African American Studies
Ayanna Legros

Black Imprints

Haitian Colonial Memory in Venezuelan Politics

  • Faculty Advisor

    Sherwin Bryant

Published On

May 2014

Originally Published

NURJ 2013-14
Honors Thesis

Mike Powell | Photo

Abstract

Traditionally, scholars mapping the Haitian diaspora focus on migratory movements to Western nations, rendering the Haitian diaspora as a phenomenon outside of Latin America and the Caribbean. Conversely, diaspora theorists cite the Dominican Republic as a place worthy of study because it relates to questions of race, nation, and diaspora in Latin America. However, Haiti is left out geographically and conceptually on the margins of these issues. This paper argues for the significance of the study of the Haitian diaspora in Venezuela, as its growing presence is shifting understandings of racial geopolitics throughout the Americas.

Tracing the expansion of the Haitian diaspora to and within Venezuela during Hugo Chavez’s administration (1999 to 2013), this thesis examines the ways that Chavez’s usage of Haitian-Venezuelan relations dating from the independence wars to the modern day allowed for his government to critique the United States’ hegemonic influence in the Americas during the twentieth and twenty-first century. Using Venezuela as a space for understanding post-colonial discourses and the Haitian diaspora, this thesis showcases the ways that colonial memory influences present day understandings of the Haitian diaspora and its entanglements with the geo-political aims of Latin American and Caribbean countries to extricate Western influence.

Epigraph

1. Venezuelan Consulate. New York City. May 18th 2012.

“Because of Haiti’s contribution to their liberation, Venezuela, Colombia, and Ecuador incorporated the Haitian blue and red colors into their flags. In honor of the solidarity that Haiti provided Latin America’s liberators, Miranda and Bolivar, the Venezuelan Consulate will host patriotic presentations to honor the Haitian flag’s 209th anniversary.”[1]

The island of Hispaniola, located in the Caribbean, consists of two nation-states: Haiti and the Dominican Republic. C.L.R. James’ The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution states, “In 1789 the French West Indian colony of San Domingo supplied two-thirds of the overseas trade of France and was the greatest individual market for the European slave-trade.”[2] Haiti, a French colony, was the largest plantation economy in the New World, producing 80,000 tons of sugar exports in 1791 alone.[3] Known as the Pearl of the Antilles, Haiti became a site of envy among neighboring European colonial domains. Yet this “Pearl” became European colonizers’ worst nightmare in 1804, as Haiti successfully ended French colonial rule and became the first black republic in the New World. Ontologically, Haiti questioned European colonialism, imperialism, and slavery within the Americas. As Haiti challenged previous notions of black inferiority, militancy, and citizenship, “Spanish authorities in particular feared the spread of ‘seditious ideas’ following the example of Haiti (Saint Domingue).”[4] Even though Haiti recognized itself as an independent state, the revolution shocked Western political sensibilities, causing Haiti’s sovereignty to remain in question for the majority of the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century.

2. James, Cyriel Lionel Robert and Louverture François Dominique. Toussaint. The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution. London: Secker & Warburg, 1938. Print. ix.

3. Andrews, George Reid. Afro-Latin America, 1800-2000. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2004. Print. 19.

4. Lasso, Marixa. Myths of Harmony: Race and Republicanism during the Age of Revolution, Colombia 1795-1831 (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh

Venezuela is responsible for providing over 43% of energy needs of neighboring countries. Following the 2010 earthquake, Venezuela increased its pledge for aid to $2.4 billion to Haiti, has sent several tons of food and supplies, had its state oil company provide 225,000 barrels of fuel, supplied medicine, forgave over $400 billion of Haiti’s debt and was among the first to deliver emergency aid after the 2010 earthquake. In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Venezuela sent over 1,800 tons of humanitarian aid to Haiti.[22]

Ultimately, one form of slavery replaced another, as Western powers asphyxiated Haiti’s political economy in response to white paranoia and fragility. France demanded 150 million Francs as the price for official recognition of the country, causing Haiti to spend about 1 billion dollars between 1825 and 1947 in reparations.[5] Haiti’s status as a post-colonial sovereign nation continued to be challenged into the twentieth century, as it was occupied by the United States military from 1915 thru 1934, received blockade threats from France, Spain, and England, and experienced brutal Haitian dictatorships backed by the U.S. government.[6]

5. Quigley, Bill. “Why the US Owes Haiti Billions – The Briefest History. Common Dreams: Building Progressive Communities, 17 Jan. 2010. Web. 11 May 2012. <https://www.commondreams.org/view/2010/01/17-6>.

