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Labadee: Royal Caribbean’s Neo Haiti

Labadee oasis seas boi caimanFormer President Bill Clinton is heading to Haiti, again. As UN special envoy to Haiti, he paid a visit last year as a guest of the Royal Caribbean cruise ship line to promote their tourist facility at La’Badie. Said CEO Adam Goldstein: “Labadee is just a great example of the way that things can work in a very positive way in this country.” Are those new ways or old? The secured compound, laying under the protection of the old French colonial capitol, greets 7,000 cruise passengers a week, even this week, many of whom don’t know they’re in “Haiti,” on an old slave plantation, or what may have been the crucible of real Islamic rebel voodoo!

I didn’t know about the private resort of Labadee, but my attention was drawn in December to the announcement of the launch of The Oasis of the Seas, the largest cruise ship ever devised. It was leaving the shipyards of Finland, having to pass under a Danish suspension bridge at low tide, so titanic was she. I took note because the headline announced her maiden destination to be Haiti, an odd place I thought, to be ostentatious.

The spotlight which the recent earthquake has brought on the poverty in Haiti had me wondering if all seventeen decks of the Oasis of the Seas were gawking at the suffering masses awaiting aid in Port-au-Prince. Not a chance. The Oasis, and Royal Caribbean’s fleet of floating carbon boots harbor at a secluded oasis which the cruise line rents from Haiti. Its income represents the largest portion of Haiti’s tourism revenue. If you thought President Obama’s offer of $100 Million was stingy, you can calculate Royal Caribbean’s avarice on one hand.

The tragic earthquake hasn’t interrupted the cruises. It this tragedy has an upside, it’s that some vacationers are expressing less facility stuffing down a burger knowing most Haitians await relief.

Haiti receives $6 for each tourist who disembarks to zip-line, buy trinkets from licensed vendors, and sun on Christoper Columbus Beach. They’re told it was his old stomping ground –which actually can be said of Hispaniola’s entire northern coastline. Likewise the same is true about the slave plantations which, from the port of Cap Francois, provided 40% of Europe’s sugar and 60% of its coffee. Today Haiti is renowned as the poorest land in the Western Hemisphere. The verdant lands of La Partie Du Nord –of Les Grand Blancs— are separated from the Haitian population by a mountainous Massif, and in the case of Labadee, with barbed wire.

habitation-slave-plantationsRoyal Caribbean boasts that its operations are critical to the Haitian economy. It employs hundreds, but contrast that with what the coast could provide if it wasn’t privatized. The resort draws from a cheap labor pool of an unlimited mass of Haitians who are kept with no other options but to hope they can replace the couple hundred employees confined to the cruise line compound.

And yes, the cruise itineraries avoid mention of Haiti, attributing Labadee as a “private island” of Hispaniola. The private island concept is not new, cruise ship operators began several decades back to seek to give their customers refuge from the growing throngs of third world poor who paddle out to the ship hoping for first world largess. Another motive was that cruise lines could also monopolize where their passengers could spend their money while ashore. What began as exclusive contracts with port destinations, very notoriously the Alaskan inland passage, became ventures where cruise line operators bought entire tracks of properties retired from oil or military use, whether half islands, or merely beaches, recast as private beaches, populated by private workforces.

Disney Cruise Line: Castaway Cay, Bahamas
Princess Cruises: Princess Cays, Eleuthera, Bahamas
Norwegian Cruise Line: Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas
Holland/Carnival: Half Moon Bay, Little San Salvador Island, Bahamas
Royal Caribbean/Celebrity: Coco Cay, Bahamas; Labadee, Hispaniola

According to the Royal Caribbean promotional material, the spelling Labadee is anglicized for English-speakers. It’s named after the Marquis de LaBadie, a “Frenchman who first settled the area in the 1600s.”

