Extreme Poverty in Haiti Historical Background and Causes Ms. Simon June, 2006

Extreme Poverty in Haiti
Historical Background and Causes
Ms. Simon
June, 2006
Credits: http://www.bmz.de/en/service/infothek/unterricht/folienjpge.html
The poorest country in
the Western Hemisphere.
3 out of every 4
people (6.1 million)
live below the poverty
History of Haiti
Significant Events in Haiti’s History
that caused Haiti to be so poor:
 Colonialism and Slavery
 Exploitation
 Involvement from Other Countries
 Corrupt Government Leaders
Credit: http://www.newsday.com/news/specials/ny-woprec014571056jan01,0,3197449.story?coll=ny-news-specialreports
Newsday.com - HAITI, A legacy of Neglect, By Letta Tayler,Staff Correspondent, January 1, 2006
Colonialism and Slavery
One of the primary reasons that Haiti was such a productively rich land was because of slave labor.
Not only did the slaves work long days under tremendously unsafe conditions, but Haiti's slave
system was the most brutal in the Caribbean. Many documents of Western slavery explain that the
ultimate threat to a slave located else where was that he or she would be sold to Haiti.
Unfortunately for the masses of Haitians, slavery did not die with French rule. Rather, the basic
concept of forced cheap labor was passed on to the emerging native Haitian elite. The French system
allowed for some slaves to earn their freedom by exceptional work. This system worked well to get
more productivity from the slaves, and the system was tough enough that very few slaves were able
to earn their freedom. Thus slave owners got increased productivity with little loss of slaves through
A second group of slaves who became free were the mulattos, the children of white masters and
slave women. These children were in a middle ground, uncomfortable to both slaves and whites. The
slaves never knew how the white man would respond to his child, but often the slave owner didn't
want to be reminded of his paternity. Thus mulattos were not welcomed in either community. Many
mulattos received their freedom and formed a special middle class in the colonial period.
A special class of freed slaves emerged. About 1/2 of them were freed black slaves and about 1/2 of
them were mulattos. They could receive some education, operate businesses, own property and in
general imitate the French.
This imitation of the French became the hallmark of these freedmen. They wanted a clear separation
from their slave backgrounds. Thus they imitated the whites. They adopted their religion, language,
dress, culture, education and ways. But, most importantly for this story, they learned the value of
slave labor. The colonial French heritage carried on in the Haitian elite's imitation of the French labor
is an important
in Haiti's
later Director,
Credits: Bob
Why is Haiti
so Poor?
Fall, 1986
After the revolution which concluded in January, 1804, Haiti became the second free country in the
Western World (after the United States), and the first black republic. However, the United States was
still a slave nation, as was England. While France had freed the Haitian slaves during the revolution,
France and other European nations had slaves in Africa and Asia. The international community
decided that Haiti's model of a nation of freed slaves was a dangerous precedent. An international
boycott of Haitian goods and commerce plunged the Haitian economy into chaos. The international
boycott of Haitian products at this time was devastating for Haiti's long-term economic development.
The Haitian governments were extremely anxious to be recognized by France and the Europeans.
But France would not recognize Haiti unless indemnities were paid for lands of former slave owners
taken over after the revolution. Finally, in 1838 President Boyer of Haiti accepted a 150 million franc
debt to pay this indemnity. This debt plagued the economy of Haiti for over 80 years and was not
finally paid until 1922. In the meantime Haiti paid many times over 150 million francs in interest on
this debt. It is difficult to measure the incredible harm which this did to the Haitian economy, but by
the most conservative measures it was extremely significant.
Credits: Bob Corbett, Why is Haiti so Poor? Fall, 1986 Director, PEOPLE TO PEOPLE
Happening Now
The backbone of the Haitian economy consists of plantations, sweatshops and export processing plants owned largely by U.S.,
French and Canadian firms and a handful of their Haitian friends - the 1 per cent who own 50 per cent of the country's wealth. As
pointed out earlier, Haiti has by far the lowest paid work force in the Western hemisphere, and every U.S. intervention since early
19th century, including the present one, is designed to keep it that way. The main anti-Aristide group in Haiti, `Convergence for
Democracy', is, for example, financed and otherwise supported by the ruling Republican Party of the U.S. through the National
Endowment for Democracy and the International Republican Institute, two well-funded U.S.-based organizations that openly fund
and assist a variety of rightwing forces around the world. Overthrow of the Aristide government has been a prime objective of the
Bush administration ever since it came into office, just about the time Aristide was re-elected. While the U.S. successfully
pressured the Inter-American Development Bank to cancel the more than $650 million that had been contracted already in
development assistance and approved loans, it got the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank to tighten the
screws of their "structural adjustment" diktats. All this led to much suffering in Haiti, just as the sanctions did in Iraq. However,
there was no appreciable decline in support for Aristide.
Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a Catholic priest deeply
committed to liberation theology, was the first elected
President in 200 years of Haitian history. He had been
re-elected in 2000 with over 90 per cent of the vote in
a voter turnout estimated at around 65 per cent in the
countryside and close to 100 per cent in the capital
Port au Prince.
What happened on that fateful night of February 28 and the morning of the next day? The American version
is that Aristide called the U.S. Ambassador in Haiti, James Foley, and asked for more security. In turn,
Foley told him that "rebels" were going to enter the capital within hours and a "bloodbath" would ensue in
which thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, shall be killed, unless Aristide resigned immediately and
agreed to leave the country. U.S. authorities say that Aristide eventually agreed, that a civilian group from
the U.S. Embassy was then sent to his residence which took him to the airport where Aristide handed in his
resignation and he, along with his wife and three aides, was put on a plane for safe passage to the Republic
of Central Africa across the Atlantic. The State Department also claimed that Aristide had wanted to seek
asylum in South Africa but the latter refused; the South African government has denied that it received any
such request. It is quite clear even from this account that Aristide resigned under U.S. pressure, that his own
Prime Minster was not part of any such negotiations and that the resignation was submitted directly to the
U.S. Embassy and not to any Haitian authority, such as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court who was
constitutionally the successor in case the President were to suddenly die or otherwise relinquish office. It is
also known that when that Chief Justice was sworn in as provisional head of state by the Americans the
popularly elected President had already been put on a plane by them and the Prime Minister was not even
invited to the ceremony. Thus, even by U.S. account, the coup was carried out not by any Haitian force but
by the U.S. Embassy itself.
The legal team for Aristide in Paris as he files suit
against the US for kidnapping him
The problem for the U.S., by hindsight, is that it did not kill Aristide and its African clients have been
unable to shut him up. It is a problem for the U.S. because, unlike Saddam Hussein, Aristide has not been
charged even by the U.S. of any crimes, sponsorship of terrorism and so on. Its self-proclaimed right to oust
him rests solely on the claim that it - and the so-called "international community, that is, Western powers has the right to decide whether or not a popularly elected Third World leader has the right to rule his
country in accordance with the mandate given to him by his people. This claim has no basis in international
law and no moral authority outside the discourses of Western racism. This problem is compounded for the
U.S. by the fact that Aristide is a man of unusual courage and eloquence, and has been able to speak on his
own behalf.
President Aristide's account is of course quite different from that of the U.S. authorities. He says that a large
number of armed men - "white" as well as Haitian - came to the Presidential Palace in the dark of the night,
kidnapped him, extracted a resignation from him with threats of death and bloodbath, whisked him off to the
airport and put him on the plane without disclosing his destination, and that when he arrived on African soil
he had no idea where he was, whether in a hotel, a prison or a palace. His account has been confirmed, in
the meanwhile, by the security guards of the Presidential Palace who witnessed the event, spoke to trusted
foreign journalists and are now in hiding, fearful of the terror squads.
Credits: http://www.tribalmessenger.org/haiti/haiti-images.htm
Involvement from Other Countries
Perhaps the most serious blow Haiti ever had to her independence and self-image was the occupation of the
United States Marines in 1915. The marines took over control of the collection of revenues, the banks, and
forced through a new "Haitian" constitution which repealed the 1804 provision that foreigners could never own
land in Haiti. The U.S. decided who would and would not be government servants. The only factor of Haitian
life which seemed to escape U.S. domination was education. The elite's identification with French culture was
too strong for even the marines to overcome and the schools remained French in language and structure.
The occupation ended in 1934. However, the U.S. presence in both the economy and internal government
affairs was well established. Ever since the occupation and increasingly since 1946, the United States, through
the power of its aid packages, has played a central role in Haitian politics. In this way the U.S. has contributed
to the misery of Haiti since it has given oppressive governments comfortable aid packages which kept these
rulers in power. The United States was not interested in furthering Haitian misery itself, rather this is the price
the U.S. has had to pay to keep friendly governments in power so that American military, propaganda and
economic interests could be served. The result may well have served the interests of U.S. control in the region,
but the issue here is the cause of Haitian misery. U.S. backed governments have certainly been a major factor in
this suffering.
