Photo by Kelly

Fritznel D. Octave presents an intimate look at the history of Haiti and how the promise of revolution was snuffed out in his book Haiti: Between Pestilence and Hope.

Since they revolted against oppressive French colonial rule following the wake of the American Revolutionary War, Haiti has struggled for its place on the global stage. Breaking free and becoming independent, this Caribbean nation-state has been the target of harmful foreign interventions, a tense and chronic atmosphere of political dysfunction, and been the wrecking board of several devastating natural disasters like hurricanes and earthquakes. It’s as if the world constantly conspires to drive Haiti into ruin!

A Brief History of Haiti

When the Spanish colonized Hispaniola after 1492, they either drove out or assimilated the indigenous Taino population. While there was some semblance of coexistence between the Taino natives and the European settlers, harshly forced labor and the arrival of Old World diseases brought from Europe would eradicate the latter into near extinction, with no concrete Taino populations surviving in the modern world. Over the succeeding centuries after their settlement, Europeans would bring over hundreds of thousands of people from Africa via the Atlantic Slave Trade. These enslaved people would be set to work in plantations that grew sugar, coffee, timber, and more. 

When the French founded the colony of Saint-Domingue in the 1600s, what is now Haiti became one of the wealthiest places in the western hemisphere. A rebellion in the late 1700s primarily led by enslaved Blacks would see the ousting of the French and the establishment of Haiti as the first republic in Latin America and the Caribbean and the second one in the Americas, after the United States. Haiti was the first American country ever to abolish slavery within its territories. It would soon become a center of abolitionist thought, self-determination, and the concept of racial equality. 

How is Haiti’s Economy?

While it had been lauded as one of the wealthiest nations in the Caribbean at its founding, the confluence of foreign meddling, corrupt government, and susceptibility to disasters would transform Haiti into the poorest country in the western hemisphere. 

Over fifty percent of Haitians live under the poverty line, and subsistence farming is still the norm across many families. There is much to be done in Haiti for it to be restored to its former glory and place in the western hemisphere. And it cannot do so without the aid of its neighbors and a sweeping paradigm shift within.

Haiti and the United States of America 

Much of Haiti’s current conditions can be attributed to its deep and storied history with its largest neighbor, the United States of America, which is coincidentally also the most powerful state in the region and the world, economically and militarily. Haiti’s complicated relationship with the U.S. includes an almost two-decade-long and bloody occupation from the latter. While tensions have cooled somewhat, and the two nations maintain a cordial relationship with one another, it often takes a single election in the U.S. presidential race to completely flip the dynamics from friendly to hostile, e.g., during the Trump administration, immigration was severely restricted while this tune changed during Biden’s tenure. 

It remains to be seen if anything constant can be reached between the two countries, aside from the U.S.’s dominance over the smaller island nation.

The Difficult History of Haiti

Ever since it threw off the yoke of French oppression, Haiti has never seen a break. It has been ravaged by outside forces beyond its control: malicious involvement of other governments, an unstable domestic position, deadly epidemics, and destructive natural disasters. Despite its rich and vibrant history, natural resources, and hardworking people, there seems to be a conspiracy afoot to put Haiti on the ground.

  • Political Instability. The long history of dysfunctional administrations has plagued Haiti’s ability to provide a stable and reliable state for its people. Its political institutions are rocky at best, with sustained periods of instability that make any transformative policy practically dead on arrival.
  • Limited Infrastructure. Due to an unreliable government structure, many of Haiti’s necessary institutions are underdeveloped. Every aspect of society in Haiti needs radical transformation, from transportation to communication to food logistics to energy distribution. Without any significant improvement to all of these, there can be no future for a better Haiti.
  • Natural Disasters. Haiti’s location in the Caribbean makes it one of the most beautiful nations in the world in terms of wildlife and geography, but it also makes it quite prone to natural disasters such as hurricanes and earthquakes. Only a functioning government can help mitigate these factors.

Haiti: Between Pestilence And Hope

For a more in-depth look at the situation in Haiti and what can be done to alleviate many of its issues, Haiti: Between Pestilence and Hope by Fritznel D. Octave offers an intimate and detailed examination of things as they are on the ground. 

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