Fugard, Chicago: Three Fugard Plays, Three Outstanding Theaters

[TimeLine, Remy Bumppo and Court theatres should be congratulated for their collaboration to bring Athol Fugard’s three plays to the Chicago audience.  The performances began

Athol Fugard

tonight with previews of Master Harold at TimeLine Theater.  The interview of the directors of the three plays, conducted by Kelli Marino, dramaturg at TimeLine, helps to showcase why these are important plays.  Fugard, a white South African, has written plays that examine apartheid.  Fugard was born in 1932, and by the 1960s was producing plays by Brecht in Port Elizabeth. He supported the anti-apartheid movement as well as the international boycott against South African theatres because of the segregated audiences.  This, of course, led to restrictions on his activities as well as Security Police surveillance.  Thus he was forced to have his own plays produced and published outside South Africa.  Today he lives and works in San Diego, California. — Lew Rosenbaum]
This unique collaboration between TimeLine, Remy Bumppo and Court theatres to celebrate the work of playwright Athol Fugard kicks off today with the first preview of TimeLine’s ‘Master Harold’ … and the Boys. And then next week performances begin for Remy Bumppo’s The Island. In celebration, we’ve got our second article by staff writer Kelli Marino to share, this one an interview with all three Fugard Chicago 2010 directors:
(Fugard Chicago 2010 Directors are James Bohnen, Ron OJ Parson and Jonathan Wilson)

Three Plays.
Three Directors.
One Interview.

<Read the entire interview on TimeLine’s blog, Behind the ‘Line> …

Kelli Marino: Why are you directing your play? What do you like about it?

Jonathan Wilson directs TimeLine's production of Master Harold

Jonathan Wilson (director of TimeLine’s ‘Master Harold’ … and the Boys): As an African American, I have a particular interest in the racial climate and politics of South Africa. … I was introduced to the plays of Athol Fugard when I was in graduate school and found them to be a powerful look at South Africa’s history from a personal and political perspective. I especially like “Master Harold”…and the Boys because, on the one hand, it is Fugard’s personal recollection of his childhood relationship with his parents, and on the other it is his relationship with two black men who were long-time employees of his family. These two men, Sam and Willie, became Fugard’s surrogate parents, and in the play Hally, the central character, must deal with both sets of family. …

Ron OJ Parson (director of Court’s Sizwe Banzi is Dead): I have always wanted to revisit Sizwe. I was a lot younger when I first worked on it and I now feel I can bring more depth to my direction of it today. I like the complexity of the characters and its political significance. …

James Bohnen (director of Remy Bumppo’s The Island): I have always been moved by The Island. To be honest, I rarely have much patience for the Greek tragedies on stage, but this is a flaw in me, not the plays. I do love Antigone. The story is utterly universal and its message is deliciously unambiguous. It really comes to what writing plays like Fugard’s or acting in them under the apartheid regime is about. Understanding the risk inherent in the activity and knowing there doesn’t seem to be another choice. There always is the choice to do nothing, of course, but this play gently brings us to a clear sense of purpose. …<Read the entire interview on TimeLine’s blog, Behind the ‘Line>


Haiti – A Little History and Politics by Paul Farmer

[This article first appeared in the London Review of Books in 2004.  Farmer, a physician and anthropologist, is Maud and Lillian Presley Professor at Harvard Medical School and author of The Uses of Haiti and Pathologies of Power. It is included here because it gives some insightful background into the forces at work in the wake of the earthquake in Haiti. In the excerpt below, Farmer uses the recent book on Haiti by Laurent DuBois to introduce parallels to the then current political situation, the kidnapping of President Jean Bertrand Aristide.   To read Farmer’s entire article, please click on <http://www.lrb.co.uk/v26/n08/paul-farmer/who-removed-aristide>.  About Dubois’ book, Robin Blackburn wrote the following in The Nation: “There are hundreds, perhaps thousands of books about the Haitian Revolution, but only a handful are indispensable. Avengers of the New World joins that select company. A powerful narrative informed by the latest research, it digs beneath ready-made notions–whether of purely heroic rebels or of implacable caste hatreds–to bring to light the forging of new identities and new ideals.” — ed. Lew Rosenbaum]

The Uses of Haiti by Paul Farmer

Who removed Aristide?

