On January 11 during a meeting on immigration, President Trump asked why America accepts immigrants from “shithole countries.” His remark was aimed at Haiti and Africa.
Although the remark resulted in widespread condemnation and a denial from the administration, Trump was correct about the conditions in Haiti and Africa despite the crudity of his commentary.
Left out of the discussion, however, are the reasons for deplorable conditions in these countries.
After Christopher Columbus “discovered” in 1492 what is today Haiti and the Dominican Republic, the island began its descent into misery. His sailors carried endemic Eurasian infectious diseases that wiped out thousands of natives.
The Taíno natives were generous and this led to their ultimate downfall and near extinction at the hands of the Spanish. Columbus said they would make good servants. Instead of servants, they became slaves under the encomienda system of forced labor in gold mines and plantations. By 1512, Spain codified a set of laws governing the behavior of Spaniards toward indigenous people in the Americas and endorsed their conversion to Catholicism.
A century later, the French imported slaves from Africa to work on sugarcane plantations. In Saint-Domingue, formerly Spain’s Santo Domingo, the French established a particularly brutal slave colony. One third of the slaves brought from Africa died within the first year from overwork and diseases such as smallpox and typhoid fever. By 1788, Haiti’s population consisted of 25,000 whites, 22,000 free “coloreds” and 700,000 slaves.
Following the example of the French Revolution in 1789, “free people of color” in Saint-Domingue and the French West Indies demanded more civil liberties. These unfulfilled demands by self-liberated slaves resulted in a widespread revolt against the Spanish and French. This revolt—the largest slave uprising since Spartacus led an unsuccessful revolt against the Roman Republic nearly 1,900 years before—led to the end of slavery in the colony.
The slave revolt forged a two-caste society in Haiti. Many of the wealthier mixed-race Haitians identified with the French and class division and tension resulted.
In 1825, the French forced the new state to pay reparations to ex-slave owners in return for recognition and the end of the island’s economic and political isolation. Although the amount of reparations—initially 150 million gold francs—was reduced in 1838, Haiti wasn’t able to pay off this debt until 1947. Reparations left the country impoverished and divided, a situation that has lasted until this day. It remains the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere.
Haiti soon became a target for global predatory lenders, most notably the International Monetary Fund. Its debt has grown exponentially since, from $302 million in 1980 to $1.134 billion in 2004….