Why is Haiti so Poor?

Bicentennial celebration of Haiti's Independence
Why is Haiti so poor ? Pt1 of 2 

The  notion taught in European institutions is that benevolent white men abolished slavery becasue it was a scar on their conscience. The facts  are  that enslaved  Africans  fought back at every opportunity and the Haitian revolt of 1791-1804 led directly to the ‘abolition’ of the British slave trade in 1807. The Jamaican uprising led by Sam Sharpe in 1832 scared the British into passing  the law to ‘abolish’ slavery itself in 1833.

Alleged abolitionist Wilberforce apart from suggesting that black men be used as breeding animals, actually voted to send 60,000 British troops to force the Africans in Haiti back into slavery. In the 21st century the IMF and World Bank present themselves as benevolent agencies while the evidence shows their policies actually make people poorer and increase the wealth of the US and Europe. See below for  details as to how Haiti was forced into poverty by the very nations who are now complaining that Haiti is  impoverished.


On August 22, 1791, the Haitian war of independence began under the leadership of an African religious leader named Boukman; over one hundred thousand enslaved Africans rose up against the French army. The great hero of the Haitian Revolution and a man considered one of the great revolutionaries and generals throughout the world, was François Dominique Toussaint L’Ouverture.
When the war of independence broke out in August 1791, Toussaint was a fifty year old carriage driver. He rose to become a general when he realized that the revolution could only be successful if the enslaved Africans became militarily and politically organized to resist the external forces. His first move was to train a small armed group. He then realized that the Africans, who now occupied the eastern two-thirds of Haiti (what is now the Dominican Republic), were caught between three contending European forces, all of whom wanted Haiti for themselves. The French, of course, wanted Haiti back. The Spanish and English saw the revolution as an opportunity for seizing Haiti for themselves. Toussaint’s great genius was to achieve what he wanted for his people by playing each of these powers off against each other.

Toussaint was a brilliant and charismatic statesman and leader. His reign came to an end with the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte in France. Napoleon sent General Victor Leclerc with over twenty thousand soldiers to eliminate Toussaint, who then waged guerilla warfare against the them. Eventually he made peace with the French and retired from public life In 1803. The French tricked him into a meeting where he was arrested and sent to France where he was starved and tortured to death in prison.
With the death of Toussaint, the revolution was carried on by Jean-Jacques Dessalines. Dessalines was extremely angry over his treatment as a slave and was determined not to allow white people to carry on with their racist exploitation. Leclerc was desperate, as his men were dying of yellow fever and the guerilla attacks took a surprising toll. So he decided to simply execute blacks whenever and wherever he found them. Dessalines responded that every atrocity committed by the French would be revisited on the French.
As the fighting wore on, Dessalines ordered the summary execution of all Europeans that opposed the new revolutionary government.
Finally, on 1st January 1804 Dessalines declared Haiti to be an independent republic. He took the French three-coloured flag and removed the white from it to produce the bi- coloured flag of Haiti, the first independent Black nation in the Caribbean. Africans had defeated the best French, Spanish and British armies (60,000 troops with the blessings of Wilberforce) and sent shockwaves through the white supremacists in the Caribbean, Europe and America. The slave-masters in the immediate region were terrified that the same thing would happen to them. The British, with their nearby colonies of enslaved Africans, were extremely nervous in 1804.

