Haiti’s past and how it has affected its present
Haiti is a small Caribbean nation that is located in the South America continent. The country covers a geographical expanse of about ten thousand square miles, and has a population of about nine million five hundred thousand people. Haiti is an island that boasts of high mountains in most regions. The largest city in this nation, which also doubles as the capital city is called Port-au-Prince. Initially, in the early years, the island was named la Isla Espanola meaning the Spanish island (Lehning, 165). Haiti is a French speaking country, a language it inherited from its colonial master, France. Recorded history of this Latin American nation can be dated back to the 15th century when the European navigator, Christopher Columbus visited the country in one of his voyages (McPherson, 174). Haiti was colonized by two European countries, Spain and France. Under the Spaniard rule it never realized its economic potential. It only remained as an area of strategic importance and as a gateway to the Caribbean.
During the scramble for colonies by the European nations, three nations showed great interest in the country. This nations are; Britain, France and Spain. However, as stipulated in their colonial plans, France ended up occupying Haiti in the 17th century. During the French occupation, the country flourished in the agricultural sector. France regarded Haiti to as its most important overseas state as it supplied the mother state with coffee, sugar and cotton. During the colonial period, numerous deaths were experienced especially by the natives who were not immune to the world diseases (Eric, 201).
During the colonial period, Haiti experienced immense racial segregation. The French imposed a three tiered social structure. At the top of this social structure were the white elite. This group was mainly composed of the white settlers in Haiti whose main origin was France. The elite were given a symbolic name “the grand blanks”. The group was composed of elite people who had almost full control over the political, social and economic activities in Hispaniola (Lehning 768). At the middle of the social system, there were the freed men also known as affranchise. The group was composed of slave owners and the slaves. They were also known as mullatoes. This group was relatively wealthy. Some freed men had inherited land and even owned slaves. They were better placed in the society but were inferior to the grand blancs.at the bottom lied the black slaves. Most of these slaves had been sourced from Africa during the slave trade era (Neal 298). The slaves were owned by the white elite or the freed men. They were used as a source of cheap labour in plantations and in industries. There also existed another group of white men called the petite blanks. The group considered itself politically superior to the mullatoes but was placed lower economically.
White landowners, who were politically superior to the other social groups, made legislations that were discriminative and weakened them. There were laws made to forbid the slaves and the mullatoes from taking certain professions to ensure continued supremacy of the white. Other discriminative laws forbade the two weak social groups from wearing whites’ clothing, intermarrying with the whites, carrying weapons and even attending social functions. The increased racial segregation eventually became so detailed that it was called the castle system (Alan 567).
The racism against Haiti exists up to date. There exists a racist bias against the Haitians by the Dominicans and is called in a Spanish name anti-haitiansimo, which translates to anti-Haitiansim. This racial discrimination by the Dominicans who are descendants of the Spaniards can be traced back to the racial segregation put into place by their Spanish colonial masters. This has not only increased tension between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, but has also contributed to the anti-Haitian sentiments by the Dominicans.
By mid-18th century, the French settlers had begun occupying Hispaniola. They began slowly by settling in the island of Tortuga off the north coast. Later on, they moved, occupied and settled in the north coast, which is today known as Haiti. The French settlement was at first called Saint-Dominguez. During this period of French occupation, this Caribbean island experienced massive economic growth, which was foreseen by the French (Neal 217). Sugar and coffee plantations were established in the country. The country became a great exporter of sugar and coffee especially to Britain. This massive agricultural and industrial prosperity solely relied on slave labor. The French government sourced slaves from Africa especially Dahomey in West Africa.
This French occupation had a great impact in the racial composition of Haiti even to the present day. The French whites interbred with the black slaves giving rise to a new subpopulation known as the mullatoes. Since black slaves subjugated the population in Haiti, the country has now become a home of freed black slaves who trace their ancestry to Africa. After the slave rebellion Napoleon Bonaparte sent polish troops in a bid to recapture it again (Erick, 478). After they failed in their mission, some polish soldiers remained in Haiti. Therefore, the current racial composition in Haiti can be attributed to the French occupation.
In the 1910s to 1930s the United States fought to occupy Haiti. The U.S marines occupied the country. The military wing on the other hand took control of the Haitian monetary system by collecting all currency in the banks and holding it in New York. This occupation had adverse effects on the Haitian nation at large especially economically and the peoples self-image (Bulker, 197). The Haitians fought against the United States occupation and were successful in 1934. This mission enabled Haiti to acquire a military wing. The United States up to date interacts with Haiti. Haiti receives donor aid from the U.S as it tries to safeguard its economic and political interests. It has been argued that Haiti U.S interaction has brought problems and not solutions. However, it has worked tirelessly to foster democracy and good governance, promoted respect of human rights, alleviated poverty and illiteracy and has countered illegal drug trafficking in the Haitian nation.
Francois Duvalier was the ruler of Haiti between 1957 and 1971 when he died. He opposed a military coup d’état to take over the leadership of Haiti. He produced a constitution in which the roles and the rights of the civilian population were clearly stipulated. Later, he unconstitutionally replaced the bicameral legislature with a unicameral one (Lehning, 346). His dictatorial regime began when he went against lawful prohibition against his reelection and took over the leadership mantle for a second term. In 1964 he made an astonishing move to declare himself president for life. He re-organized the military structure of Haiti after an attempted coup to overthrow his regime. He made replacements in the elite military chiefs for the purpose of protecting his personal interests.
Duvalier formed a secretive police wing called Ton Ton makouts which exceeded the military power. This force mainly worked on expanding Duvalier’s territory in the rural areas. The presidential guard on the other hand stayed vigilant against Duvalier’s enemies in the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince (McPherson, 103). Duvalier’s regime can be classified as a dictatorial one. In his regime massive corruption and extortions from the industrial sector were done to run his security forces (Alan, 179). Government funds were channeled to personal usage by Duvalier and his close allies. His regime was characterized by massive brutality against the public especially those opposed to him. More than forty thousand Haitians were murdered during his rule. The Duvalier regime initiated a wave of political unrest in Haiti. A great number of Haitians went to exile to seek asylum. Many of the economic, political and social problems can be traced back to the Duvalier dictatorial regime.
The sum up of all the activities done in the past by the colonial masters, her neighbor’s, and rulers has had a big impact on the current situation in Haiti economically, socially and politically. Haiti has been rated as the poorest nation in both South and North American continents. Haiti was hit by a powerful earthquake with the most affected place being its capital, Port-au-Prince. The earthquake has had devastating effects on the economy of Haiti as it caused massive harm on both people and property. More than two hundred thousand people were left dead a hundred and fifty thousand displaced and most economic activities were disrupted.
The Haitian government has continued to channel efforts towards generation of revenue. The revenue is used to finance investments which are essential in rebuilding the nation. Great efforts have been made to improve economic governance in this dilapidated nation. Various American countries have also chirped in to assist in the rebuilding of this nation to avoid it’s crumbling down. Canada has been the main donor towards assisting the reconstruction of Haiti. It provided humanitarian and financial support to the country especially after the earthquake tragedy. A total of more than one billion US dollars was donated to Haiti by Canada. The USA has also been materially assisting the country to enable it recover from the economic drawbacks it has faced over time.
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