The situation in Haiti continues to be volatile and hopeful all at the same time.
Word today that the G7 countries will write off Haiti’s financial debts as this grouping of industrialised countries continue its aid effort to this Caribbean nation struggling to get back on its feet.
According to the Canadian Foreign Minister US1.2billion has already been written off in bilateral debts with Haiti and the industrialised nations plan to write to the multi-lateral lending agencies urging them to do the same.
Britain’s PM Gordon Brown said “It must be right that a nation buried in rubble must not also be buried in debt.”
No one can argue with this. And in the words of the Haitian born Governor General of Canada (a G7 member country) Haitian’s need to “stand firm.”
France is a G7 country and it is conspicuously silent.
It is worth recalling Haiti’s financial slave history with France. Indeed there are fresh calls for France to lead the way in restoring financial wealth to Haiti – once a wealthy, prosperous nation.
Back in the early 1800s when Haitian slaves fought and won its freedom from France, then its colonial rulers, French authorities refused to recognise Haiti’s independence, declaring it a rogue state.
Professor Hilary Beckles of the University of the West Indies writes this as what happened next:
The French government sent a team of accountants and actuaries into Haiti in order to place a value on all lands, all physical assets, the 500 000 citizens were who formerly enslaved, animals, and all other commercial properties and services. The sums amounted to 150 million gold francs. Haiti was told to pay this reparation to France in return for national recognition. The Haitian government agreed; payments began immediately. Members of the Cabinet were also valued because they had been enslaved people before independence. Thus began the systematic destruction of the Republic of Haiti. The French government bled the nation and rendered it a failed state. It was a merciless exploitation that was designed and guaranteed to collapse the Haitian economy and society. Haiti was forced to pay this sum until 1922 when the last instalment was made. During the long 19th century, the payment to France amounted to up to 70 per cent of the country’s foreign exchange earnings.
West Indian scholars say the island never recovered from this. Nor did the fragile Haitian economy ever recover when a decade later the Americans repatriated US500,000 for ‘safe keeping’ in to a New York bank.
The UK Guardian headline called it Haiti’s long descent to hell.
This is not to discount Haiti’s years of dictatorship rule by its own sons, several natural disasters and of course the 20 year military invasion and occupation by the Americans.
When you study Haiti’s history it is difficult not to feel anger and to think that this island has been systematically ‘made’ in to the poorest in the western hemisphere.
The average Haitian lives on US2.00 a day. So before and after the recent devastating earthquake which killed more than 100 thousand Haitians, completely reducing the capital Port au Prince to rubble, Haiti was already crumbling under a mountain of financial debt.
And we shouldn’t confuse the G7 countries latest decision to write off Haiti’s debt with the calls for reparations from France and America. Reparations or simply paying back the 150 million gold francs is not a hand out it is?
The Times writer at large Ben MacIntyre puts its best when he says The Fault line in Haiti runs straight to France.