In 1803, the slave rebellion in Haiti defeated Bonaparte and 1804 saw the birth of an independent nation. But just 20 years later, France exacted reparations for the loss of its colony totaling $20 billion in today's currency.
Between 1957 and 1986, the Duvaliers ruled Haiti with US backing ending in the popular overthrow of Baby Doc, the son. By the time he fled the country, the foreign debt amounted to over $750m. Since then, the debt continued to rise through interest and penalties. Meanwhile the Duvalier family seems to have over $900m in western bank accounts, the subject of a trial currently before the Swiss courts.
But the sheer cost of servicing these debts is crippling. The World Bank estimated that Haiti paid $321m just to service the debt between 1995 and 2001. Recently, the Paris Club announced debt relief for Haiti amounting to $214m. But the debt reduction includes an element for the interest they would otherwise have paid. When it is expressed as Net Present Value, the real figure is $84.9m.
Despite the finance packages being announced for Haiti, they are not gifts, but investments. Haiti will be paying interest on loans it has no choice but to accept. The European Network on Debt and Development estimate that Haiti will pay $16.2m in debt servicing this year. In the next four years to 2013 it will come to $130.4m and over the next 19 years it will amount to $661.5m.
And currently, the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank own 80% of the debt between them in equal measure. And there are rich pickings in a disaster zone because there will be major reconstruction projects. Haiti is forced to accept the loans and then to pay US corporations to carry out the reconstruction.
But it was US business that had such a major negative impact on the Haitian economy. Agricultural product dumping, including rice, meant that the rural economy of Haiti collapsed, sending two million people into the Port-au-Prince slums in the last 20 years. US companies took advantage of the cheap labour to set up clothing sweatshops.
The neo-liberal plan of massive loans and open markets overseen by puppet governments following the coups of 1991 and 2004 has destroyed the infrastructure and the rural economy. If there was any compassion at all in politics, or any sense of responsibility amongst the politicians who pushed such globalisation madness on a desperately poor country, they would cancel all the debts now, without conditions, and would restore sovereignty to Haiti.
But the sad fact is that when a nearby economy is so desperate, there are huge profits to be made. The construction companies will have a field day. We won't see the necessary infrastructure develop, just those parts needed for foreign companies to export the goods produced by the available pool of cheap labour. We won't see roads and hospitals, but we'll see privatisation of anything that has a hint of potential profitability.
Despite all the posturing about Haiti, the hand-wringing and the tearful comments to camera, the hard truth is that Haiti's parlous state is largely the responsibility of the policies of globalisation and the competitive accumulation of large corporations. And the only proposal on the table to help Haiti is more of the same poison.