IT is such a sad reality that Haitians are globally judged based on their present status as one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere. This ignominious label ought not to define Haitians. It behooves those who are aware of the proud history of this French-speaking island, formerly known as Saint Domingue, to set the record straight whenever this subject surfaces.
Firstly, let it be known to all and sundry, the glorious story of Haiti began when the slaves of Saint Domingue decided to reject the institution of slavery on August 27th, 1791. This epic battle fought by slaves with scarce resources against the best army in Europe ended with the island of Saint Domingue being renamed Haiti and becoming the first independent black republic in the Western Hemisphere in 1804. This column is not afforded the space to do justice to this historical account. Suffice it to mention, this defeat by Napoleon and his army resonated in the slave world and the Eurocentric world as a watershed moment, unparalleled in history and grabbed the world’s attention. It is for this reasonToussaint L’Overture and Jean Jacques Dessalines are revered globally. They led this revolution and their war tactics are studied at war colleges around the world. For centuries, white propaganda held and promoted the idea of white superiority and the inferiority of blacks. The Haitian slaves completely called into question this crystallized racist misinformation.
As a consequence, Haiti’s independence was seen as a disrespectful slap in the face of the white colonial masters and it was decided at the highest level of the white colonial apparatus that this rebel colony should be made to suffer. Suffer they did. First, the warfare of the Haitian Revolution destroyed the capital and infrastructure of the economy. Second, Haiti lacked diplomatic and trade relations with other nations. Third, Haiti lacked investment, both foreign and domestic investment. Fourth, Haiti moved toward subsistence farming and away from plantation agriculture. Finally, reparation payments to France left the country deeply indebted. Simon Henochsberg, in his seminal work, ‘Public Debt and Slavery: the case of Haiti (1760-1915), posited: ‘I conclude that great powers, especially France, had a decisive negative impact on Haiti’s development through military oppression and financial oppression represented by a very large external public debt (300% of the Haitian GDP in 1825) that went on for more than a century until the Second World War’.
In addition to the fiscal terror imposed by France, Haiti faced a myriad of natural disasters, plagued by widespread corruption, gang violence, drug trafficking, and organized crime which forced the people to create a resilient and hardworking national character. Such a state of existence inevitably leads to economic migration. Disabuse yourself of the view that the story of Haiti is only about poverty; there is much more to the study of this island. Know the full story before you judge.