Cover
Editor

Paul Zilonka, C.P.
Co-Editors
Mary Ann Strain, C.P.
Kevin Dance, C.P.
Art/Layout
Suzanne Thomas
Circulation
James Fitzgerald, C.P.
Publisher
Joseph Jones, C.P.,
Provincial
Eastern Province
Cover by
Mary Ann Strain, C.P.
Photo & Graphics
Mary Ann Strain, C.P.
Patricia Tryon

Sign of the Passionists

Passionist Missionaries
of Union City
526 Monastery Place
Union City, NJ 0708
USA

Published
on the Web by
Bread on the Waters
Web Pages




Back issues


The Western Origins of Haiti's 'curse'

By Adele Webb

Haiti is a country that has seen unfathomable suffering, and has been at the epicenter of natural disasters in recent years. The poverty and powerlessness that is so widespread (even before the earthquake, three-quarters of Haitian people lived in poverty) left the people defenseless against the horrific events of 12 January. It’s no wonder people are asking whether this nation is cursed.

Across the world there arose an extraordinary spirit of generosity and solidarity in the wake of the earthquake, but sadly this is unlikely to last. Tearful comments projected onto our television screens have ceased, and as the coverage starts to diminish, the plight of the Haitians will fade from our minds and our consciences.

But what if events took another course? What if the momentary sorrow we felt led to some deep searching about why this Caribbean nation has been so unlucky?

If we did indeed do this thoughtful analysis, we would find that the story of Haiti, even from the earliest decades of its independence, is one of a downward spiral into debt and underdevelopment. As a nation, it has been at the short end of the stick, time and time again, in its relationships with richer and powerful countries. Haiti, it turns out, never stood a chance.


‘...as the coverage starts to diminish, the plight of
the Haitians will fade from our minds and our
consciences.’ photo © 2010 Fablic

The story of Haiti

Until the late 18th century, Haiti was a French colony used to produce food, principally sugar, for a prosperous France. In 1803 the Haitian people staged the only successful slave revolt in history, defeating Napoleon’s French army and winning freedom for themselves and their nation.

But the cost was high. The fighting destroyed infrastructure and killed thousands of the country’s people. And Haiti was punished for its ‘rebellion’ — not by God, as some have dared to suggest, but by the European colonizers who were angered by the dangerous precedent that the Haitian liberation movement had set.

In 1825, with warships positioned off the coast, France threatened to reinvade and re-establish slavery unless Haiti compensated slave owners for the loss of ‘property’. With other western powers also threatening an embargo, Haiti agreed to pay a sum of 150 million francs in return for recognition of sovereignty.

The new debt, equivalent to US$20 billion in today’s currency, was 14 times larger than Haiti’s annual export revenues, so instead of spending its income on infrastructure and public services, the government was forced to divert up to 80 per cent to western banks for the right to self-govern.

The freedom won in the previous century didn’t last. In 1914 a marine expedition from the US landed on Haitian soil, at least in part to facilitate the establishment of US plantations. For 20 years the US illegally occupied the country, only withdrawing when the government agreed to remove the constitutional provision prohibiting foreigners to own and run businesses.

Until the late 18th century, Haiti was a French colony used to produce food, principally sugar, for a prosperous France. In 1803 the Haitian people staged the only successful slave revolt in history, defeating Napoleon’s French army and winning freedom for themselves and their nation.

But the cost was high. The fighting destroyed infrastructure and killed thousands of the country’s people. And Haiti was punished for its ‘rebellion’ — not by God, as some have dared to suggest, but by the European colonizers who were angered by the dangerous precedent that the Haitian liberation movement had set.

In 1825, with warships positioned off the coast, France threatened to reinvade and re-establish slavery unless Haiti compensated slave owners for the loss of ‘property’. With other western powers also threatening an embargo, Haiti agreed to pay a sum of 150 million francs in return for recognition of sovereignty.

The new debt, equivalent to US$20 billion in today’s currency, was 14 times larger than Haiti’s annual export revenues, so instead of spending its income on infrastructure and public services, the government was forced to divert up to 80 per cent to western banks for the right to self-govern.

Next: a booming sweat shop industry