6. Ibid. 1.

These economic, social, and political factors contribute to the dispersal of Haitians across the globe today. According to the Haitian Diaspora Foundation, it is estimated that one third of all Haitians today live outside of Haiti, including an estimated 2.5 million living across the United States alone.[7] Robin Cohen in Global Diasporas: An Introduction refers to the Haitian diaspora as deterritorialized, as its members have experienced double or multiple displacements during a given period. Yet, Cohen’s focus on the Haitian diaspora within the United States, United Kingdom, Netherlands, and France, illustrates that it is still understood as a movement contingent on European nations’ reception of these populations. The phenomenon of the dispersal and movement of Haitian citizens from their homeland to other nations is known as the Haitian diaspora, which is embedded within a larger African diaspora.

7. Haitian Diaspora Foundation. http://www.myhdf.org/the-Haitian-Diaspora.htm (accessed 4 Feb 2013)

Geographic separatism and transnational communication are characteristic of the Haitian diaspora, as its members contribute to the political economy of Haiti, influencing state politics as much as those living within state borders.[8] Researchers have often studied the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic to understand racial governance and nation, European colonial legacies, blackness within the Americas, and the Haitian diaspora at large. However, this paper seeks to experiment with another avenue of telling the Haitian diaspora narrative—one that is centered around the state of Venezuela, a country located on the Northern coast of South America.

I argue that Haitian and Venezuelan history within the field of African Diaspora Studies are too often separated, despite the fact that these two nations have produced major revolutionaries and anti-colonists such as Haitian generals Touissaint L’Ouverture and Alexandre Petion and Venezuelan generals Simon Bolivar and Sebastian Francisco de Miranda. The relationship between these two countries is often situated solely during the colonial period, yet they are once again forming allegiances to question U.S. hegemony, imperialism, and capitalism. While neoliberal practices in the Americas are no longer blatant in their imperial and colonial pursuits, Haitian and Venezuelan governments are increasingly becoming more cognizant of the fact that these practices have become institutionalized. Analyzing the Haitian diaspora in Venezuela and the relationship between the Haitian and Venezuelan governments tells a story about blackness, a condition familiar with the colonial struggle.

8. In 2010, Haiti received about 1.5 million U.S dollars in remittances "Remittance Profile: Haiti." Migration Policy Institute Data Hub. Migration Policy Institute, 2011.. <http://www.migrationinformation.org/datahub/remittances/Haiti.pdf>. (accessed. 13 Feb. 2013)

This project draws from multiple fields of analyses, such as history, anthropology, political science, journalism, and diaspora studies. In my attempts to illuminate the dying processes of Western power in the Americas, I quickly discovered the hypocritical nature of my research. My reliance on Western authors is necessary, as fieldwork on Latin America and the Caribbean is typically conducted in three languages: French, Spanish, and English, with English at times dominating the Spanish literature that I read. This linguistic dominance illustrates how the hegemonic influence of the United States on global systems continues to permeate research and educational institutions. Most of the writing and reading of Haitian historiography assumes literacy and formal access to Western language and culture (particularly French), two prerequisites that already exclude the majority of Haitians from direct participation in its production.[9] Despite Haitian Creole’s recognition as an official language, the vast majority of history books about Saint-Domingue/Haiti [continues to be] written in French.[10]

9. Trouillot, Michel-Rolph. Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History. Boston, MA: Beacon, 1995. Print. 55.

10. Ibid. Print. 55.

The history of the Americas is often situated within Columbus’ journey to Hispaniola, as illustrated in the nursery rhyme, “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” Embedded in this nursery rhyme is the notion that the Americas do not have a history outside of European discovery. Michel Rolph Trouillot in his book, Silencing the Past: Power and Production of History states, “To call ‘discovery’ the first invasions of inhabited lands by Europeans is an exercise in Eurocentric power that already frames narratives of the event so described. Contact with the West is seen as the foundation of historicity of different cultures.”[11] Matthew Restall’s Seven Myths of the Spanish Conquest problematizes approaches to studying European arrival to the Americas by highlighting inaccuracies that dominate the theorization of the events of the conquest. In order to understand race relations in Venezuela as they pertain to Afro-descended and indigenous peoples, the conquest in the Americas needs to be understood not as a one-time event, but as a historical process that ultimately builds racial formations in the Americas.