Paul Farmer reports from Haiti

On the night of 28 February, the Haitian president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was forced from power. He claimed he’d been kidnapped and didn’t know where he was being taken until, at the end of a 20-hour flight, he was told that he and his wife would be landing ‘in a French military base in the middle of Africa’. He found himself in the Central African Republic.

An understanding of the current crisis requires a sense of Haiti’s history. In the 18th century it became France’s most valuable colonial possession, and one of the most brutally efficient slave colonies there has ever been. Santo Domingo, as it was then called, was the leading port of call for slave ships: on the eve of the French Revolution, it was supplying two-thirds of all of Europe’s tropical produce.  A third of new arrivals died within a few years.

Avengers of the New World by Laurent DuBois

Haitians are still living with the legacy of the slave trade and of the revolt that finally removed the French. The revolt began in 1791, and more than a decade of war followed; France’s largest expeditionary force, led by General Leclerc, Napoleon’s brother-in-law, was sent to put down the rebellion. As the French operation flagged, the slave general, Toussaint l’Ouverture, was invited to a parley. He was kidnapped and taken away to a prison in the Jura. In Avengers of the New World: The Story of the Haitian Revolution,[*] Laurent Dubois tells Toussaint’s story in a manner that reminds us of its similarities to the current situation:

‘Toussaint must not be free,’ Leclerc wrote to the colonial minister in Paris at the time, ‘and should be imprisoned in the interior of the Republic. May he never see Saint-Domingue again.’ ‘You cannot hold Toussaint far enough from the ocean or put him in a prison that is too strong,’ Leclerc reiterated a month later. He seemed to fear that the deported man might suddenly reappear. His very presence in the colony, he warned, would once again set it alight.

Toussaint died of exposure and tuberculosis in 1803. Every Haitian schoolchild knows his last words by heart: ‘In overthrowing me, you have cut down in San Domingo only the trunk of the tree of black liberty. It will spring up again by the roots for they are numerous and deep.’

In November 1803 the former slaves won what proved to be the war’s final battle, and on 1 January 1804 declared the independent republic of Haiti. It was Latin America’s first independent country and the only nation ever born of a slave revolt. The Haitian Revolution, Dubois writes, was ‘a dramatic challenge to the world as it then was. Slavery was at the heart of the thriving system of merchant capitalism that was profiting Europe, devastating Africa, and propelling the rapid expansion of the Americas.’ Independent Haiti had few friends. Virtually all the world’s powers sided with France against the self-proclaimed Black Republic, which declared itself a haven not only for runaway slaves but also for indigenous people from the rest of the Americas (the true natives of Haiti had succumbed to infectious disease and Spanish slavery well before the arrival of the French). Hemmed in by slave colonies, Haiti had only one non-colonised neighbour, the slaveholding United States, which refused to recognise its independence.

Laurent DuBois teaches at Duke University

Haiti’s leaders were desperate for recognition, since the island’s only source of revenue was the sugar, coffee, cotton and other tropical produce it had to sell. In 1825, under threat of another French invasion and the restoration of slavery, Haitian officials signed the document which was to prove the beginning of the end for any hope of autonomy. The French king agreed to recognise Haiti’s independence only if the new republic paid France an indemnity of 150 million francs and reduced its import and export taxes by half. The ‘debt’ that Haiti recognised was incurred by the slaves when they deprived the French owners not only of land and equipment but of their human ‘property’.

