher remembers that the island was electric as the Cuban people waited for President Obama’s arrival. He was the first president to visit the island in decades and created a renewed hope in cooperation between the two countries.

“It was as if a superstar was arriving. The streets of Havana were cleaned, streets were closed for his arrival, and overall the Cubans were very excited,” Escher recalls. “First of all it was the first U.S. President to arrive in Cuba since 1928, and it happened to be the first Black U.S. President. There has never been a Black president or comandante in Cuba which added to the excitement of many Cubans.”

Despite the visit, many of the Cuban people remained frustrated and disappointed with the overall impact. Escher spoke with Teresa, and her husband Orlando, after the visit. The couple has soured a bit on the visit because the embargo remained and Guantanamo Bay remained occupied.

You can watch the full documentary through CiNEOLA here.

READ: Cuban Embassy Reopens. Cigars, Protests and Food Ensue

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These Were The Moments That Defined Latin America In 2020 That Weren’t About COVID-19

Things That Matter

These Were The Moments That Defined Latin America In 2020 That Weren’t About COVID-19

2020 will easily go down in manny of our memories as the year that just wouldn’t stop. As the year started, it all seemed to be sort of fine as the world came together to battle record-breaking Australian bushfires and worked to hopefully contain an outbreak of a strange new virus in China.

However, as the year comes to a close things have gone de mal a peor for the world in general, but for the Latino population in the United States and Latin America as a region in particular. Though it’s hard to realize just how much we all witnessed and experienced since so much of what happened seems like it was a lifetime ago.

Here’s a look back at some the defining moments from 2020 across Latin America.

Jennifer Lopez and Shakira kicked off the year hopeful with a history-making performance at the Super Bowl.

Yes, believe it or not, this happened in 2020. The pair put on what many have called the best half time show in Super Bowl history. They were also joined by J Balvin and Bad Bunny.

Bolivia’s Evo Morales was forced into exile, only to return to the country in November.

After being forced into exile at the end of 2019 for attempting to illegally run in upcoming presidential elections, Morales spent a year abroad – first in Mexico and then in Argentina.

Mexico’s President AMLO made his first trip abroad to visit Donald Trump at the White House.

Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is a staunch populist and has long said his primary focus is domestic policy within Mexico. Therefore, despite two years in office, AMLO hadn’t left Mexico once. So it came as a surprise when his first trip abroad was a visit to the U.S. leader who had long disparaged Mexico, the government, and Mexicans – not to mention his trip came in the middle of a global pandemic.

Migrant caravans continued to make their way towards the U.S. despite interference from Mexico and Covid-19.

Migrants attempting to make their way to the U.S. isn’t unique to 2020. For decades, migrants have long banded together for safety in numbers along the treacherous journey to the north. However, they became larger and better organized in 2020, perhaps owing to the new dangers of Mexican interference.

Mexico’s AMLO vowed to stop migrants from reaching the U.S.-Mexico border, adhering to Trump’s request. It was also noteworthy because the caravans continued despite the Covid-19 crisis, which has hit the region particularly hard.

Peru saw three presidents in the span of a few weeks after massive protests.

Peru is facing one of the greatest crises the nation has faced. Just as the country seemed to be emerging from the worst of its battle against the Covid-19 pandemic, the country has entered a severe political crisis.

The country’s elected president, Martin Vizcarra, was impeached and removed from office. His predecessor responded with a heavy hand to the protests that ensued resulting in his resignation less than 24 hours later. The government then had to find someone willing to take the job which proved to be a tough sell.

In fact, massive protests swept across Latin America.

From Mexico in the north to Cuba in the Caribbean and Chile in the south, protests were seen all across the region. Although each movement had it’s own stated goal and objectives, many were largely borne out of the same purpose: to fight back against corruption.

Brazil’s President Jaír Bolsonaro tested positive for Covid-19 but it did nothing to change his approach to the pandemic.

Jaír Bolsonaro has long been compared to Donald Trump, with many calling him the Donald Trump of South America. The two were also strongly aligned in their responses to the Coronavirus pandemic, with the pair largely downplaying the severity of the crisis.

Then, Bolsonaro became infected with the virus and many hoped it would change his view on the crisis. It didn’t.

A growing feminist movement developed in Mexico, demanding protection from a shocking rise in violence against women.

Mexico has long been battling endemic violence and the country has continued to see record-setting rates of homicides. But it was the growing rate of violence against women, particularly femicide, that gained national attention.

Women banded together and started large nationwide protests. Over the summer, women in the capital of Mexico City occupied government buildings and destroyed many of the city’s most popular monuments to hopefully get their message across. Although the movement has gained more recognition by Mexicans, the government has still failed to address their concerns. Let’s hope things are different in 2021.

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