Immediate After Effects of the revolution.
  1. African people all over the world are inspired to fight harder and longer than they are already doing.
  2. Haiti supplies fighting revolutionaries to other Caribbean islands.Haitians use captured European ships to liberate Africans from passing slave ships
  3. The fear of having too many Africans fresh from Africa contributes to the British abolition of the slave trade in 1807.
  4. Slave breeding and rape of African women is stepped up to make up for lost workers.
  5. Cultural subjugation of African peoples becomes institutionalised – African linguistic and religious expressions are criminalised.
  6. Increase in missionary activity in colonies to convert Africans to Christianity. Wilberforce supports this
  7. In 1803/4 a weakened France is forced to sell New Orleans and the Louisiana territory (15 states),74 times the size of Haiti, in what is now the USA for merely 15 million dollars
  8. In 1806 America joins France and Spain in a trade embargo on Haiti which ruins the economy
  9. In 1825 France demands reparations for destruction of its property during the revolution by sending 12 warships to blockade the port                                                                                     
The aftermath of the Revolution had other impacts on Haiti, including..
Haiti was in forced to pay a total of 150 million Francs to France for fighting against slavery. The USA endorsed this position, The last payment was made in 1947. (President Aristide actually asked for it back in 2003) The equivalent in today’s money is $21.7 billion, (source Dr Francis St Hubert, Haiti Restitution Commission). This is based on 5% annual interest; if the normal 7.5% interest were applied, Haiti could be entitled to $4 trillion . The situation is comparable to the Germans demanding compensation from the British for fighting back in World War 2. If that had happened how underdeveloped would Britain be and how overdeveloped would Germany have become ?
  • Haiti is forced to borrow from French banks at high interest rates to pay the money to the French, forcing Haiti further into poverty.
  • The US Marines  invade and brutally occupy Haiti in 1915- 1934, because Haitians refuse to allow foreigners to own their land. US corporations are later brought in to establish plantations and jeans factories that use slave-type labour.
  • The USA and France support human rights abusers like dictators Papa and Baby Doc Duvalier in the 1950’s and 1980’s who rip off their countrymen and take out loans from the IMF
  • After the US-backed dictators are deposed Haitian people are forced to pay up to 2 milion dollars a year on bad debts incurred by the dictators
  • The US ‘encourages’ Haiti to lift its tariff on imported rice, the market is then flooded with imported subsidised US rice forcing local farmers out of work and off their land, then the US companies jack up their prices thereby forcing people to eat mud cakes
  • In 2003 democratically elected Jean Bertrand Aristide requests France pays back the reparations it received. He also campaigns to increase the minimum wage to $2 a day
  • The US government repeatedly destabilises the democratically-elected government of Aristide until he is finally ousted in 2004.He seeks sanctuary in Jamaica but Condeleeza Rice threatens the Jamaicans with dire consequences if he should stay. He is currently in  Africa

This may help to explain why Haiti has gone from being the richest island in the Americas in the 1790’s (hence the scramble for the island by France, Britain and Spain), to today being  the poorest. Much of the absent infrastructure which is so often mentioned by the media would be present but for the above. Pt 2 of this article will come out in February




Ferguson. James, (1998), The Story of the Caribbean People, Ian Randle Publishers, Kingston, Jamaica
Fryer. Peter, (1984), Staying Power: The History of Black People in Britain, Pluto Press
Hart. Richard, (1998), From Occupation to Independence: A Short History of the Peoples of the English Speaking Caribbean Region, Pluto Press
Hochschild. Adam, (2005), Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire’s Slaves, Mariner Books
James. C.L.R., (1963), The Black Jacobins, Vintage Books
Martin. Steve, (1999), Britain’s Slave Trade, Channel 4 Books
Walwin.  James, (1993), Black Ivory: A History of British Slavery, Fontana Press
Williams. Eric, (1944), Capitalism and Slavery, Andre Deutsch


Why is Haiti so Poor ? Pt 2/3  

“I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that.
I’ve always thought that under-populated countries in Africa are vastly UNDER-polluted, their air quality is probably vastly inefficiently low compared to Los Angeles or Mexico City.”
Larry Summers Chief  Economist World Bank 1991.
Mr Summers is currently Senior Economic adviser to Barack Obama
1800 onward..
One of the several reasons the Haitian revolution was successful was the presence of so many Africans fresh from Africa who had not been brainwashed into accepting white supremacy. Also, many of those captured were soldiers from professional African armies who had captured while  defending their country from slavers. They knew what it was like to be free, remembered their history and culture and practiced the religions they had known in the city-states of Congo and Angola where many of them had been kidnapped from.
Europeans were at first resistant to Christianise enslaved African people on the suspicion that if they were converted they would have to be treated as humans. This attitude later changed as the Catholic and Protestant churches owned slaves and their missionaries preached a ‘special’ gospel to the imprisoned Africans. This ‘gospel’ emphasised; obedience to masters, great suffering on earth to earn your reward in heaven, turning the other cheek and a white Jesus. They also set up mission schools which concentrated on European history and demonised any African culture hence the ‘Voodoo’ myth. Ancient  African religious practices are described as heathen or devil worship. African languages are beaten out of the Africans and they were forced to take European names.The Church helps the State by promoting docility and miseducation and becomes rich through their collaboration with the plantations.
1804 Haiti declares Independence after beating the best troops of Britain, France and Spain. The United States refuses to trade with Haiti up to 1862. Haitians cannot sell their goods and have to pay more for smuggled imports. This creates poverty and underdevelopment.
1825 The French, with US help, blockade Haitain ports. Haiti, in order to trade and develop, is forced into paying $21.7 billion to the French for winning its freedom. The real cost to Haiti is approximately $4 trillion.
An outcome of the Independence war is the creation of a separate Spanish speaking country on  the same island that Haiti occupies known as the Dominican Republic. From 1791 onwards thousands of white people seek refuge there to escape the revenge of the Africans . As there are fewer Africans present in that part of the island the population becomes predominately white and mixed race.  White skin privilege is reinforced.Many Dominicans see themselves as white of Spanish descent and because of the previous war  resent Haitians who are on the whole of darker complexion. Europe and the US prefer to deal with the Dominicans.

