6 February 2010
Prior to the most recent disaster there were signs of progress in Haiti. As well as greater political stability and some gains in the fight against poverty, the country had also reached a significant milestone in the debt cancellation process: $1.2 billion owed to bilateral and multilateral institutions had been completely dropped -however a significant debt burden still remains.
The popular image of Haiti has been of a country characterized by mismanagement, ineptitude and corruption, however it is worth recalling some of the history of this second-oldest republic in the Western Hemisphere (after the United States).
Haiti succeeded in winning its independence in 1805 after a slave revolt that developed into a particularly bloody ten-year war. Unlike the other newly founded republics France and the United States, Haiti totally renounced slavery; a stance that resulted in Haiti being ostracised and denied access to world trade, finance, and institutional development from its birth – a situation for which France and the United States in particular bear responsibility, along with the other major European powers.
To gain acceptance in the world community the Haitian government was eventually forced to accept terms (including the payment of billions of dollars in ‘reparations’ to France - payments which took more than a century to pay off). This resulted in the exploitation and impoverishment of the Haitian people.
The wake of the current disaster provides an opportunity to correct a long-standing injustice.