A year ago. a 7.0 earthquake struck Haiti. The death toll was estimated at a quarter of a million people, but hundreds more died in the weeks that followed from injuries and disease. Recently, another 3,000 or so died in the cholera epidemic and it’s not over yet.
Those numbers will be recorded along with the more than 100,000 that died in the revolt against the French before independence was proclaimed in 1804; the 3,000 or so killed when the US reinstituted virtual slavery between 1915 and 1934 (for the purpose of building roads and other infrastructure for the sugar, cotton and sisal planters); the 20,000 that Rafael Trujillo killed in 1937 along the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic and the unknown number killed by Francois Duvalier’s paramilitaries – the Tonton Macoutes – during the Duvalier reign of terror from 1956 to 1986.
Haiti, roughly 10,000 square miles, is about half the size of West Virginia. It has a population of 8 million people. It is the poorest country in the Americas, with a per capita income of $1,255. Most Haitians survive on about $2 a day.
Half of the country’s wealth is owned by 1% of the population.
During the Duvalier regimes (first ‘Papa Doc’ and then his son, ‘Baby Doc’), the great Haitian diaspora began – there are more than 2 million Haitians in the US and Canada and every year about 80% of college graduates leave as quickly as possible. An excellent CBC report on the brain drain is here.
For a short brilliant personal account of the earthquake as experienced by Haitian-American writer Edwidge Danticat, go to this New Yorker essay.