Pat Robertson and others have suggested that Haiti has suffered since its 1804 Independence to present, because it is cursed. Others have pointed to a string of corrupt leaders as the ones responsible for keeping Haiti from advancing to the place of shaking the dubious distinction of being the “poorest country in the Western Hemisphere”. Haitian communism and other ridiculous things have also been cited amongst a slew of explanations used to ultimately suggest that Haiti is and has been a failed state up until the recent earthquake because of its own devices.
It would be absolutely wrong, absurd and offensive to disregard the agency of Haitians and claim that they have played no part in creating a situation where, before the quake, 80% of the population was living under the poverty line and 54% of its people lived in abject poverty.
However, there is a long and relatively unknown history of deliberate subjugation of Haiti by government and corporate leaders whose actions and inaction have resulted in the effects of the recent earthquake being exponentially greater than they ever should have been. Thus, in the wake of the recent earthquake, I am writing this article so that you may see that Haiti is much less a victim of a tragic and inexplicable act of God and more so the victim of a succession of non-Haitian capitalists and racists who were adamant on ensuring that a republic governed fully and freely by former Black slaves could never emerge to show the world that yes, Blacks can successfully govern their own affairs.
In what is now known as the Haitian Revolution, Haiti’s people completed the world’s only successful slave rebellion against European and North American slaveholders, when on January 1st, 1804 it declared its independence from France. This monumental victory came after a 13 year war that saw slaves led by Toussaint L’Ouverture and Jean-Jacques Dessalines out-smart and out-fight Spanish, Dutch and British forces and finally crush Napoleon’s own revered French army, thus allowing Haiti to emerge as the world’s first (at that time the only) Black Republic.
As a contextual note, before the revolution Haiti was the crown of the Caribbean as it was the richest colony of all of Europe’s holdings at the time. This is largely because it produced 80% of the world’s sugar. It is also important to note that this was at a time when the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade was a major source of economic gain for North American and European powers, who used un-free labour of Africans to amass the wealth that allowed these regions to enjoy otherwise unimaginable luxury and leisure and which would later drive the West’s Industrial Revolution (also built on the backs of Blacks, through the use of exploited Africans who, in Africa, extracted the natural resources used to build Western cities, factories and products of the Industrial Revolution). Thus, when the slaves of Haiti began to rise up, Western powers deployed their fullest possible efforts to
quash this freedom movement. They did this in order to protect the immense profits gained from the trade of Black human beings.
Europe and North America’s fear of Haiti’s freedom fight was rooted in not only the prospect of losing the world’s richest colony, but also the prospect of the collapse of the entire slave-trade. They worried that the latter would result if enslaved Africans learned about the existence of a successful slave rebellion that culminated in the emergence of a state outside of Africa, ruled by free Africans.
In the end, the Africans of Haiti triumphed. However, while they celebrated jubilantly, the dark-hearted of Europe and North America began a global campaign of retribution and damage control. To prevent the still-enslaved from being inspired into rebellion and ultimately debilitating the West’s deplorable trade, they decided to respond with a full (though unofficial) embargo against Haiti. The aim and effect was to starve the country into total economic atrophy. This, of course, resulted in mass suffering and literal starvation of Haiti’s people and allowed the West’s slaveholders to portray Haiti as an example (especially to those still enslaved) of why slaves should accept their position within this inhumane institution. To justify this embargo, all Western powers decided to refuse to acknowledge Haiti as a legitimate state.
By 1825, Haiti’s leaders had decided that the people of Haiti could suffer the effects of global economic isolation no more. With a bankrupt economy, they invited officials from France to a summit. As if Haitian people had not paid enough through being stolen from Africa and enslaved to make European descendents wealthy, or through the blood shed to defeat European armies and gain independence, the French officials decided that they would only recognize Haiti as a sovereign state if Haiti paid France 150 million gold francs. This, they said, was the value of what France’s slave-holders lost when Haiti gained its independence. Hoping to end Haiti’s global economic and political isolation, repayment installments equal to 90% of the Haitian economy began immediately and did not finish until 1947 when the last franc was paid. In a campaign launched at the 2001 UN Conference on Race in Durban, South Africa, it was shown by financial actuaries that 150 million gold francs in 1825 was equivalent to US$ 21 billion in 2001.
