Having alluded to the problems in Haiti being caused by the French in the last post, I thought I might clarify what I meant. After all, France is not alone in laying a heavy hand upon the territories it controlled. As with all colonial powers, some good came of their rule in South-East Asia. The cities they helped to build, Phnom Penh and Saigon for example, are much better designed than the logistical nightmares of Kuala Lumpur and Dhaka mapped out by the British.

But administratively the French were a disaster. While Britain left behind an educated and efficient civil service in every colony they vacated, the French did next to nothing in this part of the world. Notoriously after 80 years of rule in Cambodia they paid for the education of just four nationals, and that only to the high school level. Cambodia was ripe for a Pol Pot, even before the Americans carpet-bombed the country.

But Haiti has suffered an even worse fate. Arriving too late to the island of Hispaniola to claim the rainy side occupied by the Spanish, the French settled on the dry side and immediately began stripping the forest for sugar plantations which they stocked with African slaves. In a nice touch of historical irony it was the slaves who kicked the French out of Haiti in the only successful slave revolt in the Caribbean. But they paid a high price for their independence, France exacting a tax that the poor Haitians only paid off shortly after WWII. Their independence also cost them markets, as many countries, in order to punish Haiti for its uppitiness, refused to do business with the country.

Decades of rule by a succession of kleptomaniacs further reduced what had once been the richest colony in the Americas to the depths of poverty. A series of natural disasters did the rest. Hillsides, no longer anchored by trees, slide into the populated valleys with depressing regularity. Hurricanes batter villages that are already on the edge of existence and earthquakes shatter the insubstantial buildings. A knowledge of Haiti’s troubled history will not provide medical aid for those who need it. But perhaps understanding will keep others from blaming the victims of centuries of injustice for the dilemma they now find themselves in.

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