At one time the French plantation owners were comforted by their remote location, buffered they thought from the potential of slave rebellions from the south. In fact, Haiti’s famed uprising began in the north, not far at all from La’Badie. Off the Royal Caribbean itinerary, but only a stone’s throw away, that is to say, within distance of incoming stones, are landmarks important to the celebrated revolution: Haiti’s first copper mine, site of a lone concentration of Islamic slaves, and the Bois Caiman of lore.

The area of Cape Haitien, as it’s called today, holds two of Haiti’s geography secrets. One, the conclusive location of La Villa de Navidad, where Christopher Columbus built his first European settlement in the New World, a fort made of the timbers of the wrecked flagship Santa Maria; Columbus returned the next year to find his men murdered and the houses burned to the ground. Archeologists are still looking to find definitive traces in Caracol or Bord de Mer de Limonade.

Second, the site of the Bwa Kayiman, the ceremony which launched Haiti’s famed slave rebellion led by Toussaint Louverture. Some scholars have begun to question whether it happened at all. They base their skepticism on the absence of written testaments. Although it’s popularly understood that the gathering of conspirators was confessed under torture by rebels captured by the French authorities. The cynics suggest the story was a fabrication to demonize the black slaves and that:

the manuscript minutes of these interrogations have survived in the French National Archives and make no mention of this or any other vodun ceremony.

That’s something to wrap your mind around, that transcripts remain of torture sessions conducted so many years ago.

Naturally the secret gathering had to escape the suspicions of the French slaveholders, but the infamy of the declaration of the Bois Caiman has inspired every Bolivarian insurrection since, from Bolivar, to Marti, Sandino, Castro, Moralles and Chavez. Revisionists seeking to tamp the populist spirit question why its location remains a mystery. Oral tradition holds that the rebels gathered in an open space in the forests of Morne Rouge.

Morne Rouge, the place where BC ceremony hypotheses converge, is also the only place in Haiti to retain an important Islamic cult. This is because the first wave of slaves were from the Senegambian region and had already undergone heavy Islamic influence. Up to date, Mori Barthelemy and followers of the region maintain this tradition, with honor to the sun, specific funeral rites and so on. If one returns to sources of the 16th century, one finds that there is where the first copper mines were established by the Spaniards, when they started giving up on the gold.

You can find Labadee, 1947?11?N, 7214?44?W on any modern map. Pondering The Cape it occupies, and the deep water harbor it is able to afford a behemoth like the Oasis of the Seas, I was led to research the mysteries of Haiti’s NORD, and survey the progression of place names on European maps which span the years.

haiti
This is Cristbal Coln‘s own recollection of the northern coast of what he called La Isla Espaola, marking his first landing at San Nicolas Mle, the island of Tortuga, Fort Navidad, and the landmark Monte Cristi whose height guided Columbus and led him to name Hispaniola after Spain.

haiti charlevoix
A later map made by the French attempts to show the divisions of the indigenous tribes. The site marked “Premier Etablissment” marks Navidad, built near the Tano cultural center of Hayti-Boho-Quisqueya.

haiti Vinckeboons
A 1639 Dutch map shows Cap Franois. On the south shore of Isla Tortuga lies the beach Playa Cyan, across the water from the river Rio dos Caymanis. Also note the hills to the east called Mananilla, these divided the peaceful Tano from the warring Caciq. The location name derives from the Manchineel Trees whose poison berries they used to poison the tips of their arrows.

haiti monte christo
French map circa 1723 marks Cayne opposite the Iron Coast of L’Ile de la Tortue. There’s also a typical sailor’s landmark: Pointe des Palmiers (trans. Point of the Palms). The promontory of Cap Franois has here become Le Cap (The Cape). It shelters Port St. Franois, east of the heights of Morne Rouge and Mines de Cuivre (trans. copper mines).

haiti labat
French map of Cape Francois dated 1722 adds Le Limbe, the first area which the rebel slaves put to the torch; and Le Chemin du Cap, the main road to the valleys of the south.

haiti Ponce
This 1796 French map features another sailor’s aid, Pointe Tte de Chein (trans. Dog’s Head Point). The fortification battery on the Cape was built upon Roche Picolet. This map was drawn after the rebellion of 1791. The Morne Rouge (trans. Red Heights) is now designated as Ravine du Morne au Diable and the Acul Sabal. The Devil’s Ravine is the present location of Royal Caribbean’s Labadee.

