History

Who Is to Blame for Haiti’s Problems?

On July 9, the Root published an article by Michael Harriot entitled “As Haiti Burns, Never Forget: White People Did That.” Obviously, Harriot is not claiming that a mob of white arsonists and rioters descended on Haiti. Although he is never entirely explicit about what he means by “did that,” a fair-minded summary of his hypothesis would read: “The historical actions of France (and the US) are the cause of modern Haitian poverty and thus riots in 2018.”

Specifically, Harriot attributes this poverty to an odious agreement foisted upon Haiti in 1825 by the French, which required Haiti to pay ‘reparations’ to France for lost property after Haitian slaves heroically won their independence in 1804—the lost ‘property’ in question was the Haitian slaves themselves. His complaints about the United States are less clear, but they essentially involve the US turning a blind eye to French abuse.

Harriot is not the first person to claim that Haiti’s present state of poverty, corruption, and violence is the result of French reparations or US imperialism. The narratives along these lines each has its own set of problems, but they are hardly uncommon. So it is strange that Harriot emphasizes that his own hypothesis may sound “harebrained,” “like a kooky conspiracy,” or, most impressively, that it “requires a suspension of disbelief because it is so insane that it sounds like fiction.” There is nothing about Harriot’s hypothesis that sets it outside the realm of historical possibility. Prima facie, the hypothesis is a reasonable one which can then be investigated, tested, and proved to be true or false. In short, it is false. ‘White people’ (ie France) did not cause Haiti to be poor, and they certainly did not cause last week’s riots. Haitian poverty is not a simple system that can be explained solely by pointing out the immoral deeds of historical Frenchmen, and we will need to learn more to know why this is.

The Historical Background

The French deal to recognize Haitian statehood in exchange for reparations of 150 million francs was accompanied by a loan of 30 million francs so that Haiti could make the initial payments. Haiti made a single payment to the French from national savings in 1825, but they did not start making regular payments until 1838, when the deal was renegotiated and reduced to 90 million Francs. The debt and reparations were then paid (mostly) regularly and, in the face of great adversity, Haiti paid it off in 1883.1

This might have been the end of the story, but in 1874 the government took out a foreign loan from France with the goal of restructuring and modernizing their monetary system. Unfortunately, this loan—along with those that followed in 1876, 1896, and 1910—was agreed by woefully corrupt agents on both the Haitian and French sides, and in the end the people and economy of Haiti received very little in exchange for a large external debt.2 There can be no doubt that the Haitian economy was negatively impacted by this, and there is nothing particularly “kooky” about concluding that the effects of reparations and later corrupt loans might have been far-reaching. Of course, the Haitian economy, past and present, is more than just a ledger of debt. If we want to talk about whether France caused Haiti’s poverty we need to learn a little more about the historical Haitian economy.

Haiti has not always been the ‘failed state’ it is today. From its independence in 1804 to the 1890s, Haiti was one of the strongest Caribbean economies. The country consistently placed as one of the top Caribbean exporters, even when it was competing with better funded European colonies. Throughout the nineteenth century, Haiti’s exports grew steadily to match its growing population at the same time that other Caribbean states like Jamaica were falling behind.3 Today, comparisons between Haiti and the Dominican Republic are often made by those who hope to diagnose the causes of Haiti’s poverty and the Dominican Republic’s relative wealth. However, throughout most of the nineteenth century, Haiti consistently outperformed its Dominican neighbor.4 Haiti’s decline, relative to the rest of the Caribbean, began in the 1890s and it has not enjoyed a meaningful recovery since.

Haitian history after the decline in the 1890s to the present is worth a brief survey as well. By 1914, the Haitian government was insolvent and highly unstable. In response to the increasingly dire situation, the US invaded Haiti in 1915 to restore order. When the US invaded, the Haitian populace was so disenchanted with their government that only one Haitian soldier resisted the initial occupation.5 Strangely, Harriot does not mention the US occupation as part of his explanation of US culpability in Haiti’s poverty. Perhaps this is so he can maintain that since Haitian independence “a white man has never ruled the place we now call ‘Haiti.’”

Francois Duvalier aka ‘Papa Doc’ (1907-1971)

In any case, the occupation lasted until 1934, and while it led to a major expansion of Haiti’s infrastructure, it also saw the inhumane murder of thousands of rebels and dissidents.6 In the late twentieth century, Haiti was dominated by father-son authoritarian dictators François Duvalier and Jean-Claude Duvalier, otherwise known as ‘Papa Doc’ and ‘Baby Doc.’ The Duvaliers’ reign was deeply corrupt and brutally violent, and maintained by a truly disturbing paramilitary terror gang known as the ‘Tontons Macoutes,’ named after a mythical ‘bogeyman’ in Haitian folklore which kidnaps errant children.7 During their reign from 1957 to 1986, it is estimated that between 40,000 and 60,000 political opponents were abducted and murdered. When ‘Baby Doc’ was finally ousted in 1986, the country fell into an unfortunate cycle of revolutions, military coups, and ongoing political repression. This culminated in a Brazilian-led UN peacekeeping occupation in 2004, which ended only last year. Then, last week, Haitians rioted due to a government-mandated increase in fuel prices, which led to Harriot’s article.

This overview of Haitian history is woefully brief, but it will be sufficient to discuss Harriot’s hypothesis that white people are the cause of Haiti’s poverty and the riots.

Why Did Haiti Become Poor in 1890 and Why Has It Remained Poor Since?

