January 1 2020
Haiti has been struggling for more than two centuries to establish
itself as a modern and stable state. | Photo: Reuters
Over 4.5 million Haitians, almost half of the population, will be in need of humanitarian assistance in 2020, the United Nations warned.
Haiti celebrated Wednesday its 216th independence day in the midst of political turmoil and a profound social and economic crisis.
The government of President Jovenel Moise has been facing nationwide protests calling for its removal after scandals emerged involving the head of state along with other officials in cases of severe corruption, and after fuel shortages, dwindling food supplies, and mismanagement of public funds further plunged the impoverished country in one of its worst economic and social crisis in years.
To mark the day of independence, Moise gave a speech and denounced graft, urging Haiti’s elite to work with the government.
“We’re still extremely poor,” he said at the National Palace in Port-au-Prince, adding that “those who continue to get rich find it normal that they do not pay taxes, find it normal that there can be no competition, find it normal that they set prices for consumers, especially when this consumer is the state itself.”
The world’s first black-led republic
Moise’s speech marked 216 years since the Caribbean nation gained its independence and became the world’s first black-led republic, forcing France to surrender its colonial rule over the slave-driven plantation formerly known as Saint-Domingue.
Led by Toussaint-Louverture, who declared the abolition of slavery, former slaves fought against France between 1791 and 1804 when General Jean-Jaques Dessalines finally defeated French forces and declared independence, reviving the island’s native name: Ayiti.
Haiti’s problems, however, which can be traced back a long way, have only been getting worse since its birth as a Republic.
The country has been fighting and struggling for more than two centuries to establish itself as a modern and stable state, but it has been mercilessly punished, used, and exploited by the West, making a sustained political, social and economic development almost impossible.
Illegitimate debt imposed by France
The island was, for instance, burdened with an illegitimate debt imposed by France in exchange for lifting a naval and diplomatic blockade. The former colonial power demanded that Haiti pay 150 million gold francs in “reparations” to former French slaveholders. According to several estimates, that was 10 times the country’s yearly revenue.
For over a century, Haiti was required to finance the debt, hampering the possibility to invest in infrastructure, social services, and industrial development.
19-year-long occupation by the United States
It wasn’t until 1947 that Haiti was finally capable of paying compensation to slaveholders and human traffickers. By then, it had already suffered a 19-year-long occupation by the United States (1915 – 1934), during which racial inequalities were exacerbated.
In 2004, Haiti officially demanded France to pay back the money, stressing that it was a “grave injustice” that prevented Haiti from developing as fast as other countries. France has so far rejected any possibility of paying back the illegitimate debt it claimed from Haiti.
And as Haitians commemorate one more year of independence, it seems there is little to celebrate as the United Nations (U.N.) estimates that more than 4.5 million Haitians representing almost half of the population will be in need of humanitarian assistance in 2020. Among the most vulnerable, about 60 percent are women and more than 45 percent are children.
“One in three Haitians needs urgent food aid, that is 3.7 million people, a significant increase compared to 2.6 million people at the end of 2018. If no immediate action is taken, between March and June 2020, 1.2 million people will be able to eat a meal every two days and around 2.8 million people will be able to eat a single meal a day, “ U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said, expressing that a worsening economic crisis is the last thing Haitians need, given the poor quality of life in the island.