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Haiti's Tortured History_Global Social Justice-17Feb10jf (2)

Haiti's Tortured History_Global Social Justice-17Feb10jf (2)

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Published by mestrum
Justin Frewens explains Haiti's tragic history and clearly points to the different facts that explain the disastrous consequences of the recent earth quake.
Justin Frewens explains Haiti's tragic history and clearly points to the different facts that explain the disastrous consequences of the recent earth quake.

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Published by: mestrum on Feb 21, 2010
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Haiti’s Tortured History(first published byIrish Left Review)
Global Social Justice
(www.globalsocialjustice.com)Justin Frewen17/Feb/2010
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
th
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.
 
Haiti’s Tortured History(first published byIrish Left Review)
Global Social Justice
(www.globalsocialjustice.com)Justin Frewen17/Feb/2010
A century ago in 1910, the country’s only commercial bank and national treasury, theBanque National d’Haïti was purchased by the US State Department-National City Bankof New York (Citibank). As a result, Haiti’s national debt now became the USconsortium’s debt. This led to President Woodrow Wilson deciding in 1915 to dispatch UStroops to occupy Haiti in order to protect its investment. US soldiers remained in Haiti for just under 20 years up until 1934, during which time 40% of Haiti’s GDP wasappropriated and transferred to US bankers. Despite the troop withdrawal from Haiti in1934, overall control of Haiti’s finances remained with the US until 1947.Today the very lifeblood of Haiti continues to flow to international banks and creditors.Its current international debt stems largely from the despotic rule of the Duvaliers. In1957, Doctor François Duvalier triumphed at the polls in a democratic election. However,upon obtaining the reins of power, he had no hesitation in establishing himself as anautocratic ruler, relying on force and terror to remain in power until his death in 1971. Inthe pursuit of this goal he was firmly supported by the US. Although it should be notedthat in the early 1960s, the US tired of Papa Doc and in 1963 even suspended diplomaticrelations with Haiti for a period.During Papa Doc’s reign, some 30,000 Haitians were killed for opposing his rule. TheHaitian killing fields were predominantly the work of the ton ton macouts - officiallyknown as the Volontaires de la curiNationale or VSN - who were primarilycomprised of rural dwellers. By 1962, within five years of his electoral victory, Duvalier’ston ton macoute were a larger organisation than the military and had also effectivelyusurped their authority.Following Papa Doc’s death in 1971, his son Jean-Claude Duvalier (Baby Doc) althoughonly 19, took over as ‘ruler for life’. Duvalier was invested with near-absolute power bythe constitution. Although Baby Doc did release some political prisoners and soften theregime in certain respect, his administration mainly continued along the same path ashis father with an absolute prohibition on opposition. In spite of US reservationsregarding Papa Doc, the Duvaliers were generally supported by the ‘West’.The Duvalier dynasty, which lasted longer than any other regime in Haiti’s history, alsosaw an explosion in its debt obligations. Over the 30 year period of the Duvalierdictatorship, between 1957 and 1986, foreign debt multiplied by 17.5. When Baby Docfled the country in 1986, total debt amounted to US$750 million. It has been estimatedthat loans extended during this period amounted to some 40% of Haiti’s total debtobligations.However, the important thing to bear in mind here is that these funds were fraudulentlyborrowed by the Duvaliers for their own personal enrichment and to strengthen theirposition in Haiti. Furthermore, the international financial community and institutions whoissued these loans were only too well aware of the corrupt and despotic nature of theborrowers. To all extents and purposes therefore these loans should now be regarded asodious debt and cancelled.Despite the massive debt burden with which Haiti was faced and the dishonest methodby which it had been incurred, Haiti was not considered for debt relief when the HeavilyIndebted Poor Countries initiative (HIPC) was first launched in 1996 as the internationalprocess to grant debt relief and cancellation. It was only in 2006 that the World Bankand the Paris Club agreed to accept Haiti into the HIPC. By that stage, Haiti’s foreigndebt amounted to well US$1.337 billion. It was agreed that debt of US$1.2 billion wouldbe cancelled in order to “make the debt bearable”. However, by the time the initiativewas completed and the debt was cancelled in June 2009, Haiti’s total international debt
 
Haiti’s Tortured History(first published byIrish Left Review)
Global Social Justice
(www.globalsocialjustice.com)Justin Frewen17/Feb/2010
had ballooned out to US$1.884 billion. Therefore, even with the reduction of US$1.2billion, Haiti still had a debt of just under US$700 million.Moreover, while it was undoubtedly a positive development for 60% of Haiti’s debt to becancelled, it is unforgiveable that it took so many years to do so. In the years that hadpassed while Haiti waited for its debt to be cancelled, it had to adhere to its repaymentschedule while interest continued to accrue on its outstanding obligations, includingthose entered into by the Duvaliers.Following the ousting of Baby Doc, Jean-Bertrand Aristide was elected as President onthe back of his programme to implement land reforms, provide assistance to peasants,increase wages and establish union rights for sweatshop workers and invest in improvedinfrastructure. A coup in 1991, which was backed by the US, removed Aristide frompower until 1994 when he was returned to power by Clinton. However, as a condition of his reinstatement he had to commit to implementing a neoliberal economic program,known to Haitians as the “plan of death”.Although Aristide refused elements of the US plan, his implementation of othercomponents undermined his own program of reforms. His demand for US$21 billion inreparations in his final year and reluctance to toe the US line, led to US imposing severesanctions on Haiti. These sanctions crippled the Haitian economy and pushed workersand rural peasants even further into poverty.The end to Aristide’s efforts at reform came in 2004 when he was kidnapped anddeported by an unholy alliance of certain sections of Haiti’s ruling class and the US. Apuppet government, headed by an ex-UN official Gérard Latortue was installed andpromptly proceeded to misappropriate as much as it could of the US$4 billion of aid thatflowed into Haiti after the departure of Aristide. This new regime also promptly haltedthe tentative reforms that Aristide had initiated thus speeding up the immiseration andimpoverishment of the country’s citizens.In 2006, René Préval an erstwhile ally of Aristide was voted into power. However, in hissecond term as President, his first being between 1996 and 2001 when Aristide was inexile, Préval’s room for manoeuvre has been extremely limited. Indeed, in 2008 hisPresidency was rocked by food riots given the soaring cost of food items in Haiti. Thisshortage could be traced to the pressure put on countries such as Haiti to engage inproducing export crops rather than food for domestic consumption and the consequentpurchasing and consolidation of large parcels of land by foreign companies to grow foodfor export.The rice industry provides an excellent example of this trend. Whereas 25 years ago,Haiti was growing 125,000 tons of rice annually with only some 7,000 tons beingimported from the US, the market liberalisation process saw Haiti importing 225,000tons of rice a mere 20 years later.Another issue of importance has been the role played by international NGOs and, inparticular, those funded by Western governments, principally in the past few years.Given the relative wealth of these organisations in Haiti and the importance attributed tothem by the ‘west’ and donor institutions, they tend to have an influence far in excess of what they should have. Furthermore, they play a crucial role in the maintenance andadministration of the country’s social services, which also provides them with crucialleverage. Should they withdraw their support and funds, these services could beirreparably harmed. Observers such as Yves Engler have pointed out that

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