Global Social Justice
Today Haiti is most commonly known for being the poorest country in the ‘western’ hemisphere and a land wracked by destitution and despair. This picture has only beenreinforced by the horrific consequences of the January 13
earthquake, 15 kms south-west of Port-au-Prince. While the media networks are falling over themselves to relaystories of its dreadful consequences, the reporting has been conspicuous by the generalabsence of any attempt at in-depth analysis as to why the earthquake had such lethalconsequences.Despite the many human stories of personal tragedies and losses, how (or how not)international relief efforts are assisting the people of Haiti and reports on ‘insecurity’ inthe country and the deployment of US forces and EU police to establish order, we are leftuninformed as to the context within which this earthquake took place. To understand thisit is necessary to look at the history of Haiti. While this piece will only touch very brieflyon certain key episodes, there are some books recommended at the end for those whoare interested in getting a better understanding of the real reasons for Haiti’s currentcrisis.As a starting point it has to be emphasised that the current overwhelming degradationand poverty suffered by the people of Haiti is particularly poignant, given Haiti’s proudinception to nationhood. Haiti has the proud claim of being the first republic led bypeople of African descent as well as being the second oldest country in the Americasafter the US.Between 1791 and 1804 the Haitian Revolution, predominantly comprised of slaves,fought and successfully overcame the forces of French, British and Spanish colonialempires. This was the first successful slave rebellion ever and was a particularly bitterstruggle with little quarter given on either side. However, in the 200 years since thenHaiti has sadly seen the abject failure to build on this globally momentous achievement.While the finger has been pointed at Haitians themselves with respect to their ‘willingness’ to accept and submit to dictators, such as the infamous Papa and BabyDocs, the real cause of their unwelcome status as the poorest nation in the ‘westernhemisphere’ must assuredly be attributed to the continuous disruption and intrusion intheir national affairs by foreign powers.As Yves Engler writes:
Unfortunately, Haiti's history also demonstrates how fluidly Europe (and North America)moved from formal colonialism to neo-imperialism. Technically "independent" for morethan two centuries, outsiders have long shaped the country's affairs. Through isolation,economic asphyxiation, debt dependence, gunboat diplomacy, occupation, foreignsupported dictatorships, structural adjustment programs and "democracy promotion" (2009)
A particular thorn in the side of Haiti’s development revolves around the issue of itsinternational debt obligations. The plague of ‘debt’ dates right back to 1825 whenFrance, backed by its warships, demanded that Haiti compensate the French loss of itsslave colony. In order to be recognised by France as a ‘sovereign republic’, Haiti had topay 150 million francs, a sum comparable to France’s annual budget and equivalent to€15 billion in current monetary terms. In other words, the newly liberated slaves of Haitiwere obliged to somehow scrape this vast sum together in order to assume their rightfulplace in the international community.