Yuji I saw on TV there was a terrible earthquake in Haiti.
Dane It’s heartbreaking, isn’t it. Worse than the China Earthquake in 2008.
Yuji But why did so many people die? They say it could be as many as 200,000!
Dane Because it’s the poorest country in the Western hemisphere. The buildings break easily.
Yuji Why is it so terribly poor? No natural resources?
Dane It used to be rich in resources. I had to read their history to find out how they got so poor.
Yuji Can you start by telling me just where it is?
Dane It’s on the island of Hispaniola in the Caribbean Sea, between Cuba and Puerto Rico.
Yuji How big is it?
Dane The island is a little smaller than Hokkaido. But Haiti is only the western one-third. The rest is the Dominican Republic
Yuji What kind of people are the Haitians?
Dane Mostly French or Creole speaking blacks.
Yuji Creole? What kind of language is that?
Dane French mixed with African and Indian dialects.
Yuji You mean most of the people came from Africa?
Dane That’s right. But before they got there, Christopher Columbus made the first Spanish colony there in 1492.
Yuji What happened to the original Indians?
Dane Most of them were killed or died from disease.
Yuji And what happened to the Spanish?
Dane After 200 years they gave Haiti to the French but kept the eastern part. That was in 1697.
Yuji Why did they give it to the French?
Dane The French and Spanish had a war in Europe. The Spanish lost.
Yuji What did the French do in Haiti?
Dane The slave trade. Ships full of black slaves arrived from Africa and sailed back to Europe full of gold, silver and other goodies.
Yuji Wow, that must have brought a lot of money to Haiti.
Dane Yes, in the 18th Century Port-au-Prince was the richest port in the Caribbean. And the population is mostly black today because of all that slave business.
Yuji How did they go from being the richest to the poorest?
Dane After 100 years of enslavement by the French, a slave named Toussaint L’Overature led a revolution in 1804, and created the world’s first black democracy.
Yuji And he made them poor?
Dane No, their old masters, the French did. Twenty years later, after the Napoleonic Wars ended in Europe, the French planned to invade Haiti again. They said, “Pay a huge fine,or we will invade you again.”
Yuji But that was a long time ago. What’s that got to do with them being so poor today?
Dane All their money went to the debt. Of course they stopped the slave trade and they had no money to build a new economy. And then other countries boycotted them.
Yuji What about the US?
Dane They made them sell a lot of their land to US sugar companies.
Yuji Didn’t that help the economy?
Dane No. The profits went to the US. Then, in 1915, President Wilson completely took over their economy.
Yuji Like a colony?
Dane Exactly. For 19 years Haiti was ruled by the US military.
Yuji Japan had an American military government too, under MacArthur. They helped Japan a lot.
Dane Not in Haiti. They just protected the US companies.
Yuji Somebody must have profited.
Dane Yeah, 95% of the nation’s wealth is held by the 1% of the Haitians who work with the Americans. The only future for the rest is in the army.
Yuji But the Americans did finally leave, right?
Dane The army left, but the US still controlled the economy and the government.
Yuji For how long?
Dane Another 23 years. Then in 1957, dictators Papa Doc Duvalier and his son Baby Doc ruled the country in a reign of terror.
Yuji Didn’t the US try to stop them?
Dane No, the US supported them. The Duvaliers protected the US businesses and kept the Cuban communists out.
Yuji The communists?
Dane Yeah. Castro’s Cuban revolution was in ’59, remember?
Yuji HOh yeah. So, how long did these monsters run the show?
Dane Till 1990, when Jean-Bertrand Aristide was elected.
Yuji Was he any better?
Dane Definitely! He was a Catholic priest who worked with the poor people in the slums.
Yuji You mean like Mother Theresa?
Dane Something like that. He was a real reformer. The people love him.
Yuji So, what happened to him?
Dane He’s in exile in South Africa. Papa Bush ran him out after 9 months. Clinton brought him back in 1994. Then Baby Bush kidnapped him again in 2004.
Yuji Wow! What’s the US got against him?
Dane He supported his country, not US business. And they were still afraid of Castro’s Cuba.
Yuji So, what you‘re saying is; These people are dying because Haiti is so poor and Haiti is so poor because of France and the US?
Dane Well, That’s right. Of course it was not only because of them, but they sure didn’t help.
Yuji But Obama is sending a lot of help now, right?
Dane Yes, he is. Maybe this catastrophe will shake some sense into America and the rest of the world.
Yuji And maybe this time they’ll finally give the Haitians a chance.
Dane Yeah, then they might still become the great black hope they started out as 200 years ago.
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