Reparations, not handouts, for Haiti

By Raffique Shah
January 17, 2010

HaitiSO we cry for Haiti again. Yet another natural disaster, this time an earthquake of horrendous magnitude, has all but flattened what was left of that ‘cussed’ country. In the Caribbean, so full of heart are we, even those who survive barely above the poverty line give, be it cash or clothes or food. But will our generosity, will the US$1 billion or so in help that will flow over the next year make a difference to 4.5 million of seven million people who live on less than US$1 day?

I think not. All we can achieve is cosmetic relief of the flimsiest type: Some food and water to barely keep alive those who survived death only to end up in living hell. In the short term, the USA gives $100 million plus on-the-ground equipment and trained personnel. We applaud. The IMF matches the US and again we sing hosannas to this agency of death. As for our Prime Minister, he commits US$1 million-far, far less than it cost for the cultural show to open one of the international conferences held here last year. ‘Things tight, boy!’ he says.

I know, to use Bob Dylan’s undying lyrics of the 1960s, my appeal will be akin to ‘blowin’ in the wind’. But I feel compelled to raise the real issues that bedevil Haiti. If these historical injustices are not seriously addressed, we may give a little today, more tomorrow, but Haiti will remain mired in poverty.

Let me start from the end, in a manner of speaking-from last Tuesday evening when the monster quake struck. In the immediate aftermath news reports and reporters focused on millions of Haitians who lived in hovels on the hillsides around Port-au-Prince. Few journalists queried how those people ended up there, lambs waiting to be slaughtered following heavy rains and mudslides or an earthquake.

Not so long ago, and this after too many years of externally-imposed impoverishment, Haitian farmers grew more than enough rice, among other crops, to feed their nation. Under the brutal, not to add thieving, hands of the US-imposed Duvalier dynasty, the IMF intervened to ‘save’ Haiti. This agency of destruction determined that the part-island state could better serve as a source of cheap labour for manufacturing goods to be sold on the nearby US market.

Fair enough, any good capitalist might argue. But it was anything but fair. As a corollary to transforming the economy, the IMF dictated that growing rice and other foods that could be imported more cheaply from the US made no sense. In one blow, the IMF killed agriculture, forcing farmers to abandon rural, productive lands and seek elusive, low-paid jobs in the cities. That accounts for the huge number of hovels around the cities that crumbled when the earthquake struck. It also was partly responsible for denuding the countryside of everything green, hence exposing the soil to unimaginable erosion that sticks out like a sore thumb for those who have seen Haiti.

But I jumped the gun. Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the leftist priest, was first elected to power by a huge majority in 1991. His platform was one of setting right the historical wrongs that had kept his country in chains even though it was the first nation of slaves to abolish slavery. He didn’t last long. Papa George Bush arranged for him to be overthrown. And when later, under US supervision, he was again elected in 2001 by an overwhelming majority, Baby George W arranged to have him deposed in 2004.

One of Aristide’s cardinal crimes was to formally raise the question of reparations, in 2003, I believe. ‘Reparations for what?’ you may ask. Haiti is the only country in world history-and here I can hark back to Neanderthal man-that won a war but was forced to compensate the vanquished. Following the successful American war of Independence (1775-83), and later the Jacobins-inspired French Revolution (1789-99), Haitian slaves led by Toussaint L’Ouverture waged a successful campaign to oust their French masters.

Between 1791 and 1803, Haiti’s slave-army defeated what was considered the finest war machine of the era, Napoleon Bonaparte’s. The ‘little general’ had conquered much of Europe and later set his sights on a chunk of southern US, where the French already had a foothold. But Toussaint, taking up the Jacobins cry of ‘liberty, equality, fraternity’, initiated a war that would apply these noble ideals to a country where slavery was most brutal.

Napoleon sent two separate, well-equipped forces to take on the rebel slaves. Both failed. By 1803, when Dessalines declared Haiti independent, Napoleon had lost more than 24,000 troops. What followed that first victory of an enslaved people was an injustice that doomed the victors to persistent poverty.

France demanded 90 million gold francs (more than US$20 billion in today’s currency). Newly-independent US paid Britain nothing. The victorious French paid the deposed monarchy not one franc. But poor Haiti was coerced into paying the victors the sum demanded. Aristide’s cardinal sin was to raise the issue of reparations-US$20 billion-in 2003. To seriously address Haiti’s dire poverty, Caribbean countries must join in the call for US$20 billion in reparations, from France and from the US.

