Friday, January 22, 2010

A Pact with the Devil

Pat Robertson has taken a widely deserved verbal pounding for his comments that the residents live in perpetual misery because they made a pact with the devil in order to gain their freedom from the French.

I actually think there is a grain of truth in Robertson's statement. I would suggest that there was in fact a "pact with the devil" made that sealed Haiti's future in perpetual suffering. That pact wasn't made by the residents of Haiti, though, but by the French and the British and the United States in a devil's deal that brought black slaves and their "free" labor from Africa to Haiti and the rest of the America's in exchange for white people's wealth.

The residents of Haiti who kicked out the French in 1804 were slaves. The native Americans on the island that now is divided into the Dominican Republic and Haiti had long ago been killed off by colonists or the diseases brought to the island by the colonists. The French gained control of the western half of the island from Spain in 1697 and named it Saint-Dominique. The French immediately began importing African slaves to the island to work the sugar fields. By the 1740's Saint-Dominique and Jamaica were the world's top suppliers of sugar. Saint-Dominique was making France very rich.

On the back of slaves. By 1789 twenty nine thousand African slaves were arriving each year in Saint-Dominique. One in three would be dead within three years. So the slaves kept pouring in. Slaves outnumbered natives and Europeans 8 to 1. In 1791 they revolted.:"The signal to begin the revolt was given by Dutty Boukman, a high priest of vodou and leader of the Maroon slaves, during a religious ceremony at Bois Caïman on the night of August 14." Robertson's pact with the devil.

It took more than a decade of rebellion and the continuing weakening of France on the world stage, but in 1804 the independent country of Haiti was born. The French, though, exacted a terrible price for giving up this prized sugar fix. They posted warships off the island and isolated Haiti for 21 years. They were aided by the Americans and British who were aghast at the dangerous idea of a successful revolt of slaves. Finally in 1825 the government of Haiti agreed to take out a loan with a French bank to compensate France for the loss of its sugar and its slaves. The amount of the loan was enormous and crippling. It was twice what the United States government had just paid France for the Louisiana Purchase. Paying off that debt impoverished Haiti for more than 100 years; in some years Haiti was paying 80% of its annual revenues to service its debt. It wasn't paid in full until 1947.

That was just the beginning of Haiti's debt woes which continue up to this day. And it only tells part of the story of Haiti's misery that also includes repeated invasion and occupation by the US, corrupt and cruel dictatorships, and natural disasters.

The people of Haiti are a resilient people. And they remain proud of their legacy of being the only country in history born of a successful slave revolt. With aid pouring in from around the world there is hope this time that the country can get a clean start, with new infrastructure, new jobs, and, for once, no debt. The nations of the western world owe it to Haiti to forgive it its debt and help it rebuild.

Let's not forget who it really was that made a pact with the devil that put Haiti on the path to perpetual misery.

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