The poor of Haiti are still taking heat for the Bwa Kayiman having been a pact with the devil.

haiti bellin
I add this 1764 map for personal interest. Few maps even today mark L’Islet Rat (trans. Rat Island), which Columbus called La Amiga, was an aid to navigation out of his anchorage at Bay of Acul which he called Cabo de Caribata.

This map also details how colonial French St Domingue was divided into districts, here the Ville du Cap, the Quartier de Plaine du Nord and Camp de Louise.

haiti moreau
This 1770 map of Cap Franois and Environs distinguishes the larger slavery plantations.

haiti labadi

On the subject of Columbus, isn’t it surprising to reconcile the current verdict on his genocidal behavior, with the histories which have glorified his stature? After all, the primary accounts have never changed. How did earlier biographers overlook the damning and salacious details? One very polite telling of Columbus’ adventures, written by Filson Young published in 1906 provides a prim example. Here Young addresses the kidnap and rape of the indians whom Columbus encountered:

…his taking of the women raises a question which must be in the mind of any one who studies this extraordinary voyagethe question of the treatment of native women by the Spaniards. Columbus is entirely silent on the subject; but taking into account the nature of the Spanish rabble that formed his company, and his own views as to the right which he had to possess the persons and goods of the native inhabitants, I am afraid that there can be very little doubt that in this matter there is a good reason, for his silence. So far as Columbus himself was concerned, it is probable that he was innocent enough; he was not a sensualist by nature, and he was far too much interested and absorbed in the principal objects of his expedition, and had too great a sense of his own personal dignity, to have indulged in excesses that would, thus sanctioned by him, have produced a very disastrous effect on the somewhat rickety discipline of his crew. He was too wise a master, however, to forbid anything that it was not in his power to prevent; and it is probable that he shut his eyes to much that, if he did not tolerate it, he at any rate regarded as a matter of no very great importance. His crew had by this time learned to know their commander well enough not to commit under his eyes offences for which he would have been sure to punish them.

[Giving a list of instructions to the men Columbus planned to leave behind at La Navidad, among them: ]

…and especially to be on their guard to avoid injury or violence to the women, “by which they would cause scandal and set a bad example to the Indians and show the infamy of the Christians.”

no kolumbus day christopher columbusAnd here’s the rub. In this passage the author shows if we do not absolve Columbus, we indict ourselves.

The ruffianly crew had in their minds only the immediate possession of what they could get from the Indians; the Admiral had in his mind the whole possession of the islands and the bodies and souls of its inhabitants. If you take a piece of gold without giving a glass bead in exchange for it, it is called stealing; if you take a country and its inhabitants, and steal their peace from them, and give them blood and servitude in exchange for it, it is called colonisation and Empire-building. Every one understands the distinction; but so few people see the difference that Columbus of all men may be excused for his unconsciousness of it.

3 thoughts on “Labadee: Royal Caribbean’s Neo Haiti

  1. For anybody who is interested, Stan Goff has his entire account of his own role in the Bill Clinton-ordered US intervention into Haiti that first helped put Aristide into power. But he was hobbled by his pact with The Devil (Bill Clinton), so to speak. And then came along the US military-made coup that threw Aristide out for not being passive enough in going along with US government orders.

    Check the book out! Hideous dream: a soldier’s memoir of the US invasion of Haiti by Stan Goff.

    The entire book is there and tells about Stan Goff’s view of the Bill Clinton past in Haiti.

  2. Absolving the wonderful Admiral…

    The rabble being far more base than the Nobles. At least it shows the nature of Nobility, another word for Royalty. Meaning in its very essence The Boss Man owns everybody else.

  3. Good post! i like it, please bookmark this page in digg or mixx so that everyone could find it easily. )) Thankee for sharing this info. You guys are doing a unique job

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