How come a place that was once called “The pearl of the Islands” becomes the poorest country in the western hemisphere? There are many hypotheses explaining Haiti’s wretched condition. Many attribute it to its leaders’ lack of vision, incompetence and corruption throughout its existence. Others ascribe it to the unequal distribution of land and resources after its independence mixed with the marginalization of its masses. Some superstitious minds put the blame on Vodou, one of Haiti’s cultural and religious manifestations. Others went so far to claim that Haiti does not exist. A nation, for certain people, exists only through its institutions. If those institutions are either corrupt or inexistent, one can safely assert the nation’s inexistence.
The religious interpretation is totally false: It does not adhere to any scientific principle. It is biased, ideologically slanted, and Eurocentric. The Haiti’s inexistence Theory can only be processed as “food for thought”. The two other interpretations, both alluding to some form of institutional failure, have some elements of truth. However, the numerous and unjust foreign interventions are by far the primary causes of Haitian conditions.
It is important to establish that the first Europeans who arrived to the land did not come for cultural exchanges. They exclusively came in search of gold and seasonings to enrich their motherlands. Building a country on equal terms was not part of their vision. After enslaving and decimating the native Indians, they brought in African slaves. Besides stealing the gold, destroying the forests to get enough wood to build Europe, they mercilessly overused the land (Edward Scobie). By the time, mulattoes and blacks united to defeat the French Army, they had inherited a deforested land with a colonial mentality that favored selfishness and a sense of superiority over communal well-being and equality.
People are the product of what they have experienced. Most of the founding fathers, especially the mulatto and black slave owners, who were already free before the independence war, did not have a visceral attachment to the land and a sense of brotherhood toward the majority of the uneducated black slaves. Most of them simply wanted to replace the French without altering the colonial mentality.
Also, the fear that Haiti’s example may stir unrest in other colonies predisposed all the colonial powers to reject its existence as an independent nation. Besides the economic embargo, fearing a French comeback, the first Haitian governments were forced to spend almost everything into weapons and building forts.
Throughout Haiti’s existence many countries have used their military might to impose their will on Haiti.
Twenty-one years after independence, the nascent nation facing French warships, was forced to pay 21 billions dollars, the modern-day equivalent of 90.000.000 gold francs to France for reparations in order to be recognized as a sovereign nation. That was more than 70% of our Gross National Product.
Rubelcava Affair- . on July, 6, 1861, the Spanish admiral Rubelcava arrived in the Haitian Capital, Port-Au-Prince with a fleet of warships and demanded an indemnity of 20.000 Haitian currencies.
Luders, a German businessman, was sentenced on October 14, 1897, for a year for having assaulted a police officer. In retaliation, on December 6, 1897, two German warships arrived in Port-Au-Prince and demanded 20.000 dollars for compensation and the right for Luders to continue living in Haiti.
Maunder, a British subject, leased La Tortue, a small Haitian island, for a mahogany concession. After a conflict with local authorities, the Maunders were forced to leave. Then, in 1875, a British warship was sent to La Tortue to take possession of the island.
Thus, having the back up of their homelands, Haiti foreign businessmen have always had free reign to conduct their monkey business and bribe anyone without consequences. The Haitian elite composed of different nationalities would have done anything to get one of their men in power. Almost all the political upheavals were either engineered or financed by some faction of the elite. They simply perceive Haiti as land to get rich without taking into consideration the nation as a whole. The notion of civism and sense of community is not within them.
The United States did not recognize Haiti’ independence until 1862, fearing that may encourage slave rebellion in its own territory. Even tough, many of our Haitian brothers fought and died in the US independence War in Savannah, Georgia. The law of reciprocity was not applied.
After a period of political upheavals created by many foreign elements, the US invaded Haiti in 1915 and stayed until 1934. However, life of the masses did not get better. No primary schools were built in the country side and rural areas.
Also they left the country in 1934 in the hands of an army that they have themselves trained and a corrupt elite with no attachment to the nation.
And elite that prefers to sacrifice the local agriculture and livestock to benefit from imported goods. Also, for 29 years, the US had backed up economically and militarily the Duvalier dictatorships.
In sum, we can not capture the essence of the Haitian drama without mentioning the foreign injustices and interventions that have greatly contributed to its demise. Truly, this article was not written in a spirit of revenge, and hatred but rather to help us find optimal solution to move forward. We all are part of the global village. Still, a nation‘s historical memory can not solely be understood from foreign perspectives and interpretations. Haiti’s historical memory also has to reflect its people’s perspectives.
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