Above: Haiti before the quake.
By now we’ve all heard about Pat Robertson’s implicitly racist and explicitly stupid remarks about Haiti’s deal with the devil. Here’s a piece on the history of Haiti from last May, which should give readers a better idea of who the real devils are in this story.
After a dramatic slave uprising that shook the western world, and 12 years of war, Haiti finally defeated Napoleon’s forces in 1804 and declared independence. But France demanded reparations: 150m francs, in gold.
For Haiti, this debt did not signify the beginning of freedom, but the end of hope. Even after it was reduced to 60m francs in the 1830s, it was still far more than the war-ravaged country could afford. Haiti was the only country in which the ex-slaves themselves were expected to pay a foreign government for their liberty. By 1900, it was spending 80% of its national budget on repayments. In order to manage the original reparations, further loans were taken out — mostly from the United States, Germany and France. Instead of developing its potential, this deformed state produced a parade of nefarious leaders, most of whom gave up the insurmountable task of trying to fix the country and looted it instead. In 1947, Haiti finally paid off the original reparations, plus interest. Doing so left it destitute, corrupt, disastrously lacking in investment and politically volatile. Haiti was trapped in a downward spiral, from which it is still impossible to escape. It remains hopelessly in debt to this day.
That’s right. The former slave owners demanded reparations.
What is to be done?
“There is only one solution to Haiti’s problems, and that’s mass emigration,” one senior American foreign-policy expert told me. “But nobody wants to talk about it.” So Haiti remains in debt, relieved for now, but not for ever. And the question of France repaying some or all of the compensation it extracted for Haitian independence is not even on the agenda.
Photo and quotes from Haiti: the land where children eat mud
See also: The Haiti Disaster and Superstition:
None of this explains why there was an earthquake in Haiti, which is a question for geologists, not political economists. But it does explain why a massive earthquake hits Haiti harder than it does most of the rest of the world. And it goes a long way toward explaining the rest of the more quotidien problems that effect Haiti.