Friday, January 15, 2010

Haiti: potted history

The following is a precis mainly from this Guardian G2 article by Jon Henley, which does not yet seem to be up on its website.

1492 Ayiti (meaning mountainous area) discovers that Christopher Columbus has bumped into it accidentally. Calls the island Hispaniola, but Spain finds more gold elsewhere, and leaves the island to buccanneers.

1665 France claims the island

1695 France and Spain divide the island, the French bit, Haiti being called Saint-Dominigue. France brutally exploits the island's rich productivity, importing up to 40,000 slaves a year to replace the dead.

1791 Inspired by the French Revolution two years earlier, the slaves have their own revolution against the French. 12 years of civil war follow.

1804 Haiti is independent, but has to pay France 150 million francs in gold. The final repayments are made in 1947, but only by incurring huge debts with private banks. In 1900, 80% of the Haiti GDP was going in debt repayments.

Despite this, culture flourished until a revolution in 1911, followed by 20 years of US occupation. Political instability from 1931-1957, when Jean Claude Duvalier took over. He did some good for education and was an exponent of Haitian culture, but eventually became a brutal dictator. He and his son killed between 30-60,000 people, terrorised the population, and stole the country's wealth. 80% of international aid donations were embezzled.

1986. Baby Doc goes into exile in France, taking an estimated $900 million with him (though Wikipedia says he lives modestly in Paris).

1986- Post dictatorship unrest.

2000 - political confusion. Pres Aristide popular but alledgedly corrupt. Removed by US Marines.

2004 - UN peacekeeping mission (MINUSTAH) in place. "Critics have criticized MINUSTAH as an attempt by the United States, Canada and France to oust Haiti's democratically elected populist president Jean Bertrand Aristide, neutralize his supporters of Fanmi Lavalas, and secure the more pro-Western government of Gérard Latortue." (Wikipedia)

I peer reviewed an academic article a few years ago that alleged abuses by UN troops, but it was withdrawn because of apparent political bias.

Present position

The country is 98% deforested, making it liable to floods, topsoil loss and landslides.
Overpopulation: 9 million, 80% under the poverty line.
2009 GDP $2 per day per capita.
Unemployment rate 75%
66% work in subsistence farming.
Much activity in drugs, weapons, gangs, kidnapping and extortion.
80 deaths per 1,000 live births.
It is 149th out of 182 on the Human Development Index
168 out of 180 on the Corruption Perceptions Index
225,000 children live as house slaves.

Which all goes to confirm that Haiti need more than a physical infrastructure rebuild, it needs a full economic and social restructuring along green lines.

No comments: