Postcard sugar cane plantation, Haiti 19th century. ©SCRBC

Blame it on France

Before the devastation of the 12 January earthquake, Haiti was already an economic disaster zone, crippled by centuries-old debt at the hands of its former colonial master – France. A “j’accuse” from Ben Mcintyre in The Times.

Published on 21 January 2010 at 12:04
Postcard sugar cane plantation, Haiti 19th century. ©SCRBC

Where does the fault lie in Haiti? For geologists, it lies on the line between the North American and Caribbean tectonic plates. For some, the earthquake is evidence of God’s wrath: the American evangelist Pat Robertson has even suggested that the horror is recompense for some voodoo pact made with the Devil at Haiti’s birth. More sensible voices point to the procession of despots who have plundered Haiti over the years, depriving it of an effective infrastructure and rendering it uniquely vulnerable to natural disaster. But for many Haitians, the fault lies earlier — with Haiti’s colonial experience, the slavers and extortionists of empire who crippled it with debt and permanently stunted the economy. The fault line runs back 200 years, directly to France.

In the 18th century, Haiti was France’s imperial jewel, the Pearl of the Caribbean, the largest sugar exporter in the world. Even by colonial standards, the treatment of slaves working the Haitian plantations was truly vile. They died so fast that, at times, France was importing 50,000 slaves a year to keep up the numbers and the profits. Inspired by the principles of the French Revolution, in 1791 the slaves rebelled under the leadership of the self-educated slave Toussaint L’Ouverture. After a vicious war, Napoleon’s forces were defeated. Haiti declared independence in 1804. As Haiti struggles with new misfortune, it is worth remembering that noble achievement — this is the only nation to gain independence by a slave-led rebellion, the first black republic, and the second oldest republic in the western hemisphere. Haiti was founded on a demand for liberty from people whose liberty had been stolen: the country itself is a tribute to human resilience and freedom. Read full article in The Times...

From Brussels

A humanitarian and institutional mess

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Over a week after the earthquake hit Haiti, the EU still hasn’t put together a coordinated humanitarian aid response, bewails the European press. "After all the high-flown rhetoric about the Union’s role as a player in the global arena, it’s embarrassing to see how weak and opaque the EU’s handling of the situation has been,” complains Dagens Nyheter. The Swedish daily reports that “member countries are putting their own humanitarian operations in place”, whilst European officials are busy making mutually contradictory statements. "The newly-appointed president of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, says he wants to set up a task force for humanitarian disasters.” But the High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Catherine Ashton, "has never even mentioned it”, the paper points out.

"Until recently, the EU’s excuse for its low international profile was the hold-up on the Lisbon Treaty’s coming into force,” remarks Spanish daily La Vanguardia. Now, it's "the new institutions’ teething troubles that are to blame: the Haitian crisis interrupted Van Rompuy’s tour of European capitals, and Baroness Ashton opted to remain in Brussels on the advice of Commission president José Manuel Barroso." Given the EU’s inertia, Spain, currently presiding over the Union, “has sent its own government’s second in command, María Teresa Fernández de la Vega, to Haiti to show the EU’s support for the Haitian people". "The word in Brussels is that the Spanish presidency’s first priority should have been to coordinate action with Catherine Ashton," reports Slovak daily SME. "Although the whole point of the new post was to make European diplomacy more effective and transparent, unfortunately it only seems to have brought a new bureaucratic logjam to Brussels.” As a matter of fact, SME concludes dryly, “If you’re looking for aid, and on the double, you’d be better off not turning to Brussels.”

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