Help Haiti: Cancel Haiti’s Debt

The Times: France gained the western third of the island of Hispaniola — the territory that is now Haiti — in 1697. It planted sugar and coffee, supported by an unprecedented increase in the importation of African slaves. Economically, the result was a success, but life as a slave was intolerable. Living conditions were squalid, disease was rife, and beatings and abuses were universal. The slaves’ life expectancy was 21 years. After a dramatic slave uprising that shook the western world, and 12 years of war, Haiti finally defeated Napoleon’s forces in 1804 and declared independence. But France demanded reparations: 150m francs, in gold.

For Haiti, this debt did not signify the beginning of freedom, but the end of hope. Even after it was reduced to 60m francs in the 1830s, it was still far more than the war-ravaged country could afford. Haiti was the only country in which the ex-slaves themselves were expected to pay a foreign government for their liberty. By 1900, it was spending 80% of its national budget on repayments. In order to manage the original reparations, further loans were taken out — mostly from the United States, Germany and France. Instead of developing its potential, this deformed state produced a parade of nefarious leaders, most of whom gave up the insurmountable task of trying to fix the country and looted it instead. In 1947, Haiti finally paid off the original reparations, plus interest. Doing so left it destitute, corrupt, disastrously lacking in investment and politically volatile. Haiti was trapped in a downward spiral, from which it is still impossible to escape. It remains hopelessly in debt to this day.

As Alex at Luna17 reports Haiti now owes $641 million in debt. To put this in context that debt is owed by 8 and a half million people of which 75% of the population live on less than $2 per day and 56% live on less than $1 per day.

The continued imposition of debt taken out by undemocratic and rapacious governments is immoral. To do so in a country which has been deformed by debt since its birth is a wicked joke of history.

This debt and this poverty matter now more than ever. It affect the life chances of millions of people and makes the relatively mundane tragic. For example,  since 1950 the structural integrity of buildings and the quality of infrastructure in the rich world have improved dramatically so that loss of life after an earthquake is typically 10 times higher in developing countries than in rich and the damage as much as 100 times higher.

This isn’t because we wanted to avoid these deaths more, it is because we could afford to. This earthquake is a humanitarian disaster not just because the planet is cruel but because the people of Haiti are poor – and we are helping to keep them poor.

The noble “international community” which is currently scrambling to send its “humanitarian aid” to Haiti is largely responsible for the extent of the suffering it now aims to reduce. Ever since the US invaded and occupied the country in 1915, every serious political attempt to allow Haiti’s people to move (in former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s phrase) “from absolute misery to a dignified poverty” has been violently and deliberately blocked by the US government and some of its allies.

Aristide’s own government (elected by some 75% of the electorate) was the latest victim of such interference, when it was overthrown by an internationally sponsored coup in 2004 that killed several thousand people and left much of the population smouldering in resentment. The UN has subsequently maintained a large and enormously expensive stabilisation and pacification force in the country.

One step you can take is to sign the petition to cancel Haiti’s remaining debt HERE.

Please e-mail your friends details and let them know about this campaign. If you have your own blog then blog about this, or cross post the above.

And as before here are some charities which you can support, if you have not already. Again, please pass these details onto those who might not know how best to help yet.

  • Oxfam has long experience in Haiti, and they are rushing in teams from around the region to respond where they’re needed most. They already have a team in Port-au-Prince and their response will include providing clean water, shelter and sanitation. This is where my donation has been directed.
  • UNICEF have issued a statement that “Children are always the most vulnerable population in any natural disaster, and UNICEF is there for them.” UNICEF requests donations for relief for children in Haiti via their Haiti Earthquake Fund.
  • Medicins sand Frontieres are responding to the Earthquake in Haiti with their usual speed and efficiency and any donations would be of a great help.
  • Mercy Corps are also seeking donations so they can expand their aid efforts in Haiti.
  • The Haiti Emergency Relief Fund supports organizations giving humanitarian aid to the people of Haiti in the aftermath of this devastating earthquake

More organisations seeking donations are available here. Please help in whatever way you can – but especially by opening your wallet and taking 60 seconds to fill in a form.


