Posts tagged Haiti

Happy October 12

There’s nothing wrong with exploration, or with daring the unknown, or with intercultural exchange. Those are great, they’re inspiring, they’re one of the best, most exciting things that human beings do. It’s a wonderful tale, for those who survive to tell it.

But there is something wrong with wiping out entire cultures, enslaving and murdering millions of people. Which is what Christopher Columbus did, among other things, as governor of Hispaniola. He recorded in his own diaries how he enslaved indigenous people and sent them to early deaths in the mines; he sold young girls into sexual slavery for his men; when indigenous Caribbeans fought back against his aggression he massacred them and paraded the rebels’ dismembered corpses through the streets as a demonstration. He inaugurated the most amazing and important intercultural exchange in the history of the planet Earth on terms that perverted everything about it into a centuries-long march of domination, slavery, conquest, genocide and death.

It’s not that he was a man of his time. That’s not an excuse for anything. But even if it were, men of his time, both American and Spanish, denounced what he was doing. A Spanish Catholic friar wrote a few decades after Columbus’s regime began in the Caribbean that Yet into this sheepfold, into this land of meek outcasts there came some Spaniards who immediately behaved like ravening wild beasts, wolves, tigers, or lions that had been starved for many days. And Spaniards have behaved in no other way during the past forty years, down to the present time, for they are still acting like ravening beasts, killing, terrorizing, afflicting, torturing, and destroying the native peoples, doing all this with the strangest and most varied new methods of cruelty, never seen or heard of before, and to such a degree that this Island of Hispaniola once so populous (having a population that I estimated to be more than three million), has now a population of barely two hundred persons.

It is the shame of the human race that there exist countries where this man’s deeds are still promoted as an inspiring example to schoolchildren or celebrated as a national holiday. His name ought to be remembered in infamy alongside those of Heinrich Himmler, Josef Stalin, and Genghis Khan.

This October, celebrate Indigenous People’s Day.

The Age of Bronze

As we approach the New Year, we naturally think of ends, and of beginnings; what has changed, and what we have lost. So hey, libertarians, let’s all get together and feel sorry about the golden age of Limited Government and Individual Liberty we have lost. Remember the ancient liberties that we all enjoyed only 60 years ago, back in the 1950s? Back when all military-age men were subject to the draft, people were being interrogated before a permanent committee of Congress over their political beliefs, the FBI was conducting massive illegal wiretapping, surveillance and disruption against nonviolent civil rights activists, the National Security Agency was established as a completely secret surveillance arm of the federal government, it was illegal for married or unmarried women to buy basic birth control, it was made illegal for anyone to buy any scheduled drug without a doctor’s prescription, government was conducting medical experiments on unwilling human subjects[1], Urban Renewal was demolishing the core of every major U.S. city to build government highways and housing projects, and massive community-wide immigration raids were terrorizing undocumented migrants throughout the Southwest.

Or like back in the 1940s when government spending was over 50% of GDP, nearly the entire consumer economy was subject to government rationing, Japanese-Americans were forced into internment camps, and a secret government conspiracy was building an entire network of secret cities in order to build atomic bombs to drop on civilian centers.

Or like back in the 1930s when the entire institutional groundwork of the New Deal was being implemented, Roosevelt was making himself president-for-life, government attempted to seize all gold or silver bullion in private hands, the federal government first instituted the Drug War, Jim Crow was the law of the land, Congress created the INS, Jews fleeing the incipient Holocaust in Europe were being turned away by immigration authorities, and psychiatrists were using massive electric shocks or literally mutilating the brains of women and men confined to asylums.

Or like the 1920s when it was illegal to buy alcoholic drinks anywhere in the United States, tariff rates were nearly 40% on dutiable imports, Sacco and Vanzetti were murdered by the state of Massachusetts, the Invisible Empire Second Era Klan effectively took over the state governments of Colorado, Indiana, and Alabama, hundreds of black victims were massacred in race riots in Tulsa and Rosewood, when Congress created the Federal Radio Commission[2], the US Border Patrol, passed the Emergency [sic] Quota Act of 1921 and the Immigration Act of 1924, and the Supreme Court of the United States upheld the authority of the state to forcibly sterilize women deemed “feeble-minded” or “promiscuous” for eugenic purposes.

