A Nation Molded to Fail
Presidential and legislative runoff in the volatile Caribbean country Haiti was recently put on hold indefinitely. International communities appealed to conflicting political players of Haiti to negotiate a solution to the current constitutional crisis. The international communities hoping for peace and dialogue in the Caribbean country couldn’t be more ironic, since those same communities along with UN and NGO’s worked hard to create political and economic instability. Haiti, like the African nations, is often viewed through lens of racial bigotry and exhibited as a proof of black people’s inability to govern themselves. But, the true historical narrative about Haiti could reveal, how the endless cycle of poverty and corruption was deliberately created by the former ‘colonizers’ to the present elusive ‘occupiers’.
In 1700’s, Haiti was a French colony and deemed as one of the most valuable possession for Europeans in the Western Hemisphere. By concocting a system that ruthlessly exploited the African slaves, French produced one-third of world’s coffee and sugar from the islands of Hispaniola (of which Haiti is a part). French cities boasted its grandeur and wealth, which were all extracted from the bloods of Haitian slaves. By the 18th century, American colonists had a tough time with Great Britain and conflicted over issues of representation in Parliament, etc, although their conflicts weren’t as life threatening as the ones faced by black slaves in Haiti. In the 1770’s, American colonists fought for their freedom and against colonizers’ tyranny, which also set fires on the French camp, when the enslaved Haitians also called for ‘liberty, equality and fraternity’.
String of violent uprisings by the slaves put an end to brutal French plantation system (many of the plantation owners were killed). An ablest and self-educated man named Toussaint L’Oueverture became the revolution’s hero. He is said to have possessed outstanding skills to face battlefield and also enough intelligence to grasp the complexities of politics. The Black rebels of Haiti gained sympathy from American Federalist Party’s Alexander Hamilton, who was a fierce opponent of slavery. He helped Toussaint to draft a constitution for the new nation. But, even America’s founding fathers, including Thomas Jefferson, expressed disdain over the prospects of Haiti’s independence. Thomas Jefferson, who owned 180 slaves himself, approached slave rebellion in nearby colony as an alarming matter.
When Jefferson became the President of US in 1801, he commenced a political game with Napoleon. They both were eager to crush the slave rebellion, although both the rulers had their own hidden agendas. By 1802, a French expeditionary force had a small victory against slave forces. Toussaint L’Oueverture eventually surrendered as Napoleon agreed to ban slavery, but the great dictator broke his words and shipped Toussaint in chains to Europe, where the slave leader died in prison. The betrayal infuriated young rebels of Haiti. By 1803, both the Napoleon forces and ex-slave army witnessed heavy death tolls. The frustrated French ruler sold his New Orleans and Louisiana territories to President Jefferson to compensate for his country’s economic losses due to the war with ex-slaves. In 1804, Haiti was formally declared as an independent nation, but its downward spiral just started after being a free nation.
In 1825, two decades after independence, Haiti was imposed a debt of 150 million francs (at least $20 billion in today’s value) by France. The debt is to compensate the French plantation owners, who lost their properties to rebellions. By properties, the French also meant the ‘slaves’, who was the most cherished asset. France threatened with a full-blown blockade and Haiti agreed to pay in order to get France’s recognition. And so, as debt payments started flowing in France recognized Haiti as an independent nation, although the US, which was still a slave-owning nation by the early 1800’s, didn’t recognize Haiti as a free nation (until 1862). To pay the humongous debt, Haiti even borrowed from French banks and never forgot to pay the interests on these loans. Gradually, France with a simple word ‘debt’ depleted Haiti and repeatedly plunged the nation to financial crisis. The political instability and corruption, of course were equally biggest problems in Haiti, but it all born out of the deliberate financial crisis, perfectly molded by French government.
Let’s not forget the US financiers too, who played an equal role in laying their groundwork for an US occupation of Haiti (which started by 1909). US government — as it often does — used a bank to acquire stakes in Haiti’s bank in order to create railway in the poor country. But the railway constructions were just smokescreens to exploit Haitian resources and cheap labor forces. Variety of agricultural products and industrial production were manged to be produced from Haiti to fulfill the great ‘American Dream’. Then, by 1915, Haiti’s President Jean Vilbrun Guillaume Sam was said to have been killed by a mob and bloodily dismembered (Haiti had seven presidents between 1910 and 1915). The ‘noble’ US government, which always likes to poke its nose whenever there, is political instability in a nation, landed its Marines on Haitian shores and began to literally occupy the nation for the next 19 years.
In the American popular culture, especially in Hollywood, Haiti was colored with racism and became popular for ‘Voodoos’ and ‘Zombies’. Haiti was treated as a nation of black boogeymen, waiting to devour white foreigners. The reason for America’s invasion of Haiti was simple: to establish a political order that fully undercuts the dominance of France, England and Germany in that area. Now, along with the French debt, the Haitians were also forced to pay their ‘debt’ to US private banks. Elections during the occupation and afterwards (from 1934) were never truly fair. The American authorities as always presumed that their mission was to bring civilization to Haiti, and so elections were treated as negotiations between US and Haiti rich classes. Of course, US and other imperial forces did their best help Haiti for democratic transitions, by using everything from fraud, deceit, and violence. By 2010, when a massive earthquake claimed 220,000 Haitian lives, all the foreign nations, including US regarded Haiti as a ‘failed state’ and that it couldn’t function without the political or economical interference of outsiders.
Nevertheless, what the 2010 earthquake really showed the world is the fallacies of NGO aid system (Haiti has world’s highest density of NGOs per capita) and how the international community used Haiti as a laboratory for cashing in on its disasters. A simple investigation revealed that of the every $100 allocated for Haitian reconstruction contracts awarded by US government, at least $98.40 returned to American companies, suggesting that non-Haitian organizations were the only ones to gain from relief efforts. Every square inch of reconstruction contract in Haiti was privatized or taken over by foreign NGO’s. More than million people in the aftermath of earthquake, stayed in the camps, fearing Cholera epidemic and with no access to boiled water, while the NGO’s and private organizations were busy ravaging a broken-down nation.
The Haitian ruling classes’ ignorance and capitulation also played a part in the country’s consistent failures. But, the recurring emergencies, the resultant justifications and new ways of imperial interventions in Haiti perfectly showcase the darker side of neoliberal globalization.