To answer this question, we must return to the 1890s and look at the causes of Haiti’s decline. In the late nineteenth century, the Haitian economy was dominated by two products, coffee and timber. Haitian coffee was prized on the world market for its high quality and rich aroma, and it was usually able to compete with cheaper coffee from Brazil.8 In the 1890s, Brazilian coffee over-production increased and world coffee prices dropped. So, while Haiti’s coffee exports steadily increased, coffee revenues plummeted and Haiti did not have the economic flexibility to transfer toward other crops like cacao.

To compound this problem, Haiti’s other major export industry, timber, also ran into a moment of crisis in the 1890s. Initially, Haitian logging was highly regulated and small farmers were not permitted to clear forest land. The legal situation changed in the 1840s to allow for unregulated peasant agriculture, and timber harvesting increased to what may have been sustainable levels for a few decades. However, Haitian timber production spiked in the 1880s and fell drastically just a decade later. It is worth noting that a sizeable portion of later exports consisted of ‘roots’ for years afterward.9 Though deforestation goes back to the colonial period, the 1880s marks the point of over-exploitation that killed the Haitian timber industry and the economic benefits that it brought to Haiti. Of course, the damage of deforestation goes well beyond the loss of sustainable timber economy. The resulting soil erosion and ecological damage has been disastrous. Soil erosion has affected the infrastructure, drinking water, and of course the fertility of land to grow other crops. Numerous international organizations have been attempting to work with small farmers to reforest depleted areas, but soil infertility remains a serious issue and the restoration of the environment has, in a sense, only just begun.10

In addition to these factors, it is worth noting government expenses, other than debt, in the century prior to the decline of the 1890s. Most notably, the military budget of Haiti in the years following independence was 50 percent of government revenue. This decreased with time, but expenditures never dropped below 25 percent until the US occupation. The best argument in defense of this spending was the precarious situation with France and the threat of another invasion before the renegotiation of their agreement in 1838. After this point, it is often argued that Haiti faced real threats from other European powers like Spain and Germany, which each attempted to extract moderate financial concessions from Haiti. However, there are also less sympathetic reasons for the high military budget. Most notably, Haitians were very keen to conquer and keep the Dominican half of the island, and twice attempted to invade it. While one might sympathize with the Haitian leaders’ decision to put so much of their discretionary state income into the military, it was, in hindsight, a poor long-term investment for the young nation. It is a cruel irony that, after 1825, conflict with the European powers and the US was consistently resolved with diplomacy and capitulation. As a result, the Haitian military budget was never really used in the defense of the nation against foreign powers.11

Another major state expense was internal debt. While most of the time Haiti’s debt crisis is discussed in terms of their external debt to the French, and later the US, Haiti had long been borrowing money from its own citizens. In fact, in 1890 the internal debt of Haiti was as large as the external debt. Sadly, attempts to refinance the internal debt were also consistently marred by corrupt Haitian officials with short-term interests.12

Where Are the Haitians?

With this information in mind, we can begin to assess Harriot’s historical hypothesis responsibly. The first thing to address is that factors in economic history that are relevant to modern outcomes are never dichotomies. France’s reparations would count as a ‘relevant’ factor, irrespective of whether they explain 90 percent or 0.9 percent of Haiti’s modern poverty. But, obviously, these two figures would indicate very different things. While arriving at a meaningful numerical estimate of the role of French reparations on the modern state of Haiti is well beyond the scope of this article, we can still safely conclude that, on their own, the damage they caused is nowhere near sufficient to explain the Haitian economy over a century later.

Those who accept Harriot’s claim may counter that the reparation payments were what sent Haiti into a “self reproducing cycle of poverty.” But this too is specious. To get set on such a cycle things need to be pretty bad, and at each ‘turn’ of the cycle things need to still be pretty bad, but not necessarily for the same reasons. In the face of real ongoing explanatory factors like ecological devastation and a corrupt, violent, and unstable political system, it is exceedingly implausible that the French reparations payments have consistently played a fundamental role in perpetuating Haitian poverty for centuries.

On the other hand, the impact of foreign debts was ongoing. Due to the severity of environmental damage, we can have at least moderate confidence that even these debts are no more than a secondary cause of Haitian poverty. But even if foreign debt were the foremost cause, it would still not be reasonable to claim that ‘white people’ or France caused Haitian poverty. The French did not create corrupt Haitian debt out of thin air—in each case they had to go through corrupt Haitians willing to enrich themselves at the expense of their own people.

Toussaint Louverture (1743-1803)

Which brings us to another interesting question about Harriot’s article and those like it: where are the Haitians? As is typical, the only ones mentioned by name are Haiti’s heroic founder Toussaint Louverture and his less admirable lieutenant, Haiti’s second head of state and first self-proclaimed ’emperor,’ Jean-Jacques Dessalines. Where is President Boyer who accepted the French deal? Where is President Pétion who proposed the idea? Or President Nord-Alexis who actually prosecuted corrupt debt creators?13 Where are the Duvaliers who thrived on terror and corrupt loans? Harriot omits any Haitians—good or bad—relevant to the topic and talks about them as if their post-independence history is about little more than the passive endurance of foreign oppression. Harriot seems to assume that, having accepted the deal, Boyer suddenly realized it was terrible and immoral and said, “Well, we’ve got two centuries of poverty, plague, and pestilence, 30 coups, and God knows how many riots ahead of us, so let’s get started.”

