An earthquake measuring 7.0 on the Richter scale is a hard to imagine and no doubt unwanted occurrence anywhere near a human settlement. However, it is clear that the devastation in Haiti has been directly contributed to by the state of impoverishment in the country. A 1989 earthquake also measuring  7.0 struck the Bay Area in Northern California and the casualties recorded were less than seventy people. Obviously poorly constructed buildings, congestion and a lack of disaster preparedness have a lot to do with the terrible figures of those injured and the dead in Haiti’s case. It is this poverty whose beginnings must be deciphered.

According to Pat Robertson Haiti’s hugely unfortunate lot made a pact with Satan in return for aid in driving brutal French colonizers and slave masters off, in his assessment, this explains their numerous misfortunes including this crippling earthquake.

Apparently the earliest person to attempt to organize escaped slaves in Haiti into a group of freedom fighters was a Voudou priest by the name Mackandal, he was a one-armed fugitive slave, originally from Guinea, who escaped in 1751 and spent the next six years staging successful raids and evading capture by the French until he was captured and burned alive in 1758. Now perhaps it is this initial leadership of the slave revolt by a Voudou priest that has Robertson talking about pacts with the devil, that I’m not sure of but I am sure of one little fact of history that has been largely ignored, even as the spotlight remains on Haiti, and that is the pact they made with diabolical empires that has kept them in penury and vulnerable to the ravages of nature and a heartless global capitalist regime.

Basically Haiti’s slaves, most being indigenous Africans, defeated the French in a fight for independence in 1804 thus effectively becoming the first non-slave republic in the Americas. After their ouster the French demanded reparations from Haiti equivalent to 150 million gold francs. This was however reduced to 90 million gold francs, which is over $20 billion US dollars by today’s rates. Haiti couldn’t afford this extortionate sum and hence France and other Western countries, including the United States, offered high-interest loans; by 1900, 80% of Haiti’s annual budget was being spent on repayment of this debt and the struggle to pay this debt took until 1947 to be done with. Haiti had enriched France a lot more than any of its other colonies prior to Haiti’s liberation and the subsequent reparation ensured Haiti never gained a solid economic footing.

Even worse, immediately after the 1804 revolution, the US refused to recognize Haiti because being a country that depended on slave labour it clearly couldn’t acknowledge a country of free slaves; thus Haiti was subjected to a devastating economic embargo by France and the US, sanctions that lasted 60 years and were only ended in 1863.

Furthermore The US occupied and ruled Haiti by force from 1915 to 1934. For 19 years, the US controlled customs in Haiti, collected taxes, and ran many governmental institutions. It is not clear how many billions were bilked from Haiti by the US during this forced occupation. From 1957 to 1986 Haiti was governed by US backed despots “Papa Doc” and “Baby Doc” Duvalier, support for these dictators was premised on their supposed “anti-communist” leanings in total disregard to their cruelty and affront on the human rights of Haitians. The Duvaliers’ corruption stacked up Haiti’s debts even further and as a result it is estimated that the country now is indebted to the tune of more than $1.3 billion in external debt, close to half of this debt having been accumulated by the US-backed Duvaliers.

A little over 30 years ago Haiti was self sufficient in rice and sugar production. Today the country has to import most of its rice as well as sugar, this is because Haiti was forced by the IMF and the World Bank to open its markets to the world allowing the US to dump millions of tons of US subsidized rice and sugar into Haiti’s markets hence putting local farmers out of business and consigning the country to being the third largest world market for US rice.

In 1991, Haiti got its first democratically elected president in the person of Jean-Bertrand Aristide. In less than a year he was ousted by the CIA. Curiously US-backed forces restored Aristide to power in 1994 while starting another spell of US military occupation between 1994 and 2000. Haiti is currently under UN occupation, has no formal army and Aristide has been banished to exile.

Yes, Haiti might have made a pact with the devil but that devil is no amorphous spiritual being, that devil embodied by the nations by the US and France in their tacit collusion that has reduced the republic of Haiti to the basket case that it currently is.


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