On Monday the Ramapo College Culture Club hosted Dr. David Colman, associate professor of African American history, who gave a lecture on Haitian history. His lecture focused on the ways Haiti went from one of the wealthiest colonies in the Americas during the 18th century to the most impoverished country in the Western Hemisphere in our present times.
According to Colman, the wealth that Haiti had during its colonial period “was produced by the labor of over half a million African slaves, who were often overworked and suffered from disease.”
This environment of oppression provided the backdrop to the most successful slave rebellion in human history, spreading like wildfire from the Northern sugar plantations to encompass the rest of Haiti in 1792. Amidst the revolution, a major instigator of the rebellion Toussaint Louverture rose to power with a desire to modernize the country. This included trading with other nations and the creation of a large-scale agricultural industry. This plan carried on past his death in 1802.
“It was the first successful slave revolt and set up a potential model for a black republic, and with slaves in such countries as the United States organizing slave revolts inspired by the Haitian Revolution, the countries of the world didn’t want to fuel this fire,” Colman said, referring to the period after the Haitians achieved independence in 1804, making it clear that no other nation was willing to have relations with Haiti at that time.
With the embargoes of other nations, Colman explained, Haiti fell into economic decline. France, who pressured the Haitians by bringing their own warships to Haitian shores, compounded this decline. Therefore, the Haitian republic decided to enter into trade relations with France in 1825 and fell quickly into debt due to France requiring Haiti to pay them 150 million francs in five annual payments, which was four times their budget at the time.
Colman then jumped forward to 1915, and began to discuss Haiti in economic stagnation due to past decisions. He explained that Woodrow Wilson decided to invade and occupy Haiti, which lasted until 1934.
“The United States took control of the nation’s monetary reserves, and whilst in conflict with Haitian guerrilla fighters, the U.S. armed forces managed to destroy much of the agricultural sector in an effort to have the population submit to U.S. authority,” Colman said, explaining what it was like under occupation.
In addition to the occupation, the U.S. enforced forced labor onto the population and created industrial farming operations despite the population’s wishes as well as enforcing other neoliberal economic policies. Even when the U.S. left Haiti, its will was still enforced via proxy dictators set up by the nation until 1986.
“Tariffs pertaining to foreign goods were slashed significantly, devastating the nations own domestic production of these same goods,” Colman said.
Taking the recent earthquake into consideration, these trends could be further expedited, according to Colman.
After the lecture, attendees were able to ask questions. Sophomore Andrew Herrera looked to the historiography of the subject.
“Why aren’t the actions of the United States in Haiti widely explored in our current curriculum of history,” Huerra asked.
Colman gave a clear response:
“Two of the many sources of this ignorance stem from a lack of regard to racial disparity in our own country as well as the tendency to view poor countries as beset in their poverty,” Colman said.