Journalists Amy Bracken (American) and Michel Joseph (Haitian), along with Haitian photographer, Edine Celestin, started work together this week, the first team reporting for Round Earth Media’s project on inequality in Haiti.
Reeling from natural disasters, bitterly divided over politics and still struggling with a colonial past, Haiti appears to be trapped in a self-destructive spiral. Out of the limelight, however, people work to rebuild their lives with ingenuity and a dogged refusal to be left behind.
An unequal history
Haiti is a country we associate with earthquakes, coups and corruption. And grinding, widespread poverty. But back in the 18th century, Haiti was one of the richest islands of the French Empire. It was known as the Pearl of the Antilles. It supplied 60 percent of the world’s coffee and 40% of the world’s sugar- thanks in large part to the thousands of African slaves who worked the plantations and the fields. When news of the French revolution seeped quietly into the colony, Haiti’s slaves rose in rebellion- the first slave revolt in history – and threw out the plantation owners and colonial masters. For 12 years, Haitians fought for their freedom, finally establishing the first Black republic in 1804.
So how did that proud and powerful Haiti turn into the country we know today? – The poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, where ¾ of the population (11 million) live on less than $2 a day. Where unemployment is at 75%, and foreign aid is 40% of the government’s budget. Where racial and class hierarchies are still deeply entrenched, and where the newborn infant survival rate is one of the lowest in the world.
For a start, Haiti was forced to pay reparations to France in exchange for diplomatic recognition after the slave revolt. These payments forced Haiti into a death spiral of debt, as it borrowed from US and European banks to fulfill its obligation. Haiti finished paying off the indemnity and associated debts in 1947, by which time the economy was a wreck, with 80% of the national budget going to loan repayments. Agriculture and infrastructure were left to decay. People were destitute. During this time there were a few failed presidencies, a couple of coups, and a US occupation to make sure that Haiti did not default on its loans from American banks.
For more on the history of Haiti, visit the website for this 2-year project, Haiti Uncovered, which will feature untold stories from the Haiti we never see, produced by Haitian and US journalists working together in equal partnership, their stories reaching audiences in the U.S. and in Haiti.
Look for some extraordinary reporting.
With warm regards,