The chain of tragedies unfolding in Haiti today as in the past has raised a frequent question: “why is the country so unlucky?” “. In just over a month, Haitians witnessed the assassination of a president and another earthquake, which claimed at least 2,000 lives.
The lightness of the investigation, however, overshadows the truth. The recent dark events are not linked to terrible bad luck, but to a history marked by a colonial slave past, in which foreign interference has always been constant. The result, in addition to a faltering economy, fragile institutions, vulnerability to corruption and immense inequalities, extreme poverty, which prevents the country from responding properly to natural tragedies.
Haiti was one of the most brutally exploited colonies by Europeans. And also one of the most profitable, producing 45% of the sugar consumed on the planet. Historical documentation records the use of torture and terrible retribution of African slaves by French settlers. In 1789, there were 55,000 free people in the country, and over 500,000 slaves. Over 10% of the slave population died of disease and 70% did not reach the age of 30 from overwork and abuse.
In 1791, the process known as the Haitian Revolution began, which led to the proclamation of independence in 1804. Marked by violence against whites, the process gave birth to the first republic ruled by African descendants in the Americas. And it has become a symbol for other South American rebellions.
The cost of this historic process, however, was high. The French tried several times to retake the territory, not without a lot of blood. In the nascent Haitian society, the idea that the country’s leaders should be authoritarian and have a firm hand grew stronger, which over time would give way to the military to become a key player in the country’s command.
In the 20th century, things weren’t easier, with an American invasion in 1915 that resulted in an occupation for almost 20 years. A family dictatorship and cult of leaders began in 1957, with François Duvalier, and continued with his son, Jean-Claude, until 1986. Both are known under the names of Papa Doc and Baby Doc. , to pursue opponents.
Re-democratization had barely begun when, in 1994, there was yet another American intervention, this time to oust from power a brutal military regime installed by a coup against then-elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. North Americans would remain in the country until 1995. Since then, Haitian leaders have had to deal with the legacy of so many years of political and economic instability and growing poverty, in a country with institutions and structures. precarious in the fields of health and education, among others. In this territory, corruption and violence flourished.
In recent years, the country has seen the formation of gangs, especially in large cities, occupying spaces where there is a vacuum of power. Kidnappings have become a common weapon of control and extortion. In the months preceding the still mysterious assassination of Jovenel Moïse, the armed crisis due to the questioning of his legitimacy increased the power vacuum, which now, with his death, has already turned into an abyss.
International efforts to try to rebuild the country after the 2010 earthquake, which claimed more than 200,000 lives, have not been enough. The situation is only getting worse with the departure of some NGOs on charges of embezzlement. According to the UN, due to the impact of the pandemic on the local economy, Haiti 4.4 million of its 11 million inhabitants suffer from hunger.
So it’s not bad luck. The drama that strikes Haiti today is poverty. Poverty caused by hundreds of bad decisions, usually made by foreign actors or local dictators. As long as there is no democratically elected government with international support to invest in the structure and strengthening of the country’s institutions, we will continue to see sad episodes like the most recent. Bringing medicine and food to Haitians every earthquake does not help the underlying problem, and that is what the international community should be opening its eyes to.