Kim begins with some history as to how Haiti got into it's miserable state in the first place. With folklore and biased opinions being heard last week we made that history a focus on for our snippet. Kim goes into some possible solutions for Haiti to finish his piece, and it is well worth reading the whole commentary.
Haiti's vulnerability to natural disasters, its food shortages, poverty, deforestation and lack of infrastructure, are not accidental. To say that it is the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere is to miss the point; Haiti was made poor--by France, the United States, Great Britain, other Western powers and by the IMF and the World Bank.
Now, in its attempts to help Haiti, the IMF is pursuing the same kinds of policies that made Haiti a geography of precariousness even before the quake. To great fanfare, the IMF announced a new $100 million loan to Haiti on Thursday. In one crucial way, the loan is a good thing; Haiti is in dire straits and needs a massive cash infusion. But the new loan was made through the IMF's extended credit facility, to which Haiti already has $165 million in debt. Debt relief activists tell me that these loans came with conditions, including raising prices for electricity, refusing pay increases to all public employees except those making minimum wage and keeping inflation low. They say that the new loans would impose these same conditions. In other words, in the face of this latest tragedy, the IMF is still using crisis and debt as leverage to compel neoliberal reforms.
For Haiti, this is history repeated. As historians have documented, the impoverishment of Haiti began in the earliest decades of its independence, when Haiti's slaves and free gens de couleur rallied to liberate the country from the French in 1804. But by 1825, Haiti was living under a new kind of bondage--external debt. In order to keep the French and other Western powers from enforcing an embargo, it agreed to pay 150 million francs in reparations to French slave owners (yes, that's right, freed slaves were forced to compensate their former masters for their liberty). In order to do that, they borrowed millions from French banks and then from the US and Germany. As Alex von Tunzelmann pointed out, "by 1900, it [Haiti] was spending 80 percent of its national budget on repayments."
It took Haiti 122 years, but in 1947 the nation paid off about 60 percent, or 90 million francs, of this debt (it was able to negotiate a reduction in 1838). In 2003, then-President Aristide called on France to pay restitution for this sum--valued in 2003 dollars at over $21 billion. A few months later, he was ousted in a coup d'etat; he claims he left the country under armed pressure from the US.