Thursday, 21 January 2010


How could things come to this? What happened to your paradise island with its white-sand beaches and staggering mountains, with its fertile valleys and rich forests?

In 1492 the Taínos welcomed Columbus with gold, but the diseases he brought wiped them out. When the mines failed on ‘La Isla Espaňola’, Spain turned to other lands to plunder.

In the 1640s, the French took over the eastern side of Hispaniola, bringing your people from Africa in chains. You cleared the land of trees and planted sugar. Your sweat made St-Dominique the richest colony in the world.

You gained independence and called your new country Haiti, ‘mountainous land’. But Haiti had grown barren. You needed farmland to feed your growing nation, timber to make charcoal for fuel. In 1923 Haiti’s forests covered sixty percent of the land; now they cover less than two. The soils are thin and the rains don’t come.

The Spanish side of the island, the Dominican Republic, had been poorer, less populous. But a dictator protected their forests and subsidised imported gas so the poorest did not have to rely on charcoal. Today its forests remain, its lands are still rich, whilst Haiti is one of the poorest and most densely-populated nations in the world.