1915-1934 Klu Klux  Klan sympathiser US President Woodrow Wilson sends Marines from   southern states  to occupy Haiti ‘as they will know how to deal with negros’ . (Black people are not allowed to join the Marines until WW2)  President Wilson is referred to in the Disney film  The Princess and the Frog.  The Marines remove gold from the Haitian national Bank and give it to the Rockefeller  connected Citibank.
Americans  then use Haitians as slave labour to construct bridges, buildings and roads. Haitians fight back. The armed resistance is  led by Charlemagne Peralte. The US use air and artillery power and kill more than 30,000 people.

Thousands of peasants are kicked off their land and forced to live in overcrowded slums. They are no longer able to feed themselves and therefore have to work for large landowners. Plantations are set up, owned by a few rich people. The Haitian constitution is re-written so that foreigners can own Haitian land. US corporations move in. 40% of the countrys’ gross domestic product goes to the America.
Some  Haitians collabarate with the Americans. The Mevs for example are the second richest family in Haiti and own monopolies in sugar, shoes and plastics. The US trains specially selected squads of Haitian soldiers to oppress their own people.
In 1957, Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier came to power in a questionable election and sets up his own army of thugs-the Tontons Macoutes. When Papa Doc dies in 1971. His son “Baby Doc” at the age of 19 is sworn in as President-for Life. Both Papa and Baby doc are backed by the US. They both  use mass murder and torture to put down any dissent. Baby Doc continued to enrich himself and his friends and the country is further opened up to foreign corporations who run sweatshops. The IMF and World Bank do in Haiti that they did in Jamaica in the 1970’s, structural adjustment’ is introduced.
Baby Doc’s rule is so unpopular there is a mass uprising. In 1986 He is rescued by the US and flown out to live in luxury in Paris.
‘Indebted nations have been forced to reduce their spending on health and education. In many of the countries in which the World Bank and IMF have worked people must pay for these services. The results are catastrophic. In Kenya , for example, one of the countries worst affected by AIDS, the number of women seeking advice on sexually transmitted diseases declined by sixty five per cent following the introduction of fees. In Ghana the new fees forced two thirds of rural families to stop sending their children to school. The cuts in health spending the Bank and IMF forced on Zambia helped increase infant mortality from 97 deaths per 1000 births in 1980 to 202 deaths per 1000 in 1999’
Pg 151 The Age of Consent by  George Monbiot
To be continued..
Other reference Books
Hideous Dream by Stan Goff
The Age of Consent by George Monbiot
The Haunting Past by Alvin O Thompson
Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon
The Black Jacobin by CLR James
Longman Companion to Slavery Emancipation and Civil Rights by Harry Harmer