The impact of the debt repayments – which continued until after World War Two – was devastating. In the words of the Haitian anthropologist Jean Price-Mars, ‘the incompetence and frivolity of its leaders’ had ‘turned a country whose revenues and outflows had been balanced up to then into a nation burdened with debt and trapped in financial obligations that could never be satisfied.’ ‘Imposing an indemnity on the victorious slaves was equivalent to making them pay with money that which they had already paid with their blood,’ the abolitionist Victor Schoelcher argued.

By the late 19th century, the United States had eclipsed France as a force in Haitian affairs. A US military occupation (1915-34) brought back corvée labour and introduced bombing from the air, while officials in Washington created the institutions that Haitians would have to live with: the army, above all, which now claims to have the country ‘in its hands’, was created by an act of the US Congress. Demobilised by Aristide in 1995, it never knew a non-Haitian enemy. It had plenty of internal enemies, however. Military-backed governments, dictatorships, chronic instability, repression, the heavy hand of Washington over all: this state of affairs continued throughout the 20th century.

Toussaint L'Ouverture

I learned about Haiti’s history while working on medical projects on the country’s central plateau. When I first travelled there in 1983, the Duvalier family dictatorship had been in place for a quarter of a century. There was no dissent. The Duvaliers and their military dealt ruthlessly with any opposition, while the judiciary and the rest of the world looked the other way. Haiti was already known as the poorest country in the Western world, and those who ran it argued that force was required to police deep poverty.

By the mid-1980s, the hunger, despair and disease were beyond management. Baby Doc Duvalier, named ‘president for life’ at 19, fled in 1986. A first attempt at democratic elections, in 1987, led to massacres at polling stations. An army general declared himself in charge. In September 1988, the mayor of Port-au-Prince – a former military officer – paid a gang to set fire to a Catholic church as mass was being said. It was packed with people, 12 of whom died. At the altar was Father Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the nemesis of the dictatorship and the army. Aristide was a proponent of liberation theology, with its injunction that the Church proclaim ‘a preferential option for the poor’, but liberation theology had its adversaries: members of Reagan’s brains trust, meeting in 1980, declared it less Christian than Communist. ‘US policy,’ they said, ‘must begin to counter (not react against) . . . the “liberation theology” clergy.’

Aristide’s elevation from slum priest to presidential candidate took place against a background of right-wing death squads and threatened military coups. He rose quickly [<read more>]

Sharing the Pain: John Maxwell writes from Jamaica on Haiti and the US

[Many have written describing the Haitian experience under US “influence.”  Here is a view from within the Caribbean — Lew Rosenbaum]

No, Mister! You Cannot Share My Pain!

John Maxwell in the Jamaica Observer

Sunday, January 17, 2010

If you shared my pain you would not continue to make me suffer, to torture me, to deny me my dignity and my rights, especially my rights to self-determination and self-expression.

Six years ago you sent your Ambassador Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to perform an action illegal under the laws of your country, my country and of the international community of nations.


One of the survivors of Tuesday’s devastating earthquake in Haiti.1/1

It was an act so outrageous, so bestially vile and wicked that your journalists and news agencies, your diplomats and politicians to this day cannot bring themselves to truthfully describe or own up to the crime that was committed when US Ambassador James Foley, a career diplomat, arrived at the house of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide with a bunch of CIA thugs and US Marines to kidnap the president of Haiti and his wife.

The Aristides were stowed aboard a CIA plane normally used for ‘renditions’ of suspected terrorists to the worldwide US gulag of dungeons and torture chambers.

The plane, on which the Aristides are listed as “cargo”, flew to Antigua – an hour away – and remained on the ground in Antigua while Colin Powell’s State Department and the CIA tried to blackmail and bribe various African countries to accept (“give asylum to”) the kidnapped president and his wife.

The Central African Republic – one of George W Bush’s ‘Dark Corners of the World’ – agreed for an undisclosed sum, to give the Aristides temporary asylum.

