By Guest Contributor Shannon Joyce Prince
Ou konn kouri, ou pa konn kache – You know how to run, but you don’t know how to hide.
Synecdoche is a figure of speech in which one tells of the whole by evoking a part. In my original piece “Why Haiti Matters,” I said that one reason the nation matters is that it is the world’s teacher. Haiti’s poverty and misery are the result of a mammoth crime that is two hundred years old and continues to this day, but the crime that destroyed Haiti is not exceptional. By studying the historical and contemporary situation of Haiti in detail, we can learn how poverty and injustice worldwide are created, perpetuated, and framed by powerful and wealthy individuals, organizations, corporations, and governments.
Dye mon, gen mon – Beyond the mountain is another mountain.
I mentioned in my previous essay that after the slave uprising that brought Haiti independence, the US helped force Haiti to pay 150 million francs to France as reparations to Haitian slave-owners for their loss of property. That act and its repercussions merit a detailed description because the mechanics of them reveal how poverty is created. Since Haiti’s former slaves didn’t have money to pay the reparations, they had no choice but to take out giant loans from American, German, and French banks.[i] Haiti’s “debt” to France was so great that it took nearly a century and a half to pay – and contributed to a century and a half of Haitian poverty. For example, in 1900 80% of Haiti’s economy was spent on repaying its debt. The debt, eventually lowered to the still exorbitant level of 60 million francs plus interest, wasn’t paid off until 1947. The total amount Haiti paid, in today’s currency, equals billions. Having to devote such vast resources to paying back its debt left little money for Haiti to meets its needs which caused the multifaceted and extreme misery Haiti suffers today. The country was so poor when it finished paying back France that it had to continue borrowing (often from those same countries who victimized Haiti in the first place) just to survive, and paying back those debts resulted in further poverty – a vicious circle.
The mere idea of slaves paying reparations to slave-owners is unspeakably evil. Haitian slavery was a brutal system of forced labor, sexual assault, maternal and infant mortality, torture, displacement, eradication of culture, separation of families, beatings, horrendous living conditions, rampant disease without healthcare, malnutrition, outright murder, and murder by premature death from the above mentioned situations. The average life expectancy of a Haitian slave was only 21 years.[ii] Haitian plantations were concentration camps. Haitian slavery meets the 1948 UN Convention on Genocide’s [iii] definition of genocide – that this fact has gone unrecognized is a travesty and a tragedy. Yet again, the situation is not anomalous. The enslavement of Africans on the Middle Passage and throughout the Western hemisphere, the conquest of American Indians, the deaths of ten million in the Congo under King Leopold, and other sufferings of the colonized and enslaved are unrecognized genocides – history notes far too infrequently white acts of barbarism against non-whites or labels such acts and their details incorrectly.