Or the 1910s, when the federal government seized control of foreign-owned companies to facilitate production of chemical weapons, imposed the first-ever use of federal conscription to fight an overseas war, invaded Haiti, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Mexico[3], Russia, and Europe, passed criminal anarchy and criminal syndicalism statutes, tried and convicted hundreds of people for belonging to radical unions, imprisoned hundreds of people for protesting the draft during World War I (ordered by the President of the United States and upheld by the Supreme Court in one of its most radical anti-free-speech decisions), deported hundreds of people solely for holding anti-state political beliefs, the Mann Act made it illegal to “transport women across statelines for immoral purposes” [sic], the Colorado National Guard machine-gunned and burned alive striking miners and their families in order to break a UMWA organizing campaign, and Congress created the Federal Reserve, the Income Tax, the Espionage Act, and the Sedition Act.

Or maybe like the 1900s. … .

  1. [1] See also the biological and radiological experiments documented here, and the Guatemala syphilis experiment conducted from 1946-1948.
  2. [2] Created in 1926; later converted into the Federal Communications Commission in 1934.
  3. [3] In 1914, and then again in 1916-1917

We know other marketplaces.

If you enjoyed Pigs as a Paradigm, here is some more from the same place, which may be something by way of a moral. This is in Aristide’s article Globalization: A View from Below, which is a frustrating mix of sharp and important insights and politically-blinkered non sequiturs. The article includes the story about the international-aid driven massacre of Haitian creole pigs, and also includes this, which I think is another of its best passages.

In today’s global marketplace trillions of dollars are traded each day via a vast network of computers. In this market no one talks, no one touches. Only numbers count. . . .

We know other marketplaces. On a plain high in the mountains of Haiti, one day a week thousands of people still gather. This is the marketplace of my childhood in the mountains above Port Salut. The sights and the smells and the noise and the color overwhelm you. Everyone comes. If you don’t come you will miss everything. The donkeys tied and waiting in the woods number in the thousands. Goods are displayed in every direction: onions, leeks, corn, beans, yams, cabbage, cassava, and avocados, mangoes and every tropical fruit, chickens, pigs, goats, and batteries and tennis shoes, too. People trade goods and news. This is the center; social, political, and economic life roll together. A woman teases and coaxes her client: Cherie, the onions are sweet and waiting just for you. The client laughs and teases back until they make a deal. They share trade, and laughter, gossip, politics, and medical and child-rearing tips. A market exchange, and a human exchange.

We are not against trade, we are not against free trade, but our fear is that the global market[1] intends to annihilate our markets. We will be pushed to the cities, to eat food grown on factory farms in distant countries, food whose price depends on the daily numbers game of the first market. This is more efficient, the economists say. Your market, your way of life, is not efficient, they say. But we ask, What is left when you reduce trade to numbers, when you erase all that is human?

— Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Globalization: A View from Below
In Bigelow and Peterson (eds.), Rethinking Globalization: Teaching Justice in an Unjust World (Rethinking Schools, Ltd.: 2002). 10.

Now I’d actually want to say a word or three in favor of mind-boggling scale, computer networks, and global markets. But I think what is most valuable in them — when they are valuable — is precisely their ability to interconnect and network bottom-up confederations of a lot of local, people-centered marketplaces, and to facilitate and loop in the kind of messy, informal, individually-driven, un-professional trade that Aristide celebrates. The highly centralizing, politically captured global market that aims to annihilate this, aims to annihilate it because it is a corporate-owned market herded, and driven by, some very powerful interests exercising tremendous amounts of interventionist political force in order to reshape their environments, to dominate their markets, and to protect their corporate empires, their preferred business models, and their commerce without a human face. Self-organizing markets are at their best when they are the Other Marketplaces. And a radical defense of trade and private property is essential precisely because it is only by sticking to our guns, and defending market forms down to the bottom, and especially in the hands of and for the use of the poorest and most marginalized, that we can move beyond half-measures, business balance sheets and number-crunching neoliberal economic reform; get out of the strip mall and into the bazaar; and get down into the people-powered Other Marketplaces that bring together the best of human sociality and mutual exchange.

