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    The Price of Freedom

    By Derek Barnes–

    For more than 200 years after its independence, Haiti has been plagued by crises and political disruptions. The latest incidents of gang violence and crime have contributed to nearly 13,000 civilian deaths since 2022 that go largely unreported by many major news outlets when compared to other global humanitarian crises, acts of terrorism, and civil unrest. The situation is so bad that some limited U.S. aid, along with an anti-terrorism team of U.S. Marines, has been dispatched to Port-au-Prince to bolster the protection of the U.S. Embassy amid escalating gang violence and a deepening political conflict.

    What’s behind the latest episode of violent conflict and why haven’t more world leaders and developed nations paid attention to the escalating plight of Haitian people?

    History often plays a critical role in unearthing the root cause and diagnosing many of today’s issues. A brief dive into Haiti’s history provides incredible insight into today’s problems. It’s reasonable to conclude that, since the rebellion that led to Haiti’s independence from France in 1804, freedom has been a tumultuous journey marked by economic struggles and trade inequities for the country. Unfortunately, the fight for independence came at a high price in terms of human lives lost and financial repercussions that continue to haunt the nation today.

    Flag of Haiti

    By the early 1800s, France was too busy and too leveraged to manage all its domestic conflicts and imperialist battles across the globe, and the rebellion in Haiti was another costly endeavor. To help address demands for capital, the Rothschild family devised sophisticated intelligence networks, financing models, and debt schemes (innovating central banking systems) to help fund countries with a growing appetite for war and imperialism in the early 19th century. Nations who took on debt proved to be a highly profitable business—especially if they could never get out of debt. Invariably, counties locked into debt were relegated to an endless extraction of human and natural resources for generations.

    Economically speaking and in the wake of Haiti’s “freedom,” powerful European interests funded by central banks engineered a grim future for the country. Almost immediately, the newly liberated nation faced crippling debt imposed by France as compensation for lost slave labor, as well as lost territory and property. This debt, known as “Independence Debt,” an oxymoron, would burden Haiti for decades, draining its resources and hindering its ability to invest in infrastructure and development. The payment of this debt severely restricted Haiti’s economic growth and perpetuated a cycle of poverty that persists to this day.

    Haiti’s agricultural economy, once the envy of the Caribbean, suffered significant setbacks after its independence. The plantation system, reliant on slave labor, collapsed, leaving the country struggling to find its economic footing. Attempts to diversify and modernize the economy were hampered by external interference, including embargoes and trade restrictions imposed by neighboring countries and former colonial powers.

    Despite being located near major markets in the United States and other Caribbean nations, Haiti has struggled to capitalize on its geographic advantage. Low-value goods such as textiles and agricultural products are the country’s chief exports, which face stiff competition in global markets. Limited access to credit and investment, coupled with a lack of infrastructure and institutional capacity building, has hindered Haiti’s ability to develop competitive industries and attract foreign investment. A shortage of opportunities and the absence of innovation leave the country vulnerable to corruption and instability.

    Moreover, Haiti’s trade imbalance exacerbates its financial problems. The country imports far more than it exports, leading to a chronic shortage of foreign currency and a reliance on foreign aid to sustain its economy. This dependence on external assistance undermines Haiti’s sovereignty and perpetuates a cycle of dependency that weakens efforts to achieve long-term economic stability.

    Haiti’s government has been corrupted and destabilized, and its resources have been exploited by foreign interests, including the United States, Europe, and neighboring countries, through a combination of political interference, economic manipulation, and resource extraction. Most of us are unaware of, or choose to ignore, the U.S. role in this saga.

    Negative propaganda also contributes to the distortion of Haitian identity and the erosion of economic stability. European colonizers and, later, the United States have branded Haiti as primitive and barbaric, perpetuating stereotypes of “savage” and “uncivilized” people to justify dehumanization and colonial rule. The media and Hollywood routinely dramatized Vodou rituals, “black magic,” and human sacrifices. The demonization of values and culture has had a profound impact on Haitian identity, fostering a sense of cultural inferiority and economic dependence. In reality, Haiti’s religious practices were a symbol of resistance and resilience against colonial oppression. Its practitioners proclaimed economic independence and celebrated their spiritual heritage as a form of cultural resistance and solidarity. Yet, counteracting the external and negative perceptions of Haitian identity while attaining financial stability remains challenging.

     It’s no surprise that Haiti ranks among the top 20 poorest countries, with an annual GDP of approximately $8–10B today. Adjusted for inflation, the country’s total GDP has really been in decline over the past ten years. By contrast, the top 5 richest men in the world have doubled their net wealth to almost $900B since 2020, while over five billion people across the globe have become poorer. These negative economic trends and disturbing realities give rise to the increased levels of poverty, violence, and crime we see in Haiti, other parts of the world, and even some Bay Area cities. Nefarious factions seize opportunities where there is manufactured crisis, weak leadership, unenforced laws, human desperation, and widespread apathy.

    Countries like Haiti have also seen a dramatic spike in migration to other countries due to natural disasters, political instability, gang violence, and lack of economic opportunities over the last decade. However, according to Reuters, over 200K people were forcibly repatriated by other countries back to Haiti in 2023. We rarely see this type of response when similar crises erupt in European and Asian countries where people are seeking refuge from catastrophic events, persecution, or war in their home country. Insufficient reliable humanitarian aid, little to no media coverage, lack of consistent financial investment, and dwindling resources set the stage for the increased violence and human atrocities we see today.

    We shouldn’t dismiss Haiti’s political leader’s responsibility for constructing a new vision for the country and roadmap to success for its people. However, the inconvenient truth is that the country still pays the price for its rebellion, which ultimately led to pseudo-emancipation during a period of neo-colonialism. The consequences have been devastating. Economic struggles stemming from debt, resource extraction, trade imbalances, and external political interference have hindered the nation’s development and perpetuated a cycle of systemic poverty. Negative propaganda serves to perpetuate the exploitation and demonization of Haitian people.   

    Despite the continued headwinds, Haiti has made some strides in recent years to address these challenges, including efforts to attract investment and improve infrastructure. But without the support of the U.S. and other world powers to reconcile past injury, things could get worse before they get better. The road to economic prosperity remains long and arduous. The legacy of Haiti’s fight for freedom is a stark reminder of the enduring costs of liberation, sovereignty, and economic self-determination.

    Derek Barnes is the CEO of the East Bay Rental Housing Association ( ). He currently serves on the board of Homebridge CA and Homerise. Follow him on Twitter @DerekBarnesSF and on Instagram at DerekBarnes.SF

    Social Philanthropreneur
    Published on March 21, 2024