BOOK REVIEWS: WRITINGS ABOUT HAITI

A number of Haitian exiles have contributed to the special supplement to Freres du Mond (1966) entitled “Haiti enchainee”. The Supplement is divided into three parts: a discussion of economic and social conditions in the republic, a consideration of historical and cultural factors, and finally an attempt to place the phenomenon of Duvalierism in its context. Most of the contributors write from a basically Marxist position, as does Antoine G. Petit in his Haiti: incidences ethniques de la lutte des classes (no publisher, N.D., no price). Petit attacks the whole negritude movement with which Duvalier has been associated since the 193o’s, and which emerged as a powerful political force with the Estime regime of 1946; it is, he argues, a movement of the black petit bourgeoisie acting in its own interests. Jacques Roumain and the Haitian Communist Party founded by him in the 193o’s also come under attack, as nothing more than a literary clique of armchair critics.

R.W. Logan has recently published a volume entitled Haiti and the Dominican Republic (Oxford University Press 1968 38/- ) in the Latin American Studies series sponsored by Chatham House. The book is scholarly and, in general, well written. Particularly good is Logan’s discussion of the American occupation. The author is justifiably critical of Wilsonian imperialism, though he declines to extend his critical attitude to the same spirit when manifested by John F. Kennedy. In 1963 full diplomatic relations were broken off with Haiti, and the U. S. marines took part in a war of nerves, which had as its object the overthrow of Duvalier. The move failed and full diplomatic relations were resumed about six weeks later. Logan’s comments: “this short span makes it impossible at this time to explain American policy”. The explanation is simply that Kennedy failed in his attempt to change the regime and concluded that the resumption of diplomatic relations was in the U. S. interest.

I want to turn at this point to look at some recent publications from within Haiti. In some respects the most interesting publication in this category has been Dr. Francois Duvalier’s Oeubres essenuelles (Presses Nationales d’Haiti 1966-7 ). The first volume “Element d’une doctrine” is of some importance in understanding the ideological roots of the Duvalierist movement; it is unfortunately marred by a fawning introduction by Gerard de Catalogne, a white Haitian journalist, who was formerly associated with Action francais. The writings of Duvalier included in this first volume date from the 193o’s, when he was a leading member of the Griots group of nationalist writers. The most important piece is Duvalier’s monograph “Le probleme des classes a travers l’histoire d’Haiti” (written in collaboration with Lorimer Denis), where the authors discuss the relationship between colour and class in Haitian history. They reject Marxist analysis of the situation which sees the colour question in basically economic terms colour prejudice is, they insist, a problem in its own right.

The same position is maintained by Rene Piquion in a number of his recent writings. His Manuel de negritude (Henri Deschamps 1966) is a useful discussion of the negritude movement. In a more recent pamphlet La tactique du double visage (Deschamps 1968) Piquion replied to the attacks on the Duvalier regime by Marxist Rene Depesrre, which are broadcast from Havana. Depestrc declares that the negritude position is depasse, that the economic question is alone significant. Not, replies Piquion, while Mozambique, Angola, South Africa and Rhodesia are still governed by a small minority of whites; not while oppression and prejudice still exist in the world. He accuses the contemporary Haitian Marxists many of whom hail from the mulatto elite, of being responsible for a kind of monster “the negro without race.”

Piquion’s Manuel de negritude also initiated a controversy with the doyen of Haitian intellectuals, the late Dr. Jean Price Mars. In his Let ere quoert all Dr. Re11r Piquion (Editions des Antilles 1967) Price Mars criticises Piquion’s assumption that the colour distinction coincides with the class distinction in Haitian history. The past has not been characterised by a straightforward clash between a mulatto elite and the black masses, but rather the “social question” consists in the mass of peasants (predominantly though not exclusively, black) being ruled over and exploited by a succession of elite groups mulatto and black. Piquion has defended his position in Masques at portraits (Presses Nationales d’Hairi 1967).

When I spoke with him last year Dr. Price Mars told me that he has written a study of Antenor Firmin, one of the great figures of Haitian history, but that he did not intend to publish it immediately. He has recently died and Haiti has been deprived of her greatest scholar; let us, nevertheless, hope that this MSS on Firmin will yet appear in print. Incidentally the first part of Forrnin’s famous book De I’ egalue des races humaines has recently been republished by Editions Panorama. The volume, first published in 1885 was composed in answer to Gebineau and other racialist writers of the mid-nineteenth century.