Long before Bretton Woods and the establishment of the IMF and World Bank, the US and France besieged Haiti with schemes involving extortion and outright theft of Haitian government funds leaving Haiti in perpetual debt.
Paying for Winning the Revolution
Approximately 21 years after Haiti trounced General Bonaparte’s army in the Revolution, France proved that it was incapable of accepting the defeat. In 1825, France promised the Haitian government that it would not invade Haiti again if it paid 90 million in gold francs (approximately $22 billion in today’s currency) for restitution to France and French slave owners for lost “property.” Yes, this included slaves. The idea of being colonized by France again combined with France’s mammoth economic power left Haiti little choice. To make the first payment, Haiti had to close down all of its public schools and it took until 1947 to pay off the debt entirely. It is no wonder that Haiti is considered the first case of structural adjustment.
A shameful US Occupation
In 1911, a consortium of American firms took over the concession to build Haiti’s National Railway system. In 1914, because of sub-standard workmanship and the consortium’s failure to lay track in mountainous areas, the Haitian government refused to make any more payments. National City Bank of New York, representing the consortium, claimed that it was not able to fulfill the contract because of frequent revolutions and demanded that Haiti pay the consortium $33,000 for every mile of the track including those portions not laid.
In December 1914, a contingent of US Marines was sent to Haiti to remove over one half million dollars of Haitian funds from the Banque Nationale for deposit in the National City Bank in New York for “safekeeping.” In 1915, the US Marines invaded Haiti and established an occupation that would not end until 1934. I suppose General Smedley Butler, a high-ranking US Marine occupation official, was right when he suggested the US Marines invaded Haiti as a bill collector for the National City Bank of New York.
The nineteen years of US occupation robbed what little was left in Haiti as Dr.Normil Sylvain, a Haitian, describes in 1926 (from a book entitled, Occupied Haiti by E. Balch):
“I know they throw the history of Haiti in our face – its long tissue of revolutions and massacres. Yet the American war with the Cacos killed more people than 10 or 20 revolutions put together; it devastated whole regions and ruined the cattle of Haiti, as veterinary experts can testify if they are honest. Revolutions were fomented by foreigners – English, French, American, Dutch traders – who risked nothing, and always profited. Loans which dealt rather in human lives than in merchandise were made at rates of 1,000 per cent and those who thus enriched themselves overthrew any government that was not subservient to them.”
In its first two hundred years, Haiti never had a chance.