Updated: Jun 12, 2022
This article chronicles the history of the stunning oppression of Haiti. It answers the question many (including myself) have likely had about Haiti: "What is it that has caused Haiti to so chronically and seemingly inescapably remain in the throes of instability and impoverishment?"
"...for generations after independence, Haitians were forced to pay the descendants of their former slave masters, including the Empress of Brazil; the son-in-law of the Russian Emperor Nicholas I; Germany’s last imperial chancellor; and Gaston de Galliffet, the French general known as the “butcher of the Commune” for crushing an insurrection in Paris in 1871.
The burdens continued well into the 20th century. The wealth Ms. Present’s ancestors coaxed from the ground brought wild profits for a French bank that helped finance the Eiffel Tower, Crédit Industriel et Commercial, and its investors. They controlled Haiti’s treasury from Paris for decades, and the bank eventually became part of one of Europe’s largest financial conglomerates.
The bank that benefited most from an 1875 loan to Haiti was Crédit Industriel et Commercial, a French institution that helped finance the Eiffel Tower.
Haiti’s riches lured Wall Street, too, delivering big margins for the institution that ultimately became Citigroup. It elbowed out the French and helped spur the American invasion of Haiti — one of the longest military occupations in United States history.
Yet most coffee farmers in Ms. Present’s patch of Haiti have never had running water or septic tanks. They have crude outhouses and cook their diri ak pwa — rice and beans — over campfires. They deliver their coffee harvests on the backs of thin horses with palm-leaf saddles and rope reins, or hoist the loads on their heads to carry them, by foot, for miles on dirt roads.
Many, like Ms. Present’s husband, Jean Pierrelus Valcin, can’t read, having never “sat on a school bench,” as the Haitian Creole saying goes. All six of the couple’s children started school, but none finished, given the steep fees charged in Haiti, where the vast majority of education is private because the country never built more than a tiny public school system.
“There is nothing here,” said Mr. Valcin, who is losing his eyesight but can’t afford to visit a specialist. “Our children have to leave the country to find jobs.”
He used a term you hear often in Haiti — mizè. More than poverty, it means misery."