Live Updates: Haiti’s Story and the “Ransom” Project

Credit…Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Over the weekend, The New York Times published a year-long project that attempted to answer a simple question: How better would Haiti be today if foreign powers had not continued to drain its wealth for generations after Haitians cast off the yoke of slavery?

The answer, of course, is anything but simple. But drawing on thousands of pages of original documents, some of which are gathering dust in archives on three continents, and with advice from leading historians and economists, the Times has found that one of the countries most desperately world’s poor could look very different. now if the French had not demanded staggering sums of money under the threat of war after Haiti’s declaration of independence more than two centuries ago.

The project, “The Ransom”, tells the story of the first people in the modern world to free themselves from slavery and create their own nation. They first paid for this freedom in blood. And then they were forced to pay again – in cash.

Haiti has become the only country in the world where descendants of slaves have paid reparations to the descendants of their masters for generations.

The Times has tracked every payment made by Haiti over the course of 64 years and calculated that Haiti ended up paying around $560 million in today’s dollars. Factor in what that money could have done to Haiti’s economy over the centuries, and that’s up to $115 billion in losses for Haiti over time – many times the size of all of its economy today, the Times found.

The reaction to the project was immediate.

“I live in Haiti, and I’m here right now,” commented one reader. “Today we are lucky: we have had electricity for a few hours.” Reading the articles, the commentator said, made it clear that young people in Haiti “were robbed so long before they were born.”

Posting on Twitter, Patrick Gaspard, a former U.S. diplomat who now heads the liberal Center for American Progress, demanded reparations from Citigroup, whose predecessor bank the Times recounted made big profits from Haiti at the start of the Twentieth century.

“A silent cry has been in our throats for decades over the role the United States has played in Haiti’s depletion,” Mr. Gaspard said. “No one would listen. Finally some truths.

Other readers suggested that the articles, which noted the role of endemic corruption in Haiti’s woes, let Haitians off the hook. “I’m getting tired of this narrative of victimhood, and it’s not a particularly helpful way to view history, especially in a newspaper,” one commented. “When have there ever been victims of something?

France itself had little to say about “The Ransom”. This is partly because he is in the process of forming a new government. But as The Times project noted, the country’s history in Haiti — or any discussion of compensating Haitians for their losses — is not something the French like to talk about.

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