Skip to comments.Why is Haiti so poor? A history of quake-hit island (Was once France’s richest colonial possession)
Posted on 01/16/2010 3:27:48 PM PST by SeekAndFind
Once the richest French colony in the Americas - contributing as much as 50 per cent of the mother country's wealth - Haiti now vies with Nicaragua for the title of poorest country in the New World. Thanks to yesterday's magnitude 7.0 earthquake, it is likely to fall further behind its fellow developing nations.
The nation, the western half of the Caribbean island of Hispaniola, came under French rule in 1697 when it was called Saint-Domingue. (The eastern other half of the island - now the Dominican Republic - went to the Spaniards.)
Through the course of the 18th century the colony became the richest in the French-speaking New World, thanks to coffee and sugar plantations run on slave labour.
Given its former vast natural wealth, how did Haiti become so poor?
THE FRENCH CONNECTIONHaiti has been plundered throughout its history. It got off to a bad start immediately following independence from France in 1804, when Jean-Jacques Dessalines and an army of slaves defeated French troops sent by Napoleon to restore slavery.
Dessalines, himself a former slave, was proclaimed emperor by his men who named the island after its American Indian name, Ayiti, which means 'land of mountains'.
Dessalines's rule was short, violent and populist. He forbade white people from owning property and ruled that the black population must either work in the plantations or in the army. He was assassinated in 1806.
A nation forged by a slave revolt set a terrible precedent in a world heavily dependent on slave labour and France persuaded Spain and the US to join it in an economic embargo.
Desperate for international recognition, Haiti eventually agreed in 1838 to pay reparations to France in order to compensate slave owners and their heirs. The sum, 150 million francs, is estimated at $21bn in today's money, and kept Haiti in debt to France for the next 80 years.
To add insult to injury in the interim, Haiti's national bank was plundered on several occasions by US, British, French and German forces. Expatriates from the same countries bankrolled multiple plots against ephemeral governments in order to further their business interests; in its 200-year history, Haiti has endured 32 coups.
THE AMERICAN TAKEOVERIn 1915, the United States occupied the country, fearing the growing influence of the German community there. A period of stability followed, although the introduction of chain-gangs to improve the country's infrastructure was deeply unpopular in a country founded by slaves.
The US's primary legacy when it pulled out in 1934 was a strong, well-organised military. For the next 50 years the country would be governed by military dictatorships epitomised by that of physician Francois Duvalier.
'Papa Doc', as he was known, seized power in a military coup in 1956.
THE PAPA DOC YEARS'Papa Doc' Duvalier (above) won elections in 1957 on a populist ticket but threw off any pretence of democracy in 1964 when he made himself president for life.
The US tacitly supported him because of Haiti's strategic location close to Fidel Castro's Cuba, and for fear that it would also turn communist.
Papa Doc is widely credited with 30,000 deaths - mostly at the hands of the Tonton Macoutes, the paramilitary force he created to replace the army, which he disbanded for fear that it would topple him.
Papa Doc confiscated land held by peasants to give to members of the Tonton Macoutes. He further consolidated his power over the poor black majority by reviving Haiti's voodoo traditions - setting himself up as a voodoo priest.
This period was famously evoked in Graham Greene's 1966 novel, The Comedians, later filmed with Richard Burton and Alec Guinness.
THE HAITIAN DIASPORAWhen Duvalier died in 1971, he was succeeded by his son Jean-Claude, or 'Baby Doc', who continued his father's repressive policies, but began to lose the support of the black majority.
He fled the country in 1986 for France with the assistance of the Reagan administration in the United States. Today he is believed to be living modestly in Paris - or Brooklyn. Attempts since then to hold democratic elections have ended in disarray.
The corruption and repression of these kleptocratic regimes, which stole aid money meant for the poorest, forced educated professionals into exile. There are large populations of Haitians today in Miami, New York and French-speaking Montreal as well as on other Caribbean islands.
Haiti has never really recovered from this brain drain which led to a serious lack of teachers and doctors.