One thing Harriot does get right is that the story of Haiti often represents “strength, resistance, and freedom.” But his attempts to explain the present with past oppression have blinded him to the fact that, in the 45 years between 1838 and 1883, Haiti was growing economically in spite of the exact oppression he thinks caused their modern poverty. It is a tragedy that modern identity politics and ideas of victimhood can overshadow a minority group winning in spite of real exploitation. It is a tragedy that the same narrative of victimhood can further obscure an actively ongoing, and solvable, cause of poverty like environmental damage, especially when we know that Haitians have the potential to over come this obstacle as well.

Harriot seems to have a fundamental misunderstanding of the role of debt in the modern world economy. He celebrates the cancellation of Haiti’s debts, and claims that their cancellation was shamefully recent and should have happened years ago. It is true that the cancellation became the right thing to do in recent years, but the debt cancellation is not a victory for a black nation against the white capitalists. It is a defeat. It is a defeat for both Haiti and foreign lenders that wished to see Haiti rise out of poverty. When debt is canceled, it amounts to giving the borrower the unpaid money.

This may seem good for Haiti, but the world (mostly the West) already gives Haiti a large amount of aid. Loans have a different purpose. When the World Bank and the IMF give a developing country a loan, the whole point is that they invest it in things like education and infrastructure and then—this is the best part—pay the loan back. When a nation pays off its World Bank loans they then have credit and a history of reliability. Once this happens, a nation has access to more resources than the World Bank could dream of offering a developing nation. Paying off the IMF and World Bank would have been one of the best ways to set Haiti on a fast track to prosperity. Debt relief of this sort is not a campaign topic of social justice against oppression, it is a sobering admission that efforts to help Haiti have failed.

I have hope for Haiti, but that hope is not found in a French reparations payment for past wrongs. More than anywhere else, hope exists in environmental restoration and a healthy international credit. Give a nation aid and it will eat for a year, give a nation good credit, healthy ecology, and a strategic position next to the worlds wealthiest consumer economy and it could become the fastest and strongest economic miracle the world has ever seen.

 

Arthur Cook is a graduate student of history and linguistics. You can follow him on Twitter @ArthurVCook

References and Notes:

1 Brière, Jean-François. “L’Emprunt de 1825 dans la dette de l’indépendance haitienne envers la France,” in Journal of Haitian Studies. Vol 12, No 2. (Center for Black Studies Research, 2006) 132-133.   Harriot claims that it took until 1947 to pay off all of the interest on the debts, but I have only found this in an uncited wikipedia article and in a Haitian appeal for the French to return the money. I have also found 1915 as a possible date. It seems reasonable to go with 1883 though, as it is the date cited by actual historians.
2 Bulmer-Thomas, Victor. The economic history of the Caribbean since the Napoleonic wars. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012. pp 182.
3 Bulmer-Thomas, 195.
4 Bulmer-Thomas, 197.
5 Bulmer-Thomas, 190.
6 Other authors do imply that the oppression during the US occupation is a cause of Haiti’s modern poverty. The US occupation was immoral, but not because it caused lasting poverty. After the revolts and atrocities that occurred early on, the occupation was typified by a forced expansion of infrastructure, public health projects and an unprecedented level of order and stability. We all know that these things do not cause poverty. The occupation saw real material improvement for many Haitians. So why do we condemn the occupation? We condemn it because the US killed people and forced them to do things. Claiming this as a cause ignores both the actual causes of poverty and the real moral problem with the occupation.
7 Britanica, “François Duvalier.”
8 Bulmer-Thomas, 173.
9 Bulmer-Thomas, 165.
10 Mclintock, Nathan. “Agroforestry and sustainable resource conservation in Haiti: a case study.”
11 Bulmer-Thomas, 166-8.
12 Bulmer-Thomas. 181.
13 Bulmer-Thomas. 181.

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15 Comments

  1. I wish I shared your optimism. I am not one for nation building but short of a lengthy occupation I can’t see a way forward for Haiti (and yes I have been there).

  2. Of COUSE someone else is to blame – Haiti is black! I don’t know, but I suspect the true culprits are……..THE HAITIANS!!

  3. Gilles St-Gilles says

    “‘reparations’ to France for lost property after Haitian slaves heroically won their independence in 1804
    […]the lost ‘property’ in question was the Haitian slaves themselves”

    Arthur Cook coyly omits mentioning that after independence, whites in Haiti were exterminated by a genocidal campaign and all their properties were seized. The reparation amount was estimated at one twentieth the value of the properties (sugar refineries, plantations and plants processing coffee, indigo or cotton, commerces, houses etc) seized from exterminated whites. Before independence, Haiti exports were worth 239 million francs per year (more than the US at the time!). Haitian themselves estimated that that small amount would be paid back in 5 years. But that was before the effects of haitian governance manifested themselves and the haitian economy fell from richest in the Carribeans to poorest in the Americas.

  4. ga gamba says

    I enjoyed the brief history of Haiti. One minor quibble re “the lost ‘property’ in question was the Haitian slaves themselves.” Did the French pack up their land, buildings, and non-slave property and take it with them back to France too? Of course not. It would be interesting to examine the treaty to determine how that valuation was determined; it was not uncommon for peace treaties to include a settlement of debts and restitution paid to those who lost property. “But the Haitians won!” one may protest. “Why would they need to pay anything?” More on that in a bit.

    [Harriot’s] complaints… essentially involve the US turning a blind eye to French abuse.

