COLUMN – Why Haiti is so poor

yourwealthourinterest-1Haiti would not be so poor if the world had not watched it pay France 90 million francs (21 billion in today’s currency).

It is commendable that yesterday, May 10, France’s President Francois Hollande announced that Haiti’s debt would be cancelled, but it is important to know why Haiti is the way it is in the first place.

Many of us are quite unaware as to the true reason that Haiti is as poor as it is. And it certainly has nothing to do with simply bad management of government or the natural disasters that frequent the country all too often.

Some 200 years ago, Haiti was forced to pay France to be able to claim its sovereignty and peace from France. Haiti paid 90 million Francs to its colonial powers to secure its freedom.

Many of us only know half of that story: that is, that the Haitian people fought valiantly for their freedom and were thus rewarded as the first Caribbean country to freedom.  Many would say that as a direct consequence, or as punishment, Haiti was shunned by the rest of the Western world (at the time still mostly controlled by Europe) and thus none of Haiti’s neighbours wished to trade with the country.

Haiti therefore had to resort to a combination of shark loans (high interest) and later aid. The country has never recovered since. The sad part of it is that Haiti was once the richest country in the Western Hemisphere and a prized colony of France.

Says Haiti’s former Minister of Affairs Joseph Philippe Antonio: “You will notice a certain embarrassment on their [France’s] part. You will notice that they begin to talk about how much cooperation and aid Europe has given to Haiti, when we raised the very specific question of the ransom of 90 million gold francs Haiti paid to France for
its independence.

“We in fact paid much more because we were forced to take out loans at very high interest rates at the time the debt was incurred.”

Haiti sought the money from France, the last time being when Jean-Bertrand Aristide was president. In other words, Haiti sought reparations from France.

President Aristide was later ousted and unable to complete his bid for repatriations.

Adds Mr Antonio: “Let me underline for you that lately there have been other countries, other populations who were victim during this period [of slavery] who have requested indemnity for the wrongs done to them from several European countries. At the onset, all of these countries said they would not pay, but in the end did in fact pay. They paid very graciously.

“What I mean to say is that the initial reaction of the French government is normal . . . . I think that good sense and reason will in the end prevail and at some point the two parties will sit down around the table to clearly outline the issue, and there will be a compromise reached to put an end to this controversy.”

Let’s hope that history proves Mr Joesph Philippe Antonio to be right.

(Craig Harewood is the investment director at Ourinterest Inc., an investment company that trades on global markets and from time to time assists small businesses and boutique investors.

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Disclaimer. These articles are intended to be general in nature and provide sufficient advice to change/promote the investment culture in Barbados. They are not meant to give specific investment advice to any one individual and the author does not accept any liability for investment deals made or any action taken as a result of reading these articles.

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