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Don't Give Up On Haiti

Allison Brown

Haiti is many things, but one thing it is NOT.  It is not a lost cause. For every American who looks a lot like me and who has a similar ancestry as I do, our ancestors likely played a small role in stacking the deck against this small Caribbean island. But all of our families' small roles combined had an enormous impact.

I've traced my family tree back to the 1600's and to the names of the first immigrants from England who came to what would become the US, a country whose economy, while diverse as it was from north to south, was still heavily dependant on slave labor. Yes, north to south, not just in the agricultural economy of the south.

Haiti was one of the primary trading points for new slaves coming to the new world from West Africa. And when those slaves rose up against their French captors starting in the late 1700's they became the first free black republic in the world. In 1804 Haiti became the second independent nation in the western hemisphere after the United States. But rather than applaud their monumental achievement of independence from their European colonizers, just as we had done less than 30 years prior, we sided with our French allies and Haiti was shut off from the outside world. No trade with Haiti was allowed. Any ship with a Haitian flag was considered a pirate. Haiti's economy was almost completely dependant on international trade, a country that had supplied half of the entire world's coffee consumption in the late 1700's and before the 1804 revolution was the number one world supplier of sugar, a position that they would never return to.

For 38 years Haiti sat in total isolation until president Abraham Lincoln officially recognized the small island nation in 1862. It's hard to imagine a complete and total embargo on a country for their most important years, the years directly after independence. The results were devastating to the economy and in turn to the society as a whole. Without significant revenue from commodity exports the government and the country was set back, not 38 years, but hundreds of years to a way of life that resembled the middle ages rather than the dawn of the industrial era which spread from Europe to the United States in the 1830's and 1840's. And on top of the isolation, in order to avoid a later French invasion, the young Haitian nation was forced into paying reparations to the French. Yes, reparations to the very people who kidnapped them from Africa and brought them there as forced labor under deplorable conditions. And as a testament to the convictions of the people of Haiti they paid those reparations, it took 122 years, and totaled what is an estimated amount of $21 Billion in today's dollars. If the isolation wasn't enough to destroy the economy any revenue the central government did receive was used to make their financial payments to France, leaving the government chronically insolvent.

This is only a glimpse of what happened in Haiti. I've not even touched on the US total occupation of the island to protect our financial interest there in the early 1900's or when US Marines invaded the Haitian national reserve and removed the entire gold reserves on hand, valued at about $13 million in today's dollars. This was done at the bequest of Citibank, formerly National City Bank, who the Haitian government owed money to but had NEVER missed a payment. Nor have I mentioned the massive trade embargo from the 80's nor the flooding of the Haitian market with US rice in the 90's, or the mass eradication of the Haitian, well adapted swine, in favor of a pretty pink American pig that wasn't able to thrive in the heat. Nor did I mention the devastation of hurricane after hurricane or the massive 2010 earthquake.

All of this is to say, Don't give up on the people of Haiti. Don't draw quick and uninformed opinions about Haiti. Don't try to solve deep rooted problems with quick projects that do far more for those doing them than for the supposed beneficiaries of those projects. And if you have time to add one more thing to your prayer list, and if you've read this far you are obviously a bit invested, please pray for those leaders in Haiti, those who have not immigrated somewhere else, those who still believe in the future of this nation, and those who want Jesus to live in the hearts of all Haitians.

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