22 October 2021

 


The Katharine Konnection


When Columbus landed in the island of Hispaniola on December 6, 1492, he found a kingdom ruled by a cacique, or Taino Indian chief. After the French arrived in the seventeenth century to continue European exploration and exploitation in the Western Hemisphere, the indigenous population was largely exterminated. As a result, Africans (primarily from West Africa) were imported as slave labor to produce raw goods for international commerce. Considered France’s richest colony in the eighteenth century, Haiti was known as “the pearl of the Antilles.” Resisting their exploitation, Haitians revolted against the French from 1791-1804. One of the most important outcomes of this revolution was that it forced Napoleon Bonaparte to sell Louisiana to the U.S. in 1803, resulting in a major territorial expansion of the United States. When Haitians took their independence in 1804, they changed their colonial name from Saint Domingue (the name given by the French) to its Taino name of Haiti, or Ayiti in Kreyòl. Haiti is the approximate size of Maryland and has a population of 11.5 million (Maryland population 6.5 million).

The French recognized Haiti’s independence in 1825 but in return demanded a hefty indemnity of 100 million francs, approximately $21 billion (USD) today. It took Haitians more than a century to pay off the debt to its former slave owners and lenders including the City Bank of New York.

“By forcing Haiti to pay for its freedom, France essentially ensured that the Haitian people would continue to suffer the economic effects of slavery for generations to come,” said Marlene Daut, a professor at University of Virginia specializing in pre-20th century French colonial literary and historical studies.

The country’s GDP remains extremely low at $1,149.50 per capita and nearly 60% of Haitians currently live in poverty. Even though the country has finished paying off its debt and interest by 1947, its economy has not advanced significantly because it is particularly vulnerable to natural disasters and corruption.  The United States occupied Haiti from 1915-1934, changed Haiti’s constitution, and in many ways further contributed to its ongoing instability. Political instability and corruption exist, foreign influence and exploitation exist.  

Agriculture is the largest sector of the Haitian economy, employing roughly two-thirds of the labour force but accounting for only about one-fourth of the gross domestic product (GDP). Haiti’s soils and fishing zones are threatened. Although only one-fifth of the land is considered suitable for agriculture, more than two-fifths is under cultivation. Major problems include soil erosion (particularly on mountain slopes, which are seldom terraced), recurrent drought, and an absence of irrigation. Deforestation in Haiti is a serious problem that began with a high need for fuel for processing sugarcane during the French colonial period and continues to the present day with an intensified demand for charcoal for fuel in Port-au-Prince and other urban areas. Political instability and poor funding have been serious obstacles to efforts to reduce dependency on forests for fuel. A number of large-scale reforestation projects have been planned, but they have been postponed because of social and political unrest and the urgent need to fund other infrastructure projects. Today only a small fraction of Haiti’s land is forested.

Haiti continues to struggle with natural disasters:  2008 – Hurricanes Fay, Gustav, Hanna, Ike; 2010 Earthquake; 2012 Hurricane Sandy; 2016 Hurricane Matthew; 2018 Earthquake; 2020 Hurricane Laura;  2021 Earthquake, Tropical Storm Grace.  And Haiti continues to struggle with political instability. Following the 2010 earthquake, nearly $16 billion dollars was pledged to support and rebuild Haiti.  Jonathan Katz, an investigative reporter, estimates approximately 2% of those funds went to the Haitian government.  An extensive patchwork of foreign governmental and non-governmental organizations utilized funds to provide piecemeal improvements in Haiti.  Some projects were successful, others were not.  

Many Haitians left Haiti following the 2010 earthquake, seeking harbor in South America and the US.  As we continue to see in the long story of immigration, it is fraught with exploitation and struggle.  Currently, Haitians who emigrated to Chile and Brazil have sought to enter the US via Del Rio, Texas.

Sources:

https://www.britannica.com/place/Haiti

https://haitianstudies.ku.edu/haiti-history

https://disasterphilanthropy.org/disaster/2021-haiti-earthquake-and-tropical-storm-grace/

https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2020/country-chapters/haiti

Here are resources on the dilemma:

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/21/opinion/haiti-us-history.html

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2021/10/01/haiti-deportees/

https://www.npr.org/2021/09/29/1041625399/why-haitian-migrants-have-been-making-the-trek-from-chile-to-the-u-s-border

Please continue to pray for our brothers and sisters of St Hubert’s in Haiti, as well as all Haitians.  

Haiti Partnership Committee



 

 

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