How did beautiful, rich, sustainable Haiti become Poor Haiti?
How the tragic situation of Haiti's overpopulation and poverty came about? There were not always 9m hungry people there. When this once rich and beautiful island was discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1492, it was inhabited by a population of about 100,000 Amerindians, living in a steady state economy. The Amerindians refused to mine gold for the Spanish, so the Spanish imported many thousands of slaves from Africa. The French took the whole island over in 1697 and it remained their most lucrative possession until 1825, despite the inhabitants claiming independence and freedom from slavery under the French Revolution of 1789. At that time there were few Amerindians but about 400,000 African slaves and 100,000 colonists. Added on 17 Jan 2010. Slavery is ongoing in Haiti.
We should never forget that the wealth of the developed world was originally built on the slave trade, until coal and oil became cheaper than slaves. And slaving is still going on in Haiti, as A Crime so Monstrous shows.
The Island of Hispaniola, which Haiti, on the western end, shares with the Dominican Republic to the east, was discovered by Christopher Columbus. In colonial times Haiti was known as Saint-Domingue. The west was rich in minerals, notably gold, but the east lacked minerals. The Amerindian population refused to be slaves, so the Spanish imported slaves from Africa to dig up the minerals and farm crops of sugar and coffee for export. On the east side French buccaneers set up camp and, in 1697, the whole island became a French possession. After vicious trade-wars with Britain and other countries lasting on and off for a century, Saint-Domingue was the only French colony left. At the time though, Haiti was the jewel that every country craved. One in eight French people derived their income directly or indirectly from that slave colony and picked it clean. Its GNP was around a third the size of the French mainland economy in 1789.
In 1789 the people of Saint-Domingue, being French, successfully claimed representation in the French revolutionary parliament, which banned slavery. But the French elite would not let go of their cash-cow so easily. The slaves fought courageously for freedom against colonial soldiers from Spain, England and France.
Slavery was formally re-established by Napoleon in 1802 after many battles.
It was not until 1833 that the French State recognised the independence of Saint-Domingue, which took the name Haiti. Incredibly Charles X extorted massive reparations from the Haitians, although so many Europeans had lived off their backs and their land for well over two centuries. The island was impoverished through the payment of the 'debt' which was paid by 1833. Whereas, at the end of the 15th century, shortly after discovery by Christopher Columbus, the population was about 100,000 indigenous Amerindians, following the discovery of gold, by the time of the French Revolution and its own revolutions, it had been unsustainably bloated by continuous importation of massive volumes of slaves from Africa, to a total around 400,000, plus 100,000 Europeans. In 2010, with a population estimated at around 9 million, it is among the poorest states in the world.
Yet, just before the French Revolution, Saint-Domingue was the biggest producer of sugar in the world and produced more than half the coffee in the world. Its external trade was more than one third of metropolitan France’s. One in eight French people lived directly or indirectly from its product, which depended on enslavement of the inhabitants.
This is what happens when a population is deracinated and disorganised in an economy where the only way of getting a living is by your hands. Remember how the original Amerindians had a small and steady population? So did the Africans in the countries from which they were taken. Artificial stimulation of population growth has disastrous consequences, even when it is not done by elites for outright slavery. Haitians have little money for food, let alone contraception, and little access to either.
Poor Haiti. And now this terrible earthquake.
It makes me really angry when all you hear in the news is that the Haitians were the first slaves to get independence and then of how they squabbled. I think that we can safely assume that they may have independence but that the old slave economy has remained, with wages very hard to come by, and that this overt poverty has permitted the classic slave trade to continue, as the book, A Crime so Monstrous, by Benjamin Skinner, shows.
"Chavannes says today’s “dramatic situation” has deeper roots. Delayed agricultural reform is partly to blame, he says, with no proper sharing out of land since independence in 1804, when division of the land of poor slaves amongst the generals merely produced what he refers to as “neo-slavery”. “Agrarian reform is pressing”, says Chavannes, pointing out that 80% of local court cases involve haggles over who has jurisdiction over which parcel of land.
Up to the 1960s however, Haiti was self-sufficient in food. After which the neo-liberalist regime began to bite and gradually destroyed local production, rice, poultry and eggs industry being examples. Since then, the country has suffered from a lack of political commitment to the sector, he argues." Source: Serge Gilles (Leader of the Fusion des Sociaux Democrates Haitienne - Haitian Social Democratic Fusion Party)
Editor's note: Additional information about the slave trade in Haiti was included on 17 January 2010.