Anyway, although Europe and North America slowly began to recognize and open up trade and commerce with Haiti, they could not stomach exchanging with and regarding Blacks as their equal business and political counterparts. Thus, the Haitian economy remained severely strained to the point that by the late 19th century and into the early 20th century, Haiti was falling short on its repayments to France. To keep Haiti paying the promised installments, French officials encouraged American bankers to step in. City Bank responded and eventually offered Haiti a debt exchange with a lower interest rate and longer-term debt.
Despite the “better” terms of repayment offered by City Bank, Haiti still struggled to pay the exorbitant sums. Payments slowed to such a level that the US invaded Haiti in 1915 to protect France’s financial interests. As a pre-text, the US claimed this invasion was necessary for strategic military purposes given that they, Canada and other savage leaders of Europe were in the midst of a “Great” War. That war ended in 1919, the US occupation of Haiti ended in 1934.
After having to help crush the ghastly lunatic who wholly embodied the very same evil that Europe and later North America globally projected against non-whites since the 1440s, the US’ concern with Haiti remained minimal as the world became suspended in a Cold War. Somehow, in 1957 a vile dictator, François Duvalier, who also happened to be violently anti-communist, took power and ruled with utter brutality. When he died in 1971 he was succeeded by his son Jean-Claude who, while allowing American manufacturing companies to thrive in Haiti (and collecting the funds to keep for himself and a few privileged Haitian elites), further plundered, ravaged and deprived the Haitian people until mass protests and civil resistance forced him into exile in 1986. He was hustled off to France in an American Air Force aircraft…
With the Duvaliers gone, and the threat of communism looming just north In Russia and China-supported Cuba, in 1990, the US allowed for the organization of Haiti’s first ever set of democratic elections, but strongly backed a pro-American candidate in the race. To their dismay, a socialist Catholic priest who was shockingly and openly undeferential to the capitalistic demands, interests and leaders of the US and other Western powers surprised the world and won the election. His name was Jean-Bertrand Aristide. This was indeed a triumphant event.
However, before Aristide could begin changing Haiti’s historical tide of destitution with socialist reforms, in 1991, the Haitian army completed an Aristide-ousting coup d’etat, forcing Aristide into exile. The world responded not by crushing the military and restoring democratic rule, but by imposing heavy handed sanctions on Haiti to punish the new military leaders. This effectively pulverized Haitian people even further into the throes of abject poverty.
However, with a resilience that is so characteristically Haitian, Aristide was returned to power with the help of the US military in 1994 so that he could finish his term. He was harrowingly welcomed as populous masses never stopped clamoring for his return from 1991 to 1994. Before you pause here to praise America for its commitment to democracy, consider the following words once offered by one formerly known as Malcolm Little, “You can’t drive a knife into a man’s back nine inches, pull it out six inches, and call it progress.”
Jean-Bertrand Aristide with Bill Clinton in 1994
Anyway, maintaining his political position even after being returned to power in 1994, Aristide was intransigently determined to push the social reforms that he thought were absolutely necessary to loosen poverty’s grip on the lives of Haitians. This caused him to take allegedly unconstitutional and allegedly illegal actions to stay in power and bring his social-welfare reforms to fruition. Not only did he try to carry out this mission but he did so while maintaining his open opposition to prioritizing American prescriptions for Haitian democracy and economic planning over the well-being of Haitian people. The US was effectively seeing what they feared was a second Castro in the Caribbean. The US, and all the states and organizations in the international community responded to Aristide’s defiance by further strengthening their strangle-hold on the Haitian people through imposing yet heavier sanctions on Haiti for the next 10 years.
