President Trump allegedly described Haiti as a “s---hole” country. That is an unfair and incomplete story. Haiti has a proud history and fascinating culture, the first independent country in the Caribbean, the second democracy in the Western Hemisphere and the first black republic in the world. It was France’s wealthiest colony until 1792 when slaves, free blacks and mulattoes revolted against their colonizer. After a decade of warfare, in 1804, the country won its independence, becoming the only successful slave revolt in history.
France imposed draconian reparations on Haiti for the loss of its slaves and plantations. For almost a hundred years, Haiti was mired in poverty because of this demand, exploited by the United States and other western European nations as well.
The United States occupied Haiti from 1915 to 1934. Haitians resented and revolted against their loss of sovereignty. Under American duress, the country revised its Constitution In 1917. Largely written by American State Department and Navy Department officials, it abolished Haiti’s long-standing prohibition of foreign ownership of land thereby giving American companies free reign over its economy.
A 1926 New York business publication described Haiti as “a marvelous opportunity” for American investment. “The run of the mill Haitian is handy, easily directed and gives a hard day’s labour for 20 cents, while in Panama the same day’s wok cost $3”. American corporations increased from 13 in 1966 to 154 in 1981, enriching themselves while contributing little wealth to the Haitian economy. Over the years, balance of trade surpluses created jobs and income for Americans, $385 million in 2017 alone.
Haiti is still the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, but hardily a “s---hole”. Despite hardships, Haitians are resilient, creative and industrious with some of the most beautiful landscapes and beaches in the Caribbean. Instead of criticizing Haiti, the United States and other nations that have exploited the country should adopt policies that will enhance its economy and further democracy.
This post draws on an article by Sir Ronald Sanders, Antigua and Barbuda’s ambassador to the United States and the Organization of American States ("Placing the Plight of Haiti Where It Truly Belongs", Houston Chronicle, 1-18-2018, p. A15).