Consequences of the past: Haiti’s story

Brian Lapuz unravels the history of Haiti and how the torn country has been unable to begin rebuilding alone

photo: Jen Browning

For the past few weeks, the major earthquake in Haiti dominated the news outlets all over the world. Almost every nation, especially Quebec’s large Haitian community, showed much support for the tragic event – be it through monetary funds or rescue and medical personnel.

Haiti is clearly devastated. Cameramen and reporters on the field presented footage of dead bodies and injured people amidst the wreckage. We all know of the donations given by citizens to various charities worldwide. Even the Dawson community has organized fundraisers for Haiti.

Only someone with a heart of stone would be unchanged by the horrific images from the country in ruin, yet the mainstream media appears to be indifferent about Haiti’s oppressed history. In fact, many of the rich nations sending help probably owe even more to Haiti, because of their past interventions.

Looking at the history we can see that the Haitian people have had very little peace. This is largely due to foreign powers constantly meddling into Haiti’s democratic affairs.

Concerned with the events, the Social Justice club held a discussion on the topic last Thursday, and planned future fundraising activities for Haiti.

“Haiti didn’t just become poor a few weeks ago,” said Natasha Sulter, Vice-President of

Social Justice. “They’ve been poor for a while.”

This might explain why Haiti is the poorest country in the Americas. On top of that, the government isn’t able to organize the rescue effort on their own – assuming they are part of the rescue effort. It might also explain why the earthquake was so catastrophic.

Looking at the history of the Haitian people, we can understand the imperialist oppression cause by monarchs and capitalists.

The French Colony

In the 18th century, the western part of Hispaniola was referred to as Saint-Domingue. That was the name of the French slave-colony, which produced sugar, coffee and cotton. It was known as the “Pearl of the Antilles,” easily one of the wealthiest colonies of the French Empire.

The productive forces were the African slaves. Naturally, they lived under very difficult conditions. Tropical diseases and brutal living condition prevented population growth. This forced the French to keep importing slaves from Africa.

This is a result of imperialism in its traditional sense: a country claims ownership over a foreign land  simply by force.

In 1804, the slaves revolted. Led by Toussaint L’Ouverture and Jean Jacques Dessalines, the slaves managed to defeat the Napoleonic war machine – and were never forgiven for it.

The French returned in 1825 with warships and demanded that they be compensated for the private property – settlements and slaves – that they lost because of the rebellion.

As Sulter puts it, “They were in debt from the get-go.” The French demanded 150 million francs or approximately $21 billion American today. The debt to France was finally paid in 1947.

Independence

Haiti became the first black republic in the world, but was not recognized by the United States until the 1860s. Sulter states, “The U.S. took a long time to recognize Haiti as a country because it inspired the black people in the Southern States.”

However, the Haitian Revolution did not mean freedom and peace, since many political and military struggles followed. Things were so chaotic that even at one point, the whole island of Hispaniola was under one rule.

It’s only when the Constitution of 1867 was in place that Haiti saw some peace and prosperity.

That period ended in 1911 when Haiti saw another wave of political struggles.

Then from 1915 to 1934, the country was occupied by the United States in order to protect the interest of some American and European banks, to which Haiti was also in debt – mainly by borrowing money to pay its debt to France.

This is an example of the new type of imperialism, where corporations wield power and influence over many countries.

The Duvalier Days

In the 1950s came a man called Francois Duvalier, also known as Papa Doc, to the head of the country. He created his own private military called “Volunteers for National Security,” which earned the unofficial name of Tonton Macoutes.

Duvalier was backed by the elite – foreign and domestic – in order to protect their property. He later changed the constitution and named himself President for life.

In 1971, Duvalier died and his son Jean-Claude Duvalier, or Baby Doc was now President for life. He was forced into exiled during a rebellion in 1986.

During these days of dictatorship, tens of thousands of people died and much of the nations public funds were embezzled. Baby Doc’s wedding ceremony, in 1980, cost $3 million, which people were obviously not happy about.

The Duvaliers were supported in part by the U.S. With Cuba nearby, they feared the spread of Stalinism. Aside from public funds, about 80% of international aid was kept by the Duvalier family.

Post-Duvalier

In the 1990s Jean-Bertrand Aristide was elected on a populist platform, but was forced into exile because of a coup d’état. He then returned in 1995 and completed his term until 1996. That year, René Préval was elected with a strong popular support. This is the first time Haiti has seen a calm political transition.

Aristide came back into power in 2000 and doubled the minimum wage to 2$ a day. Unhappy about this drastic change, foreign capitalists took action. In 2004 there was another coup, supported by the U.S., France and Canada, where he was kidnapped and exiled.

Up to date, Préval has been the President of Haiti since 2006.

What is the result of this history?

Louis Gervais, fourth semester First Choice Health student, aid, “I’ve been to Haiti, and most of the buildings I saw were just made of cinder blocks, mortar and tin for the roof.”

Historically, Haiti has had many earthquakes. The same goes for hurricanes. Laura Elbaz,

President of Social Justice said, “In a country that has had so many natural disasters, you would expect there to be proper infrastructure.”

This is a fair assumption. In fact, Cuba is right next-door and suffers the same types of natural disasters, but the casualties are very minimal for the Cubans. Still, we have to remember that Haiti has always been in debt and proper infrastructure is not attainable when it cannot be afforded.

In the past weeks, there have been reports of planes unable to land because the airport isn’t large enough to accommodate huge air traffic. Also, rescue and aid workers are unable to get to certain areas of the country due to impassable roads, which had been damaged before the earthquake by past hurricanes.

Lauren Pinkus, a fourth semester Health Science student, said, “I saw a report on 60 Minutes about Haiti three months ago. There was a mother who was paid $1 a day by an American company. It cost her $0.60 back and forth to work. The $0.40 she had left went for food and for sending her children to school.”

Haiti has faced terrible economic oppression due to imperialism. It’s also obvious how the more powerful and rich nations – influence by capitalists – feel that it’s normal for them to bully those who are underdeveloped.

Haiti has always been poor and kept poor. Now, the country is faced with death and destruction that could have been minimized, if it wasn’t for the flawed economic system advocated by capitalists.

photo: National Geographic

Students who want to help in fundraising activities can go to the Dawson Student Union office in 2F.2.

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