Before any credible plot can be designed and paid for – for the disappearance of the Aristides – they are rescued by friends, flown to temporary asylum in Jamaica where the Government cravenly yielded to the blackmail of Condoleezza Rice to deny them the permanent asylum to which they were entitled and which most Jamaicans had hoped for.

Meanwhile, in Haiti, the US Marines protected an undisciplined ragbag of rapists and murderers to allow them entry to the capital. The Marines chased the medical students out of the new Medical School established by Aristide with Cuban help and teachers. The Marines bivouac in the school, going out on nightly raids, trailed by fleets of ambulances with body bags, hunting down Fanmi Lavalas activists described as ‘chimeres’ – terrorists.

The real terrorists, led by two convicted murderers, Chamblain and Philippe, assisted the Marines in the eradication of ‘chimeres’ until the Marines were replaced by foreign troops, paid by the United Nations, who took up the hunt on behalf of the civilised world – France, Canada, the US and Brazil.

The terrorists and the remains of the Duvalier tontons and the CIA-bred FRAPF declared open season on the remnants of Aristide’s programmes to build democracy. They burnt down the new museum of Haitian culture, destroyed the children’s television station and generally laid waste to anything and everything which could remind Haitians of their glorious history.

Haitians don’t know that without their help Latin America might still be part of the Spanish Empire and Simon Bolivar a brief historical footnote.

Imagine, Niggers Speaking French!

About 90 years ago when Professor Woodrow Wilson was president of the USA, his secretary of state was a fundamentalist lawyer named William Jennings Bryan who had three times run unsuccessfully for president.

The Americans had decided to invade Haiti to collect debts owed by Haiti to Citibank.

General Smedley Butler, the only American soldier to have twice won the Congressional Medal of Honour, described his role in the US Army:

“I helped make Mexico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half-a-dozen Central American republics for the benefits of Wall Street. The record of racketeering is long.

General Butler said: “I suspected I was just part of a racket at the time. Now I am sure of it. … My mental faculties remained in suspended animation while I obeyed the orders of higher-ups. This is typical in the military service.” Butler compared himself unfavourably to Al Capone. He said his official racketeering made Capone look like an amateur.

Secretary Bryan was dumbfounded by the Haitians. “Imagine,” he said, “Niggers speaking French!”

Smedley Butler and Bryan were involved in Haiti because of something that happened nearly a hundred years before. The French slave-masters, expelled from Haiti and defeated again when they tried to re-enslave the Haitians, connived with the Americans to starve them into submission by a trade embargo. With no sale for Haitian sugar, the country was weak and run-down when a French fleet arrived bearing a demand for reparations. Having bought their freedom in blood, the Haitians were to purchase it again in gold.

The French demanded, essentially, that the Haitians pay France an amount equivalent to 90 per cent of the entire Haitian budget for the foreseeable future. When this commitment proved too arduous to honour, the City Bank offered the Haitians a ‘debt exchange”, paying off the French in exchange for a lower-interest, longer-term debt. The terms may have seemed better but were just as usurious and it was not paid off until 1947.

Because of the debt the Americans invaded Haiti, seized the Treasury, exiled the president, their Jim Crow policies were used to divide the society, to harass the poor and finally provoked a second struggle for freedom which was one of the most brutal episodes in colonial history.

Long before Franco bombed Guernica, exciting the horror and revulsion of civilised people, the Americans perfected their dive-bombing techniques against unarmed Haitian peasants, many of whom had never seen aircraft before.

The Americans set up a Haitian Army in the image of their Jim Crow Marines, and it was these people, the alien and alienated Élite who, with some conscripted blacks like the Duvaliers, have ruled Haiti for most of the last century.

When I flew over Haiti for the first time in 1959 en route from New York to San Juan, Puerto Rico, I saw for the first time the border between the green Dominican Republic and brown Haiti.

First-world journalists interpret the absence of trees on the Haitian side to the predations of the poor, disregarding the fact that Western religion and American capitalism were mainly responsible.

Why is it that nowhere else in the Caribbean is there similar deforestation?

