On Saturday, the U.S. Embassy in Haiti warned American citizens, volunteers and missionaries in Haiti to stay in place and hunker down after angry demonstrators attempted to get past a barricade and security guards at a Port-au-Prince hotel.
CNN reports that American Airlines, JetBlue and the Spirit Airlines (whose official slogan is: “We’re like a Greyhound bus with wings”) canceled all flights to Haiti following unrest in the country related to rising fuel prices, corruption and widespread poverty.
When comparing them side-by-side, the story of the American Revolution ain’t got shit on the history of Haiti. For black people, Haiti represents the most beautiful story of strength, resistance and freedom that has ever been told. It is the story of a people who thrust off the chains of bondage and took their liberty from the hands of their oppressors.
For others, Haiti is a tragedy. There are some, whose names do not deserve mention, who even refer to it as a “shithole country.” But when discussing anything having to do with the country of Haiti, we should never forget that every bit of struggle in Haiti is related to the legacy of slavery, capitalism and American hypocrisy.
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As unrest envelops Haiti once again, it is important for us to remember that Haiti suffers from a worldwide collusion between America and European countries intent on making the tropical paradise suffer. To blame Haiti’s problems on white people is not a harebrained hypothesis. It is an unbelievably treacherous fact that it often sounds like a kooky conspiracy theory.
Yes, Haiti is poor. Yes, there is widespread government corruption in the country. But there is also one other unignorable fact: White people did this.
“In fourteen hundred ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”
Christopher Columbus never set foot on North American soil. While there is some debate about where he first landed in the Caribbean (partly because he was a terrible navigator), we know he arrived on the island of Hispaniola on December 5, 1492.
In A Pest in the Land: New World Epidemics in a Global Perspective, Suzanne Alton writes that most historians estimate the population of the Island of Hispaniola was around 500,000 to one million people when Columbus’ fleet arrived. Columbus immediately took possession of the island, began redirecting the native Taino people’s food and resources to the Europeans, began enslaving the natives and killing the population with disease and brutality that it is described as “surely the greatest tragedy in the history of the human species.”
25 years after Columbus set foot in the place we now call Haiti, less than 14,000 Taino were alive. So the Spanish began importing slaves, believing them to be more sturdy workers. By the time the French took control of 2/3rds of the island and established the colony of French Santo Domingo (or Saint-Domingue), there were zero natives, 25,000 Europeans, 22,000 free coloreds and 700,000 African slaves, according to the 1788 French Census.
The world had changed by then. A revolution was happening in France. North of the island, there was a brand new country called the United States of America. Thomas Paine, an American, had also written a book titled The Rights of Man asserting that freedom was a universal right that all human beings deserved.
Toussaint Louverture, a black resident of the French colony, inspired by Paine’s book and the stories of the American and French revolutions, led a slave revolt that took control of France’s mostly black, Caribbean paradise.
But France, lusting for a new colony for whites (like the United States) and led by the greatest European warrior in the world, sent an army to capture Louverture and crush the slave rebellion. The colonizing army was well-trained, more experienced and better-financed than this group of slave rebellers. They figured conquering the rebellion would be light work.
The slaves kicked Napolean Bonaparte’s ass.
Gen. Jean-Jacques Dessalines proclaimed victory and ordered the slaves to destroy any Frenchman who remained on the island, announcing: “We have repaid these cannibals, war for war, crime for crime, outrage for outrage.”
The citizens of the newly freed country would forever remember the history of their brutal oppression at the hands of Europeans. They even tossed the Spanish and French names for their country and renamed it in the language of the now-extinct Taino people. Since that day, a white man has never ruled the place we now call “Haiti.”
America hates Haiti.
White people around the globe hate Haiti.
To be fair, not all white people think of Haiti as a “shithole country.” Polish soldiers who went to fight against the uprising in Haiti refused to lay a hand on Haiti’s black slave rebellers. When the revolutionaries destroyed the white colonizers, they spared the Polish inhabitants on the island.
The reason Haiti is impoverished is mostly America and France’s fault. They did this while the rest of the European powers watched quietly. So no, not all white people destroyed Haiti. Just some white people.
Which is enough.
Understanding what America and France, two of the most powerful countries in the world, did to Haiti requires a suspension of disbelief because it is so insane that it sounds like fiction. But it is a historical fact that France’s and the United States’ approach to Haiti would devastate the Haitian economy, thrusting Haiti into a poverty that would last to this very day.
Haiti is poor because America and France instituted the most racist economic foreign policy that ever existed.
Not even two decades after Haiti gained its independence, France demanded that Haiti compensate former French slaveowners for the value of all those slaves who set themselves free. Yes, France and the land of the free, home of the brave, essentially demanded reverse slave reparations.
