This article on Haiti in the Sunday Times Magazine caught my eye because it meant there was something worth reading in the Sunday Times for a change - turn up for the books there.
The historian (could that be why it's worth reading?), Alex von Tunzelmann, describes the slave background to the island, the revolt that gave the island independence and the reparations France demanded for er, losing the war or what exactly? Surely the normal thing is the loser pays the reparations, but then Haiti had the mark of loser on it from the start. Von Tunzelmann writes:
"The slaves’ life expectancy was 21 years. After a dramatic slave uprising that shook the western world, and 12 years of war, Haiti finally defeated Napoleon’s forces in 1804 and declared independence. But France demanded reparations: 150m francs, in gold.
For Haiti, this debt did not signify the beginning of freedom, but the end of hope. Even after it was reduced to 60m francs in the 1830s, it was still far more than the war-ravaged country could afford. Haiti was the only country in which the ex-slaves themselves were expected to pay a foreign government for their liberty. By 1900, it was spending 80% of its national budget on repayments. In order to manage the original reparations, further loans were taken out — mostly from the United States, Germany and France. Instead of developing its potential, this deformed state produced a parade of nefarious leaders, most of whom gave up the insurmountable task of trying to fix the country and looted it instead. In 1947, Haiti finally paid off the original reparations, plus interest. Doing so left it destitute, corrupt, disastrously lacking in investment and politically volatile. Haiti was trapped in a downward spiral, from which it is still impossible to escape. It remains hopelessly in debt to this day."
She also describes the reaction of locals to her camera in a village devastated by last year's hurricanes.
It's not the complete story but it's a fascinating one for a part of the world of which I know nothing. And the pictures by Alice Smeets are rather good too.