A Brief History of Haiti

By Amy King, Courtesy of Off the Mat, Into the World

At least 380,000 children in Haiti remain displaced one year after the January 2010 earthquake. (Image courtesy of Off the Mat, Into the World.)

Haiti. Ah, yes, the jewel of the Caribbean. Christopher Columbus found paradise on earth in 1492 when he landed in Haiti and claimed it for Spain. Exit: the indigenous peoples—wiped out by Spanish settlers. Enter: the world’s first black republic born out of struggle, blood and determination.

The struggle came when Spain ceded Haiti to French colonists. With no native workers, the French began importing African slaves at a clip. Thousands and thousands of slaves were brought over to work in the abundant sugar cane and coffee fields. They were never educated. Blood (and lots of it) came when the slaves revolted against their brutal French owners. Former slave Toussaint L’Ouverture led the slaves to victory after years of battle. Napoleon Bonaparte’s army was kept at bay by the Citadel Laferriere, which sits atop a mountain in northern Haiti. After the loss of their most profitable colony, France sold an enormous amount of land to President Thomas Jefferson. We, as Americans, owe the Louisiana Purchase to this slave revolt.

Haitians have continued that same determination through ensuing years of dictatorship and corruption. They’ve endured U.S. occupation and failed U.S. policy. Haiti has been in debt to the French since the revolt—a debt that has defined a nation. And they have been exploited, non-stop, by governments both Haitian and foreign.

Haiti was still a thriving nation in the early 1900s. However, lack of a stable government and the presence of a long-term U.S. embargo spiraled the nation into primitive third-world conditions. Plundered resources led to deforestation. Deforestation led to lack of jobs. Lack of jobs led to a country filled with poverty. That poverty has kept corporations, business opportunities and tourism far, far from the country’s shores. All of this leading up to a 7.0 magnitude earthquake (as well as Hurricane Tomas, cholera, and a chaotic presidential election) that has again called for struggle, blood and determination.

Exit: all hope.  Enter: a worldwide, sustained relief and support effort. OTM Global Seva Challenge’s initiatives will include tangible projects to help in that effort.

“The history of Haiti will break your heart. Knowing it, the weak will despair, but the caring will strive to break the chains of tragedy.” -Ramsey Clark


The New York Times: Haiti

Suggested Reading
, courtesy of Off the Mat, Into the World

All titles (including Haiti Noir) by Haitian author Edwidge Danticat
All titles (including Uses of Haiti) – Dr. Paul Farmer
Mountains Beyond Mountains – Tracy Kidder
Where Am I Wearing – Kelsey Timmerman
On That Day, Everybody Ate – Margaret Trost

Suggested Films,
courtesy of Off the Mat, Into the World

The Road to Fondwa – Justin Brandon
All titles by the Cine Institute
Poto Mitan – Renee Bergan
Sun City Picture House – David Darg and Bryn Mooser
Strange Things: Children of Haiti – Alexandria Hammond