When the Duvalier regime was overthrown in Haiti, demonstrators, descended from African slaves, tossed the great statue of Columbus into the bay.
Together with the neighbouring Dominican Republic, Haiti constitutes the island of Hispaniola ‘discovered’ by Christopher Columbus in 1492. Two days after he ‘discovered’ America, Columbus wrote in his journal that with 50 men he could force ‘the entire population be taken to Castile, or held captive.’ He was amazed and marveled at their naiveté, writing in his journal ‘they are very meek and without knowledge of evil nor do they kill others or steal … and they are without weapons and so timid that one of our people can put a hundred of them to flight.’ On his second voyage, in December 1494, Columbus captured 1500 Tainos on the island of Hispaniola and herded them to Isabela, where 550 of ‘the best males and females’ were forced aboard ships bound for the slave markets of Seville. Under Columbus’s leadership, the Spanish attacked the Taino, sparing neither men, women nor children. Warfare, forced labour, starvation and disease reduced Hispaniola’s Taino population (estimated at one million to two million in 1492) to extinction within 30 years.
Saint-Domingue, as Haiti was called until 1804, was known informally as the Pearl of the Antilles, and was the richest French colony in the entire world. During the 18th Century, the island, divided between the Spanish and French, was a major source of the world’s sugar. French colonists planted sugar cane in the well-suited warm, wet climate, and developed large, labour-intensive plantations. Throughout the 1700s, France imported thousands of African slaves to Haiti each year such that there were half a million working in sugar plantations in 1789. During the colonial period, Haiti’s population was seven times larger than the Dominican Republic’s. Haiti exported tens of thousands of tons of sugar and most of the lumber from its forests back to France. It was estimated that in the 1750s Haiti provided as much as 50% of the Gross National Product of France. The French imported sugar, coffee, cocoa, tobacco, cotton, the dye indigo and other exotic products. In France they were refined, packaged and sold all over Europe. Incredible fortunes were made from this tiny colony on the island of Hispaniola.
To ensure cooperation, Columbus used punishment by example. When a local committed even a minor offense, the Columbus’ men cut off his ears or nose. Disfigured, the person was sent back to his village as living evidence of the brutality the Spaniards were capable of.
Today Columbus is glorified in history books as a great adventurer and explorer who expanded Western civilization into a new continent rich in resources and potential. The story of Columbus in the Americas has been laundered so that the tales of his conquest of the Americas could be told as a heroic legend.
The genocide of the peaceful Arawaks of the Caribbean islands is well documented in Columbus’ own letters and journals and in the pages of his most ardent admirer, Father Bartolome de Las Casas, the great contemporary historian of the West Indies who believed Columbus had been divinely inspired to make the Discovery.( John W. Cowart, ‘THE ADMIRAL OF MOSQUITOES’, http://www.cowart.info/Americana/Columbus/Columbus.htm, accessed in January 2010; Edward T. Stone, ‘Columbus and Genocide’, American Heritage, Vol. XXVI, No. 6, October 1975, pp. 4-7,76-79; http://www.solarnavigator.net/history/christopher_columbus.htm, accessed in January 2010; ‘Hidden History Columbus & the colonial legacy’, New Internationalist,issue 226, December 1991, http://library.chevalier.nsw.edu.au/ni/issue226/keynote.htm, accessed in January 2010.)
* A longer version of this article first published on http://axisoflogic.com/artman/publish/Article_58194.shtml (January 2010)