    In the Melian Dialogue the historian Thucydides wrote of political realism having the Athenians declare: “… the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.” (It must be mentioned he didn’t endorse this.) Though not many people were well educated in the 18th century, those who were, and they were the ones running things, received an education in both Latin and classical Greek. His History of the Peloponnesian War has long been considered one of the greatest ancient histories and still stands amongst the foundational texts in the classical canon – a pity the schools are tossing works like these into the rubbish. Bristol University writes: “He was acclaimed not only as a vital source for reconstructing antiquity but as a purveyor of timeless political wisdom and methodological precepts. His name is almost inescapable in nineteenth-century discussions of history’s nature and purpose, as well as in much contemporary political theory.” (Herodotus also occupied the thinkers’ minds, but in that era he was seen as the more entertaining writer whereas Thucydides was the sober historian.) Jefferson, in a 1812 letter to John Adams, he wrote, “I have given up newspapers in exchange for Tacitus & Thucydides, for Newton & Euclid; & I find myself much the happier.” For those who didn’t read ancient Greek they had Thomas Hobbes’s 1628 translation and his Life and History of Thucydides, both written before Leviathan, which some argue was influenced by historian.

    We know the US military today is a mighty fighting force, but in the nation’s history this was not always the case. In 1785 the last US warship, a schooner, of the Continental Navy was auctioned. The navy was no more. Navies, much like standing armies, were, and still are, enormously expensive to build, man, equip, and even more costly to maintain. Following the Revolution, legislative discussions tended to hit a dead end over funding and taxes. Though the Federalists and Democratic-Republicans differed on just about everything, one thing they agreed upon was the importance of frugality.

    Concerned about the threat of North African piracy in the Mediterranean and Atlantic, Congress authorized funds to build six frigates (four 44-gun and two smaller 36-gun) in March 1794. Two years later this was reduced to three – actually it was to build four because the US signed a treaty with the Dey of Algeria to provide tribute; an armed frigate, two armed schooners, and an armed brigantine were part of the package given to the Barbary States for it to cease attacking US ships. The papers of the War Department report: “The frigate Crescent of 36 guns launched at Portsmouth, New Hampshire US Navy yard on 29 June 1797 at 4pm.” In 1798 the US had its three frigates and a number of smaller schooners. The US Navy at the outset of the War of 1812 comprised only 16 ships, nine of them frigates. The Americans thus lacked the capacity for fleet action.

    It’s a good idea to understand the navies facing the US at the turn of the century. In 1792 the British navy had 661 ships of 14,000 cannon, the French 291 ships with 12,000 cannon, the Spanish 222 ships of 10,000 cannon, and the Dutch had 187 ships with 2,300 cannon. Amongst these many were ships of the line, the dreadnoughts of the era, with 64 to 120 cannon; the preferred ship was ‘the 74’ (cannon) because of its speed, manoeuvrability, and firepower.

    With the beginning of the war with Revolutionary France in 1792 Britain expanded its fleet. The French suffered a significant set back when many of its sailors from Brittany emigrated to escape the Revolution’s turmoil. Still, the French and Spanish were able to assemble a massive fleet at Trafalgar in 1805; inexperienced French sailors harmed its tactics.

    One may think the US with its 10-odd warships was in a dire spot, but that was its highlight. From 1789 to 1800 the US Army, for all intents and purposes, did not exist. In 1801 it had 4,051 men. The Marines, who operate with the Navy, had 357 men. Total US forces were 7,108 and for the next seven years thereafter manpower declined by about 2000 men – the US was not mobilising for imminent conflict. Those celebrated Marines who went to the shores of Tripoli in 1805… it was seven of them.

    After the American Revolution the new nation split along several lines including Anglophile versus Francophile; this fissure deepened upon the French Revolution. That the US opted for neutrality and didn’t ally with France in its war with Britain starting in 1792 disappointed many. The Jay Treaty in 1795 further angered Francophiles like Jefferson. The Treaty’s favourable terms given to America included the withdrawal of British troops from forts in the Northeast and the Great Lakes, compensation for 250 merchant ships which the British had confiscated in 1793 and 1794, and the expansion of economic ties. Impressment of US sailors by the British was not resolved, which lead to the War of 1812.

    We ought not ignore American treaty obligations, specifically the 1778 Treaty of Alliance with France. In return for French support in the American Revolutionary War, the US would defend French possessions in the Caribbean against foreign aggression. This meant the US was obliged to support France against its opponents in the 1792-1797 War of the First Coalition. As I already documented, the US didn’t possess the forces to due so. Further, angered by American behaviour such as the Jay Treaty, which France viewed as a breaching the Treaty of Alliance, and its refusal to repay debts owned because the French crown had been overthrown, France began seizing American merchant ships. This led to the XYZ Affair, the revelation of French demands the US provide it low-interest loans (to finance its war), the US waive its claims for compensation on behalf of ship owners, and a bribe of one million francs be paid to the French foreign minister.

    French military success against the European powers led it to press harder on the American negotiators; France was now threatening to invade America if envoys did not capitulate. In 1798 Congress officially rescinded the Treaty of Alliance and the Quasi War, a series of minor naval engagements, was fought by the two states, mostly by French privateers (state-endorsed pirates) on its side. The Convention of 1800 ceased hostilities and terminated the only formal treaty of alliance of the United States. It would be nearly a century and a half before the United States entered into another formal alliance.

