Friday, January 15, 2010

Short Course on Haiti's History

Breezy references to Haiti's deplorable history of slavery and the horrors of Papa Doc Duvallier explain only partially the miserable state of that country, even before the earthquake. Historian Alex von Tunzelmann updates the record and fingers -- wouldn't you know it? -- too-big-to-fail banks as the modern culprit:
"The long and the short of it is that Haiti was paying reparations to France from 1825 until 1947," says Von Tunzelmann. "To come up with the money, it took out huge loans from American, German and French banks, at exorbitant rates of interest. By 1900, Haiti was spending about 80% of its national budget on loan repayments. It ­completely wrecked their economy. By the time the original reparations and interest were paid off, the place was basically destitute and trapped in a ­spiral of debt. Plus, a succession of leaders had more or less given up on trying to resolve Haiti's problems, and started looting it instead."
Historically speaking, the U.S. has a lot to answer for, too:
It was race that kept the United States and Haiti apart in the early years despite their common battle against colonial masters. Southerners feared the former slave republic at a time when slavery was going strong in the United States.

After the Civil War ended slavery in the United States, relations still were compromised by economic issues as the emerging U.S. sought markets and military bases. Haiti went through its own internal crises.

It was Woodrow Wilson who in 1915 sent U.S. Marines to Haiti after the president there was killed by an angry crowd. Troops stayed until 1934 helping to train the new military. From the late 1950s, the military, led by two generations of the Duvaliers, ran the impoverished country as a personal fiefdom. Its refugees fled the dictatorship and from economic want to often die en route to the United States.

2 comments:

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