In recent weeks, thousands of refugees from Haiti have arrived at the US-Mexico border, desperate for a better life. Most left Haiti years ago after an earthquake in 2010 devastated what was already one of the world’s most dismal economies. They had originally settled in places like Chile, but the politics of the region made them feel unwanted, discriminated against and fearful for the future.
Haitian refugees hoped that the United States, under President Biden, would offer them a lifeline. They were wrong. The Biden administration has returned thousands of people to Haiti, even though Haiti is a disaster area, and many refugees fled it years ago. Some of those the US government forcibly sent to Haiti are children who have never lived there.
Ambassador Daniel Foote, who was appointed by President Biden as the United States’ special envoy to Haiti in July, has resigned in protest against his administration’s policies. “I will not be associated with the inhuman and counterproductive decision of the United States to expel thousands of Haitian refugees,” Foote wrote in his resignation letter.
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Haiti, where refugees are being returned, is a nation in crisis. With its unlucky coordinates on the map and poor infrastructure, Haiti has been devastated by multiple hurricanes and earthquakes in recent years, including a magnitude 7.2 earthquake in August. In July, Haitian President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated by Colombian mercenaries, some of whom had received US military training. A Florida-based security company has reportedly linked anyone who wanted Moses to be killed with the mercenaries, but details of why Moses was killed and who led the mercenaries are still unclear.
What is clear, however, is that the assassination of Moïse continues Haiti’s centuries-old political instability. In 2015, the World Bank concluded that Haiti’s biggest political problem is that “there is a lack of a social contract between the state and its citizens”. Ambassador Foote, in his resignation letter, lambasted the United States and other nations for contributing to this problem for the umpteenth time by shamelessly supporting Moses’ unelected replacement, Ariel Henry. Henry was appointed prime minister by Moses in July and took on the additional role of president after Moses was assassinated. Haiti’s chief prosecutor said he found evidence linking Henry to the president’s murder, and Henry quickly fired him. Some Haitian authorities have asked Henry to step down and begged the international community to stop supporting him. “This cycle of international political interventions in Haiti has consistently produced catastrophic results,” Foote wrote.
Haiti is one of the poorest nations in the world, and rich countries have their fingerprints all over the nation’s delayed development. The United States worked to isolate a newly independent Haiti in the early 19th century and violently occupied the island nation for 19 years at the turn of the 20th century. While the United States officially left Haiti in 1934, it continued to control Haiti’s public finances until 1947, siphoning off about 40% of Haiti’s national income to repay the debt of the United States and the United States. France.
Much of this debt to France was the legacy of what University of Virginia scholar Marlene Daut calls “the greatest heist in history”: surrounded by French gunboats, a newly independent Haiti was forced to pay reparations to his slave owners. You read correctly. It was the old one slaves from Haiti, not the French slave owners, who were forced to pay for repairs. Haitians have compensated their oppressors and their descendants for the privilege of being free. It took over a century for Haiti to pay off the reparation debts.
The tragic hope of revolutionary Haiti
Haiti gained independence from France in 1804, and it was almost immediately made a pariah state by the world powers. It was an independent black-ruled nation – created by slaves who had cast aside their chains and fought their oppressors for their freedom – at a time when white-ruled nations applied brutal and racist systems of exploitation in the whole world.
Haiti, then known as Saint-Domingue, had been the crown jewel of the French Empire. It was the most lucrative colony in the whole world. French planters forced African slaves to produce sugar, coffee, and other cash crops for the world market. The system seemed to be working well. That is, until the French and American revolutions helped inspire, in 1791, what became the largest and most successful slave revolt in the world. Against all odds, the slaves won. Former slaves sent slave owners rushing to France and America – and Haitians successfully repelled subsequent efforts to re-enslave them. Haiti was the first nation to permanently ban slavery.
But as a nation of freed black slaves, Haiti was a threat to the existing world order. President Thomas Jefferson has worked to isolate Haiti diplomatically and strangle it economically, fearing that Haiti’s success will inspire slave revolts in his country. With the invention and spread of cotton gin, slavery was becoming much more lucrative just as a free Haiti was born, and slave owners in the United States and other countries latched on and took over. extended the inhuman means of production. Haitian success was seen as a threat to this system for decades, and the United States did not officially recognize Haiti until 1862, when slavery began to be abolished.
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During Haiti’s critical period of development, France intervened even more directly than the United States to thwart its success. In July 1825, the King of France, Charles X, sent an armed flotilla of warships to Haiti with the message that the young nation would have to pay France 150 million francs to ensure its independence, or suffer the consequences. consequences. This was 10 times the amount the United States had paid to France in the purchase of Louisiana, which had doubled the size of the United States.
Almost literally at gunpoint, Haiti gave in to the demands of France in order to guarantee its independence. The amount was too high for the young nation to pay it straight away, and so it had to take out loans at high interest rates from a French bank. Over the next century, Haiti paid French slave owners and their descendants the equivalent of $ 20 billion to $ 30 billion in today’s dollars. It took 122 years for Haiti to pay it off. Professor Marlene Daut writes that this “seriously undermined the ability of the newly independent country to prosper”.
Right the wrongs
After the 2010 earthquake that devastated Haiti completely, academics and journalists wrote a letter to the French president demanding that France reimburse Haiti. French economist Thomas Piketty resurrected the idea in 2020, arguing that France owes Haiti at least $ 28 billion. The French government, under several presidents, has balked at the idea, and it is unlikely to reimburse Haiti anytime soon.
But if the rich world wants to help right the wrongs done to Haiti in the past, perhaps the most effective policy now would be to accept more Haitian refugees. It would not be just a human policy that would improve their lives and that of their future families. It would also likely be a boost to the Haitian economy. According to the World Bank, Haitian expatriates sent $ 3 billion in funds to Haiti in 2018, or nearly a third of the island nation’s total GDP.
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