In the words of the German Bertolt Brecht over and over again, countries are sad when they don’t have heroes and when they need them. If this is true, the lack of heroes is perhaps the only sadness that cannot be attributed to Haiti, an infinitely miserable country in crisis, which is currently facing the power vacuum created by the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse. .
At the turn of the 19th century, the Haitian Revolution produced some of the most extraordinary figures in the history of the so-called Atlantic world. The most singular of them was undoubtedly Toussaint Louverture.
At the end of 2020, Louverture obtained a new biography in English, “Black Spartacus” (The Black Spartacus). She was nominated for a handful of awards. His great merit lies in his research: the British historian Sudhir Hazareesingh, of the University of Oxford, has collected unpublished documents in archives in France, Spain and the United States.
From a documentary standpoint, he wrote the best biography available on the black soldier and statesman, who fought the war for the emancipation of slaves in the then French colony of Santo Domingo, invoking an ideal of freedom which, at that time, even the most brilliant philosophers of the Enlightenment reserved only for white men.
It is curious that Louverture is little known in Brazil. Black movements around the world frequently mention it. The only book on him available here is the classic “Black Jacobins” (Boitempo), published in 1938 by Trinidadian CLR James.
A Marxist, James painted Louverture as a precursor of anti-imperialism. Hazareesingh places much more emphasis on Louverture’s adherence to the republican principle of equality, regardless of race, creed or color. Preventing the reestablishment of slavery in Haiti would have been, for Louverture, the non-negotiable objective. More than ensuring the sovereignty of the island.
It is true that the Constitution drafted in 1801, under the watchful eye of Louverture, gave Haiti enormous autonomy. According to Hazareesingh, however, the soldier was under no illusions: he hoped that Napoleon Bonaparte, who then ruled France, would reject the idea. I was ready to negotiate.
Louverture’s failure to dismantle the colonial agricultural system would be proof that he intended to largely preserve French interests in Haiti.
Instead of dividing the cane and cotton plantations into smaller properties, he convinced, if not forced, the former slaves to return to the plantations. Hence the main criticism that is still made today. Even though they were now paid, workers continued to dislike the old model of production, which would lead to further social upheaval in the future.
Hazareesingh, however, does not allow this review to demean Louverture. According to him, forced to take into account both the interests of France and local needs, after more than a decade of wars, Louverture made the logical choice to reactivate the plantations that had made the colony the most prosperous of the Caribbean.
Napoleon did not give Louverture the opportunity to negotiate. Sent a large war machine to Haiti. His troops will be defeated in this war in 1804. But before that, Louverture was captured and taken to a dungeon in the metropolis, where he died.
Martyrdom, of course, is part of Toussaint Louverture’s myth. With incredible physical strength, courage in battle, military genius, diplomatic astuteness, rhetorical skill and the power to reconcile pragmatism and idealism. Hazareesingh seeks to demonstrate that all of these qualities are rooted in reality. In “Black Spartacus”, Haiti retains its hero.