ESSAY- American Made: Why Haiti's earthquake started here

As grim accounts of the earthquake in Haiti began arriving, the accounts in U.S.-controlled state media all carried the same descriptive sentence: "Haiti is the poorest country in the Western hemisphere..."

Gee, I wonder how that happened?

You'd think Haiti would be loaded. After all, it made a lot of people rich.

How did Haiti get so poor? Despite a century of American colonialism, occupation, and propping up corrupt dictators? Even though the CIA staged coups d'état against every democratically elected president they ever had?

It's an important question. An earthquake isn't just an earthquake. The same 7.0 tremor hitting San Francisco wouldn't kill nearly as many people as in Port-au-Prince.

"Looking at the pictures, essentially it looks as if [the buildings are] breezeblock or cinderblock construction, and what you need in an earthquake zone is metal bars that connect the blocks so that they stay together when they get shaken," notes Sandy Steacy, professor of earthquake physics at the University of Ulster in Northern Ireland. "In a wealthy country with good seismic building codes that are enforced, you would have some damage, but not very much."

When a pile of cinderblocks falls on you, your odds of survival are long. Even if you miraculously survive, a poor country like Haiti doesn't have the equipment, communications infrastructure, or emergency service personnel to pull you out of the rubble in time. And if your neighbors get you out, there's no ambulance to take you to the hospital– or doctor to treat you once you get there.

Earthquakes are random events. How many people they kill is predetermined. In Haiti, don't blame tectonic plates. Ninety-nine percent of the death toll is attributable to poverty.

So the question is relevant. How'd Haiti become so poor?

The story begins in 1910, when a U.S. State Department-National City Bank of New York (now called Citibank) consortium bought the Banque National d'Haïti– Haiti's only commercial bank and its national treasury– in effect transferring Haiti's debts to the Americans. Five years later, President Woodrow Wilson ordered troops to occupy the country in order to keep tabs on "our" investment.

From 1915 to 1934, the U.S. Marines imposed harsh military occupation, murdered Haitian patriots and diverted 40 percent of Haiti's gross domestic product to U.S. bankers. Haitians were banned from government jobs. Ambitious Haitians were shunted into the puppet military, setting the stage for a half-century of U.S.-backed military dictatorship.

The U.S. kept control of Haiti's finances until 1947.

Still– why should Haitians complain? Sure, we stole 40 percent of Haiti's national wealth for 32 years. But we let them keep 60 percent.


Despite having been bled dry by American bankers and generals, civil disorder prevailed until 1957, when the CIA installed President-for-Life François "Papa Doc" Duvalier. Duvalier's brutal Tonton Macoutes paramilitary goon squads murdered at least 30,000 Haitians and drove educated people to flee into exile. But think of the cup as half-full: fewer people in the population means fewer people competing for the same jobs!

Upon Papa Doc's death in 1971, the torch passed to his even more dissolute 19-year-old son, Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier. The U.S., cool to Papa Doc in his later years, quickly warmed back up to his kleptomaniacal playboy heir. As the U.S. poured in arms and trained his army as a supposed anti-communist bulwark against Castro's Cuba, Baby Doc stole an estimated $300-800 million from the national treasury, according to Transparency International. The money was placed in personal accounts in Switzerland and elsewhere.

Under U.S. influence, Baby Doc virtually eliminated import tariffs for U.S. goods. Soon, Haiti was awash predatory agricultural imports dumped by American firms. Domestic rice farmers went bankrupt. A nation that had been agriculturally self-sustaining collapsed. Farms were abandoned. Hundreds of thousands of farmers migrated to the teeming slums of Port-au-Prince.

The Duvalier era, 29 years in all, came to an end in 1986 when President Ronald Reagan ordered U.S. forces to whisk Baby Doc to exile in France, saving him from a popular uprising.

Once again, Haitians should thank Americans. Duvalierism was "tough love." Forcing Haitians to make do without their national treasury was our nice way or encouraging them to work harder, to lift themselves up by their bootstraps. Or, in this case, flipflops. 

The U.S. has been all about tough love ever since. We twice deposed the populist and popular democratically-elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. The second time, in 2004, we even gave him a free flight to the Central African Republic! (He says the CIA kidnapped him, but whatever.) Hey, he needed a rest. And it was kind of us to support a new government formed by former Tonton Macoutes.

Yet, despite everything we've done for Haiti, they're still a fourth-world failed state on a fault line.

And still, we haven't given up. American companies like Disney generously pay wages to their sweatshop workers of 28 cents an hour.

What more do these ingrates want?


Ted Rall's most recently published essay in the Hook appeared September 10: "The Nazis: We have met them, and they are us.



First off the reason the US went in and bought the bank was because we had legitimate concerns about German influence. A small group of germans controlled the docks and retail markets. It was not good for the people or our national security interests. The government was glad we did because....

Second in buying the banks there was no "treasury" to steal.The country was hoplessly in debt which led to

item three... we went in militarily to protect our interests because the country was being destroyed by the plundering of its own government. Despite the abuses of our military the country recovered nicely and that brings us to discuss your lie number four..

The exports were ruined not by the US but by the worldwide depression that dryed up their customers and decimated their prices.

The US monitored The countries finances until 1947. (where the infrastucture was increased 10 fold)

Papa doc, as bad as he was, was freely elected, in 1961 President Kennedy suspended aid to the country because of fraud.

The problems in Haiti stem from class warfare, lack of education, corruption, greed, and bad luck.

The first election where a transition from one president to another occurred was in 1996. (after 200 years of cous and craziness)

The US has given billions of dollars to these people and the only thing we really did wrong was not monitor where our money went which allowed the leaders to steal it from the people. The US bult the first roads in the country, brought in outside investment and purchased its products. The Hatian government dissolved the tax on imports and decimated its domestic prices.

That was not us.

WE need to help these people by providing them with food water and hiring then (bypassing the government) to rebuild. We also need to sponsor schools.

After that it will be up to them.

The "essay" is propoganda... do some research for yourself..

this guy has an agenda and wants to blame america for all the worlds ills. Give him no credibility.

I always jump to support people who can't even spell, but claim credibility, so bob, I'm right with you.

bob marley would do well to not cherry pick
choice bits of wikipedia information to bolster his blarney stone. The controlling of any foreign monetary interests is as dubious as it is damning. The people of haiti have been continously held in check by the control and meddling of the u.s., period.

maybe we should just stay out of it now then...

you cannot deny that the US has spent billions on Haiti...

we tried to help..

the US government can only do so much and if anyone thinks this country would have been better off without any US involvment ever you are nuts. As bad off as they are they would have been worse without our aid.

Ted Rall is a joke