This historical process, known as race and nation, is discussed in Marixa Lasso’s Myths of Harmony: Race and Republicanism during the Age of Revolution. Lasso analyzes the relationship between pardos (free people of African descent), whites, indigenous, and creole people, in Gran Colombia and the relationship between race, nation, and sovereignty from 1795-1831. Lasso problematizes romantic notions of race relations and concludes by arguing that colonialism’s legacy of race is infused within Latin American social life even today.

While race and nation have specific histories internal to Latin American and Caribbean nations, Juliet Hooker’s “Ambas Américas: Race and Hemispheric Democracy in the Political Thought of Douglass and Sarmiento” demonstrates that nations seeking to gain independence from the Spanish Crown and U.S. imperialism were constantly in dialogue with one another. Studies of race and nation theory in Venezuela require Winthrop Wright’s Café con Leche: Race, Class, and National Image in Venezuela, as it illuminates Venezuelan race relations during the colonial period. While we usually think about Europe historiography and movements (specifically the Enlightenment) as influencing the Americas, Laurent Dubois’ A Colony of Citizens: Revolution & Slave Emancipation in the French Caribbean, 1787-1804, similarly to Hooker, argues that French Caribbean nations such as Martinique, Guadeloupe, and Haiti can be spaces to interrogate ideas about modernity, democracy, and republicanism that influence Western thought.

11. Ibid. Print. 114.

While in other Latin American nations, the elimination of black bodies and importation of white bodies is seen as the resolution to race and nation problems, [12] Haiti’s self-governance requires systems outside of European colonial power. Paul Verna’s paper, La Revolucion Haitiana y sus Manifestaciones socio-juridicas en el Caribe y Venezuela (The Haitian Revolution and its Socio-Legal Manifestations in the Caribbean and Venezuela) links Haiti and the revolution to other Latin American nations seeking independence, and argues that Haiti is a site of inspiration for Bolivar, as an independent republic. Remembrance of Haiti within Venezuelan state politics is vital to Venezuela not only during the colonial period, but also into the Chavez administration in twenty-first century.

Haiti’s importance within the Americas cannot be understood without conceptualizing the African diaspora. George Reid Andrews’ Afro Latin American History: 1800-2000 provides a history of European occupation of the Americas, battles for independence, United States’ military interventions in the region, and concludes by connecting the colonial period to the post-colonial state struggles and paradoxes of racial identity. Afro-Latin American identity requires an intersectional approach to race, class, and gender, as this group continues to be largely marginalized within the Americas. Sheila Walker’s Conocimiento desde Adentro: Los Afro-Sudamericanos Hablan de sus Pueblos y sus Historias analyzes Afro-descended South Americans and uses anthropological approaches to understand the socio-economic status within these countries. Racism towards black populations in the Americas can also be understood by looking at the policing of state borders. Jorge Durand’s “Capital étnico Y Migración De Relevo: Nuevos Y Viejos Patrones Migratorios En América Latina” (Ethnic Capital and Relay Migration: New and Old Migration Patterns in Latin America). Despite its restricted focus to the Haitian diaspora in the United States and the Dominican Republic, Durand’s piece is important because for provides an understanding of migratory movements within the Americas during the twentieth century. Finally, capitalist pursuits and intervention are characteristic of the U.S.’ relationship to Haiti which is argued in William Blum’s Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions since World War II. Blum highlights how maintaining order in Haiti is understood as a job that requires Western military and/or economic intervention.

This thesis, centered on the study of the Haitian diaspora to Venezuela discontinues the legacy of dominance of the Dominican Republic and the United States in the ethnographic fieldwork of Haitian migration. Published literature on the Haitian diaspora to Venezuela is largely scarce. I relied on two books: Jesus Machado’s Migracion Haitiana En Venezuela: Estudio Exploratorio (Haitian Migration in Venezuela: An Exploratory Study), published in 2010, and Amanda Castillo Levison’s dissertation, La Migration Haitenne Au Venezuela, Un Cas D’Etude De L’Insertion A L’Integration (Haitian Migration to Venezuela: A Case Study of Insertion and Integration), published in 1987 to understand discourses about Haitian-Venezuelan relations between state actors, such as ambassadors, as well as conversations that take place on the ground, through interviews and surveys. This twenty-three year gap between the publications caused me to rely on Haitian and Venezuelan news sources such as Rapadoo Observateur, Haiti Progrès, AlterPresse, El Universal, Ultimas Noticias, and Caracas Chronicles.

