Celebrating Haiti’s Independence

On January 1, 1804 Haiti became the second independent republic in the western hemisphere, and the first to abolish slavery. Unlike the U.S. war for independence, in Haiti there was a true revolution of social forces. People who had been enslaved in Haiti rose up against the French colonial authority and won their freedom and with it the country’s independence. The only successful rebellion of people enslaved known to history came with the defeat of the military super-power of the time - France under Napoleon Bonaparte. The ultimate defeat of France’s forces in Haiti forced Napoleon to sell colonial possessions in North America to the United States to meet expenses from the failed expedition. The resulting Louisiana Purchase more than doubled the size of the United States. 

The revolution in Haiti was, however, not otherwise welcomed by the United States. Rather than celebrate another independent republic in the western Atlantic, the U.S. joined with European colonial governments in blockading Haiti. The goal was to strangle the revolution and the example of freedom it represented to those enslaved in the United States and throughout the colonial Caribbean and Latin America. Haiti’s independence survived but at a price of isolation and international indebtedness. The United States did not recognize the independent government of Haiti until 1865.

In 2020, Haiti is still fighting for independence. The current government is widely viewed as an instrument of U.S. policy-makers, as both a bulwark against more popular democratic forces and wedge for unencumbered investment for the pillaging of Haiti’s resources. Protests against the government, which have shut down the country intermittently since July 2018, have slowed in recent weeks. But things are far from settled, as Parliamentary tenures expire and no agreement on new elections seems to be forthcoming. 

President Moise, not surprisingly, used the Independence Day to once again call for unity and establishment of a national dialogue. “This January 1 should be an opportunity for us to reflect...to define together the path to take the country.”  It is an invitation he has been repeating for months now, with few takers. We’ll see what the new year brings.

The United States Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo issued a statement congratulating Haiti on its independence , “The story of the founding of Haiti, from the uprising of slaves to the creation of a Republic based on democratic principles, testifies to what can be accomplished when individuals are determined to work together for the greater good.” It was a message clearly speaking to the present moment - the U.S, as noted, hardly welcomed this fight for the “greater good” 216 years ago.

Meanwhile, the Dominican Republic, in anticipation of new protests, sent an additional to the border. There are now 11,000 Dominican troops on the border with Haiti attempting to stop the movement of people fleeing insecurity, looking for work, or simply returning from holiday visits with relatives.

What the new year has in store is hard to read at this point. The United Nations is estimating that 4.5 million people - nearly half of the population - will be in need of humanitarian assistance in the coming year as the economy continues its collapse. The Associated Press last month,

Haiti's economy was already fragile when the new round of protests began in mid-September, organized by opposition leaders and supporters angry over corruption, spiraling inflation and dwindling supplies, including fuel. More than 40 people were killed and dozens injured as protesters clashed with police. Moise insisted he would not resign and called for dialogue.

The United Nations World Food Program says a recent survey found that one in three Haitians, or 3.7 million people, need urgent food assistance and 1 million are experiencing severe hunger. The WFP, which says it is trying to get emergency food assistance to 700,000 people, blames rising prices, the weakening local currency, and a drop in agricultural production due partly to the disruption of recent protests.

In the last two years, Haiti's currency, the gourde, declined 60% against the dollar and inflation recently reached 20%, Chalmers said. The rising cost of food is especially crucial in the country of nearly 11 million people. Some 60% make less than $2 a day and 25% earn less than $1 a day.

A 50-kilogram (110-pound) bag of rice has more than doubled in price in the local currency, said Marcelin Saingiles, a store owner who sells everything from cold drinks to cookies to used tools in Port-au-Prince.

The fight for independence today is in the economic realm - particularly food production. Haiti was self-sufficient in food production forty years ago, and now is deeply dependent on imports, and even where domestic production exists, transportation costs impact prices dramatically. Much of this is the result of tariff reductions demanded by the U.S. government and enforced through international financial institutions lending requirements. 

The work in Gros Morne we are the Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center continues to focus at the intersection of food and ecological renewal through reforestation. Our work and similar work by Haitian groups throughout the country, is committed to the regeneration of the agricultural sector, a necessary precondition for economic independence, and long-term stability. The other precondition is limiting U.S. intervention. That remains the bigger struggle.