In 1825, France sent warships to Haiti and demanded 150 million Francs. Not only did the United States agree, but they backed up France’s demands for the debt on the international stage, imploring European countries to ignore Haiti’s existence until it paid this money.
For the 'crime' of shaking off the yoke of involuntary servitude in 1825, Haiti dutifully paid…
One could argue that this crippling debt, which thrust Haiti into poverty and took 122 years to pay, was partly the fault of the European countries who silently allowed France to enact this racist policy. One could even blame America for allowing France to extort Haiti. The 1823 Monroe Doctrine explicitly stated that “any attempt by a European power to oppress or control any nation in the Western Hemisphere would be viewed as a hostile act against the United States.”
Perhaps Haiti’s predicament is due to America’s fear of slave uprisings. Maybe it is at least partly America’s fault.
Nah, B. This is white people’s fault.
In 1804, when Haiti became an independent country, it scared America. The U.S. feared the Haitian uprising would inspire black slaves to do the same, believing “ a revolution by Blacks definitely was something that could not be.” Andrew Johnson wanted to annex Haiti and make it part of America, and the U.S. sent troops to Haiti’s doorstep 17 times between 1862 and 1915.
America ignored Haiti at the behest of southern slaveowners who were afraid a black nation conquered by slaves could also happen here. It was afraid that a tropical paradise could produce more crops than the U.S. agrarian economy. When Haiti declared its independence, black people owned very little land and very few banks. The U.S. was ruled by rich plantation owners and northern bankers.
Also known as white people.
In 1947, two years after America liberated the last concentration camp, 82 years after the Emancipation Proclamation and 143 years after dismantling the shackles of their own slaveowners, the Republic of Haiti made the last payment toward its independence debt.
Those payments didn’t include the money that was taken by U.S. Marines when they marched into the Haitian National Bank in 1919, took $500,000 and deposited at 111 Wall Street New York, N.Y., for “safekeeping.”
The cost of German soldiers who assisted the American army in occupying Haiti from 1915-1934 don’t count either. Neither does the 40 percent of Haiti’s national income it was forced to pay to the United States and France when the U.S. occupiers wrote the demand into Haiti’s constitution.
Whenever Haiti couldn’t make the payments, it would take out loans, sending it deeper into poverty, because the loans could only come from French banks. Over the years, French banks would lend the Caribbean nation money so often that Haiti wasn’t simply repaying its original reparations debt, it was paying the loans, interests and fees.
As late as 1915, nearly 80 percent of Haiti’s government revenue was paid to service its debt. But by the time they made the last payment in 1947, Haiti wasn’t even paying France. It was paying an American bank that had bought all of Haiti’s debt from French banks.
Located at that previously mentioned 111 Wall Street address, the City Bank of New York was founded by Moses Taylor, who made his fortune illegally importing slaves to Cuban sugar plantations after slavery was outlawed in the United States. So when Haiti made its last payment for dismantling slavery, it was paying an American bank that was built on slave-owning owned by a man who disregarded international law to build the City Bank of New York, built on the institution of slavery, with money partially stolen by an international conglomerate of white soldiers who occupied Haiti.
Haiti is poor because it was forced to pay the equivalent of $21 billion, including billions to the City Bank of New York. But you might not know the history of that bank’s involvement with the slave trade and Haiti’s extortion. Or maybe you know the bank by its current name:
Despite repaying the independence debt in 1914, Haiti still owed billions to other countries and the World Bank because for almost two centuries, much of Haiti’s income was tied up repaying France and Citibank. But many of those countries, including the World Bank, have canceled Haiti’s debt. France’s president eventually forgave Haiti’s non-independence debt.
Yet there are still people who will ask why Haiti can’t “get over” the past. They will use the same argument that American whites use against the descendants of slaves, as if this country is still not complicit in the historical oppression.
Some might even ask why Haiti can’t bounce back. After all, Haiti is now debt-free. Some will even point to the historical government corruption as a determining factor, ignoring the fact that overwhelming poverty and debt is part of the reason that Haiti’s citizens cling to the false promises of despots.
And yes, it is true that, since France became the last country to forgive Haiti’s debt, they might be able to one day bounce back. We shall see. Because, when France and the U.S. ignore calls to pay Haiti its money, they point to the fact that we keep bringing up old shithole stuff. They assert that France bravely forgave Haiti’s debt waaay back in the day…
That’s why Haiti is poor. Because America and the world refuse to acknowledge the legacy of slavery. Because of greed. Because of the apathy of capitalism. Because we believe that human bondage is something that doesn’t last for centuries. Because, even though Haiti remembers, we have done our best to make the world forget when it comes to Haiti…
White people did that.
I highly, highly recommend everyone read The Black Jacobins, which is generally considered the best book about the Haitian Revolution. And I would also recommend the Revolutions podcast part on the Haitian Revolution. Not nearly enough people understand the fascinating and historical history of it and how the US completely destroyed the country several times.