Why Haiti’s Legacy Makes it Far From a ‘Shithole.’

If rumors are to be believed, President Trump referred to Haiti as a ‘shithole.’ The President and his allies vehemently deny it, but the opposition sticks by what they heard. Fact of the matter is, Haiti is historically responsible for more free countries than one might expect of the half-island nation. To boot, we also have the Louisiana territory and our resource-rich nation stretching from sea-to-sea because of Haiti. 

Starting out as a French colony in the Carribean, Haiti was known for producing vast quantities of sugar that kept the French aristocrats rich, and the racial hierarchy it shared with Spanish-owned properties. At the bottom were African slaves, black freedmen, mixed peoples, whites native to Haiti and French-born people. That was the society structure Haiti was founded upon.  

Following the turmoil of the French revolution, Haiti still considered itself loyal to France on the principle that the French Republic, which stood for equality, fraternity and liberty, would free them. And they’d be right if the Committe of Public Safety were still in power, but instead it was the day of Napoleon.  

Napoleon dreamed of a great French colonial empire and wanted to essentially reinstitute slavery in all but name. This sat well with none of the colony’s military leaders like Toussaint Louverture and Jean-Jacques Dessalines, who themselves supported emancipation of the slaves. 

They declared independence, armed themselves, and waited for the inevitable response. Napoleon did send a response in the form of Charles Leclerc, who died of yellow fever as did a third of his army. His successor used dogs specifically trained to chase after black slaves, as a means of torturing and killing prisoners to intimidate dissenters. After two brutal years of guerilla warfare, yellow fever, anti-black genocide, and dogs tearing the throats out of Hatian prisoners while Leclerc’s successor laughed, the Haitian forces had defeated the French in 1804. 

So that’s one free country, whoop-de-doo, right? Wrong, our story does not end there but continues in 1803. Because Napoleon saw his forces had no chance in the former colony, the Emperor saw little realism in his dream of a colonial empire, and promptly sold Louisiana territory to the United States in order to fund France’s strength in the War of the Third Coalition. 

Our story then goes back to Haiti. In 1813, a young Venezuelan named Simon Bolivar had been exiled from his home for a second time after another failed revolution. This Spanish-American gentlemen interested the then-Haitian leader and independence veteran, Alexander Petion.  

Petion would grant Bolivar men, ships and weapons to help his independence movement on one condition – every country he liberated would free all slaves. Bolivar left for his home country of Venezuela in 1816. By 1825, not a single Spanish flag flew in South America and every slave in every country he visited was made into a free person. 

This was 40 years before we decided slavery should be abolished. It is because of Haiti that a continent is free. In 1915, the United States invaded Haiti and essentially occupied it until 1934. In this occupation, the economy of Haiti (which was mostly in foreign debt banks because of the French demand for restitution) had stagnated more than it already had. By 1934, Haiti was having elections for the presidency again, but a regressive dictator turned Haiti into a hermit kingdom by 1957. The Duvaliers held a tight grip on the country until 1986 when democracy had finally returned to Haiti.  

If Haiti is a “shithole,” it’s because we made it that way in 1915. 

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