Credits: Bob Corbett, Why is Haiti so Poor? Fall, 1986 Director, PEOPLE TO PEOPLE
Involvement from Other Countries
Péligre Dam
1956 - The village of Cange, on Haiti's Central Plateau, is submerged by a dam on
the Artibonite River. Designed and funded by international development agencies,
the dam is intended to supply electrical power to the capital city of Port-au-Prince,
many hours distant. Residents of Cange, all subsistence farmers, receive little
compensation for their homes and land, moving up to the barren hillside as squatters.
They were growing their crops and then, as they tell it, one day the water ate our gardens. Literally, in the middle of the day the water rose
and the farmers left. The first time I heard this story I thought it highly improbable. After hearing it for a second, third, fourth, and fifth
time, I realized they really meant it. There was never a proper resettlement plan, and the farmers just went up into the barren hills, a place
where they couldn't grow food for their families, much less sell any surplus at regional markets.
Kay, a community of fewer than fifteen hundred people, stretches along an unpaved road that cuts north and east into Haitiユs Central Plateau.
Striking out from Port-au-Prince, the capital, it can take several hours to reach Kay. The journey gives one an impression of isolation, insularity. The impression is
misleading, as the village owes its existence to a project conceived in the Haitian capital and drafted in Washington, D.C.: Kay is a settlement of refugees, substantially
composed of peasant farmers displaced more than thirty years ago by Haiti’s largest dam.Before 1956, the village of Kay was situated in a fertile valley, and through it
ran the Riviere Artibonite. For generations, thousands of families had farmed the broad and gently sloping banks of the river, selling rice, bananas, millet, corn, and
sugarcane in regional markets. Harvests were, by all reports, bountiful; life there is now recalled as idyllic. When the valley was flooded with the building of the dam,
the majority of the local population was forced up into the stony hills on either side of the new reservoir. By all the standard measures, the water refugees became
exceedingly poor; the older people often blame their poverty on the massive buttress dam a few miles away, and bitterly note that it brought them neither electricity nor
The litany begins, usually, down in the valley hidden under the still surface of the lake. Aciphie’s parents came from families making a decent living
by farming fertile tracts of land their ancestors gardens and selling much of their produce. M. Joseph tilled the soil, and his wife, a tall and wearily elegant woman not
nearly as old as she looked, was a Madame Sarah, a market woman. If it weren’t for the dam, M. Joseph assured me, we’d be just fine now. Acephie, too. The Josephs
home was drowned along with most of their belongings, their crops, and the graves of their ancestors.Refugees from the rising water, the Josephs built a miserable leanto on a knoll of high land jutting into the new reservoir. They remained poised on their knoll for some years; AcCphie and her twin brother were born there. I asked
them what induced them to move up to Kay, to build a house on the hard stone embankment of a dusty road. Our hut was too near the water, replied M. Joseph. I was
afraid one of the children would fall into the lake and drown. Their mother had to be away selling; I was trying to make a garden in this terrible soil. There was no one
to keep an eye on them.
Credits: On suffering and structural violence:A view from below, by Farmer, Paul, 1995.11.3 and http://www.pih.org/whoweare/history.html
Involvement from Other Countries
Creole Pig
The Creole Pig was a breed of pig indigenous to the Caribbean nation of Haiti. Creole pigs were well adapted to
the rugged terrain and sparse vegetation of Haiti. The pig’s resilience allowed Haitian peasants to raise these
pigs with little resources. The peasants characterized their pigs as never getting sick. Creole Pigs served as a
type of savings account for the Haitian peasant. They were sold or slaughtered to pay for marriages, medical
emergencies, schooling, seeds for crops, or a voodoo ceremony.
Creole pigs, although well adapted to local conditions (feed, management) and popular with the Haitian
population, were almost all killed off in the 1970s and 1980s apparently in order to prevent the spread of African
swine fever virus, which had spread from Spain to the Dominican Republic and then to Haiti via the Artibonite
River. According to the United States, by 1982 African swine fever had infected almost one-third of Haiti's
Creole pig population. Concerned about the spread of the disease into the US, the US put political pressure on
the Haitian government to slaughter all the pigs in their country. This reasoning was subsequently questioned by
the government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, as well as numerous academic reports, including a report published in
a 1990 edition of "Stretch", available here. The eradication of the Creole pig had gone further to impoverish the
already struggling peasants. It forced many children to quit school. Small farmers were forced to mortgage their
land. Many Haitians cut down trees for cash income from charcoal. This contributed to the desertification of the
Haitian landscape, already begun by overpopulation.In the Haitian peasant community, the government's
eradication and repopulation program was highly criticized. The peasants protested that they were not fairly
compensated for their pigs and that the breed of pigs imported from the United States to replace the hardy Creole
pigs was unsuitable for the Haitian environment and economy. There is controversy over whether the
importation of these pigs was encouraged by US agribusiness, as the raising of these pigs was so heavily
dependent on imported products. Haitian peasants quickly named the pigs "prince quatre pieds," (four-footed
princes). The repopulation program was a complete failure.
