Imagine if, after we drove out the British and drafted our Constitution in 1787, that the British suddenly decided that we owe them a debt totaling more than twice the amount of our total national net worth, and that if we didn't pay, all of our allies would place a trading embargo on our newly-founded nation, and we may even be attacked. That would be all kinds of wrong, would it not?
Well, that's exactly what the French did to Haiti after they drove out Napoleon.
In 1806, all major players in the global trading game, including the United States under President Thomas Jefferson (then serving his second term), had agreed to embargo the newly-independent, mostly Black nation in the Caribbean. Napoleon had encouraged world leaders to antagonize the newly-freed "pearl of the Antilles" by propagating fear around what would happen if similar slave nations also demanded their freedom, inspired by the Haitians. Thus, Haiti was forced to pay 150,000 francs (equivalent to $21 billion today) in reparations to France for the lost economic productivity of the formerly-enslaved population that was now free. France was not solely complicit for such oppression; the United States had also sent over $750,000 to quell the initial slave revolt in 1791. For 58 years, the US refused to acknowledge Haiti's existence. When we finally did acknowledge Haiti, it was through invading, and then occupying the nation from 1915 until 1934 because we were afraid that populist movements would endanger our efforts at enriching our economy at Haiti's expense.
Only after Haiti agreed to pay reparations to their former oppressors in 1825 did other nations allow the Haitians into the global financial arena. To add insult to injury, Haiti had to borrow some of the debt to pay France back from France itself, at a 6% interest rate. The debt Haiti owed their former occupiers was ten times the amount they made in export revenue, so paying it off would be an eternal effort. Thus, slavery had begun again. And that financial slavery continues to this day.
Sure, the earthquake this month that ravaged Port-Au-Prince was terrible. And it's great that we can send our money to Haiti, and that the media has us all crying over the tragedy in Haiti. But one must remember that Haitians, despite living in a destabilized country with no food or resources, are still not allowed to seek refuge here. We can support their aim of democracy all we want, but only if they let our corporations have unrestricted access to their people and resources.
(One small example of Haitian exploitation is the multitude of mercenary companies providing "security" at a high cost. One group currently operating in Haiti is partially-owned by the controversial head of Blackwater, who charged US taxpayers $950 per person per day in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Those same people are disaster profiteering under the guise of "humanitarian efforts.")
The mainstream media has been pushing the flawed narrative of the Helpless Haitians, victims of their corrupt government. But the media fails to ask the questions of how such oppressive regimes were able to sustain themselves as long as they did. When digging beneath the surface, one can see the bulk of Haitian oppression and debt was incurred under the Duvalier dynasty, led by Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier, and then by his son, Jean-Claude, who incurred $500 million alone during his last six years in office.
Their regimes, backed by both France and the US because of their stance against Communism, consisted of brutal political violence exacted by what the locals called the "Tonton Macoutes," a creole term lossely translated to "Uncle Gunnysack." This term was used as parents would warn children of the boogeyman who would stuff them into his gunnysack to disappear forever if they didn't behave. However, the voodoo term stuck, as the regime's secret police was known to imprison political dissidents in Fort Dimanche, known by many as the "Dungeon of Death." The Tonton Macoutes, under the order of the US-backed Duvalier regime, killed and tortured thousands by brutal means.
We had supported President Jean-Bertrand Artistides' election in 1990, and helped him regain power in 1994 after a coup had driven him out of power. The US, however, required that the newly re-established administration incur unpayable debt brought on by arms of the global corporatocracy such as the World Bank, IMF and USAID. Thanks to that continued indebtedness, Haiti still spends a bulk of her annual budget on debt service, rather than needed services like education and health care.
While the death dungeon is empty today, western powers have yet to apologize to Haiti for suppressing her efforts at a democratic government, and the western media has yet to focus their narrative upon the oppression that we supported, which has led to why Haiti has never had the money to bring herself from poverty to prosperity.
So yes, give freely to help Haiti in her time of greatest crisis. But let's ask our media to report the full story, instead of pushing forced, pre-conceived narratives that ignore the real issues. If you really want to help Haiti out of poverty and despair, call your elected officials and push for them to forgive Haiti's debt.
To end this, I'll cite Brown Man Thinking Hard, who originally inspired me to write this:
"If we are saving people today so they can die in sweatshops for our corporations later, THAT is a travesty."
Friday Thoughts and Links
8 years ago