Starting with Bolivar’s expedition to Haiti during the 1800’s, Machado looks at the historical relationship between these two countries and ends in the present. This further perpetuates the idea that Haitian migration to other nations is a problematic nuisance. My research approach seeks to methodologically disengage with these stereotypes and see the Haitian diaspora to Venezuela as an anti-colonial project centered on economic, political, and social peace making within the Americas.

12. Barnor Hesse argues that “Whiteness allows for the absence of race.” Questions of race only become illuminated when non-white bodies are located.

Amanda Castillo Levison’s dissertation, La Migration Haitenne Au Venezuela, Un Cas D’Etude De L’Insertion A L’Integration (Haitian Migration to Venezuela: A Case Study of Insertion and Integration), published in 1987, looks at political state actors such as Haitian politician, Rene Saint Fleur, who in 1982 referred to Venezuela as a “pays freur” (brothering country).[13] This illustrates that Haitian-Venezuelan state actors have historically been involved in formulating discourses of colonial memory between these two countries. The complexity of Haitian migration to Latin American and Caribbean nations is focused on in Sarmiento’s, “Migraciones Caribenas Hacia Venezuela.” This piece, published in 2000 looks argues that Haitian migration to Venezuela is predominantly illegal and continues to depend on smugglers and false identification.

13. Levison, Amanda Castillo. La Migration Haitenne Au Venezuela, Un Cas D’Etude De L’Insertion A L’Integration. Diss. Universitie De Paris III Sorbonne Nouvelle Institut Des Hautes Etudes D’Amerique Latine, 1987. Paris, Julliet: n.p., 1987. Print.136.

I referred to Barry Cannon’s dissertation Class/Race Polarisation in Venezuela and the Electoral Success of Hugo Chavez in order to understand Haitian migration to Venezuela as it relates to the African diaspora, black politics and Afro-descendant people’s participation in Chavez’s electoral politics would be important. Chavez’s support is largely framed in regards to race and class, as he phenotypically identifies as black.[14]

Hugo Chavez’s identity and controversial persona are examined in Nikolas Kozloff’s Hugo Chavez: Oil, Politics, and the Challenge to the United States, published in 2008 and Rory Carroll’s Comandante, published in March of 2013. Both Kozloff and Carroll focus on Chavez’s dependency on oil, the exodus of Venezuelan elites, anti-American rhetoric, his fight against neoliberalism, and most importantly, his painting as a cult-leader for Venezuela’s poor.

14. Weathersbee, Tonyaa. “Why the Black and Poor Loved Hugo Chávez.” The Root. N.p., 06 Mar. 2013. Web. 11 Mar 2013. <http://www.theroot.com/views/why-black-and-poor-loved-hugo-ch-vez>.

More often than not, Chavez is painted as a villain, with arguably good reason. Chavez’s leadership is cited as responsible for socio-economic issues such as inflation, the exodus of thousands of upper class Venezuelans, the silencing of journalists and media outlets, and rigged elections.[15] This paper does not seek to engage in questions of whether or not Hugo Chavez’s economic, social, and political policies and practices were correct, but rather focuses on his desire to connect peoples of African descent as a form of defying U.S. hegemony in the Americas.

15. Human Rights Watch. “World Report 2013.” Venezuela. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Jan 2013. <http://www.hrw.org/world-report/2013/country-chapters/venezuela>.

Haitian-Venezuelan relations begin with the arrival of Simon Bolivar on December 24th, 1814 to Haiti via invitation from President Petion. Bolivar landed on the shores of Haiti and described it as “the land of liberty, [and the] victorious country of blacks and mulattoes”[16] as Bolivar felt that Haiti possessed the necessary tools to liberate his country and South America.[17] A year after Bolivar’s visit to Haiti, Venezuela declared its independence from Spain and was victorious in 1823. As a result of this history, Bolivar is remembered as “El Haitiano” or the Haitian[18] in reference to his desire to embody Haitian liberators. During a trip to Port-Au-Prince, Haiti in 2010, Chavez stated, “It was time to encourage the union of our republics. It is an old project of Miranda’s and Bolivar’s...of Petion’s and of Louverture’s-all those who dreamed of a great nation, of a free nation.”[19] Chavez’s connections and commemorations of these colonial histories bolster Haitian-Venezuelan relations of the present.

