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In 1789 the French colony of Saint Domingue was the most profitable real estate in the world. These profits came at a
price: while its sugar plantations supplied two-thirds of France's overseas trade, they also stimulated the greatest
individual market for the slave trade. The slaves were brutally treated and died in great numbers, prompting a
never-ending influx of new slaves.
The French Revolution sent waves all the way across the Atlantic, dividing the colony's white population in 1791. The
elites remained royalist, while the bourgeoisie embraced the revolutionary ideals. The slaves seized the moment and in
the confusion rebelled en masse against their owners. The Haitian Slave Revolt had begun. When it ended in 1803, Saint
Domingue had become Haiti, the first independent nation in the Caribbean.
C.L.R. James tells the story of the revolt and the events leading up to it in his masterpiece, The Black Jacobins.
James's personal beliefs infuse his narrative: in his preface to a 1962 edition of the book, he asserts that , when
written in 1938, it was "intended to stimulate the coming emancipation of Africa." James writes passionately about the
horrific lives of the slaves and of the man who rose up and led them--a semiliterate slave named François-Dominique
Toussaint L'Ouverture. As James notes, however, "Toussaint did not make the revolution. It was the revolution that made
With its appendix, "From Toussaint L'Ouverture to Fidel Castro," The Black Jacobins provides an excellent window into
the Haitian Revolution and the worldwide repercussions it caused. --Sunny Delaney