Haiti is often treated as the pariah of its fellow islanders, but Haiti’s bold fight for freedom has been marked by centuries of colonial exploitation and theft.
The Haitian Revolution took place between 1791 and 1804 and led to the overthrow of the Napoléon Bonaparte-led French regime in Haiti by the Africans and their descendants who had been enslaved by the French.
A slave revolt erupted on the French colony, and Toussaint-Louverture, a former slave, organized the rebels and waged war against the island’s colonial population. Toussaint became governor-general of the colony and in 1801 conquered the Spanish part of the island, freeing the slaves there.
Napolean sent over Polish Legions, who were raised to fight for Napoleon in the hope of French support for Polish Independence. Poles shipped to Saint-Domingue and were appalled at the French’s brutality against the free Haitians. In an unsuspected turn of events, many of the Poles defected, becoming allies of Haiti. The rest were taken prisoner.
Haiti declared independence on January 1. 1804.
As its wealthiest colony, Haiti was not an easy loss to swallow for the French. It earned billions off the island from exporting sugar, indigo, and coffee.
But Haiti would pay a heavy price for its freedom.
In 1825, Haitian President Jean-Pierre Boyer signed a document, which stated, “The present inhabitants of the French part of St. Domingue shall pay … in five equal installments … the sum of 150,000,000 francs, destined to indemnify the former colonists.”
Haiti was ordered to begin paying “reparations” to the French slaveholders it had overthrown.
The island had little choice but to borrow 30 million francs from French banks. Haiti soon defaulted on the loans and strong-armed the Haitian government (with yet more warships) into “Traité d’Amitié” – or “Treaty of Friendship” – reduced the outstanding amount owed to 60 million francs.
The reduction was still a crippling amount, and Haiti had no option but to take out more loans– falling even further into debt.
For western colonizers, Haiti’s independence was perceived as an immense threat by all slave-owning countries, so they decided that something must be done to bring this island of revolutionary rebels to its knees.
France sailed up to Haiti’s shores with a heavily armed war fleet and negotiated immunity from French military invasion, relief from political and economic isolation.
It took Haiti 122 years to pay off its $21 billion debt to France, making its final payment in 1947. The amount was ten times the size of Haiti’s annual income but kept its people free from foreign rule.
The United States continues to import Haitian agricultural products and export its goods to Haiti, with unfavorable trade policies for Haitians. Still, its longstanding isolation from other diplomatic powers has intentionally made it difficult for Haiti to flourish in its independence.
Generations of crushing debt has inevitably led to extremely high levels of poverty on the island. In Haiti, 59% of the population lives below the poverty line. A fact the western media is all too report.
While Haiti works to rebuild itself, the mainstream focus is currently on the spate of kidnapping-for-ransoms and gang-related crimes on the island.
Protests have also erupted over President Jovenel Moïse’s refusal to step down. The Haitian people say Moïse (the island’s 42nd president) should have ended his five-year term this month, but Moïse is refusing to vacate office, arguing that an interim government occupied the first year of his five-year term.
Violence has broken out across the island (as we’ve seen happen here on Jan. 6), and Haitians are attempting to flee the country to escape the violence.
But Haiti’s neighbors are refusing to welcome them with open arms.
Last month the Dominican Republic announced that it intends on building a wall on its border with Haiti to reduce illegal immigration — painting their fellow islanders as drug pushers and freeloaders instead of refugees. The Dominican Republic and Haiti share the island of Hispaniola, which was the first European colony site in the Americas.
Approximately half a million Haitians live in the Dominican Republic.
“Within two years we want to end the serious problems of illegal immigration, drug-trafficking and the transport of stolen vehicles that we’ve suffered from for two years,” said Abinader.
Despite acknowledgment from France that Haiti should be repaid, in 2015, French President Francois Hollande dismissed the debt owed to Haiti as a “moral debt.”
“We cannot change the past, but we can change the future,” added Hollande.
If France did the moral thing and repaid even half of the reparations Haiti has paid to its oppressor, the country would be well on its way to becoming whole again. However, France, and its allies, continue to use Haiti as an example of what happens when Black people dare to fight (and win) their independence.
Check out the latest episode of “In Class with Carr” where Dr. Greg Carr goes into depth about the Haitian Revolution.