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Factors Which Hindered Haiti's Growth Since 1804

by leslie
Posted: December 15, 2003

Independent Haiti was born out of struggle beginning in 1791 and lasting beyond 1804. The fight was never an easy one and even after independence, Haiti had many negative factors hindering progression. Being a Black republic among white-ruled nations was a major setback as they refused to treat Haiti as independent. Scissions also existed within Haiti as the Blacks retained control of the North and the Coloureds, the South. A nation divided could not efficiently combat external pressures as was possible in unison. The problem was further compounded by the expulsion of whites from Haiti who possessed expertise in terms of the management of the economy. This further dampened international relations which sent the economy dwindling. Another possible blunder was that Haiti did not develop with the assistance of a mother country, as was the case with other emancipated territories. In this regard, the development of Haiti was hindered by the repercussions of the Revolution.

Immediately after the post-war epoch, Haiti was plagued with economic catastrophe. The revolution had destroyed the very foundation of Haiti's wealth: the agricultural production of coffee, spices, indigo and ultimately, sugar. Colonies that had undergone emancipation subsequently experienced the loss of their main export product, which was commonly sugar cane. Their position was that, economic loss came as a result of the decreased demand for the product. In Haiti's case, sugar was still extremely profitable but had come to ruins after the war. Cuba now took over as the leading sugar-producing colony with little competition from the smaller West Indian territories. Thus, Haiti began her independent history struggling to retain her dominant position in the race.

Haiti had problems administering new roles to the once enslaved African population. Haitian wealth lay in its ability to procure agricultural products for export. This was formerly done using coerced labour. Now that enslaved labour was no longer used to cultivate estates, a new labour scheme was required. Free labour was necessary in order that economic success was attainable. However, ex-slaves adamantly refused to work under a colonial-like system where they were subservient to the dominant planter class. Instead, they preferred to become an independent peasantry with their own lands used for subsistence and export purposes. While this may not have been a reality for many ex-slaves, they still had aspirations to become self-dependant estate owners. Land distribution in part originated from already existing hierarchies within slave communities. Such stratification aroused feelings of suspicion among former slaves. There existed the ‘big peasants' who owned land and often hired labour, the ‘small peasants' who depended on family labour, landless tenants and sharecroppers who provided labour in exchange for wages.* In this regard, the Haitian revolution led to, "an agricultural one, with small peasant plots largely replacing the plantations." This also led to "the creation of the caco armies, bands of peasants organized into private forces to protect landlords and to raid powerful opponents and poor rural dwellers alike." * Thus, the agricultural economy was unstable as there was much skirmishing among peasants who struggled for supremacy. Also, the very fact that they exported in small quantities lessened the possibility for substantial economic returns. Haitian development was thus hindered from early on in its life as a Black sovereignty.

Another factor contributing to the impediment of Haiti was that the international community displayed blatant hostility to the Black nation. Haiti proved to be an ideological threat to countries dependent on slave labour and was thus ostracized. Haiti's own rebellion triggered subsequent revolts such as the Nat Turner insurrection in the United States. Believing in the innate inferiority of the Africans, it was difficult for Europeans and Euro- Americans to conceive of continuing trading relations with the Black republic. They also feared that their countries would suffer the same fate. In this regard, all formal ties were severed except for a quiet trade that existed with Britain and particularly the United States.

Another probable reason that made it difficult for Haiti to progress was that she no longer participated in the slave trade which was then a lucrative fiscal venture. Whenever labour was depleted, it was easy to get an almost immediate supply from slave traders. Continuing with the slave trade as an independent nation would, however, prove contradictory to the ideals of the revolution. Some Haitians recommended the revival of the slave trade in order to increase the number of field workers. Labour was desperately needed as fewer than 350,000 Haitians survived the revolution.* Thus, due to the fact that Haiti's population was critically lowered and that there was no way to upsurge the population without the slave trade, Haiti was unable to start her independent life with the force needed.

Unable to cope with the changing external world, Haiti continued to increasingly lag behind. From the mid nineteenth century, there was a change in the economic tide: a change from an agrarian way of life to a more industrialized one. Due to the fact that Haiti was almost entirely cut off from the rest of the world, she was unable to procure the products appropriate to industrialization or even attempt to manufacture goods. Despite the small number of export products, Haiti did not do much to expand her economic horizon. In this regard, Haiti, overshadowed by growing economic enterprise worldwide, could not regain her dominant position on the market.

Further to this, unlike other territories that were emancipated, Haiti did not receive assistance from the mother country. Although Haiti was later recognized as a Black republic by the French, she did not receive help due to the nature of her independence. Unlike other territories, emancipation was not granted to Haiti. Instead Haiti fought for her independent status. Additionally, as a republic, France was not expected to assist Haiti to develop. Rather, Haitian independence was recognized on condition. An indemnity of 150 million francs was to be paid as well as the reduction of customs charges on French vessels to half the amount paid by other countries.* Thus, from the onset, Haiti entered independence with heavy debts, which hindered her upward development.