    Whilst we’re on the topic of treaties, let’s review the secret treaties between Spain and France. In 1762 France transferred its North American Louisiana territory to Spain in the Treaty of Fontainebleau. This was not disclosed in the Treaty of Paris 1763 that ended the Seven Years War. It was upon the arrival of French-Canadians in what they thought to be be French-controlled New Orleans that it was discovered the Spanish were running things, which led to the Rebellion of 1768 against the Spanish governor. The Third Treaty of San Ildefonso, a secret agreement signed in 1800 between Spain and the First French Republic had Spain exchange its North American colony of Louisiana for territories in Tuscany. Secret treaties were not uncommon and nor were they exclusive to France and Spain; from the mid 16th century to World War I almost 600 of them have been discovered by historians.

    American diplomat and historian Paul Samuel Reinsch wrote of secret treaties in 1922: During the eighteenth century, diplomatic action was dominated entirely by the tactics and stratagems of war. . . . All the ruses, deceptions, subterfuges, briberies and strategies which the struggle for existence in war appears to render justifiable, diplomacy made use of. It was essentially a political secret service informed with the spirit of life-and-death competition. . . . Matters are often so inextricably complicated that it must have required the greatest effort to remember what each participant in that particular intrigue knew or was supposed not to know, what he could be told and what must be kept from him.

    He continues: The greatest vice of a secret diplomatic policy, working in the dark and concealing international undertakings, lies in the inevitable generating of mutual suspicion and the total destruction of public confidence among the different countries which compose the family of nations. No nation is so bad as imagination, confused and poisoned by secrecy and by the suggestion of dire plottings, would paint it. Agreements and understandings which do not exist at all are imagined, the nature of those which actually have been made is misjudged, and animosities are exaggerated; thus the public is quite naturally put in that mood of suspicion and excitement which renders it incapable of judging calmly when apparently startling facts suddenly emerge.

    Viewed through the current lens it’s easy for some like Harriot to see the US acting against Haiti such as Athens imposing its might on Melos, yet perhaps the Americans at the turn of the 19th century saw themselves as the pressed Melians caught between major powers whilst juggling the many tensions at home, one of which would later shatter the nation. Understanding the era’s intrigues, be they real or imagined, both at home and abroad, must have weighed heavily on the minds of the nation’s leaders. Avoiding involvement in Haiti was the prudent action, both militarily and politically (internationally and domestically).

    Moving on to the contentious issue of ‘reparations’, which technically are payments to the victor by the vanquished. The terms of several peace treaties included the settling of debts and even payment of compensation by the victor to the vanquished. The US agreed to pay Britain about £600,000 to include the forts I mentioned above; the US failed to do so which is why they weren’t vacated. The Jay Treaty then resolved this issue. After the US defeated Spain the Treaty of Paris of 1898 had the Americans pay $20,000,000 (approx. $600,000,000 today) to the Spanish Crown for public buildings and public works in the Philippines. The US next had to settle claims with the Vatican and the Americans agreed to pay the Spanish monastic orders $7,000,000 (approx. $200,000,000 today) for this land and also as a condition for the Spanish friars to depart – the Filipinos despised them. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo saw the victorious US pay Mexico $15,000,000 ($480,000,000 today). These payments were not unheard of. Calling them reparations, as it is done in Haiti’s case, is an inaccuracy and the word is likely used for its emotive power.

    It ought to be mentioned Haiti was able to find the money to pay for a grand palace, the ‘Versailles of the Caribbean’, for King Henry I, which was one of his nine palaces, fifteen châteaux; and twenty plantations; its Constitution declared it also ruled the eastern part of this island (today’s Dominican Republic); and it spent about 50% of the national budget on the military annually for the first decades after independence; this force invaded and occupied the Independent State of Spanish Haiti, formerly Santo Domingo, for 22 years, during which time the Haitians imposed heavy taxes on the Dominicans to pay France.

    In his The Economic History of the Caribbean Since the Napoleonic Wars Victor Bulmer-Thomas writes: … a National Guard composed of all adult males. This military reserve, for such it was, could be called upon at short notice to defend the territory of the fledgling state and individuals might be required to move far from their homes. The militarised nature of society then helps us to understand one of the fundamental changes in Haiti after the end of colonisation since estate labor was extremely scarce and peasant labor could be disrupted at any time. Under these circumstances it is hardly surprising that Haitian exports shifted from sugar and cotton to coffee and timber since the labor requirements of the last two commodities – combined with the absence of capital – were much more compatible with the militarised nature of society.

    From the 1860s onwards the size of the military was reduced and required only 25% of the national budget. Did I forget the mention that after the assassination of Emperor Jacques I, the perpetrator of the good genocide on the white residents, in 1806 the country split into two, which lasted for more than 40 years? Which Haiti was to be recognised by the foreign countries? The State of Haiti, the Republic of Haiti, or both?

    The more one look delves into the history of Haiti, the more the narrative of “it’s everyone else’s fault” unravels.

    • Robin says

      Quillette should publish your comment as an addendum to this article.

    • D.B. Cooper says

      @ga gamba

      As always, I appreciate your thorough contributions, although you may have out done yourself this time. I cannot recall ever having been more certain of a thing than I am that, right now, there’s a man (or men) out there somewhere on the backwater channels of Wikipedia, who may soon feel a little less assured of his/their contributions to the Wiki pages on the history of European and U.S. Early Modern Warfare (circa 18th/19th Centuries).
      Continually, given your rather “brief” assessment of ancient Greece, I would guess that, at least for now, the primary Wiki contributor(s) of Classical Antiquity will continue to be relatively stable in his/their self-belief; although I wouldn’t advise you placing too many more shots across his/their bow least you risk running roughshod over what little confidence he/they may still have intact. For their sake, let us hope they do not frequent the pages of Quillette. You don’t want that on your conscious.

