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Date: Feature Week of February 15, 2004
Topic: Black Press Business/Economic
Author: William Reed
Article ID: article_ema021504

AMERICAN BLACK HISTORY INCLUDES HAITI

Blacks Buy Into America’s Economic Destabilization

Without thought as to why; most African Americans buy into media descriptions of Haiti being “the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere”.  Instead of being viewed with pride as “the world's first Black-led republic” and the first Caribbean state to achieve independence, the first things many African Americans think about Haiti is it as a place of  poverty, environmental degradation, violence and instability.

A largely mountainous country with a tropical climate, Haiti's location, history and culture, epitomized by voodoo, with its associated music, drumming and dancing, once made it a tourist hot spot.  Today’s African American traveler will grieve over Haiti’s political problems, but rarely consider visiting the place for tourism or Slave Revolt Bi-Centennial celebrations.

The country used to attract tourists from all over the world.  In its heyday, Haiti was ranked the Caribbean's top tourist destination and called the Pearl of the Antilles.  Fifty years ago, movie stars such as Errol Flynn and Ava Gardner flocked to Haiti, seduced by the Caribbean country's wild scenery, glitzy hotels and exotic culture.  Were it not for attacks against President Jean-Bertrand Aristide during the period, Black America travelers too could have enjoyed the country and its annual Carnival festival, Feb 23rd-25th,  as well as Haitian art in Port-au-Prince’s shops and boutiques.

Instability and violence in Haiti since the 1980s damper any prospects of many African Americans dropping their tourism dollars enjoying Haiti’s highlife anytime soon.  Haitian Creole food combines French, tropical and African influences.  The island drink is rum, of which the best known is ‘Barbancourt’ made by the white branch of Haiti’s oldest family of rum and brandy distillers.  A vestige of French colonization, rum in Haiti made in the same way as Cognac in France, represents a significant investment in the country.   “Barbancourt” rum is named after an immigrant who came from Bordeaux, France in 1765 - Louis Barbancourt.  Barbancourt’s industries somehow survived the Slave Revolt and today employs 250 and says its production activities are responsible for the livelihood of 20,000 people. 

Why is it 200 years after it became the world’s first independent Black republic, Haiti is in such a dire state?  As a French colony, it enjoyed fabulous riches from its sugar-cane.  Two centuries later it is the poorest country in the Americas—the average income of its 8 people is $480 a year, just over a dollar a day.  A third of the population is chronically malnourished and the U.S. Department of State, headed by African American Colin Powell, refuses to release $300 in funds due Haiti from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund since 2000.

From a distance, African American lament the mass sufferings of Haitians.  If they take a closer look, Black Americans would see, paradoxically, that Haiti’s troubles are rooted in its success of shaking off the shackles of slavery.  Their erstwhile masters never forgave them.  Indeed, France exacted $120 million ($21.7 billion in today’s money) in 1804 as reparations after independence was won.  Externally-imposed economic woes have plagued Haiti from its birth.  President Thomas Jefferson launched an economic embargo against Haiti, causing the U.S. and Europe to refuse to acknowledge its independence for decades, fearing the slave revolt would spread into their lands.

When politically native African Americans ask for U.S. intervention in Haiti, they should note what the next U.S. intervention did to destabilize Haiti and its economy.  In 1915, Haiti's proximity to the strategically important Windward Passage, which separates it from Cuba, became more important to the U.S. after the Panama Canal turned the channel into a major shipping lane.  To gain military control of the passage, and; supposedly to help stabilize Haiti in accordance with the Monroe Doctrine, U.S. troops seized Haiti's gold deposits, revamped its constitution and disbanded the army replacing it with a US police force.  American troops implemented several public works, building hospitals, clinics and roads, but their use of forced prison labor to do it didn't win them any popularity points with the locals.  When U.S. finally pulled out in 1934, they left little infrastructure and a shattered economy.

Black Americans have the power to make things better for a country that should be a model for Black people all over the world.  The former Pearl of the Antilles is on the verge of economic collapse and civil war.  Haiti is decaying due to lack of jobs and mass hunger while U.S. politicians maintain their centuries-old posture regarding it.  At minimum, all African Americans should call the White House (202.456.1111) and insist Bush administration officials, including the colorblind top two foreign policy-makers, encourage the unblocking of the hundreds of millions of frozen dollars of Haitian aid.

XXX

© 2000-2003 William Reed - www.BlackPressInternational.com

 

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