As explained in Part I - The Cost of Liberation, Haiti’s enduring poverty is a direct consequence of France’s excessive payment demanded from the self-liberated nation. Despite President Boyer’s negotiations to lower the remaining debt from 120 to 60 millions of francs in 1838, it still represented over ten times Haiti’s annual revenues.
Although France acknowledged Haiti’s independence in 1825, the United States only granted diplomatic recognition much later in 1862 and concurrently ended its trade embargo.
Dr. Brandon R. Byrd explains that this delay was due to U.S politicians’ fear that recognizing Haiti’s liberation would “undermine their own systems of slavery and white supremacy” considering that they were still enslaving until 1865.
As it is historically common after revolutions, Haiti suffered from multiple military coups and political instability between the U.S. diplomatic recognition in 1862 and 1915. Still, despite the extortionary debt and political turmoil, Haiti was able to maintain a certain economic stability through its exports. In fact, “the volume of coffee exports doubled between 1825 and the U.S. occupation in 1915 from around 40 to 80 millions pounds annually. Rather, it is argued that the economic downfall of Haiti occurred around 1890 with both the fall of coffee prices and Haiti’s dependence on this single crop. This shockwave was the direct repercussion of an overproduction of coffee in Brazil after its abolition of slavery in 1888 when supply surpassed demand and caused prices to fall below costs of production.
This proved to be catastrophic for Haiti as the value of coffee exports declined, “bringing with it inevitably a decline in the value of all exports”.
Economic and political instability in the nation combined with U.S. President Wilson’s fear of the spread of communism in the region led to a U.S. invasion and a brutal military occupation which lasted from 1915 until 1934.
The U.S. took advantage of this power grab to forcefully control Haiti’s finances, customs, collect taxes and run governmental institutions all the while violently suppressing any opposition to this occupation.
U.S. occupiers even rewrote some laws to allow foreigners to purchase lands. By changing the law to their advantage, it encouraged many U.S. companies to buy lands in Haiti and establish businesses as well as Canadian companies such as the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) which all stayed well after the end of the occupation in 1934.
By controlling Haiti’s finances, the United States took over the outstanding debt to France through the National City Bank of New York (now CitiBank) in 1922.
From this moment on, Haiti was economically dependent on the United States instead of France and had to make payments to CitiBank until the debt and interests were finally paid off in 1947.
With France and the United States’ crucial part in Haiti’s enduring oppression detailed, it is easier to comprehend the tight connections between colonialism, coffee and most importantly white supremacy. As explained by Frederick Douglass, “we have not yet forgiven Haiti for being black”. Indeed, the sanctions placed on Haiti after its self-liberation were deliberately preventing it to thrive as an independent nation.
The extortionary debt and the constant U.S. imperialist interventions ensured that Haiti would stay economically dependent on foreign support, a tragic persistence of its colonial past.
This coerced economic and diplomatic depedence also served as punishment for Haiti having the audacity to liberate itself from slavery and causing colonizers and settlers to lose profits. Regrettably, Haiti is still experiencing the consequences as the nation is now dependent on foreign aid provided by the same states that were exploiting it for centuries.
*all references here.
Roxanne completed her Bachelor of Arts at McGill University in December 2020 with a double major in Art History and Latin American and Caribbean Studies. She was a part of the team of student researchers led by Dr. Charmaine A. Nelson to uncover and document McGill’s connections to slavery. Her academic interests include Canada’s involvement in the Transatlantic Slave Trade and its enduring consequences and legacies as well as topics such as social justice, anti-capitalism and decolonization. IG: @why.so.corny