Linky Love for the weekend

  • The Refugee Council have new research on asylum seekers: In-depth interviews with asylum seekers and refugees revealed that:
    • Over two thirds did not choose to come to the UK.
    • Most only discovered they were going to the UK after leaving their country of origin.
    • The primary objective for all those interviewed was reaching a place of safety.
    • Around three quarters had no knowledge of welfare benefits and support before coming to the UK – most had no expectation they would be given financial support.
    • 90% were working in their country of origin and very few were aware they would not be allowed to work when they arrived in the UK.
  • Giles Wilkes has written on conspicuous consumption in China: The price of ‘fine’ items – like Hirst artwork, say – is driven by demand, not supply or quality.  If there are rich people, who have a deep need to demonstrate that they are men of wealth and taste, then the price of the items that are conventionally linked to such qualities are bound to rise – hence the existence of How to Spend It magazine.
  • Lenny gets justifiably fucking furious with the Heritage Foundation: You want to hear about chutzpah? You want to hear about sheer gravity-defying audacity? Well, ladies and gentlemen, comrades and friends, prepare to catch your lower jaw. Forget Limbaugh’s racist anxieties. Forget about Pat Robertson drooling about Haiti’s ‘pact with the devil’. He’s a senile old bigot, and his sick provocations are familiar by now. This is the Heritage Foundation on the Haiti earthquake, which is estimated to have killed 100,000 people…
  • Matthew Yglesias on the Senate hearings on our financial crisis: The entire younger generation is going to suffer because of the massive debt-overhang. But Dimon and the Morgan crowd are still getting filthy rich in part thanks to government emergency measures designed to mitigate the crisis. And this is not because Morgan had tons of foresight. They didn’t even consider a scenario in which housing prices might fall. It’s an idiotic mistake. The exact same mistake that everyone else made. But they made it to a somewhat lesser extent than their leading competitors. So rather than suffering, they’re benefitting. It’s the miracle of capitalism!
  • Skeptical Science ask where the warming went this winter, and tell us:
  • Paul Cotterill reveals the Lancashire Tories’ secret privatisation plans: I’m well used to Tory incompetence and arrogance, but even I’ve been pretty shocked by the news that the Tory administration at Lancashire County Council, with the connivance of their Tory colleagues at West Lancashire Borough Council and other Tory boroughs across the County, have been secretly preparing a massive privatisation of services.
  • Dave Semple lauches a call to arms for the Union Movement: The strikes, the mass occupations of Parliament Square, the sporadic disruption of the national business must continue until Parliament votes to repeal these laws, and the other laws which represent a gross overreach as regards the diminishing rights of the individual. And make no mistake, the issues are totally connected; the organised labour movement – even in its atrophied state – remains the only consistent means whereby to control our political caste, even if that control remains moderated by the confines of capitalism.
  • Narco News – one of the best news sources for the Americas – describes the devastation of Haiti’s earthquake: Two buildings over, Joseph Matherenne cried as he directed the faint light of his cell phone’s screen over the bloody corpse of his 23-year-old brother. His body is draped over the rubble of the office where he worked as a video technician. Unlike most of the bodies in the street, there was no blanket to cover his face.
  • The Graun bring us up to date on Haiti’s history of imperial subjugation: The noble “international community” which is currently scrambling to send its “humanitarian aid” to Haiti is largely responsible for the extent of the suffering it now aims to reduce. Ever since the US invaded and occupied the country in 1915, every serious political attempt to allow Haiti’s people to move (in former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s phrase) “from absolute misery to a dignified poverty” has been violently and deliberately blocked by the US government and some of its allies.

Insufferable Bastards

The Indie: A future Conservative government would set up a new military stabilisation force funded from money diverted from the international aid budget, it emerged yesterday.

The move came under immediate criticism from aid agencies who said it would undermine development projects and put relief workers at risk in volatile areas by identifying them too closely with the military.

Template from My David Cameron. Righteous Indignation from somewhere in Berkshire.