By 2004, though Aristide maintained widespread support, and still does so to this day, similarly large groups in Haiti (some of which were supported with arms and training supplied by the US) felt that Aristide had to be stopped and thus another coup against Aristide was orchestrated. Many people in Haiti disregarded the possibility that the crippling (poverty-guaranteeing) sanctions against the Haitian people were imposed because Aristide was committed to self-determined development of Haiti without any allegiance to American and other western interests. Instead, they saw Aristide as the principal cause of all of Haiti’s persistent woes. Thus, in February of 2004, after an armed and police-led uprising, Aristide was removed from power. US
Marines accompanied by US diplomat Luis Moreno and CIA officials, forced their way into Aristide’s presidential palace and pushed him to sign a letter of resignation under conditions of duress (he was forced to do so at gun point). They brought him to the airport where the landing strip was secured by 550 members of the Canadian military and flew Aristide to the former French colony, the Central African Republic. Aristide later settled in South Africa and remains there today.
After the second coup toppling Aristide, his government was replaced with a more pro-American government that was backed by UN troops and which had remained until many were tragically killed, maimed and/or injured when the Jan 12th 2010 earthquake hit (did I mention that Aristide is still alive in South Africa?). Anyway, with the pro-US Haitian government and the UN’s-MINUSTAH forces running Haiti from 2004 to Jan 2010, the situation in Haiti improved with such rapidity and promise that by August 2009, many travel warnings against Haiti had been lifted. Ironically, at that same time the man who once signed the documents which imposed some of the most stringent economic sanctions against Haiti, Bill Clinton (the new UN special envoy to Haiti), was leading a delegation of investors to Haiti in order to begin a program of massive foreign investment into Haiti’s agriculture, construction, textiles and energy sectors. Indeed, with Clinton and exorbitantly wealthy business leaders deepening their interests in Haiti, it looked like fate was finally about to turn around for this tragic country…
Two hundred and six years and eleven days after independence, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake took only moments to totally obliterate whatever Haitians were able to erect in spite of a history of facing the most astronomical conditions of Western state and corporate sponsored racism coupled with armed and economic terrorism.
Photo from fOTOGLIF
There is now disaster porn plastered on TV, the internet and in print covering the devastation suffered by our brothers and sisters in Haiti. Lest we allow history to repeat itself, I warn you, do not think that these hundreds of thousands of people were killed, trapped under ruins and/or injured because natural forces caused tectonic plates to touch some kilometers under Haitian soil. Instead, remember that what we have come to know as “Haiti” would have never existed but for the cold souls that stole African bodies (ripping away their mother tongues and histories, though not their fighting spirit), forced them to work on that island and barred them from being able to leave through enacting against them a two hundred year war of racist-inspired acts of economic suffocation.
Yes, it is a collective of history, politics, economics and racism that crushed the heads of Haitians, long before its geology ever did. Geology did not deliberately leave Haiti too poor to build structurally sound buildings, dwellings and infrastructure. Nor did it starve Haitians of the resources needed to produce and maintain a health care, education and social system to protect the well-being of its people.
In responding to this disaster, I implore you to give your monetary, food and clothing donations until you have nothing else to reasonably give. However, do so remembering that such is just another instance of your government and mega corporations taking advantage of you and making you pay for the sins of its own actions. Take particular notice of the fact that, it is these sins that have allowed you to amass wealth and consume with such a degree of excess that you now have all that loose change and those canned goods and unused clothing to give back to Haiti. Know that you are returning to Haiti a paramecium-sized fraction of what has been due to Haitian people long before the state of Canada ever existed.
Author: Anthony Morgan
This is the author’s own personal account, assembly and presentation of facts. None of the above represents the opinion, thoughts, ideas or interests of the members or affiliates of the Black Law Students’ Association of Canada.