-To be continued

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12 thoughts on “Reparations, not handouts, for Haiti”

  1. I agree that the handout from foreign nations, though needed will only go so far and Manning’s paltry sum of USD 1,000,000 will not get there even in our nation’s fastest boat. For shame sake it would have been better if he had not pledged any at all. Caricom has to take a united stand against the US taking over and completely taking further advantage of Haiti in the future. God help them, God help us all!

  2. Why the US Owes Haiti Billions – The Briefest History

    By Bill Quigley
    January 17, 2010 –

    Why does the US owe Haiti Billions? Colin Powell, former US Secretary of State, stated his foreign policy view as the “Pottery Barn rule.” That is – “if you break it, you own it.”

    The US has worked to break Haiti for over 200 years. We owe Haiti. Not charity. We owe Haiti as a matter of justice. Reparations. And not the $100 million promised by President Obama either – that is Powerball money. The US owes Haiti Billions – with a big B.

    The US has worked for centuries to break Haiti. The US has used Haiti like a plantation. The US helped bleed the country economically since it freed itself, repeatedly invaded the country militarily, supported dictators who abused the people, used the country as a dumping ground for our own economic advantage, ruined their roads and agriculture, and toppled popularly elected officials. The US has even used Haiti like the old plantation owner and slipped over there repeatedly for sexual recreation.

    Here is the briefest history of some of the major US efforts to break Haiti.

    In 1804, when Haiti achieved its freedom from France in the world’s first successful slave revolution, the United States refused to recognize the country. The US continued to refuse recognition to Haiti for 60 more years. Why? Because the US continued to enslave millions of its own citizens and feared recognizing Haiti would encourage slave revolution in the US.

    After the 1804 revolution, Haiti was the subject of a crippling economic embargo by France and the US. US sanctions lasted until 1863. France ultimately used its military power to force Haiti to pay reparations for the slaves who were freed. The reparations were 150 million francs. (France sold the entire Louisiana territory to the US for 80 million francs!)

    Haiti was forced to borrow money from banks in France and the US to pay reparations to France. A major loan from the US to pay off the French was finally paid off in 1947. The current value of the money Haiti was forced to pay to French and US banks? Over $20 Billion – with a big B.

    The US occupied and ruled Haiti by force from 1915 to 1934. President Woodrow Wilson sent troops to invade in 1915. Revolts by Haitians were put down by US military – killing over 2000 in one skirmish alone. For the next nineteen years, the US controlled customs in Haiti, collected taxes, and ran many governmental institutions. How many billions were siphoned off by the US during these 19 years?

    From 1957 to 1986 Haiti was forced to live under US backed dictators “Papa Doc” and “Baby Doc” Duvlaier. The US supported these dictators economically and militarily because they did what the US wanted and were politically “anti-communist” – now translatable as against human rights for their people. Duvalier stole millions from Haiti and ran up hundreds of millions in debt that Haiti still owes. Ten thousand Haitians lost their lives. Estimates say that Haiti owes $1.3 billion in external debt and that 40% of that debt was run up by the US-backed Duvaliers.

    Thirty years ago Haiti imported no rice. Today Haiti imports nearly all its rice. Though Haiti was the sugar growing capital of the Caribbean, it now imports sugar as well. Why? The US and the US dominated world financial institutions – the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank – forced Haiti to open its markets to the world. Then the US dumped millions of tons of US subsidized rice and sugar into Haiti – undercutting their farmers and ruining Haitian agriculture. By ruining Haitian agriculture, the US has forced Haiti into becoming the third largest world market for US rice. Good for US farmers, bad for Haiti.

    In 2002, the US stopped hundreds of millions of dollars in loans to Haiti which were to be used for, among other public projects like education, roads. These are the same roads which relief teams are having so much trouble navigating now!

    In 2004, the US again destroyed democracy in Haiti when they supported the coup against Haiti’s elected President Aristide.

    Haiti is even used for sexual recreation just like the old time plantations. Check the news carefully and you will find numerous stories of abuse of minors by missionaries, soldiers and charity workers. Plus there are the frequent sexual vacations taken to Haiti by people from the US and elsewhere. What is owed for that? What value would you put on it if it was your sisters and brothers?

    US based corporations have for years been teaming up with Haitian elite to run sweatshops teeming with tens of thousands of Haitians who earn less than $2 a day.

