Tragedies often focus attention. I’ve been paying attention to Haiti ever since I met a friend from Haiti on a flight back to the US in 1988. And some things, I think are common knowledge:
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.
Other facts? I did not know:
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.
Haiti is fucked enough by the natural world. I really hadn’t realized how much man had tried to compete with that.