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January 18, 2010

When all else fails

Just why is Haiti in such a dire situation, so much worse than any other country in the Americas? Some blame God. Some blame the Devil. Some blame the Americans. Some blame globalization. Some even blame the Goddess of Warmening. Many blame some combination of the above. And here was I blaming, oh, let's see, Haitians when I of all people should have known better.

Blame the French! But of course.

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. 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. It remains hopelessly in debt to this day.

Not that I am entirely sympathetic to the argument; the article goes on to point out half of Haiti's current debt is down to the Duvalier's. But the case is clearly made with all the best intentions.

Posted by Ghost of a flea at January 18, 2010 06:54 AM