Image via WikipediaThat is the question that has been swirling around in my head over the last few days in light of recent comments from a certain televangelist (who shall remain nameless). Thankfully, the Times Online provided a great primer on this subject back in May that zeroed in on how the history of Haiti has played a key role in ensuring its' continual struggle to survive economically, political, and quite frankly, literally.
I should also probably point out that it has nothing to do with a "pact" with any kind of devilish creature. Click here for the full story:
The appalling state of the country is a direct result of having offended a quite different celestial authority -- the French. France gained the western third of the island of Hispaniola -- the territory that is now Haiti -- in 1697. It planted sugar and coffee, supported by an unprecedented increase in the importation of African slaves. Economically, the result was a success, but life as a slave was intolerable. Living conditions were squalid, disease was rife, and beatings and abuses were universal. The slaves’ life expectancy was 21 years. 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.
The article (which I can't recommend highly enough) goes on to state that unemployment currently hovers around 75% nationally in Haiti, and that last year’s hurricanes devastated more than 70% of Haiti’s agricultural land. Words truly fail.
I will only add that, as the full extent of the devastation comes into focus, one potentially positive outcome from all of this is an ever growing community calling for the long overdue cancellation of Haiti's debt.