In 1982, international agencies assured Haiti's peasants their pigs were sick and had to be killed (so that the illness would not spread to countries to the north).
Promises were made that better pigs would replace the sick pigs. With an efficiency not since seen among development projects, all of the Creole pigs were killed
over a period of 13 months.Two years later, the new, "better" pigs came from Iowa. They were so much better they required clean drinking water (unavailable to 80
percent of the population), imported feed ($90 a year when the per capita income was about $130), and special roofed pigpens. Haitian peasants quickly dubbed
them "prince a quatre pieds," (four-footed princes). Adding insult to injury, the meat didn't taste as good. Needless to say, the repopulution program was a complete
failure. One observer of the process estimated that in monetary terms, Haitian peasants lost $600 million. There was a 30 percent drop in enrollment in rural schools,
a dramatic decline in the protein consumption in rural Haiti, a devastating decapitalization of the peasant economy, and an incalculable negative impact on Haiti's
soil and agricultural productivity. Haiti's peasantry has not recovered to this day. (Written by JEAN-BERTRAND ARISTIDE)
Credits: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Creole_Pig and http://www.towardfreedom.com/home/content/view/345/55/
Corrupt Government Leaders
Corruption is common in all governments, especially prominent in highly authoritarian regimes, and
practiced beyond measure in Haiti. The elite have used their positions in government ever since
1804 to gather the wealth and power of Haiti for themselves. What little wealth the country had has
been manipulated into the hands of this elite. Foreign governments and humanitarian and religious
organizations have often attempted to aid the suffering people of Haiti. Time and again, over and
over in the 182 years of so-called freedom, the Haitian elite and government officials have
sidetracked much of this wealth for their own purposes. Haiti faces the incredibly difficult task of
dealing with corruption that is so established.
In 1956, Francois Duvalier (Papa Doc) took over with
firm U.S. backing and the dictator, in turn, granted to the
U.S. corporations such "incentives" as no customs
duties, a minimum wage by far the lowest in the western
hemisphere, the suppression of labour unions, and the
right to repatriate their profits. This dictatorship was then
continued by the son, `Baby Doc' Duvalier, who was to
be overthrown in 1986 by a massive grassroots uprising
and was flown out of Haiti to Florida on a U.S. Air Force
plane, with all his dollars.
Former Haitian Dictator 'Baby Doc' Jean-Claude
Duvalier says he would like to return to Haiti. One of
the most vicious of the US backed dictators in
Credits: Bob Corbett, Why is Haiti so Poor? Fall, 1986 Director, PEOPLE TO PEOPLE and
http://www.frontlineonnet.com/fl2106/stories/20040326005613000.htm, Frontline - Volume 21 - Issue 06, March 13 - March 26, 2004
Does Haiti have to live like this?
Is it really this bad?
Can we help?
Let’s look at this young boy. He got help…
This Is Tiga ... Tiga Means "Little Boy" In Haitian Creole ...
It's The Only Name He Knows ... He Is About 5 Years Old ...
No One Knows For Sure ... Tiga Is Abandoned & Homeless
Cite Soleil is a 27 square mile settlement area on the east side of Port au Prince,
Haiti. Almost 1 million of the poorest of the poor reside here in conditions that can be
aptly described as deplorable, demoralizing and brutal.. No running water, no
electricity, no sanitation system or services, open sewage. Due to the dehumanizing
conditions, it only follows that crime and abuse are commonplace. This is an area
where almost one half of the children born do not live to see their 4th birthday.
Credits: http://quicksitemaker.com/members/immunenation/Tigas_Story.html
This Is Tiga Today ...
Only 4 Months Later,
The Empty,
Lifeless Eyes
Have Been Replaced
By Bright Happy
And A Love For Life
With A Happy Future
That All Children
We have learned a little about the historical background
of Haiti, as well as some reasons it has extreme poverty.
Are you ready to learn more?
Photo: Alex Morel. OPS-Haïti