Thursday, January 14, 2010
Make Haiti a State. Television is filled with reports of the terrible toll an earthquake near Port-au-Prince has taken, and many media tell of websites and fone numbers by which individual Americans can contribute to the rescue and rebuilding effort. Where were these humanitarian media when Haiti was languishing in dehumanizing poverty and political authoritarianism or turmoil for 206 years?
Media have been quick to call Haiti one of the poorest countries on Earth. I suppose that depends on how many nations are meant by "the poorest". By most measures, Haiti isn't remotely one of the poorest countries in the world, only the poorest nation of the Western Hemisphere — the fortunate Hemisphere. The 10 poorest countries by GNP per capita are all in Africa; the 10 poorest by global purchasing power parity include one (Yemen) in southwestern Asia, but all 9 others are in Africa. According to Wikipedia, International Monetary Fund statistics rank Haiti as the 24th poorest country on Earth; World Bank figures show it as 20th poorest; the CIA World Factbook shows it as 26th poorest, all of those countries that are poorer being in Africa or Asia. But Haiti is still appallingly poor.
Once the current crisis has been overcome, and things return to subhumanly miserable "normal", will the American people turn away from the ugliness again? We shouldn't. The U.S. owes Haiti, bigtime. Were it not for Haitians rebelling against France from 1791 to 1803, Napoleon might well NOT have sold the Louisiana Territory to the United States.
I addressed the debt the United States owes Haiti, here, as part of a much longer post, on April 7, 2007:
Mexico is not the only Third World area to which the United States owes an enormous debt that it has not yet repaid. There are at least three others. First is Haiti. As the Louisiana State Museum's website puts it:If we do not bring Haiti into the Union (if at first in a Territorial or "Commonwealth" arrangement of several years' duration to prepare Haiti for full statehood), it is almost certain that Haiti will resume its history of economic desperation and political instability. Is that in our interest?Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte had a vision of a renewed western empire for France, and his schemes included the recapture of Louisiana from Spain. Control over this vast territory would halt the westward expansion of the young United States and would supply French colonies in the West Indies with the goods they needed. In 1800, Napoleon signed the secret Treaty of Ildefonso with Spain, an agreement that stipulated that France would provide Spain with a kingdom for the son-in-law of Spain's king if Spain would return Louisiana to France. However, Napoleon's plan collapsed when the twelve-year revolt of slaves and free blacks in the French colony of Saint-Domingue [Haiti] succeeded, forcing French troops to return defeated to France and preventing them from reaching their ultimate destination — Louisiana — and from being able to defend it. As Napoleon's New World empire disintegrated, the loss of Haiti made Louisiana unnecessary.A textbook from my college days expands:Some fifty thousand men had already been sacrified in the fiery furnace of Santo Domingo. Fifty thousand more men and an enormous sum of money would have to be thrown into the pestilential island [yellow fever] before it could be subdued. Even with such a force Napoleon might fail. If he did succeed, he would lose anyhow — for the island would be ruined. ... With his prestige suffering badly at home and abroad, he could not afford to go on with this mad venture and risk another setback. Since he was forced to abandon Santo Domingo, what need had he for the granary — Louisiana? [Realize, as both this quote and the altogether separate source above indicate, Haiti was the rich prize, and Louisiana only the backwater to supply that rich prize! Might Haiti again be rich? Not independent, it won't. As a State of the Union? May be.]
[Moreover, the British were preparing a major fleet to seize Louisiana without paying a cent for it.] Spain almost certainly would have been willing to outbid Jefferson for Louisiana. [but] Aside from forestalling the British fleet, [Napoleon] apparently had in mind keeping the United States from being driven into British arms, and at the same time averting future wars with the boundary-bursting young nation. More than this, Napoleon had in view beefing up the American republic so that it would thwart the expansion of England in the New World, compete with her merchant marine, and, as he far-sightedly put it, "sooner or later humble her pride."
So he sold Louisiana to us. Had Toussaint l'Ouverture and the Haitian people not fought fanatically against the French, Napoleon might have subdued "Saint Domingue"** and then been able to move his army on to Louisiana, thereby to create a great, French-speaking colony of it, in control of that portion of American foreign trade that flowed from the Mississippi River system, and hemming in U.S. territorial growth for a generation or more, and perhaps even permanently. Had France stayed in Louisiana permanently, the U.S. would have remained east of the Mississippi and become only a middling country, not the world's only superpower. Without Louisiana, we wouldn't have moved on to Texas or the Southwest, including a little thing called California.
It is hard to overstate the case of how much we owe Haiti. We have never paid so much as the tiniest fraction of that debt. It's time we did, starting with accepting immigrants fleeing the horrendous conditions of independent Haiti, and culminating in statehood for that now-miserable country that could, with U.S. aid and guidance, become a splendid Sunbelt state, a cheap place for retirees to live comfortably on modest Social Security payments.
(The current U.S. military death toll in Iraq, according to the website "Iraq Coalition Casualties", is 4,373 — for Israel.)