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Haiti - richest to poorest?

Published:Wednesday | February 10, 2010 | 12:00 AM

THe Editor, Sir:

As a Haitian, my ears irk and my heart aches intolerably every time I hear my country being branded by the media as "the poorest nation in the western world". And, alas! The recent earthquake that flattened Port-au-Prince and the surrounding cities, including every major structure that used to evoke pride within me, has left my country's door wide open for the rest of the world to bear witness and gauge how we fare as a nation in relation to others. The question of how Haiti spiralled downward from its pedestal of being the richest of the French colonies, from 1607 to 1791, to becoming the pariah of the western world is mind-boggling.

Regrettably, far from exploring the subject in a historical and analytical context aimed at arriving at an objective conclusion, the media consistently exploit it to feed the insatiable mind of an already gullible audience. My beloved Haiti did not surpass all others in the race in the western world towards poverty in a vacuum. The great powers of the world relegated Haiti firmly to its present position from its outset, 200 years ago, for daring to commit the transgression of aspiring for human rights, liberty and self-determination.

Haitian Revolution

By the time of the Haitian Revolution, which culminated in 1791, the slave population in Haiti had swelled to well over 500,000. Saint Domingue was then the richest colony in the Americas and its capital, Cap Francais, at present Cap Haitian, was known as the Paris of the New World. Haiti was a principal conduit for cotton and coffee to France and the rest of Europe, but it was the principal source of sugar, both for Europe and the Americas.

To maintain that level of productivity, the French colonists employed the cruelest of tactics to keep the African slaves in check, including flogging, starvation and burying them alive for minor infractions. Hard-pressed to escape their masters' callous treatment, the African slaves finally mounted the only successful slave rebellion in history, led by Toussaint L'Ouverture in 1791.

For the United States and the powerful European nations, the emergence of Haiti as an indepen-dent nation, the second after the United States in the Americas, seemed irrevocably unforgivable. Hence, for 58 years the United States refused to trade with Haiti and to recognise it as a nation. The objective was to marginalise and strip the island nation's so-deserved sovereignty to the ground.

As for Napoleon's clique, after countless unsuccessful attempts to take back St Domingue and re-enslave the Haitians, they resorted to other types of intimidation, including a demand that Haiti pay France an indemnity in the sum of $150 million in gold for the very independence that the Haitians shed their blood to earn.

Strength from adversity

The great powers of the world who have viewed Haiti's indepen-dence as an affront to the status quo have set systemic roadblocks to its development and self-determination for many generations. Now that Port-au-Prince, the heartbeat of the country and surrounding provinces, has been totally flattened by the earthquake, all of us Haitians are profoundly appreciative of the outpouring of generosity emanating from the world over.

Indeed, if anything good is to come out of this horrible catastrophe, it is an opportunity for the powers of the world to converge on Haiti and help it to re-emerge as a stronger nation.

The spirit and resilience of the Haitian people is far from being broken, but it is certainly shaken. Now that the powers of the world have, in essence, taken charge in Haiti, is it possible that they will genuinely assist in rebuilding to benefit the Haitian people?

I am, etc.,

Jacques Laine