Haiti and the Devil in Debt Relief

We hope that you use the weight of your governments to convince international financial institutions to cancel Haiti’s entire foreign debt.
-Eric Faustin, director of the Rocahd, the Coalition of Canadian-Haitian Development Organizations.

Haiti and its people are in a terrible pickle. They need emergency relief funds but they also need more substantive economic relief. There is a coalition of Canadian and Haitian Development Organizations and many others who are calling for substantial debt relief. Most agree that the current gov’t is the most stable in recent memory. This is very, very good. But.

Their awful position as the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere can be attributed in part to their fight for freedom and against racism and colonialism. Make no mistake it has been an historical collusion between France, Britain, the U.S., the IMF and the World Bank. The IMF gave Haiti another loan of $165M, last week, thus keeping that country indebted even more! Plus, as usual, this loan – which they desperately need – comes with conditions: raising electricity prices, salary freezes, and so on. Talk about stepping on somebody’s neck when they’re down. This is where the racism and colonialism comes in.

When Haitian slaves threw off the French in 1804, France threatened an embargo enforced by the US, Brits, themselves and so on. To avoid this, Haiti agreed to pay off their former slave owners for their freedom. In nearly 2003 dollars this was $21B. It took Haiti until 1947 to pay off that initial debt. Can you imagine? Paying the slave master for the slave’s freedom? Americans can; we know that narrative well. When President Aristide began agitating for reparations in regards to that debt, he was promptly overthrown and hustled into exile under armed American guards. Of course, paying your Master for your freedom makes perfect sense to Americans. It’s the way things were done here for centuries.

Now the IMF, World Bank and other Western powers are screwing the yoke around Haiti’s neck even further. While giving on the one hand, they are taking with the other.

Without venturing into hyperbole, keeping Haiti economically paralyzed in these ways creates and perpetuates an environment where racist sterotypes, direct tropes still with us from slavery (lazy, shiftless, devil worshippers, etc.), can flood the minds and spirits of rich white Westerners. These tropes help us to justify the wealth we’ve gathered at the hand of slavery in particular but racism in general.

The nomenclature of first world and third world carries with it not only wealth rankings but also a racial hierarchy. How many brown peopled first world nations are there? Not many. This racism is no more demonstrated than Pat Robertson’s comment that the Haitian earthquake happened because Haitians made a pact with the devil in exchange for their freedom. Invoking the Western trope of a Faustian bargain, Robertson- no enemy of corporate America – delegitimizes the Haitian struggle for freedom.

Robertson represents hundreds of thousands of viewers, which is comforting.

The IMF and World Bank are the new Haitian masters. And the masters of a number of countries. We need to open our eyes and wallets in regards to Haiti and places like it. A person can’t pull themselves up by their bootstraps with another’s boot on their neck.

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~ by Thom on January 26, 2010.

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