      But, as I was saying, while I normally enjoy seeing this level of attention of detail, I worry your critique has, at least in this particular instance, overshot the mark. That’s not to say, I believe your critique, here, is wide-of-the-mark. In fact, I agree with much of what you said. On the whole, the analysis of your subject matter is fine, and it certainly adds something to the discussion. But where your critique suffers is not in its inaccuracy so much as in its pedantic focus on periphery issues. Secondary and tertiary issues are important, but a graduate level analysis of 18th Century U.S. & European war treaties is hardly the salient point in question for a 200+ year-old island nation whose chronic socio-economic deficiency is by any reasonable standard the country’s defining characteristic.

      I’ve found there’s value in utilizing a conservation of words when providing answers to questions such as: Who is to Blame for Haiti’s Problems? The most charitable assessment might be that you’ve brought a shotgun, when all you needed was a knife.

      To your credit, however, you do – after almost 2,200 words – answer the question in the very last sentence of your critique. But, you do so, correctly, I might add. And herein lies your problem. As a rule, a man of your intellectual depth need 2,200 words to answer a question that anyone who can fog a mirror on demand and has at his/her disposal the reasoning powers of a high-achieving third grader could answer in one sentence… nay one word. For example:

      Who is to Blame for Haiti’s Problems?
      Answer: Haitians

      Which brings me to my actual critique of the article. When was the last time an author (or even commenter) at Quillette asked a question dumber than Who is to Blame for Haiti’s Problems?

      I swear to God, my first thought (after reading the article’s title) was that Mr. Cook, was trolling his readers. I even chuckled, as in, “Finally, here’s an author with a sense of humor”. Be honest, am I the only one who thought Cook was trolling us? Just think about how ridiculous that question is. You could, literally, canvass patients at a lockjaw ward on their interest in purchasing a one-year supply of Bubblelicious Bubble Gum, and it would be a more useful inquiry than Who is to Blame for Haiti’s Problems?

      Even after I’d read ¾ of the article, I was still half expecting Cook to conclude with an answer like the devil or Chris Cringle or something equally fitting. To be fair, though, at least Cook didn’t go for the low hanging fruit and blame it on whitey; which I understand is the required answer for similar questions, when rhetorically posed at places like the NTY, Slate, Vox… Hell MSM writ large.

      But, since we’re asking rhetorical questions, I’ve got one that maybe some of you fine travelers could help me out with.

      When will the West stop shitting on the self-agency of non-whites, save a select few POC contingencies that need neither the white-man’s help, nor his paternalistic sympathies?

      Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not a bleeding-heart Lefty, and I’m not advocating for the interests of POCs everywhere. Oops, my apologies. I just realized, I’ve misused the term POC. Anyone with a shred of commitment to truth knows that POC is a euphemism for blacks, and on rare occasions, Hispanics when they’re forcibly obligated to ”illegally” confined to cages by the Don, and/or if and when a black person is not readily available to fill a vacant Leftist victimhood slot.

      No, sadly, I must admit my interest in the question is much more narrow than what can be professed from atop the Leftist moral high ground. By “my interests,” I mean, my own self-interests. But allow me to be precise and specific.

      Social scientists have shown (Robert Putnam for one) that as diversity grows (ex: opinion, ethnicity, religious values, norms, etc.) within a society/nation, so too does the question of who’s opinion will rule. The data is clear, convincing, and compelling. Man is tribal. Therefore, it should not be an exaggeration to say the precipitous degradation of our public discourse is bearing an increasingly high cost on the social capital/common good of many Western nations; which are now, in some cases, visibly and unapologetically cavitating btw the Right’s recursive demands for the West to stay white Western and the Left’s ominously macabre dispensation for all things anti-white male that any sufficiently reasonable/intelligent person should see is anathema to the social & moral framework of a well-functioning first-world nation.

      Unfortunately, well maybe not unfortunately, but the situation is certainly regrettable. Let’s just settle on sadly.

      Sadly, I see no reason to expect the Right to yield from its current rightward march, or even towards a path with more benign (read socially acceptable) inclinations; which may or may not include genuine concerns for Self-preservation & their socio-economic well-being. What’s more, there is a vocal substrate within the far Left – a radical political junta, if you will – whose actions/ideas are making it increasingly hard to argue against this being a legitimate position for the Right. One need only consider the surfeit of anti-white male sentiment that academia and popular culture regularly traffic onto social landscape, and which, undoubtedly acts to incentivize the proliferation of an uncompromising far Right.

      A recent example of this profligate moral depravity can be witnessed in the NYT’s new tech journalist, Sarah Jeong’s, desire to #CancelWhitePeople as well as her publicly declared excitement at even the possibility of White people’s extinction. That’s right, pack it in boys and girls. For the Left, gleefully parroting one’s support (publicly no less) for the extinction of an entire ethnic group is no longer a disqualifying offense. There was a time when even the American Left – no, especially, the American Left – would have generally had the good taste to draw the line at ethnic genocide; whether it be a mitigated endorsement in support of or a corroborated indifference for what was once thought to be something more than simply a new employee’s less than circumspect social media post.

      In truth, I am being unfair in my characterization of the Left. It’s poor form to paint the entirety of the Left with this brush. Furthermore, it is both unreasonable and absurd to suggest the Left is solely responsible for the pervading social ills the West is experiencing. There can be no doubt, the right (and probably the middle) is culpable to some degree plus or minus that of the Left. But I’m not interested in assigning comparative negligence percentages for who’s contributed what harm to whom and to what degree. There’s no value in making the same mistakes that both the Right & Left are intent on making. Man’s naïve realism leads him to believe he can change what won’t.