ENVIRONMENTAL DEGRADATIONThe almost total deforestation of Haiti has added to the island's problems. In 1923, over 60 per cent of Haiti was covered by lush forests; in 2006, that had fallen to less than two per cent, thanks to the demand for charcoal, the main source of fuel in dirt-poor Port-au-Prince, and land for agriculture. This has led to soil erosion, desertification and floods
Every island colony that gained “independence” from the Europeans has turned into some sort of hellhole.
Some less than others, but all to great degrees.
Tribalism doesn’t work in the modern world.
After visiting French Polynesia last spring I can answer the question in one word. FRANCE. All three islands we visited are the pits. Unemployment, garbage, falling down structures, you name it.
RE : Tribalism doesn’t work in the modern world
Interesting news from yesteryears:
Voodoo seeks a role in a democratic Haiti
By Kathie Klarreich, The Christian Science Monitor, 25 July 1995
PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI - PART of a voyage that has lasted more than 300 years, today’s Haitians who practice the ancient religion of voodoo are hoping that they will be given the recognition they say they deserve. Democracy has presented them with a chance to overturn years of misrepresentation and undo decades of manipulation at the hands of dictators.
President Jean-Bertrand Aristide received nearly 500 voodoo priests (houngan) and priestesses (mambo) at the National Palace this week. Sporting traditional white robes or hand-crafted garb of brightly colored African fabric, the visitors sang, chanted, and saluted the former Roman Catholic priest. And they passionately presented him with a wish list. “We want a national peristyle,” said representative Jean-Saurel Francillon, referring to a voodoo temple. “We want to participate in national decisions. We want a school for our children and training for our midwives and ... doctors.”
Voodooists represent the largest sector of the Haitian population - there’s a saying here that Haitians are 90 percent Catholic, 100 percent voodoo - but they have no legal rights. Voodoo baptisms and marriages are not recognized by the state. Voodooists are not allowed to hold a funeral in a Catholic church.
“We need our own temple so we can take care of ourselves,” said Marie Magdala Brandel, a practicing mambo of 15 years. While waiting to meet the president she spoke in a quiet but firm voice, denouncing the inequities afforded voodooism versus other religions. She was particularly enraged over the “invasion” by evangelical churches that she says “ostracize the mother religion” of her country. Haitian voodoo (spelled vodou in Haiti) was born of the needs of slaves brought from Africa’s west coast in the 1700s. The often-illiterate workers had to find a way to communicate between themselves and worship collectively while respecting their individual heritages.
“On the plantations, there was no freedom at all. Although slaves were forced to speak a certain way, bear European names, and submit to baptism, they never forgot their culture,” says Ronald (Aboudja) Derenencourt, a houngan who has done extensive research on voodoo. “Inside the slave quarters, late at night, a voodoo was developed that was disguised with Catholic symbols to fool the masters. It has survived 300 years of domination,” he explains.
After coming to power in 1804, Haiti’s first emperor outlawed voodoo in his constitution. President Stenio Vincent’s government issued a decree banning the practice in 1935. In 1942 the Catholic church, with the help of the Haitian Army, launched a vast campaign against voodoo. Houngans and mambos were forced underground. When Francois (Papa Doc) Duvalier came to power in 1957, he managed to coerce many of the voodoo priests and priestesses to join his paramilitary force, the Tonton Macoutes. He used the voodoo structure to keep a tight control on the population and ward off potential revolts.
“The past government’s plots against voodoo - that’s finished, finished, finished completely,” President Aristide says. “If Haiti hasn’t disappeared over the last 200 years, it’s because of you.”
Aristide promised to satisfy the requests laid before him, starting with the donation of land for a national temple. He asked the voodoo leaders to help spread peace and democracy, rather than use voodoo as a tool of repression.
Voodoo is often associated with black magic. It is represented by zombies or dolls that are pricked with pins. But for Haitians, voodoo is a way of life.
The Christian Science Monitor. All rights reserved.
It’s a combination of insufficient capital and too much labor.
This is interesting news from 6 years ago. I wonder whether Haiti has changed since then.... Culture and prevalent beliefs affect a country’s prosperity.
Voodoo spirits get credit for Aristide’s flight
By Marcus Warren in Port-au-Prince
Published: 12:01AM GMT 06 Mar 2004
President Jean-Bertrand Aristide did not flee Haiti because he lost his nerve. Neither did the United States blackmail him. No, the most satisfying explanation for the country’s recent upheavals is that the spirits were offended and taking their revenge.