    The Haitian people have resisted the economic and military power of the US and others ever since their independence. Like all of us, Haitians made their own mistakes as well. But US power has forced Haitians to pay great prices – deaths, debt and abuse.

    It is time for the people of the US to join with Haitians and reverse the course of US-Haitian relations.

    This brief history shows why the US owes Haiti Billions – with a big B. This is not charity. This is justice. This is reparations. The current crisis is an opportunity for people in the US to own up to our country’s history of dominating Haiti and to make a truly just response.

    (For more on the history of exploitation of Haiti by the US see: Paul Farmer, The Uses of Haiti; Peter Hallward, Damming the Flood; and Randall Robinson, An Unbroken Agony)

    Bill is Legal Director at the Center for Constitutional Rights and a law professor at Loyola University New Orleans. He is a Katrina survivor and has been active in human rights in Haiti for years with the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti.


    1. Congratulations on your very informative piece on Haiti and its reparation to France. My take on this issue is related to a somewhat more contemporary situation. Haiti initially did not pay the reparations out of fear of invasion ,they had already given a generous trashing to the forces of French Royalist, the Spanish and British and then the annihilation of Leclerc’s army. They paid-up because, the entire white world collaborated in pursuit of big bucks that came from cotton, sugar and tobacco and the armed robbery of human labour, dignity and generational legacy. They did it by means of usury and collective economic sanctions. Invasions only came after collective sanctions began to break the back of Haitian’s resolve, and they went ballistic with Henry Christophe seceding from the Republic to form his own little counterfeit Kingdom. We see the same situation today in Zimbabwe and Palestine —–say what! the same old parsimonious trick.

  3. Raffique shah and Bill Quigley contributions on the question of reparations – particularly to the miserable condition of the Haitian people – cannot come at a better time.

    The issue of reparation should be not only for Haiti, but the entire ex-colonial world. We need to set up a grassroots world-wide Co-ordinating Committee to achieve this objective.

    Jinnah Rahman
    Journalist and Grassroots Activist
    Guyana, South America

  4. A great beginning. We got the lead letter in the Guardian in London. We want Aristide back, becaused the Haitians want him back, need him back, are demanding him back. I look forward to your part two. Will also send you our financial appeal — the Haiti Emergency Relief Fund, church-based in San Francisco, works with Haiti all the time and Pierre Labossiere, the Haitian who is dedicated to the Haitian grassaroots asnd who supports Aristide absolutely, backs them.

    Please keep going! We need your voice for the Black Jacobins of today.

  5. African Americans haven’t received reparations so why would anyone think that Haitians have a glimmer of hope of receiving reparations?
    Any reparations that Haiti will receive will be during this aid and assist campaign by the U.S. and others.

  6. My childhood schooling in Tdad have always fascinated me about these the Haitian leaders that fought for their freedom and won. Yes, this revolt scared the rest of the world thus they have paid dearly. We must now think in terms of the class system that continue to exist in Haiti. You dont see the elite begging for food or living on the street. Force them to get involve in revamping that system so their country can have a chance.
    Yes, the aid may seem like “make up” for the past wrong doings but when the cameras are all gone who is going to have Haiti’s back? If it was not for CNN 75% of the US school children may not have known where Haiti is located on a map. I am proud to say my 10yr old son can point it out.

  7. Truly, we all need strong remedial history lessons. Many thanks
    for bridging this knowledge to us and all future learners.

    We are asking: Who’s is the Who in the Canadian relationship with USA in Haiti? Canadians have so for raised way in excess of $145 M and still continuing.

    Canada is embedded with the USA in Haiti. Reparations not Handouts. Thanks!

  8. I am an African-American U.S. citizen from New Orleans, LA here in Trinidad & Tobago on a cultural arts exchange. The idea that the U.S. will pay reparations to any people of African decent is far fetched at best. I would love to see it happen and am an advocate for it but I fear it is akin to dreaming. I lived through losing every possession I owned when the levees of my city failed in 2005 and I can tell you I didn’t see a dime of money raised.

