Debt and military intervention are recurring themes in Haiti's history. During the epic 1791-1804 war of independence, Haiti's rebelling slaves had to fight not only their French former masters, but invading Spanish and British armies. In 1825, to overcome an international blockade, Haiti agreed to pay compensation to France for the colonists' loss of property (the property being the Haitians themselves).
To pay these reparations (equivalent to about US$21 billion in today's terms), Haiti took out loans with US banks. By the end of the 19th century, 80% of Haiti's budget went to debt repayments.
To secure repayment, the US invaded in 1915. Haiti's debt skyrocketed during the brutal US-imposed 1956-'86 rule of the Duvalier dictatorships. It had reached $750 million by the time "Baby Doc" Duvalier fled the 1986 uprising to an exile made more comfortable by the $900 million in the family's Western bank accounts.
The Haitian people have had to continue to repay this debt, which has continued to accrue interest and penalties.
Economic policies, such as those imposed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank, involve Haiti contracting debts for infrastructure that benefits foreign-owned, export-oriented "development".
In 2003, President Jean-Bertrand Aristide began campaigning for France pay Haiti $21 billion as repayment for the unjust reparations extracted from Haiti under the 1825 agreement. A year later, France (along with the US and Canada) helped organise the coup that overthrew Aristide.
By 2009, Haiti's foreign debts totalled $1.88 billion. The $100 million IMF loan advanced in response to the earthquake, conditional on more neoliberal "reforms" and to be paid back with interest, shows Western finance capitalists are eyeing Haiti's human tragedy as a means to extract more of its wealth.
In response an international petition has been launched to cancel Haiti's unjust debt. Sign here.