The Historical, Political And Social Conditions That Led Haiti To Turbulence

Historians in the News
tags: Haiti, Haitian Revolution



Haiti's troubles go back more than a century. Lulu Garcia-Navarro talks with Brooklyn College professor Jean-Eddy Saint Paul about the country's history.


To better understand the historical, political and social conditions that led Haiti to this point, we turn now to Jean-Eddy Saint Paul. He teaches at Brooklyn College and is the founder of CUNY's Haitian Studies Institute. Professor Saint Paul, welcome to the program.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: I want to start way back after the Haitian revolution, which was essentially a slave rebellion that allowed Black people to take over a French colony. But they had to pay for that freedom, right? In 1825, Charles X said he would recognize Haitian independence for 150 million francs, which was a shocking sum. You know, for context, the U.S. bought Louisiana in the Louisiana Purchase for half of that. It crippled the Haitian economy.

SAINT PAUL: Yeah, definitely. At the time that the Haitian revolution happened, the international community never accepted as a fact the Haitian revolution. My ancestor - they defeated the French army, so they won their own revolution, but they had to pay for that.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I mean, and they had to borrow that money from French banks. And Haiti, in fact, didn't repay all the interest on the loan until 1947. Is that right? That's a century and a quarter of stalled growth.

SAINT PAUL: The fact that France caused Haitian people to pay for that revolution - it was a way, symbolically, that the empire put its foot on the neck of Haiti. And that actually started the process of foreign debt - international debt of Haiti that has a negative impact for the development of the country.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Let's look at politics and how Haiti has then been governed. You know, I've been there many times, and there's a huge divide between the elites and the population.

SAINT PAUL: Since the very beginning, Haiti has had a dysfunctional elite because the language of all Haitian is Creole. One hundred percent of the population speak Haitian Creole. But guess what, Lulu? Since 1804 until 1987, the language of Haitian people was not recognized legally as an official language. So the elite who took power in Haiti - they used a language that was the language of the former master, the French. And the elite also, in order to give the impression that they are civilized person - they embraced Christianity while rejecting the popular religion of Haitian people, the Haitian voodoo. So I think since 1804, we have had that disconnection between the elite and the masses.

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