Why is Haiti so Poor? Pt3/4  Disney’s Sweatshops and USAID
 “We have no obligation to make history. We have no obligation to make art. We have no obligation to make a statement. To make money is our only objective.”
1981 internal memo from Michael Eisner CEO of Disney 1984-2005
The devastation wreaked upon the Caribbean peoples, through economic policies whose true purpose is hidden from us, is crushing our hopes for a better future. It is increasing poverty, especially among women, breaking up families, and deepening the cries and pain of our children, even those yet to be born. The dependency syndrome purposely designed to favour US interests has tied our economies in debt that each one of us is forced to pay until we reach our death bed’
Josephine Dublin, Caribbean Association for Feminist Research and Action
A 1996 report by the US National Labour Committee revealed that Haitian workers were producing “Mickey Mouse” and “Pocahontas” pajamas for less than 12 cents an hour . A single shirt sold for $12 US dollars at the time. Women who worked in factories that made Aladdin and Pocahantas merchandise were subjected to;
  • sharing 1 toilet to 70 workers,
  • expectation of sex with bosses,
  • being sacked for getting pregnant,
  • beatings for speaking out,
  • bans on  drinking clean water,
  • bans  from unions,
  • no sick leave and 78 hour working weeks.
A documentary exposing these conditions titled, Mickey Mouse Goes to Haiti, was made in 1996. (This film will be shown on the 27th March see main menu)
In response, the factories threatened to leave. Aristide’s consistent demand for a minimum wage was one of the reasons for the 1991 military coup. Later,  the Americans were so keen to get rid of him they used Special Forces troops to force him  on to a US plane on February 29 2004. Even now he has not been allowed to return.
The U.S.-based National Labour Committee, which first revealed the Kathie Lee Gifford sweat shop scandal, reported several years ago that Apaid’s factories in Haiti’s free trade zone often pay below the minimum wage and that his employees are forced to work 78-hour weeks.” (Daily News, New York, 24 Feb 2004
Andy Apaid was in negotiations with US secretary of State Colin Powell days before Aristides removal.
In 2000 the Clinton administration placed an embargo on the island. This embargo had the effect of making the elite, normally pro-US families, like Andy Apaid; owner of Alpha Industries, richer, while making the average Haitian poorer. For example importers of cement would open the bags and dilute them with 30/40% fine sand, then sell them at inflated prices. The weak cement once dried would collapse under minimum stress so if a helicopter landed nearby, as in the US occupation of 1994, the building/wall would collapse.  This was another contributory factor to the high death toll from the hurricanes and earthquake.
IMF/World Bank structural adjustment as referred to by Josephine Dublin  above, demands that governments restrict spending  on public services like schools and hospitals.They are encouraged to invest in private business by eliminating subsidies, dropping tariffs and allowing foreign companies to pay no tax for up to 15 years. The tax breaks are actually paid for by the poorest people but benefit the foreign corporations.
Haiti was not allowed to subsidise its own rice which provided jobs to peasant farmers.  Meanwhile import restrictions and tariffs were lifted on American rice which was able to flood the market. American rice is subsidised by an average 1 billion US dollars a year. The US rice put thousands of small farmers out of work and forced them to move to the city areas to find jobs. Therefore the cities become overcrowded and the sweatshops can pick and choose who they employ in abusive conditions as there are 50 people to every job. This is another reason for the poverty and overcrowding which led to the high death toll.
Some people are forced to leave Haiti to seek work in the massive sugar plantations in the neighbouring Dominican Republic. Called Bateyes these work camps are little removed from slavery and are the topic of the Haiti Cherie film on 14 March www.blackhistorywalks.co.uk
President Obama stated that the US would grant 100 million US dollars in aid. It is worth considering the history of USAID (a US government agency) USAID was against Aristides call for a minimum wage and much of the aid given will be spent on American goods and services. This is not new.

For example, the USAID grant agreement to the government of Dominica for a US $12.1 million road repair project stipulated that US $10 million of the AID funds had to be used for the purchase of materials, equipment and consultant services from US firms. Similar conditions tied to an AID grant for privatization of agriculture in Grenada required the use of US made vehicles and equipment that were not compatible with the tools and equipment being used in Grenada’
pg 53 Storm Signals: Structural Adjustment and Development Alternatives in the Caribbean by Kathy McAfee 1991

It’s laughably idealistic to wish for accountability, honesty, grace and dignity from the folks at USAID, World Bank, the Christian missions and those ‘doing good’ in Haiti for more than a-half century now..
..Big US oil companies and their inter-related monopolies of engineering and defence contractors made plans, decades ago, to (exploit Haiti’s resources and use its) deep water ports either for oil refineries or to develop oil tank farm sites or depots where crude oil could be stored and later transferred to small tankers to serve US and Caribbean ports.”

Haitian lawyer/activist Marguerite Laurent

Haiti from a US viewpoint is a strategic resource for its cheap labour, but mostly its exploitable resources, including, oil and gas, gold, copper, diamonds, iridium, and zirconium as well as deep water ports at Fort Liberte and elsewhere.Otherwise, why, if Haiti is so poor, does Washington have its fifth largest embassy in the world in Port-au-Prince ?
Next : Drugs and Politics
Storm Signals by Kathy Mcafee
Stephen Lendman Centre for Research on Globalisation
Judy Morris, University West Indies (Barbados)