16. Kozloff, Nikolas. "Haiti: Public Relations War and Historical Symbolism." The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 20 Feb. 2010. (accessed 13 Jan. 2013). <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/nikolas-kozloff/haiti-public-relations-wa_b_469918.html>.

17. Verna, Paul. La Revolucion Haitian y sus Manifestaciones socio-juridicas en el Caribe y Venezuela. Boletin de la Academia Nacional de la Historia. 12. accessed: 3/8/13.

18. Verna, Paul. La Revolucion Haitian y sus Manifestaciones socio-juridicas en el Caribe y Venezuela. 4.

19. Kozloff, Nikolas. "Haiti: Public Relations War and Historical Symbolism." The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 20 Feb. 2010. (accessed 13 Jan. 2013). <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/nikolas-kozloff/haiti-public-relations-wa_b_469918.html>.

Chavez often stated, “Haiti has no debt with Venezuela, but just the opposite: Venezuela has a historical debt with that nation, with people for whom we feel not pity but rather admiration. We share their faith [and] their hope.”[20] By stating that Haiti does not have any debt to Venezuela, Chavez disrupts Haiti’s long history of poverty and reliance on loans from the United States and other Western governments. As a country that could not achieve liberation without the systematic debt to the French and U.S. governments, Chavez’s statement appropriates agency back to the Haitian government and people. Ultimately, colonial struggles of the past only affirm and give meaning to struggles of the present in Latin America and the Caribbean.

20. "Chavez Writes Off Haiti’s Oil Debt to Venezuela." Latin American Herald Tribune. N.p., 2009. (accessed 20 Feb) 2013.<http://www.laht.com/article.asp?CategoryId=10717&ArticleId=351054>.

The dismantling of Western hegemony in the Americas requires not only anti-American discourse and rhetoric, but also institutions that situate Latin American and Caribbean nations in powerful roles. Chavez’s pessimism about Euro-centric economic systems is embedded in his understanding of capitalism as a force that is tied to imperialism, racism, discrimination, and injustice.[21] As a result of this pessimism, Chavez in 2004 organized ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas). ALBA seeks to serve as an alternative to the U.S.-led Free Trade Area of the Americas (Área de Libre Comercio de las Américas, ALCA) and other U.S. based organizations such as U.S. AID. In addition to ALBA, Chavez invests in PetroCaribe, which is an oil alliance that supplies energy resources to neighboring Latin American and Caribbean countries. According to a report on ALBA, Venezuela has a lead role in the institution.

21. Forero, Juan, and Steve Inskeep. “Hugo Chavez's Legacy Looms Over Venezuelan Election.” NPR Morning Edition. NPR, 10 Apr. 2013. Web. 10 Apr. 2013. <http://www.npr.org/2013/04/10/176757042/hugo-chavezs-legacy-looms-over-venezuelan-election>.

22. Embassy of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela to the United States: Venezuela’s Continuing Aid to Haiti. <http://venezuela-us.org/live/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/12.28.2012-Aid-to-Haiti.pdf >

Venezuela is responsible for providing over 43% of energy needs of neighboring countries. Following the 2010 earthquake, Venezuela increased its pledge for aid to $2.4 billion to Haiti, has sent several tons of food and supplies, had its state oil company provide 225,000 barrels of fuel, supplied medicine, forgave over $400 billion of Haiti’s debt and was among the first to deliver emergency aid after the 2010 earthquake. In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Venezuela sent over 1,800 tons of humanitarian aid to Haiti.[22]

