There’s been a lot of talk about the problems of Haiti as of late based on the current devastation and influx of aid the country.
I just want to put some thoughts out there on question “Why is Haiti so poor?”
In the media “Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere” is a common phrase used to punctuate reportage on Haiti.
Sadly this is sloppy journalism, ignorance about history and racism at play…perhaps even groundwork laying for aid loans and massive debts for Haiti.
Firstly when Haiti was first colonized by the French it was considered “the jewel of the crown” and the richest colony, bearing fruit for the French slave-holding rich and bourgeoisie.
So how does the “richest colony” become the “poorest country in the Western Hemisphere” a few centuries later?
During slavery in Haiti many of its natural resources were stripped and used or sold off for the benefit of its colonizers.
The enslaved Africans revolted and gained their independence from the French in 1804, making Haiti the first nation born of enslaved persons and of revolt.
During the fight for independence for the Haitians the slave-holding United States sold arms to both the French and the Haitians.
After the revolt France imposed a debt of reparations for Haiti to pay in damages for destroying their property, including their former slaves.
The ludicrous debt would need to be paid if Haiti was to be recognized as a legitimate country and trading partner on the world stage.
The debt of 150 million French francs then equals about $21.7 billion today and was agreed to in an 1825 agreement between Haiti and France.
“In addition to the 150 million franc payment, France decreed that French ships and commercial goods entering and leaving Haiti would be discounted at 50 percent, thereby further weakening Haiti’s ability to pay.” ~nathanielturner.com,
The new nation was forced to borrow 30 million francs from a French bank to make it’s first payments to France.
“By contrast, when it became clear France would no longer be in a position to capitalize on further westward expansion in the Western hemisphere, they agreed to sell the Louisiana Territory, an area 74 times the surface area of Haiti, to the U.S. for just 60 million francs, less than half the Haitian indemnity.” ~nathanielturner.com,
The ruling class of elites, including so called mulattoes, government officials, merchants and military officers developed laws to keep the underclasses chained to agricultural production, the profits of which were used to pay the debt to France.
Incredibly the debt was eventually payed off in 1947.
Like many other “poor” nations, Haiti has gotten caught in cycles of corruptions, coups, and imposed debts.
In Haiti’s hour of need and stronger case couldn’t be made for debt cancellations of loans made with or imposed by bodies like The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and The World Bank, which the US is very much in control of.
Though much talk of the illiteracy rate of Haiti and the poverty makes its way into the media the people of Haiti are intelligent, capable and resilient.
As noted in Nicholas D. Kristof’s nytimes.com op-ed today “Some Frank Talk About Haiti”:
“To visit Haiti is to know that its problem isnâ€™t its people. They are its treasure â€” smart, industrious and hospitable â€” and Haitians tend to be successful in the United States (and everywhere but in Haiti).”,
He makes several other very good points and even includes info about the deforestation in Haiti and where those trees went.
Friends this is still only a fraction of the story. It is important though that when we talk about poverty in Haiti it is important to include the history which involves France, the United States, imposed debt, racism as well as corruption and the betrayal of Haiti’s own leaders.
In the midst of this tragedy there is talk of more loans.
To learn more about debt cancellation for Haiti, to ask world leaders to cancel Haitiâ€™s $1 billion debt and give the country a chance to recover click on one.org