To further understand the current state of Haiti we must be cognizant of the dominant figurers who led them after independence. The first that would be considered is the authoritarian figure, Jean-Jacques Dessalines. Being enslaved to a cruel white master is said to have increased the intensity of his hatred towards whites. This hatred was further indicated when, in 1803, he reputedly tore the white strip from the French tricolour flag.* He insisted that Haiti's flag had two stripes, a blue and a red one to symbolize that the white had been ripped out of Haiti.* Dessalines' first critical move was the expulsion of the whites from Haiti in 1804. It is alleged that approximately 20,000 French were slaughtered.* Despite the removal of the white plantocracy, Dessalines attempted to re-instate the French plantation system to rebuild the sugar trade. The problem with this scheme was that it was difficult to get the newly freed population to do the work formerly done by slaves. This problem existed since 1794 and Toussaint tried to amend the situation by introducing the fermage system.

On hearing that Napoleon was to be made emperor, Dessalines decided to beat him to the coronation. Thus, on October 8, 1804, Dessalines became Jacques I, Emperor. He was extremely despotic in his leadership, as he demanded unflinching obedience from the Haitian population. In his short term in office, he made miscalculated moves that scarred Haiti for a long while after. One such blunder was the invasion of Santo Domingo which was checked by the accidental arrival of the French. This war laid the foundation for the animosity between these two nations. Many Haitians, particularly in the South became increasingly disenchanted with the rule of the despot. It is not surprising, therefore, that Dessalines was assassinated only three years after the declaration of independence.

Haiti subsequently plunged into a situation where political anarchy and civil war was evident. Henry Christophe from the north and Alexander Petion from the south contested for the governance of Haiti. Petion and his political advisors tried to deceive Christophe into becoming president but with virtually no power. Christophe thus declared the north the State of Haiti on February 17, 1807. On March 9, of the same year, Petion was elected president of the Republic of Haiti in which he had control over the southern half of the island.

In the black North, Christophe sought to bring his kingdom into the modern world. He began an ambitious programme of education, at least for the children of the elite, and spent a great deal on infrastructural development. In addition, Christophe re-introduced the fermage system. This was mingled with vigorous disciplinary force and worked with much success. However, it was the very implementation of this system that hastened the end of Christophe's regime. Plantations were either placed in the hands of military officers who showed dexterity and leadership on their missions or mulattoes who could prove their relationship to the original proprietors and the rest was leased to the government. Despite the success of the new system, the bulk of the black population were not in favour of it. They hated that this new system closely resembled slavery. Thus many of them fled to the south and those that remained, continued to express their abhorrence for the system. Dessalines' reign was ended when Boyer, Petion's successor launched an attack on the north. Christophe committed suicide which put an end to the division between the north and the south. Haiti's development, in this view, was slowed down due to the dissatisfaction of the ex- slave population who grudgingly worked under a slave-like system. With an unhappy labour force, Haiti was unable to move forward as a truly independent nation.

Under the leadership of Alexander Petion, Haiti was impacted negatively. He did nothing to re-invigorate the economy unlike Dessalines and Chrisophe. Due to the insolvency of the treasury, Petion redistributed lands as payment for military services. The effect of such action was that it created a growing independent peasantry who utilized their lands mainly for subsistence. They isolated themselves from cities and the external world and were seldom involved in government. Coffee supplanted sugar as the main crop as it could be cultivated by peasants and their families. Despite the massive turnover, coffee was not of major economic importance. In addition, land plots became smaller as they were sub-divided by landowners to be distributed to inheritors. This meant that goods were exported in smaller quantities which was not economically practicable at the time. Petion purchased peasant products at reasonable cost when prices overseas were low. This was done in an attempt to raise the market value of the products. This move proved ineffective as it made southern goods uncompetitive. Petion's tenure as the southern leader further encouraged economic backwardness which plagued Haiti for decades to come.

The reunification of Haiti was accomplished under the Boyer regime. The north, being the more prosperous of the two now assumed the immense debts of the south. In addition, as new leader of the united country, he extended land distribution to the north. Thus, Haiti grew largely to become a nation cultivated by small peasants. Under his reign, Haiti and Santo Domingo were united. He abolished the tax on primary export goods which deeply upset coffee cultivators in particular. He also agreed to the terms under which Haitian independence was recognized by France.* Boyer also became unpopular when he arrested prominent Black leaders. Such actions culminated in a series of revolts in the south. Many complained that his leadership was corrupt as army officers were promoted through nepotism, freedom of the press was restricted and magistrates and judges became "mere creatures of the president."* Boyer in 1843 abdicated when revolutionary forces had spread and he failed to suppress them. Here we witness Haiti being controlled by corrupt leaders who only sought self-aggrandizement. Thus, Haiti's progress was setback and has not been able to fully recover.

In retrospect, Haiti's progress was hindered as she was ostracized by the international community. Additionally, she had a huge foreign debt to pay in order that her independence was recognized. Further to this, she expelled the whites who possessed managerial expertise. Another factor was that Haiti was divided at a time when the only chance of her survival was with unity. She also received no assistance from France to help out as a newly independent nation. Lastly, the leaders that ruled Haiti after 1804, made decisions that proved to disrupt the growth of the Black republic. Haiti, in this regard, was unable to overcome the challenges that she faced that further encouraged her underdevelopment.

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