      I’m being hyperbolic, yes. But, not without purpose. My engagement in hyperbole is, precisely, because the moral profanity’s spewing out from the Sarah Jeong’s of the world, and those of her ilk, are not terribly distinct from the tacit suggestions that naturally arise from questions like Who is to Blame for Haiti’s Problems?

      Don’t believe me?

      Ask @ga gamba why he needed 2,200 words to defend a preposterous suggestion that no one should have ever taken seriously, but which, logically followed from what ostensibly appeared to be a “reasonable” question. But it’s not. It’s not in the neighborhood of a reasonable question, nor does the historical record qualify it as legitimate and any thinking person should know as much.

      This isn’t an indictment of Cook. Ironically, it seems apparent that many of his views are simpatico in most respects to my own. It’s obvious that Cook was using the question as a rhetorical mechanism to expose the depth of Michael Harriot’s ignorance. Unsurprisingly, his bottom floor has yet to be found, and no one should expect it to be. His shtick is rank racism, full stop – which is one of the more obvious conclusions one could ever stumble upon, be them deaf, dumb, and/or blind.

      The upshot, here, is that when one implicitly accepts the Left’s frame and does so uncritically, or without sufficient refutation of that frame, they are at some level encouraging a perceived consilience of Leftist ideology through the rote memorization of more “neutral” language, i.e., socially acceptable, palatable, colloquial language, etc. Not a particular successful strategy, I would think.

      • ga gamba says

        Lucky for you that was my short comment. 😉

        My motivation is quite simple: I’m very tired of one- and two-sentence proclamations for very complex historical events. Add moral indignation based on the prevailing ethics of present to the explainer’s words and tone and then it becomes unacceptable to me. Because I enjoy the topics discussed it’s no sweat for me to dig into it. Do so for many years and a lot of relevant knowledge remains stuck in one’s noggin.

        “France made Haiti pay reparations,” “Britain and America toppled Mosaddegh,” “It was the Crusades”, and many nuggets offered as slam dunks by the nuggeteers are insufficient to me. That these come from ‘educated’ people is lamentable.

        You’re correct my comment about Thucydides was very brief, and it was offered to show what the leaders and opinion makers were thinking about then. What were they discussing in the salons and cafes? Of course it wasn’t only that. I suppose 200 years from now people will discuss our present as the era of social justice and mention the great influence of… take your pick from that gang.

        The most charitable assessment might be that you’ve brought a shotgun, when all you needed was a knife.

        I don’t consider it a fight. Harriot offers a nugget. I offer a three-course meal. The twelve-course dining events are provided by the historians. Eat what one likes. I think what I whipped up is nourishing. Whether one agrees with my analysis or not, it’s my hope that at the very least it serves as an example that we not subsist on nuggets alone.

        If my comment were simply, “Haiti was able to find the money to pay for a grand palace, the ‘Versailles of the Caribbean’, for King Henry I, which was one of his nine palaces, fifteen châteaux, and twenty plantations; its Constitution declared it also ruled the eastern part of this island (today’s Dominican Republic); and it spent about 50% of the national budget on the military annually for the first decades after independence; this force invaded and occupied the Independent State of Spanish Haiti, formerly Santo Domingo, for 22 years, during which time the Haitians imposed heavy taxes on the Dominicans to pay France,” I think all I would have done is provided the reader a small pile of nuggets. Yes, more filling than one, yet not nourishing.

        It was not my intent to refute Cook, so I hope no one takes it that way. Consider my comment an addendum with one quibble.

        • O. R. Ange says

          As someone not well versed in the history of Haiti or of the 18th Century Caribbean in general, ga gamba presents something that I think is of a growing importance in the academic and historical discourse of today. D.B. Cooper, you are right in the idea that the rhetorical questions are becoming ridiculous and that society should not have to answer for a nation’s history, but these are the questions that are being pronounced in greater frequency in history departments across the United States (I also would assume everywhere in the Anglosphere, but maybe I’m wrong.)

          The best example I can give was that I attended a History of Modern Africa course and one of the forbidden words in class was ‘tribe.’ As a young 20-something I found this strange how a word could connote backwardness. German tribes had fought successfully against Rome. Hunnic, Turkic, and Mongolian tribes united at various points in history to create large empires, and the Dothraki lived in tribes, and they seemed to be a return to a Transcendental mode of living away from the corrupt influences of civilization. But most of the class wasn’t a history of the rise of African countries, but more about the evils of colonialism. For the aspiring Marxists in class this was easy to take in, but as someone who romanticized Enlightenment Europe, I found myself trying to find ways to defend colonialism and point also to the idea that I still had something to offer to the class instead of just shutting up and listening. But there was no rigor.

          Outside of academia there is even less rigor and social media is filled with the proverbial ‘slam dunks’ such as memes, quotes, etc., but few people are willing to get into longer debates. If you do, you’re told you have too much vested interest or that you are wrong, seen as another slam dunk were likes generate a sense of stadium support.

          I think these rhetorical questions are important on places that can mimic a salon. Quillette has done that, I think through self-regulation in comments. Facebook normally cannot.

          “Who is to blame for Haiti’s problems?”
          “Well a lot of things…let’s discuss.”

          We’ve lost that vigor of intellectual discussion.

          We’ve traded the salon for the gladiatorial arena.