Both institutions and donations function as forms of counter Western hegemony in the Americas. While one could argue that another loan further harms the Haitian government, these loans can alleviate economic stresses that can be traced back to the colonial period. Despite the expulsion of colonial powers in the Americas and the celebration of independence days from Spain in these countries, it is not uncommon to hear Latin Americans refer to Spain as the motherland. Chavez’s administration problematizes this idea by arguing for a need to see Africa as a homeland alongside of Spain. During an interview with Democracy Now, Chavez states, “When they think of the motherland, it’s Spain that comes to mind, not Africa. These attitudes have their roots in the earliest days of the colonies. However we have discovered later in our lives that one of the greatest motherlands of all is no doubt Africa.[23] This notion of lineage and homeland is apparent through the ways in which Venezuelans self-identify racially. Chavez argues that Latin Americans continue to struggle with their identity racially and geographically. The Chavez administration’s decision to dilute the Preamble of the Venezuelan Constitution in 1999, which stated that everyone is equal and that discrimination based on race does not exist[24] illuminates the fact that racial harmony, a concept birthed during independence wars, continues to circulate within Latin American discourse and is even institutionalized. Chavez sought to challenge hegemonic notions of blackness within Venezuela by focusing on the fact that Latin American and Caribbean nations have historically ignored the contribution of African and indigenous peoples to its own history.

23. “Democracy Now: Hugo Chavez Interview (09/19/2005).” YouTube. YouTube, 22 July 2012. Web. 02 Feb. 2013. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HM4WthxAbXU>.

24. Comrie, Williams, Janvieve. President Hugo Chavez and Race: The Shift from Avoidance to Inclusion. Al Jazeera, 6 Mar. 2013. http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2013/03/201336151053865910.html (accessed 11. Mar. 2013)

As a result of Haiti’s historic significance within the Americas, after the earthquake that struck Haiti in 2010, Venezuela revised its immigration laws and registered an estimated 15,000 Haitians thought to be living illegally in the country.[25] Although the United States is typically understood as the most desirable location for migration, particularly after political and environmental crises, the United States has historically denied asylum applications, particularly from Haitian migrants in states of emergency.[26] Arguably, Chavez’s discourse of interstate partnerships between the Haitian and Venezuelan peoples does not apply to the lives of Haitians on the ground as linguistic, cultural, social, and religious norms are just a few factors that separate Haitians from even the Afro-Venezuelan community. Haitians are predominantly tied to the informal economy, as “the majority [of Haitians] ends up working local service jobs selling clothes, food, ice cream and coffee on the sweltering hot streets of Caracas.”[27] While many Haitians arrive with intentions to study abroad or “modus operandi”, and can be found in multiple sectors, they largely dominate and monopolize the ice cream vendor industry. Martin Rangel, a depot for the ice cream brand EFE, states, Almost 70 percent of the vendors working for him are Haitian. They can earn good money without having to invest in equipment. The roughly 30,000-strong Haitian community in Venezuela has a near-monopoly on selling ice cream in the streets.[28] Rangel later explains that Haitian migrants to Venezuela consist mostly of young men between ages 18-40, illustrating a gender divide within migratory patterns.

The most problematic issue of the Haitian diaspora experience in Venezuela is the illegality of it, as it jeopardizes and abuses Haitians at times. Smugglers often force Haitians to share their ‘salaries’ with them in exchange for false documentation. But, even in the face of these challenges, the Ambassador of Haiti to Venezuela during Chavez’s administration, Leslie David, feels that Haitians are exposed to many opportunities. Ambassador David states,

25. Reporting., Simon Romero; María Eugenia Díaz And Sandra La Fuente P. Contributed. "In Venezuela, a New Wave of Foreigners." The New York Times. The New York Times, 07 Nov. 2010 (accessed 10 Jan 2013)

26. According to Report on the Americas: Haitians at sea: Asylum Denied by Bill Frelick, during the 1991 coup of Jean Bertrand Aristide, “of the total 24,559 Haitians [that] had been picked up in international waters by the U.S. Coast Guard. Of that number, only 28 were allowed to pursue asylum claims. Curiously, only eight of these were admitted during the Duvalier family dictatorship and the anti-democratic regimes that succeeded it.

27. Devereux, Charlie. "Ice Cream Sales a Lifeline for Haitians in Caracas." Reuters. Thomson Reuters, 22 Mar. 2010. http://www.reuters.com/article/2010/03/22/us-venezuela-haiti-idUSTRE62L5GU20100322(accessed 29. Jan. 2013)

28. Ibid. Print. 22

29. Analisis365:Revista Digital “En Venezuela Todos Los Haitianos Son Legalmente Reconocidos: Entrevista al embajador de Haiti en Venezuela”http://www.analisis365.com/2012/05/27/en-venezuela-todos-los-haitianos-son-legalmente-reconocidos/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=en-venezuela-todos-los-haitianos-son-legalmente-reconocidos (accessed 5. Feb 2013)

