HAITI, HISTORY, HELL and HOPE

“Even before this particular earthquake and the tragic events that have been following, it has been the conviction of the international community that this time we have to go into Haiti and finish the job.”
—Stephen Harper

I know everybody is different on how they perceive a comment, and it may be said with the best of intentions, but that comment by Stephen Harper is, to me, off-putting, to say the least. How do people see things so differently? Should a leader not qualify a sentence like that? Admit at least some of the brutally imposed past? There just seems to be so little acknowledgement by the political leaders for what has been imposed, from within and without, on Haiti—and much disdain for it as a country, despite what it must have taken to achieve independence in the first place.

A BRIEF HISTORICAL OVERVIEW OF FINISHING THE JOB

In an article from CBC called Haiti’s Unhappy History, and this one from the BBC called The long history of troubled ties between Haiti and the US, some of the historical invasions, occupations and Western-supported dictators are mentioned. The alleged coup d’etat—according to democratically elected leader Jean-Bertrand Arisitide he was forced out of Haiti by the Americans and flown to Central African Republic—is dismissed by someone in the American government as “absurd.”

If it is absurd, why was Aristide not helped to come back and lead the country? After all, all know Aristide was, despite a troubling reign, democratically elected—claims of mass corruption and human rights abuses are plenty—in a country that had been without any democracy for years (until Aristide’s first election win—this was his second coup).

Dr Paul Farmer’s commentary here, from 2004, is worth reading, as are some of the comments. As usual, life and politics remain unclear.

COLONIALISM INC.

Whatever the truth, both of the recent articles I mentioned curiously and conspicuously fail to mention the shocking beginning of the the nation-state of Haiti: the disgraceful reparations that the liberated slave-country had to pay France for their liberty (from the early 1800s until 1947—an then other loans that had been borrowed while paying the reparations). To recall, Haiti was the first (and perhaps only) slave nation to free itself, via rebellion. Reparations for freeing yourself from slavery—now that’s absurd, but true. And so worth remembering. In fact, shouldn’t we all just know it? In a sane world, wouldn’t this be common knowledge?

This article, much more explicit, is actually from May of 2009, before this devastating earthquake. The dreaded word: reparations. The cruelty, hypocrisy and insanity is almost impossible to grasp. This from the TimesOnLine:

History tells a different 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.

Doesn’t that make you want to weep?

A link to Partners In Health, who do great work in Haiti, and have for years, and are undoubtedly in great need of support in this absolutely brutal and devastating time.

Here’s to hope, justice, compassion, and further understanding of history, and how it may play out. And may Stephen Harper’s words somehow be positive, and result in true and useful and compassionate help for the masses in Haiti who have suffered for so long at the whim of cruel and brutal politics, from within and without.

Petexo

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