Haiti and Lessons From History

The tragic situation in Haiti is gnawing at me. Like so many others, my family is contributing to the quake relief effort, and we’re optimistic that the world’s overwhelming generosity can help improve peoples’ lives there.

Yet the tragic situation in Haiti still gnaws at me.

How can two countries, Haiti and the Dominican Republic, share one island; with the former trapped in abject poverty and the latter flourishing?[1] Hmmm… a pact with the devil perhaps???[2] Um no. Try a hostile takeover.

The West Indies were once a stop along the British trade triangle[3], where imported slaves essentially produced Britain’s sugar supply. At one point the island exported nearly half the world’s sugar and coffee[4,5].

Within the French colony of Saint-Domingue (later called Haiti), the slaves rebelled around 1800. This disquieted Jefferson, who for politically expedient reasons looked the other way as Napoleon came in to quash the rebellion and restore French rule[5]. But the recently freed slaves had other ideas and kicked Napoleon’s behind, in the process torching their own land as a military strategy. On the way out, Napoleon capitalized on his failure nonetheless by selling the Louisiana Territories to Jefferson – The Louisiana Purchase[5,7]. There’s the politically expedient reason, and quite a chess match by Jefferson I must add.

I’ll skip over some sordid details. It comes down to this. In 1910, National City Bank took over the assets of the National Bank of Haiti, and shortly afterward, Woodrow Wilson executed a U.S. military takeover of Haiti in part to protect National City’s, um, assets. “The Haitian government was now literally the captive of the New York banks: it was a policy of annexation by financial abduction.”[6] Over time, this cabal of financiers tapped into Haiti’s resources and revenue, further eroded its arable land, created and destroyed governments and otherwise served the best interests of its shareholders. Oh by the way, National City Bank? We know them today as Citicorp.

Now I’ll ask a couple questions:

  1. How much has Citicorp profited from Haiti, versus how much it has contributed to the well-being of Haiti’s people?
  2. How much have world citizens profited from Haiti, versus how much all are now giving to help Haiti’s quake victims?

We can indeed learn lessons from history.

Please Donate to Haiti Earthquake Relief

There are so many ways that all of us can help. Charity Navigator has created this excellent online resource listing many trusted charities with established histories of working on massive disasters and/or of working in Haiti:

Charity Navigator: Help Survivors of the Earthquake in Haiti

Also please remember to ask your employer about matching your donations. A little genuine corporate partnership can go a long way.[8]


  1. Economy of the Dominican Republic
  2. Pat Robertson and Haiti’s Deal With the Devil
  3. Atlantic slave trade
  4. The Haitian Revolution
  5. Haiti’s Tragic History Is Entwined with the Story of America
  6. Haiti: A Case History
  7. He Changed the New World
  8. Haiti Relief: See How Much Major Companies Are Donating

One Response to “Haiti and Lessons From History”

  1. Thanks for the reminder that the US shares a large portion of the blame that Haiti is in. And thank god that you, I and so may others are giving, and that the US government is undertaking one of the largest assistance efforts ever!

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