Also.

  1. [1] [Sic.]

Pigs as a Paradigm

This is a quote from Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s book, Eyes of the Heart, as quoted by k gallagher, who was in turn quoting Sabina England. I’d been meaning to repost this for some time, but some re-posting on the C4SS listserv reminded me of it to-day.

The history of the eradication of the Haitian Creole pig population in the 1980s is a classic parable of globalization. Haiti’s small, black, Creole pigs were at the heart of the peasant economy. An extremely hearty breed, well adapted to Haiti’s climate and conditions, they ate readily-available waste products, and could survive for three days without food. Eighty to 85% of rural households raised pigs; they played a key role in maintaining the fertility of the soil and constituted the primary savings bank of the peasant population. Traditionally a pig was sold to pay for emergencies and special occasions (funerals, marriages, baptisms, illnesses and, critically, to pay school fees and buy books for the children when school opened each year in October).

In 1982 international agencies assured Haiti’s peasants their pigs were sick and had to be killed (so that the illness would not spread to countries to the North).[1] Promises were made that better pigs would replace sick pigs. With an efficiency not since seen among development projects, all of the Creole pigs were killed over a period of thirteen months.

Two years later the new, better pigs came from Iowa. They were so much better that they required clean drinking water (unavailable to 80% of the Haitian population), imported feed (costing $90 a year when the per capita income was about $130), and special roofed pigpens. Haitian peasants quickly dubbed them prince a quatre pieds, (four-footed princes). Adding insult to injury, the meat did not taste as good. Needless to say, the repopulation program was a complete failure. One observer of the process estimated that in monetary terms peasants lost $600 million dollars. There was a 30% drop in enrollment in rural schools, there was a dramatic decline in protein consumption in rural Haiti, a devastating decapitalization of the peasant economy and an incalculable negative impact on Haiti’s soil and agricultural productivity. The Haitian peasantry has not recovered to this day.

Most of rural Haïti is still isolated from global markets, so for many peasants the extermination of the Creole pigs was their first experience of globalization.

— Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Eyes of the Heart: Seeking a Path for the Poor in the Age of Globalization (Common Courage Press, 2000). 13-15.

This insanely destructive scorched-earth massacre of indigenous pigs — carried out by an alliance of multi-national inter-government agencies, and followed by a reconstruction project that amounted to a context-ignorant, centrally-directed forced march towards neoliberal modernization — is a near-perfect illustration of colonialist logic and its real-world effects. The results were a massive ratcheting up of the fixed costs of living for peasants; the violent destruction of locally-based, resilient sources of capital; a massive subsidized transfer of capital and trade into the hands of corporate managers; and the attempted, government-driven remaking of an agricultural economy along lines dictated by the business models of the Metropole. The ruling elite in the U.S., their allies in the international development racket and in the ruling elite of the government that controlled Haiti destroyed local economies, forcibly remade markets in their preferred image, and then called the results progress and integration into global markets. It is of course globalization of a sort — the sort practiced by Alexander or Caesar or Genghis Khan. Whether or not it has anything to do with markets, depends on what it is you think that you are defending, or criticizing, when you talk about markets. If self-organizing markets are going to be worth anything at all, they have to mean more than a cash-nexus yoked to human relations by any means necessary and kept on there no matter the cost to the people’s livelihoods or to the lives of people, animals and the earth. Where markets are valuable, they are valuable precisely because of basic respect for human-scale ownership and evolving patterns of trade, and the people-powered, decentralized, informal and adaptable sorts of relationships like those that emerged around raising and keeping creole pigs — not because of engineered commerce, or the formalized, centralized, high-overhead, government-driven models of industrial agribusiness hog-production.

And if you think colonialism, neoliberalism and forced modernization are only about what happens outside the borders of the U.S., think again. This parable has wings, and colonial reconstruction knows no borders. It’s not the first time that the U.S. government has massacred pigs as a matter of policy; and it applies to lots of other kinds of small-scale personal capital and localized markets, in the internal as well as the external projects of colonizing governments. See, for example, Scratching By, Enclosure Comes to Los Angeles, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, etc. etc. etc.

