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Our debt of gratitude to Haiti

Complex battle: the Haiti Revolution, the most successful slave rebellion in the western hemisphere, was inspired by the French Revolution, which represented a new concept of human rights and universal citizenship

We are reminded that Cup Match had its genesis in the celebration of the emancipation of those formerly enslaved in Bermuda. The recent assassination of the Haitian president saw our premier reach out to Haitians, expressing sympathy during their challenging times.

The opportunity offered in these unfortunate circumstances is to promote community awareness of the link between Haiti and the liberation of enslaved people in all parts of the former British Empire on August 1, 1834.

August 1 became a key milestone in Bermuda and other jurisdictions that benefited from the Emancipation Act. That legislation was the result of a long campaign, supported by diverse people; notably local heroine Mary Prince, who authored a personal narrative on her experience of enslavement, promoting awareness in the push for change. The Friendly Societies maintained that momentum — post-Emancipation — through promoting the continued transformation of a backward social order.

It is worth noting that the struggle to end the inhuman practices resulting from the Transatlantic Slave Trade began from the beginning of that tragic chapter in response to the barbarity of a heinous system. Justifiable violence was used over the decades and centuries across the diaspora in attempts to liberate those enslaved.

For instance, in Jamaica, groups of enslaved persons — called Maroons — were able to secure enclaves in mountainous areas of their island. In Bermuda in 1761, authorities “found evidence of a conspiracy of an island-wide uprising against slavery”; a group of “conspirators” — five men and a woman — were executed.

In Haiti in 1791, a military campaign to end slavery began, inspired by the French Revolution. In 1804, the Haitian Revolution successfully defeated the military forces sent by Napoleon and established its republic — the first time in human history that any enslaved people had successfully overturned a system of slavery.

That watershed led the United States and European empires, which had benefited from the barbarity of slavery, to reconsider the practice and inspired the global anti-slavery movement. Those power elites ganged up, pressuring the new Haitian republic in various ways — with embargoes and “manipulation”. The new government was forced by the cartel to pay the French Government “reparations” for “the loss of the labour of those formerly enslaved”. This “blackmail” of $40 billion was completely paid off only in 1950, although international manipulation continued.

That said, the Haitian Revolution had leveraged momentum for progress and in 1809 the Transatlantic Slave Trade was ended.

Over the next 2½ decades, that momentum eliminated slavery entirely in British territories, when the Emancipation Act took effect on August 1, 1834.

It is clear that here in Bermuda and other parts of the globe, we owe a debt of gratitude to the legacy of the successful Haitian Revolution. As we celebrate Emancipation Day, our collective thoughts and prayers of solidarity are offered for the Haitian people as they navigate their present challenges, which have deep roots.

Glenn Fubler represents Imagine Bermuda. He is joined in this initiative by Ernest Peets, the Minister of Youth, Culture and Sport, the Human Rights Commission, the National Museum of Bermuda, Citizens Uprooting Racism in Bermuda, and Social Justice Bermuda

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Published July 27, 2021 at 8:01 am (Updated July 26, 2021 at 4:05 pm)

Our debt of gratitude to Haiti

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