Haitians here are doing many things [in Venezuela]. Haitians are university professors, painters, artists, and engineers. I think they (ice cream vendors) do not feel abused. I believe their rights have been respected. Before it may have been different, but after the earthquake, with the decision made by President Hugo Chavez, who said Haitians had to be socially legalized and receive all the benefits like any Venezuelan, I think things have changed.[29]

Ambassador David’s rhetoric illustrates that the Haitian government seeks to maintain a positive relationship with the Venezuelan government and larger society. While some critics largely understand Chavez’s discourse as “a long theatrical war of words,” [30] Ambassador David’s statement illustrates that the overwhelming images of Haitians as ice cream vendors in Venezuela should not typify the entire Haitian diasporic experience. The Haitian diaspora experience is one centered on black pride and respect.

30. Editorial.“Hugo Chavez’s Legacy”, Los Angeles Times, 7 Mar. 2013. http://articles.latimes.com/2013/mar/07/opinion/la-ed-chavez-20130307 (accessed 11 Mar. 2013)

Following Chavez’s death on March 5th, 2013, President Martelly of Haiti declared three days of national mourning. President Martelly stated, “Chavez was a great friend to Haiti who never missed the opportunity to express his solidarity with the Haitian people in their most difficult times” (both Lamothe and President Michel Martelly attended Chavez's funeral).[31] Arguably Chavez remains present and in power in Venezuela, as recordings of his voice continue to be played from loud speakers during congressional meetings.[32] Chavez’s rise to power employs a different relationship to blackness and geo-politics and his discourse points to larger questions of understanding blackness and race in Latin America. Venezuela serves as a place for counter-hegemonic histories in regards to the United States in Latin America and the Caribbean, as Chavez’s administration deplores a legacy that used this region’s past to catapult its future politically, economically, and socially.

31. “Haiti Using Funds from PetroCaribe to Finance Reconstruction | Relief and Reconstruction Watch.” Center for Economic Policy Research. N.p., 17 Apr. 2012. (accessed 9 Feb. 2013) <http://www.cepr.net/index.php/blogs/relief-and-reconstruction-watch/haiti-using-funds-from-petrocaribe-to-finance-reconstruction>.

32. Shoichet, Catherine E., Dana Ford, and Juan Carlos Lopez. “Chavez Gone, but Far from Forgotten as Venezuelan Presidential Campaigns Start.” CNN. Cable News Network, 12 Mar. 2013. Web. 12 Mar. 2013. <http://www.cnn.com/2013/03/11/world/americas/venezuela-elections>.

By analyzing various legislations, discourses, and policies of Hugo Chavez with respect to Afro-descendant and indigenous populations, Haitian migration, colonial remembrance, diaspora, and memory it is clear that the Haitian diaspora in Venezuela can be looked at as a direct response to the Haitian Revolution, as a revolution that led to Haiti’s emancipation and nation-statehood, but imperial bondage from 1804 into the twenty-first century. Scholars have largely overlooked the Haitian migration to Venezuela, allowing the Dominican Republic and the United States to dominate narratives of the Haitian diaspora’s experience. The Haitian diaspora in Venezuela has larger implications for communication between the African diaspora in Latin America, as it offers another avenue for understanding race and nation in contemporary Latin America. Although Chavez has past away, he has left a legacy of unification embedded in rhetoric of unification across the African diaspora as well as previously colonized nation. The U.S.’ paranoia surrounding Venezuela articulates the continued legacy of Western nations’ desire to dictate regional politics. Chavez’s leadership questioned the very notion of post-colonialism. Haitian migration to Venezuela is built out of colonial remembrance, the unification of the African diaspora, and challenges the notion of the nation-state as a space that requires a linguistic, cultural, and racial homogeneity of its citizens. On April 18th, 2013, the Haitian government announced that it is going to rename Cap-Haitien International Airport to Hugo Chavez International Airport.[33] This decision illustrates that Chavez’s legacy in the Americas will remain for years to come. As one of the few Latin Americans that identified as black, he is successful at building ties to Afro-descendent communities in Venezuela, Haiti, and the Americas at large.

33. "Haiti Renames Airport for Hugo Chavez." Huffington Post. Huff Post World, 18 Apr. 2013. Web. 18 Apr. 2013. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/huff-wires/20130418/cb-haiti-chavez-airport/>

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ayanna Legros