Friday, January 15, 2010

Poor Haiti

Before the earthquake, it was already a disaster, and now the earthquake reveals the horrifying extent of lack of infrastructure, authority, resources, a functioning state.
The New York Times claims Obama has been trying to get in touch with the Haitian prime minister, and can't find him. I bet some of the people in power are probably doing their utmost to get out of dodge. Because that's how that country is. A mess.
I'm also sure that the Dominican Republic is in a state of utter panic. They already treat the Haitian immigrants like crap and I'm sure they are not looking forward to the massive wave of refugees this may bring to them. I mean, Haiti is so utterly screwed (and this before the quake) that it makes the DR look like the land of plenty.  
As is usual when natural disaster strikes in poor places, the man made disaster increases the tragedy exponentially (hurricane Katrina is a good example). For instance, in Haiti there is no infrastructure to even deal with the aid that is coming their way.
Haiti has been a disaster ever since the French decided to charge it reparations for its own independence from them. You heard correctly, mon amis. Thanks to Guanabee, of all places, I learned this enlightening tidbit:
The Times of London explains that the real devil in this situation is France. (Natch.) It turns out that when Haiti won their independence from those squirrelly bastards, they agreed to pay France 150m francs, in gold. “Haiti was the only country in which the ex-slaves themselves were expected to pay a foreign government for their liberty.
“Though the debt was reduced to 60m francs in the 1830s, it was still far more than the war-ravaged country could afford. By 1900 they were spending 80% of their national budget on repayments. More loans were taken out from the United States, Germany and France to manage the debt. In 1947, Haiti finally paid off the original reparations, plus interest. That left them destitute, corrupt, disastrously lacking in investment and politically volatile. Haiti was trapped in a downward spiral, from which it is still impossible to escape. It remains hopelessly in debt to this day.”
(To which I say, cancel their debt already. It's not like they are ever going to be able to pay it back).
The Brits may never miss a golden opportunity to piss on the French, as if their own colonial misadventures in Africa and elsewhere were somehow superior. I found this other gem in the Times, written by A.A. Gill in 2004, on the heels of the Aristide coup.  All I can say is nobody in the US would have the balls to write/publish an article as politically incorrect and damning as this one. Check it out.
All colonial empires were pretty awful (for which we are still getting the fallout today, something that said former empires stubbornly refuse to acknowledge), but some left infrastructure and institutions in place. The Spanish, as fucked up as they were, left enough so that Latin America, for better or for worse, could be what it is today. But poor Haiti was a slave colony with the apparent misfortune of belonging to the French, whose egalité, fraternité and liberté don't seem to apply to everybody. And what did the French leave behind except for the language and centuries of poverty, corruption and violence? Rien. Rien du rien. Debt and chaos.
If it makes you feel any better, this is what they're doing to help.


  1. I forgot to mention that the US was not much help either.