Double debt of formerly enslaved Haitians is costing the country billions

Passengers ride on the roof of a bus in Cap-Haïtien, Haiti, a country still struggling with poverty. Photo by Shutterstock.

The history of Haiti is one of reparations turned upside down, with former slaves paying their former masters. Twenty years after Hatians mounted the first successful slave revolution and overthrew their French slaveholders, the French returned with an ultimatum: Pay us reparations or we’ll invade. So in 1825, Haitians agreed to pay their former slave masters in order to remain free.

But they couldn’t pay off the debt and had to borrow from French banks. That double debt ended up costing the country billions of dollars. It’s one big reason why Haiti is still so poor, there’s no running water or indoor plumbing for most residents, just over half the population can read, and life expectancy is 64.

The New York Times spent a year investigating this history, and uncovered documents that put a price tag on how much the indebtedness cost Haiti.