A History of Colonialism
On Tuesday, the 12th of January 2010, the Republic of Haiti was struck by a 7.0 Richter scale earthquake, which hit its capital city directly. The death toll may exceed 100,000 in one of the most violent earthquakes to hit the Caribbean in 200 years. The Republic of Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. While this event is tragic, and has undoubtedly killed thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of Haitians, the American Party of Labor must point out that the causations of the extreme poverty, political instability and a whole host of other problems encountered by the Haitians is a direct result of imperialism, first by France and Spain and then by the United States of America in the 20th and 21st centuries. To do this, we must bring attention to the causations of the poverty, political instability and why furthering “aid” to Haiti outside of the realms of developmental and emergency medical and clean-up assistance will only result in further poverty, further political instability and ultimately result in the next natural disaster being even worse than this one.
The Origins of Poverty & Lack of Development
Firstly, Haiti is a country which is quite rich in natural beauty and though it has limited natural resources, it should not have the abject and absolute poverty which currently exists under capitalist organization. What has caused this poverty? In 1801 when the first Haitian Republic was proclaimed as a result of a slave revolt, the Republic was required to pay reparations to their former imperialist slave masters the French. Prior to the slave revolt, Haiti, then known as Santo Dominique, was the richest colony in the Western Hemisphere. These reparations were the first in a long chain of oppressions by imperialist nations, including the US, which have befallen Haiti throughout its history as an independent state.
Add to this the fact that throughout most of the 19th century, Western countries in the Americas and in Europe especially refused to acknowledge Haiti or trade with it. This resulted in the growth of a national debt which Haiti could never hope to pay off through its colonial-style productions of cash-crops: sugar and later rice.
This has also prevented the construction of vital public infrastructure necessary for the further development of productive processes to move from a semi-feudal state to an industrial state—whether under a capitalist economic system (private or state) or a socialist economic system. This has lead to a “brain drain” in Haiti of those who managed to get educated in spite of the lack of infrastructure.
Moving on into the 20th century, Haiti changed its main crop from sugar to rice, which could be eaten domestically. Western powers have consistently tried to undermine the Haitian agricultural economy by use of food “aid.” Most recently this has manifested itself under the last four administrations of the US government (Bush I, Clinton, Bush II, and Obama) in the literal dumping of cheap if not free subsidized US grain on the Haitian food markets at the very same time when Haitian crops come in.
Given that Haiti has had consistent political instability, which we will address below, this has resulted in an undercutting of price on the Haitian food markets of Haitian-produced food in favor of US-and-Western-produced food. This reduces the income generated by the sale of food by Haitian farmers and causes them to be forced off their land and moved to cities such as Port-Au-Prince.
Political Instability & Foreign Occupation
Haiti has, since its slave rebellion and declaration of independence, been the subject of interventions by the French, Spanish and Americans. Indeed, the existence of the Dominican Republic is the result of Spanish intervention trying to wrest the whole of Hispaniola back into Spanish Possession. The French have tried numerous times to stage coups in Haiti. In the 20th century, the US occupied Haiti from 1915-1932 and staged coups under Bush the I to remove Aristide. Under Bush II coups were also staged to remove Aristide. Any national leader in Haiti which has attempted to secure for Haiti political and economic independence has been subjected to a coup or direct foreign intervention into the natural development of the Haitian Nation.
Implications of the Earthquake
All these things taken together leads one to conclude that the earthquake in Haiti which would have happened anyway was made thousands of times worse by interventionism and Western imperial capitalism. Haiti’s long-time existence as a colony for superpowers and imperialist nations has prevented it from developing to help prevent and contain the disaster. The removal of the Haitian peasantry from their lands in the rural areas of Haiti has resulted in them moving to the cities in search of employment. The political instability caused by Western imperialism has prevented the construction of public infrastructure and the establishment of building codes, resulting in the houses of the poor Haitians newly moved to the cities to not be re-enforced as most are actually constructed out of cheap materials such as concrete. Furthermore, since most of the cities have spread out as much as the landscape will allow, by the time the peasantry was driven off their land they were forced to build on hillsides and areas where liquefaction is prevalent.
The exacerbation of the casualties and damage that would have occurred naturally due to a 7.0 Richter scale earthquake was multiplied by a factor of 50 if not more than that. The American Party of Labor must call for the end of foreign aid and imperialist interventions in the Republic of Haiti after the initial emergency clean-up and medical assistance. Further we call for the cancellation of Haitian foreign debt and a “Hands Off Haiti” policy after this emergency has passed.