Also.

  1. [1] [Aristide is referring to the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture’s program to eradicate African Swine Fever in Haiti — by eradicating the pigs. There was an outbreak in the late 1970s and early 1980s, which began in the Dominican Republic. The military dictatorship controlling Haiti at the time attempted a quarantine which slaughtered 20,000 pigs in the area of the Dominican border; they did not pay any compensation to the farmers. IICA, with the collaboration of USAID, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the military dictatorship in Haiti, began the extermination campaign in the 1980s. IICA planned to compensate farmers US $40 for each pig they slaughtered, but when the dictatorship announced the program they made no mention of compensation; so middle-men frequently bought the pigs at a fifth of the fixed compensation. See also Phillip Gaertner, Whether Pigs Have Wings. —CJ.]

All that glitters…

Quoth Murray N. Rothbard:

There is no aspect of the free-market economy that has suffered more scorn and contempt from “modern” economists, whether frankly statist Keynesians or allegedly “free market” Chicagoites, than has gold. Gold, not long ago hailed as the basic staple and groundwork of any sound monetary system, is now regularly denounced as a “fetish” or, as in the case of Keynes, as a “barbarous relic.” Well, gold is indeed a “relic” of barbarism in one sense; no “barbarian” worth his salt would ever have accepted the phony paper and bank credit that we modern sophisticates have been bamboozled into using as money.

But “gold bugs” are not fetishists; we don’t fit the standard image of misers running their fingers through their hoard of gold coins while cackling in sinister fashion. The great thing about gold is that it, and only it, is money supplied by the free market, by the people at work. For the stark choice before us always is: gold (or silver), or government. Gold is market money, a commodity which must be supplied by being dug out of the ground and then processed; but government, on the contrary, supplies virtually costless paper money or bank checks out of thin air… .

— Murray N. Rothbard (1995): Taking Money Back

Well. You might look a little closer at that stark choice there; I don’t know about you, but what I see is a false dichotomy. It is, in any case, an utterly absurd claim to make about the supply of gold or other forms of metal money. In (dis)honor of the upcoming nationalist High Holy Day:

The Europeans were motivated by their lust for glory, for conquest, for women and above all for gold. When the Indians had gold they were compelled to part with it; when they had none they were compelled to hunt for it. Among the Taino people of Hispaniola, Columbus decreed a system of tribute, requiring each adult to submit a specified quantity of gold, on pain of death… . In 1499, troubled by reports they had received from the faraway colonies, the Spanish monarchs empowered a judicial investigator to bring Columbus to account. The inquiry produced testimony that Columbus had forbidden the Christian baptism of Indians except by his express permission, in order to ensure an adequate supply of slaves.

— Ian W. Toll, The Less Than Heroic Christopher Columbus, in the New York Times Sunday book review

And then, from Niall Ferguson (2008), The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World, ch. 1:

In 1532 … the Inca Empire was brought low by a man who, like Christopher Columbus, had come to the New World expressly to search for and monetize precious metal… . Having returned to Spain to obtain royal approval for his plan to extend the empire of Castile as Governor of Peru, Pizarro raised a force of three ships, twenty-seven horses and one hundred and eighty men, equipped with the latest European weaponry: guns and mechanical crossbows. This third expedition set sail from Panama on 27 December 1530. It took the would-be conquerors just under two years to achieve their objective: a confrontation with [the Incan emperor] Atahuallpa… . Atahuallpa could only watch as the Spaniards, relying mainly on the terror inspired by their horses (animals unknown to the Incas) annihilated his army. Given how outnumbered they were, it was a truly astonishing coup. Atahuallpa soon came to understand what Pizarro was after, and sought to buy his freedom by offering to fill the room where he was being held with gold (once) and silver (twice). In all, in the subsequent months the Incas collected 13,420 pounds of 22 carat gold and 26,000 pounds of pure silver.[1] Pizarro nevertheless determined to execute his prisoner, who was publicly garrotted in August 1533. With the fall of the city of Cuzco, the Inca Empire was torn apart in an orgy of Spanish plundering… . Pizarro himself died as violently as he had lived, stabbed to death in Lima in 1541 after a quarrel with one of his fellow conquistadors. But his legacy to the Spanish crown ultimately exceeded even his own dreams. The conquistadors had been inspired by the legend of El Dorado, an Indian king who was believed to cover his body with gold dust at festival times. In what Pizarro’s men called Upper Peru, a stark land of mountains and mists where those unaccustomed to high altitudes have to fight for breath, they found something just as valuable. With a peak that towers 4,824 metres (15,827 feet) above sea level, the uncannily symmetrical Cerro Rico — literally the rich hill — was the supreme embodiment of the most potent of all ideas about money: a mountain of solid silver ore. When an Indian named Diego Gualpa discovered its five great seams of silver in 1545, he changed the economic history of the world.