Haiti’s Dessalines constitution offered sanctuary to every escaped slave of any colour. All such people of whatever colour were deemed ‘black’ and entitled to citizenship. Only officially certified ‘blacks’ could own land in Haiti.

The American occupation, anticipating Hayek, Freedman and Greenspan, decided that such a rule was a hindrance to development. The assistant secretary of the US Navy, one Franklin D Roosevelt, was given the job of writing a new, modern constitution for Haiti.

This constitution meant foreigners could own land. Within a very short time the lumberjacks were busy, felling old growth Mahogany and Caribbean Pine for carved doors for the rich and mahogany speedboats, boardroom tables seating 40, etc. The devastated land was put to produce rubber, sisal for ropes and all sorts of pie in the sky plantations.

When President Paul Magloire came to Jamaica 50 years ago Haitians were still speaking of an Artibonite dam for electricity and irrigation. But the ravages of the recent past were too much to recover.

As Marguerite Laurent (EziliDanto) writes: Don’t expect to learn how a people with a Vodun culture that reveres nature and especially the Mapou (oak-like or ceiba pendantra/bombax) trees, and other such big trees as the abode of living entities and therefore as sacred things, were forced to watch the Catholic Church, during Rejete – the violent anti-Vodun crusade – gather whole communities at gunpoint into public squares, and forced them to watch their agents burn Haitian trees in order to teach Haitians their Vodun Gods were not in nature, that the trees were the “houses of Satan”.

In partnership with the US, the mulatto President Elie Lescot (1941-45) summarily expelled peasants from more than 100,000 hectares of land, razing their homes and destroying more than a million fruit trees in the vain effort to cultivate rubber on a large plantation scale. Also, under the pretext of the Rejete campaign, thousands of acres of peasant lands were cleared of sacred trees so that the US could take their lands for agribusiness.

After the Flood

Norman Manley used to say “River Come Down” when his party seemed likely to prevail. The Kreyol word Lavalas conveys the same meaning.

Since the Haitian people’s decisive rejection of the Duvalier dictatorships in the early 90s, their spark and leader has been Jean-Bertrand Aristide whose bona fides may be assessed from the fact that the CIA and conservative Americans have been trying to discredit him almost from the word go.

As he put it in one of his books, his intention has been to build a paradise on the garbage heap bequeathed to Haiti by the US and the Elite.

The bill of particulars is too long to go into here, but the destruction of the new museum of Culture, the breaking up of the medical school, the destruction of the children’s television station gives you the flavour. But the essence is captured in the brutal attempt to obliterate the spirit of Haitian community; the attempt to destroy Lavalas by murdering its men and raping its women, the American-directed subversion of a real police force, the attacks on education and the obliteration of the community self-help systems which meant that when Hurricane Jeanne and all the other weather systems since have struck Haiti, many more have died than in any other country similarly stricken. In an earthquake, totally unpredictable, every bad factor is multiplied.

The American blocking of international aid means that there is no modern water supply anywhere, no town planning, no safe roads, none of the ordinary infrastructure of any other Caribbean state. There are no building standards, no emergency shelters, no parks.

So, when I write about mothers unwittingly walking on dead babies in the mud, when I write about people so poor they must eat patties made of clay and shortening, when I write about people with their faces ‘chopped off’ or about any of eight million horror stories from the crime scene that is Haiti, please don’t tell me you share their pain or mine.

Tell me, where is Lovinsky Pierre Antoine and ten thousand like him?

If you share my pain and their pain, why don’t you stop causing it? Why don’t you stop the torture?

If you want to understand me, look at the woman in the picture (above), and the children half-buried with her. You cannot hear their screams because they know there is no point in screaming. It will do no more good than voting.

What is she thinking: perhaps it is something like this – No, mister! You cannot share my pain!

Some time, perhaps after the camera is gone, people will return to dig us out with their bare hands. But not you.

Copyright©2010 John Maxwell