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From Pearl To Poverty (part one)

Read part two here.

I have wanted to give specific ways to pray for Haiti for a while now. I am often asked what our prayer needs are. Yet the situation in Haiti can be confusing. The news tells conflicting stories of gang control, political protesting, hunger, and uproar. There are also many opinions as to what is causing it.

There is so much to say about how Haiti got to this mess that she is now. Books could be written on Haiti’s history. I would like to briefly explain what is going on in the hope that I can then give you specific ways to pray in these times.

Haiti’s Beginning

In 1492 Columbus found what is now known as Haiti on his voyage to discover the new world. Landing on the island he named it Histanbola and claimed it for Spain. The native Taino people met the Spaniards with kindness. They gave them gifts, traded with them, and agreed to work with them to plant crops and build cities.

Yet, when Columbus returned to Europe the following year to report to the crown what he had found, 30 of his men stayed behind to continue the work. These men began stealing from, raping, and enslaving the natives. Hungry for gold they killed off many of the slaves by forcing them to work themselves to death in the abundant gold and copper mines.

Each year more settlers from Europe would come, as they grew in number they enslaved more natives. When the natives would try to fight back against the oppression the Spaniards would unleash trained dogs to kill and devour those who resisted. Within ten years of their arrival two million of the estimated eight million natives had died on the island. And by the fifteen hundreds so many of the natives had died that there was a need to secure more slaves to keep up the now flourishing plantations across the country.

Christopher Columbus’ son Diego Columbus started the slave trade from Africa to the island in 1505. The import became so big so quickly that within a year Africans greatly outnumbered their European masters in Haiti.

The Division of The Island

A Spanish missionary know as Las Casas traveled to Haiti to speak against slavery and fight to stop the enslavement of the natives. He said that to the natives Chrisitianity was a symbol of abuse and brutality because of how these settlers from a ‘Christian’ nation treated them. One of the Taino chiefs was quoted saying “They tell us, these tyrants, that they adore a God of peace and equality, and yet they usurp our land and make us their slaves. They speak to us of an

immortal soul and of their eternal rewards and punishments, and yet they rob our belongings, seduce our women, and violate our daughters.”

In 1697 there was a treaty between France and Spain that divided Haiti in half. The Spanish half is now known as the Dominican Republic, while the French controlled half is now Haiti.

The French upped the number of imported African slaves and established a cast system. Under French rule Haiti became the richest country in the world because of its flourishing cash crops. Mainly sugar cane and coffee. Slaves were initially treated better by the French than the Spanish as the king of France had a code in place that regulated the treatment of slaves.

However as the sugar trade grew the code was forgotten. The natives had died off completely by then and the African slaves were often beaten, starved, raped, had limbs amputated, burned, buried alive, and even museled with a metal mussel if they were caught eating the sugar cane. It was cheaper to import new slaves to replace those that died in plantation work then to better care for those who were already there.

Runaways and Revolt

As conditions declined for slaves in Haiti and profits sored for the slave owners more and more slaves ran away into the mountians (which at the time had forests). The runaways began to form communities, to farm for themselves, and sometimes succeed in going back to free family members left behind on the plantations. Though many of these runaways were caught and killed as an example to other slaves who might have the same idea, some remained hidden.

Eventually these runaway slave communities grew in number and began to establish a common language. They completely rejected Christianity because of how it was presented to them by their masters. Voodoo became their common religion (coming from a medley of Satanist religions in Africa) giving them united strength. They began to lead small attacks on plantations to secure weapons, food, and supplies from their former owners.

In 1791 a formal slave revolt began. The initial intent was not to kill off the French and Spanish entirely but to gain freedom and equal status for black slaves in the white society. But anger led revolutionaries took the revolt further. Making a pact with demons who they sacrificed to for favor. Massecuring whites and torching plantations. France sent thousands of soldiers to regain control and order in Haiti, this worked for a while until Yellow Fever weakened the troops and many black soldiers who came from France deflected to the side of the slaves.

Haiti’s Freedom

In 1804 France was defeated and gave up control of Haiti retreating back to France. But Haiti was left to the control of a Creole man, captain of the newly formed Haitian military. He saw no way to keep the country running but to continue forced labor in the plantations. Ruling over his

own people with an iron first. There was not as much freedom from the former oppression as the slaves had sought. So, his own men turned on him and killed him. This kind of rule happened with the next three rulers that arose after him.