    I appreciate the author for asking and answering the question as to how the Haitian people came to live on the hillsides. When I arrived here in Trinidad, I asked our liaisons, two UWI students, about poverty on this island. I was told that there was no impoverished people here and that those who may not have good housing are lazy and criminals and have luxury items like large televisions so they can’t be ‘really that poor.’ Being naive and frankly not having done enough homework, I bought into the notions presented by the students. Then something enlightening happened. I saw the squalid conditions in which some of your own citizenry live. I was then told that “those people” are not Trinis but are mostly from Guyana. The U.S. has a tremendous amount of cleaning up to do both domestically and internationally. I said all that to say that Trinidad and Tobago has its own issues and should first concentrate on the new Caste system here and the lack of compassion shown for the poor.

    I won’t be back since I’ve been made to feel like a “new untouchable.”

  9. Let me see if I can decipher what exactly C. Ann ,this proud “African American U.S. citizen from New Orleans , LA here in Trinidad on a cultural arts exchange,” is attempting to say to us socially undeveloped idiots in this oil and gas laden enclave.
    The black Haitian people should not expect anything form her Yankee leaders, since they did absolutely nothing of substance for her and other kinky heads folks in 2005 when the levees broke , because perhaps ,according to Hip Hop media whore Kanye West ,“George W. Bush hate black people,” yes?
    I wonder why her people never got their ‘40 acres and a mule,’ as promised by so called liberator Abraham Lincoln ,for building America to what it is today after years of free labor , and who is to be blamed?
    Can she explain the reasons Jew that daily land in her country are treated like royalty ,decades after the dehumanizing atrocities they experienced across Europe ended? Does she enjoy giving up most of her tax dollars to support distorted foreign policies like providing military, and housing expansionist aid to making Israel into a country with the third largest army in the world , even as it country it is about the size of New Jersey- while families of Africans slaves languish on the continent, and Haiti?
    Sorry Randall Robinson of TransAmerica fame , you don’t count as you decided to throw your hands up in the air like a coward and resettle in Africa, afters butting heads for decades with greedy conglomerates ,and descendants of white racist politicians that all benefited from African exploitations.

    I will tell you where the problem lies as to why black folks are treated as low cast, second class citizens in your own country- like you naively believe we in Sweet T&T aka Rainbow Country ,are similarly placed.
    It is due to preponderance of confused , clueless,selfish , ungrateful , and neglectful black middle class so called African Americans , that are fixated in enhancing the American pro European agenda policy , while unconcerned about their unfortunate fellow brothers and sisters left behind within the US, or the vast suffering ones across the diaspora most of which are victims of a four decade Cold/ Proxy wars.
    Hey, Americans of Irish , Italian , English, Romanian,Chinese , Indian , and Scandinavian extractions ,have no compunction in ensuring that the power brokers in Washington pay attention to the needs of their tribal people wheresoever they exist, but this is something Condi Rice, present US UN ambassador namesake Dr Rice, General Colin Powell,Republic head honcho Chairman David Steel , US Supreme Court Justice,Clarence Thomas , and Tiger Woods never will understand.
    Irony of ironies, without the efforts of Black Power civil rights activist Trinidadian Stokley Carmichael , many more of your people would still be eating crumbs , and wallowing in squalor and neglect in America, but you won’t know that because phonies like pseudo African intellectual Professor Gates , won’t let you in on such secret. Instead guys like him , Director Spike Lee , Reverent Jackson, Sharpton , and the hundreds of entertainment and business elites ,that choose to pimp the black community when ever they can , then continue to ‘bojangle for dollars,’ from guilt ridden white crooked liberal .
    On second thought , I wonder if by writing this extensive response to you , I am not really waisting my time or in essence “ casting pearls before swine?”
    We forgive your early naivety for enquiring and expecting a coherent answer from some yuppi , bourgeois ,Trini elite orgy loving , carefree UWI students, about poverty or anything of relevance in this our country, but what is your excuse for such borderline illiterate conclusions today?
    Your country has over two centuries to get their twisted concept of democracy right, yet most of it’s people that cannot accept the fact that those of a different pigmentation and or class, are still far removed from the promise land , as the leaders attempt to be global policemen , and selective humanitarian saviors, and emancipators.
    In contrast , we in baby America after only four decades are trying to make strides , with room for improvements, amidst stupid unfortunate distractions ,and sometimes misguided elite leadership.
    ‘Keep hope alive,’ I echo from the man who through jealousy , wanted to castrate Uncle Obama for stealing his limelight and thunder! Join the ranks of global caring progressive , and dump the ego inflated mindset of most of your clueless fellow nationals when abroad , and you would be surprise as to how you can appreciate the world outside good old Capitalist America.
    I wish you well.

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