Voodoo, an exotic synthesis of African, Caribbean and Roman Catholic beliefs, with freemasonry mixed in too, pervades every facet of life in Haiti, so its role in the downfall of Mr Aristide is, for most, beyond dispute.
Just as its flags, murals, shrines, rum, rattles and images of madonnas and saints lurk, invisible from the outside, in slum temples, the religion underlies each momentous event in the nation’s history.
The rise and fall of Mr Aristide, its first democratically elected leader and an ordained Catholic priest who adopted as his symbol the cockerel, a voodoo icon, illustrates this. Mr Aristide, whose library contained many books on the national religion, was guilty of the voodoo equivalent of hubris and then struck down by its version of nemesis, several voodo priests said this week.
Comparing himself to the heroes who won Haiti’s slaves freedom from the French two centuries ago was a fatal mistake, they said, one that the heroes, by now spirits themselves, punished.
He has yet to learn his lesson. Even from his African exile he was still quoting Jean-Jacques Dessalines, a giant of the struggle for liberty, complaining, that his enemies “had chopped down the tree of peace”.
Desperate to cling on to power, he also dabbled in what voodoo priests and priestesses called sorcery and the black arts, very different from the benign voodoo they claim to practise.
The priests and priestesses were still reluctant to mention the president by name, but their disapproval shone through their careful choice of words. “There are some sacrifices that when you make them you pay for them very fast,” said one of Haiti’s best known priestesses, Gladys Maitre.
Another, a designer of beautiful, sequined voodoo flags, suggested that the normal contract between man and spirits had, in Mr Aristide’s case, been broken.
“Some of the spirits are like politicians,” said Silva Joseph. “They want something from you but they don’t ask for it. And they perform a service for you to keep you in their power.” Perhaps it was finally over for Mr Aristide, not when the Americans persuaded him to step down and flee the country last weekend, but a few days earlier, when Sister Ann, his voodoo priestess, left.
Whatever the immediate cause of Mr Aristide’s departure, it provoked a hair-raising outburst of violence and bloodletting on the streets. Here too, voodoo was everywhere.
With the capital in the grip of armed gangs of looters, my guide through the mayhem, a former New York banker who is also a voodoo priest, wrapped a red scarf around our rear-view mirror.
An evil spirit had crossed our path and we were at even more risk than the time when a thug had pointed a pump-action shotgun at the car, Jean-Daniel Lafontant told me later. Mercifully, the scarf’s magic seemed to work.
“Don’t go down there,” a voodoo sister, whispered at us the next day as we debated whether to venture into one of the most dangerous slums. We took her advice.
I’m sure they mentioned corruption in there somewhere, didn’t they?
Corrupt black leaders fleecing the country.
Always be suspicious of a writer who uses the word “diaspora” to describe anything other than the original diaspora.
Is there any correlation between those populated by white people and those populated by black people?
Look at colonies in Africa. Generally the worst were French and Belgian. British were probably the best followed by the Germans. The Portuguese ones I think sucked too. Rhodesia was pretty damn good (British) until Mugabe destroyed it.
I can see this thread a decade from now “Why is Florida so poor?” Because Obama moved Haiti there. I am sure many bleeding hearts here will say I am heartless or a racist.
Some idiot on another thread was telling me how the Saudis are our staunch ally. Has FR been invaded by Huff Po & DU idiots or did the collective IQ for some drop recently?
I wonder if this was the source of Pat Robertson's statement that Haiti sold her soul to the devil??
It’s been Port-Au-Potty for as long as I’ve been alive.
Well, let's put it this way -- name one white island hellhole...
Hong Kong hasn't done to poorly.....
CORRUPTION and intentionally denting proper education to proletariat. Papa Doc, Baby Doc and Aristide wouldn’t have it any other way.
Glad to see their palatial palace collapsed as well. It shows that even they were not immune to shoddy construction tactics by the corrupt builders and suppliers.
If the shoe fits....
I don’t think they defeated the French as much as the French soldiers simply died of disease.
Anyway it is all Whitey’s fault. Always is.