          • D.B. Cooper says

            @O.R. Ange

            Very insight post!

            I appreciate the feedback. You have a depth of understanding (for the relevant issues) that seems to elude most. On the whole, it’s hard to disagree with much of what you said here, but what little there is, I’ll try to manage a cogent response.

            You’re correct to point out that my laconic retort of Haitians are to blame is overly simplistic, if not reductive, precisely because (as you say) it lacks the rigor that would normally accompany a longer debate of what is obviously a multi-variant problem. Furthermore, I should say that I, by no means, want (or meant) to suggest that external factors – be them historical or contemporary – haven’t played some measurable role in Haiti’s current station. It would be myopic and indecent to not concede as much.

            While I can’t claim to have any authority or unique insight on the ills of our (the West) social mores, I do believe if a solution can be had, it will require more than a nostalgic return the salon of yester-year. The reasons for this are numerous, and many are beyond my grasp, but here are at least a few things you should consider.

            First, we should acknowledge that worthwhile discourse is not without its own barriers to entry. For example, while you give every appearance as someone who’s capable of adding value to a multifaceted conversation, an informative discussion requires an equally skilled dancing partner and, frankly, those people are sorely underrepresented in the general population. Granted, it’s not an intractable problem, but the numbers are against you. The brute fact is, you can’t reason with unreasonable people.

            We didn’t arrive at this ‘gladiatorial arena’ by happenstance. The poverty of thought coursing through much of society today, including your History of Modern Africa class, is almost certainly a result of the changing dynamics in human interaction that were ushered in during the Information Age and, more specifically, the rise of social media. I would guess this as much as anything is what has led the West to trade in – and almost happily it often seems – the rigor of the salon for the stadium support of an arena; the vigor of intellectual discourse for the pedestrian screed that dominates social media.

            Second, if by some divine intervention, we (society) could suddenly excise ourselves from the necrotic we currently occupy, I still contend that the primary issue is how the West consistently frames – via academia & MSM – the larger conversation (POC underclass) that this article touches on, and how it is at best a bridge to nowhere (i.e., more of the same) and at worst a road to perdition paved with the good intentions of an appeal to pity.

            I’m sorry, but it is not muddled thinking to suggest that maybe, just maybe, we should consider the possibility that by us (the West) continually excusing the collective failures of POCs, at home and abroad – via explanations of external factors (read whitey/colonialism/slavery) that in many cases could almost assuredly rival even the most speculative of transcendental forces – we are in fact trafficking in the bigotry of low expectations. You do anyone, no matter their color, a disservice every time you excuse them from the accountability of their actions. To do so is to invalidate their self-agency.

            The abridged version of this would approximate to something like: Be accountable. Don’t worry about the things you can’t control, and focus on the things you can.

            It’s not exactly a novel piece of advice but, I think, its effective nonetheless. When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change. And I just realized how much I sound like Tony Robbins, so I’m gonna end this comment right here before I discredit myself any further.

  5. dirk says

    Who is to blame for the failure of Haïti? Who is responsible for the success of Norway or Austria? What kind of questions are that? Questions that can be expected to generate a sensible answer? No, of course not.
    In Haïti, not all of the whites have been killed after independence, some Polish military that decided to choose to fight for the blacks and not for France (as was originally the idea, they were hired by France, but soon found out that the slaves were fighting for the same thing as they themselves were in Poland, for an independent nation), but these whites live exactly the same miserable, inhumane (for us Westerners), self supporting peasant life in a mud hut with palm leaves as all, or practically all the other Haitians.
    So, are the Haitians to blame? These white descendants (some even now have blue eyes and blond hair, but most are of mixed race in the meantime) are certainly Haitians, after so many years, but can they be blamed for anything?
    Sometimes I wonder, is it possible that people even now, after so many anthropological and sociological studies, think that individuals can be responsible or be blamed for the national situation, the welfare, the economics, the political system??
    It’s really too ridiculous!

  6. Marcos Munoz Rodriguez says

    Haiti did not “attempt” to invade the Dominican side of the island twice… it did in fact conquered the Dominican side of the island for 22 years. It did so thorough mal-investment, overblown military budget, bad cooperation with colonial members, and without institutional fortitude… in other words, Haitians were bad (very bad) colonialists to Dominicans… Boyer was not a very capable ruler, although he was a formidable commander. Haitian’s extracted significant resources but did not have a comprehensive expansionary plan to resolve their conquest…

  7. sorethumb says

    I hate to be a killjoy but what about population growth (3m 1950 to over 11m now)?

  8. Peter says

    I heard a German benefactor, who tried to help poor Haitians by buying them sewing machines. It did not work. As soon as there was some financial emergency, like sickness in the family, most families would sell the machine, probably for a fraction of what he paid for them. Now he tries to support people who have their own business ideas, maybe buying or marketing their products. I hope it works.

    I hear that regular Haitian immigrants are doing quite well in the US. Is it because the US immigration process is selective?

    • dirk says

      Jesus Christ Peter, are you serious? Didn’t you read what I wrote here above ?, that individual characters do not matter so much, but that the system (police, law, schooling, democracy, trust, institutions, etc) is what counts? My God, how is this possible!
      But you are not the first and only one, of course. I just read in the booklet of journalist Riccardo Orizio about those Polish Haitians I have my knowledge from:
      -One wonders, how for God’s sake, (God again here !) is it possible that those remaining Polish, from good families and refined culture were not able to develop a better village and a more productive agriculture??-
      . That’s what even this educated and schooled journalist asks himself, so, you are excused!!

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