Why is Haiti so Poor ? Pt4/5 Kill the Black Pigs.  
‘US food aid was born in 1954 with the passage of PL 480 the specific goal was not principally to help people but to promote overseas sales of US agricultural produce’
from Travesty in Haiti Dr Timothy Schwartz pg 122
In Jamaica and Somalia cattle would be a family’s insurance policy. In the 1950’s many family cows were sold to provide passage to England and of course  they could be used as food in hard times. In Haiti the Creole or Black pig served that purpose and many peasant families would have one. In 1983 to deal with  an outbreak of swine flu the US-backed government sent American vets and Haitian soldiers to kill all the pigs. Few people were compensated. To solve the problem they created US experts encouraged the Organisation of American States to repopulate Haiti with white pigs bought from America. These pigs could not survive in the Haitian environment unless fed with US-imported corn. The initiative ended when Haitians raided the white pig centre, killed and barbecued  them. Nevertheless, the average Haitian deprived of their insurance policy was pushed into poverty.
This poverty was made worse by the subsidised US rice which forced local farmers out of rice production. Peasant farmers still tried to survive by the sale of other foodstuffs. This is when the NGO’s (non goverment agencies) stepped in with “food aid”. Unfortunately the food aid was ‘monetised’ which meant that the US would give bags of grain/beans to NGOs like CARE and Worldvision with the understanding that they would sell 33% of it to Haitians  to generate hard cash.That cash would then be their grant to help the Haitian people. France and Germany did the same thing with their NGO’s. The result, the total destruction of the indigenous farming industry as they could not compete with the subsidised and free food coming in. CARE has been operating in Haiti since 1954. Laura Richardson of Roots International and Phil Gilman a previous director of CARE have both spoken out against “food aid”.
Upon analysis it was discovered that “food aid” would often arrive up to a year  late or coincide with bumper crops produced by local farmers.This was found to be the case year after year, after year. 
Impoverished rural people are forced to move to the cities and work in assembly centres /sweatshops run by Levi, Disney, Wrangler etc where conditions are terrible. Some people chose to stay on the land and make their money by trading in other crops such as marijuana, cocaine and heroin and supply the US market.
Travesty in Haiti Dr Timothy Schwartz
Anup Shah 2005 Food Aid as Dumping Introduction

Skin Lightening Cream on Sale at Black Hair and Beauty Show London, England 

Full article below. Picture from official Afro Hair and Beauty Show brochure 2009


Skin Bleaching Cream on Sale at Afro Hair and Beauty Show 2009 

An event supposed to recognise and celebrate black beauty had a large stand dedicated to selling skin whitening/bleaching cream. Brands available were Whiter than White and Sure White. Sure White was available as a Serum with Kotic acid and ‘extra strength’ formula. The advert from the official show brochure is shown above. Even the Daily Mail, not known for its deep understanding of African culture, thinks skin bleaching is out of order just read this lengthy article from 2007 http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-428541/Dying-whiter-The-black-women-risk-lives-lighter-skin.html

 The stand was large and had prime position as you entered the exhibition. Thousands of African/Caribbean people attended. Dee Marshall was appalled “ I was just shocked! It was so blatant! At an event where you’re supposed to find out how to be maintain or enhance your African beauty they are selling you products that make black skin white. Shyla Jaffrin was sad and disappointed . “I’m Asian and I have two daughters that are mixed African/Asian I went there specifically to find out exactly how to care for my childrens hair. When I asked at various stalls I got no help whatsoever. To make it worse there’s this stall telling me to whiten my skin.” Abi Adeogun stated, “I’d never been before and went there thinking I’d get something like Adornment. All I got was wigs, weaves and skin bleaching. It was trash. I was really annoyed. My skin is dark brown what message does that stall send to me?”


Leyla Hussein and Aisha Phoenix set up Inpsired Black Women as a result of the experiences they had in Senegal where they encountered numerous women who were bleaching. They ran a Black Beauty workshop at the Museum in Docklands last year and were initially criticised for screening a film which explored the issue. Some of the audience felt that things had “moved on” since the ‘old days’ and the topic of ‘light skin/dark skin’ and ‘good hair/bad hair’ was no longer relevant. The fact is that there are primary schools where African children when asked to draw themselves, colour themselves pink and give themselves long straight hair.

The Afro Hair and Beauty show was set up by Dyke and Dryden with Tony Wade in 1982. Dyke and Dryden was the most successful black business at the time. They had a strong Garveyite business ethic . After seeking a buyer from the black community with no success the company was sold to Soft Sheen in 1997 and is now owned by L’Oreal. Dark and Lovely is a brand of L’Oreal. It is surely ironic that Dark and Lovely promotes skin whitening cream sales.

Brother T has been runnning Black Women Hair Skin and Beauty workshops since 2004. He states “Clearly I am not doing enough if this is happening. Those who know their history will have no problem indentifying where this attitude came from. That’s why I run monthly film shows on history. Sadly the majority of people never attend such events which means their ignorance is passed on to their youth

At a Black Women Hair, Skin and Beauty workshop in 2005 Ken Barnes of www.kenbarnes.co.uk  made the following statement, “The fact is this, irrespective of the perception other people have of you, you as an individual control the perception you have of yourself. Unless you give others the power, they cannot make you feel bad.”

Find Out More

Visit our Eventbrite page to see all of our upcoming walks, tours and talks.

Book Now

Reviews of Black History Walks, Tours & Talks

Don’t miss out some of the most fascinating and historically interesting events in London. Sign up to our free newsletter for updates on coming events or book one of our walks and talks today!

[testimonial_rotator id=325]