The Incas could not understand the insatiable lust for gold and silver that seemed to grip Europeans. Even if all the snow in the Andes turned to gold, still they would not be satisfied, complained Manco Capac. The Incas could not appreciate that, for Pizarro and his men, silver was more than shiny, decorative metal. It could be made into money: a unit of account, a store of value — portable power.

To work the mines, the Spaniards first relied on paying wages to the inhabitants of nearby villages. But conditions were so harsh that from the late sixteenth century a system of forced labour (la mita) had [sic] to be introduced, whereby men aged between 18 and 50 from the sixteen highland provinces were conscripted for seventeen weeks a year. Mortality among the miners was horrendous, not least because of constant exposure to the mercury fumes generated by the patio process of refinement, whereby ground-up silver ore was trampled into an amalgam with mercury, washed and then heated to burn off the mercury. The air down the mineshafts was (and remains ) noxious and miners had to descend seven-hundred-foot shafts on the most primitive of steps, clambering back up after long hours of digging with sacks of ore tied to their backs. Rock falls killed and maimed hundreds. The new silver-rush city of Potosí was, declared Domingo de Santo Tomás, a mouth of hell, into which a great mass of people every year and are sacrificed by the greed of the Spaniards to their god. Rodrigo de Loaisa called the mines infernal pits, noting that if twenty healthy Indians enter on Monday, half may emerge crippled on Saturday. In the words of the Augustinian monk Fray Antonio de la Calancha, writing in 1638: Every peso coin minted in Potosí has cost the life of ten Indians who have died in the depths of the mines. As the indigenous workforce was depleted, thousands of African slaves were imported to take their place as human mules. Even today there is still something hellish about the stifling shafts and tunnels of the Cerro Rico.

A place of death for those compelled to work there, Potosí was where Spain [sic] struck it rich. Between 1556 and 1783, the rich hill yielded 45,000 tons of pure silver to be transformed into bars and coins in the Casa de Moneda (mint), and shipped to Seville. Despite its thin air and harsh climate, Potosí rapidly became one of the principal cities of the Spanish Empire, with a population at its zenith of between 160,000 and 200,000 people, larger than most European cities at that time. Valer una potosí, to be worth a potosí, is still a Spanish expression meaning to be worth a fortune. Pizarro’s conquest, it seemed, had made the Spanish crown rich beyond the dreams of avarice… .

… The difficulty[2] was that by the time Charlemagne was crowned Imperator Augustus in 800, there was a chronic shortage of silver in Western Europe. Demand for money was greater in the much more developed commercial centres of the Islamic Empire that dominated the southern Mediterranean and the Near East, so that precious metal tended to drain away from backward Europe. So rare was the denarius in Charlemagne’s time that twenty-four of them sufficed to buy a Carolingian cow. In some parts of Europe, peppers and squirrel skins served as substitutes for currency; in others pecunia came to mean land rather than money. This was a problem that Europeans [sic] sought to overcome in one of two ways. They could export labour and goods, exchanging slaves and timber for silver in Baghdad or for African gold in Cordoba and Cairo. Or they could plunder precious metal by making war on the Muslim world. The Crusades, like the conquests that followed, were as much about overcoming Europe’s monetary shortage[3] as about converting heathens to Christianity… .