Finally after 1815 because of former slaves refusal to work on plantations owned by white men or rich Africans, it was impossible to keep up the former flourishing trade and laws were made allowing Haitian citizens to buy small plots of land from the state and run their own farms. At this time it also became illegal to own slaves on Haitian terrioty. Many European ships headed for Cuba and other countries in the Americas were kidnapped off of Haitian shores and the slaves were freed and accepted into Haitian society.

From Rich to Poor

Up until this point Haiti was still a very rich country known as the Pearl of The Andes. Yet France suffered great losses because of the revolution that they were not prepared to let go of. They were about to take away much of the wealth of the first free black nation in the world.

Perhaps it was just lingering bitterness, yet I think the capturing of passing slave ships added to France’s anger as it continued to face losses because of Haiti.

In 1825, 21 years after the French had been defeated in Haiti they sent threats to the Haitian president. Threatening to blockade all of Haiti’s borders making trade impossible for the nation if they did not repay the French government for her losses, namely their slaves. If they would pay they would be free to trade and their independence would be recognized by France.

The Haitian president at the time, ruling more like a dictator, made the decision on his own to pay the named price of what would be about 20 billion dollars in today’s money. Of course Haiti did not have this money in cash. They took out large loans from the US and Germany and even France itself to pay the debt. This move was met with outrage by the Haitian people who had no say in the decision their president had made in secret.

Until 1947 Haiti was still paying back this debt. Many of these 122 years of debt more than 80% of Haiti’s annual income was being filtered into paying off these loans. Thus Haiti became poorer and poorer as France became richer. Money that had previously been filtered into sanitation, roads, and humanitarian programs was gone.

The US and Haiti

For 60 of those years paying back debt the US put an embargo on the distance Haitian merchants could come to US shores because Haitians were free and US slaveholders feared their slaves would get an idea of revolt. When this embargo ended as slavery began to unravel in the US many African Americans were encouraged to immigrate to Haiti to live in greater freedom than they could find in the US at that time.

In 1915 a Coup took place in Haiti. A mob fed up with the politically oppressive climate killed their president. And the US military invaded Haiti. Rich Americans had investments in Haiti in the form of land and crops. Worried that the unrest would damage their investments they promised to calm the riots and restore peace. Haitians feared they would be forced back into slavery to the white man so they resisted the invasion with arms.

The US Marines who were sent to restore order were endangered by the Haitian rebel groups that positioned themselves in the mountains and led attacks on them. In order to quelch this resistance, the military needed roads into the mountains to find these groups and kill them. They took peasants from their homes, chained them, and forced them to labor in making roads through the mountains for little or no reimbursement.

The occupation and mistreatment by the US Marine forces lasted until 1934. The remainder of the gold and finances Haiti possessed was taken over by the US, leaving Haiti even poorer, even more dependent on other countries to keep their economy from crashing completely.

A History of Coups

In Haiti, though said to be a Democracy each president that has risen has ruled as a dictator. Oppressing the people, demanding free labor, not allowing the common people to have a choice in decisions. The running record of coups (the overthrowing of a president by force and often the murdering of him) in Haiti is astounding.

A coup has taken place in 1843, 1859, 1876, 1888, 1908, 1915, 1986, two coups took place in 1988, 1991, and 2004.

This long and tragic history of Haiti is complicated. I think it can be said that the Haitian people are a resilient people who have overcome so much, lost so much, and they will not be enslaved to a system that is not in their best interest as a people. They take a strong stand against any form of oppression because they remember where they came from.

As an African people formed from many countries around Africa, ripped from their lands, used and abused for many years by outsiders and then more tragically by their own rulers. Over and over again.

Haiti once earned her freedom but she has never truly been free.

One Response

  1. Thank you for your sharing. I am worried that I lack creative ideas. It is your article that makes me full of hope. Thank you. But, I have a question, can you help me?

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Hi! I’m Rachel. Through a series of God orchestrated events I ended up in Haiti, in 2017.  Through years of serving with a ministry there I came to love the country and its people. I met Nelson and we got married in 2020. It was the best decision of my life! 

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