At Potosí, and the other places in the New World where they found plentiful silver (notably Zacatecas in Mexico), the Spanish conquistadors … appeared to have broken a centuries-old constraint.[4] The initial beneficiary was, of course, the Castilian monarchy that had sponsored the conquests. The convoys of ships — up to a hundred at a time — which transported 170 tons of silver a year across the Atlantic, docked at Seville. A fifth of all that was produced was reserved to the crown, accounting for 44 per cent of total royal expenditure at the peak in the late sixteenth century. But the way the money was spent ensured that Spain’s newfound wealth provided the entire continent [sic] with a monetary stimulus. The Spanish piece of eight, which was based on the German thaler (hence, later, the dollar), became the world’s first truly global currency, financing not only the protracted wars Spain fought in Europe, but also the rapidly expanding trade of Europe with Asia.

The Money Monopoly is a many-headed beast, and it sure didn’t start with paper money; nor did its activities in the days before fiat currency consist exclusively of (say) debasing metallic currencies that the conjurers of market forces had miraculously called forth from the earth. The tale of coinage, and the monetization of precious metals, is largely a tale of dispossession, slavery, and the most atrocious, literally genocidal forms of mass government violence. Yesterday, @ndy at Slackbastard reposted a brilliant and devastating passage from Jorge Semprun’s What A Beautiful Sunday! on the moloch of Bolshevism and the graves at the Kolyma gulag:

But, Shalamov tells us, ‘the eternally frozen stone and soil of the merzlota rejects corpses. The rock has to be dynamited, hacked away. Digging graves and digging for gold required the same techniques, the same tools, the same equipment, the same workers. An entire brigade would devote its days to cutting out graves, or rather ditches, where the anonymous corpses would be thrown fraternally together … The corpses were piled up, completely stripped, after their gold teeth had been broken off and recorded on the burial document. Bodies and stone, mixed together, were poured into the ditch, but the earth refused the dead, incorruptible and condemned to eternity in the perpetually frozen earth of the Great North …’

… In Moscow, at the Mausoleum at Red Square, incredible, credulous crowds continue to file past the incorruptible corpse of Lenin. I even visited the mausoleum myself once, in 1958. At that time, Stalin’s mummy kept Vladimir Ilyich company… . Ten years later, in London, after reading that passage in Varlam Shalamov’s book, I remembered the tomb in Red Square. It occurred to me that the true mausoleum of the revolution was to be found in the Great North, in Kolyma. Galleries might be dug through the charnel houses — the construction sites — of socialism. People would file past the thousands of naked, incorruptible corpses of prisoners frozen in the ice of eternal death. There would be no guards; those dead would not need guards. There would be no music, either, no solemn funeral marches playing in the background. There would be nothing but silence. At the end of the labyrinth of galleries, in a subterranean amphitheater dug out of the ice of a common ditch, surrounded on all sides by the blind gazes of the victims, learned meetings might be organized to discuss the consequences of the ‘Stalinist deviation,’ with a representative sprinkling of distinguished Western Marxists in attendance.

— Jorge Semprun, What A Beautiful Sunday!. Translated from the French by Alan Sheridan, Abacus, London, 1984. Qtd. by @ndy in SP v SB, slackbastard (2011-10-03).

And in much the same way, I suppose that the true mausoleum of the merchant-state and state capitalism could be in the hellmouth tunnels of the Cerro Rico. At the end of the labyrinth (already cut, already stifling with the stench of death), in a subterranean amphitheater surrounded by the ghosts of the enslaved miners, learned meanings might be organized to discuss what government has done to our money, with a representative sprinkling of distinguished libertarian economists in attendance.

Or perhaps it would just as well be held in the Great North, right alongside the monument to Marxist-Leninism.

Kolyma, too, was a gold mining camp.

  1. [1] About a quarter of a billion dollars, in 2011 US money. —CJ
  2. [2] For European kings, not for their victims. —CJ
  3. [3] Sic — of course he means European governments’ monetary shortage. The continent of Europe has no use for money, and most of the people of Europe never had metallic money in any great amount either before or after the various conquests.
  4. [4] By breaking the earth — and that, in turn, by breaking a few million enslaved Indians and Africans. —CJ