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Haiti: Time to Cancel all Debt and Pay Back What We Owe

Haiti is slowly disappearing from the headlines, but now is the time to start remembering Haitians' history, what we owe them, and cancel all debt, argues Zofia Walczak.

Written by Zofia Walczak

6All Photographs courtesy of New Museum, viagra buy except where otherwise stated

It is now time for the absurd to take center stage. Swiss-born “imperfectionist” Urs Ficher makes the gallery goer rethink his or her own reality and I am grateful to the New Museum for introducing me to this brilliant artist. Ficher is an artist renown for his non-traditional creations. Thinking the world as a populated center of objects that interact and create an artificial reality, his aim is to call the viewer’s attention to his singular inner realm; his interpretations of what this life is are conveyed through different types of installations. New productions and iconic works are aplenty and together compose a series of gigantic still life and walk-in tableaux choreographed entirely by the artist. I find myself exploring neither a traditional survey nor a retrospective but the culmination of four years of work. These new productions reveal the true scope of Fischer’s universe and I am enthralled by what I am discovering.



Above photograph courtesy of Vanesa Krongold

Fischer has taken over all the three floors of the museum. Illusion and reality are intertwined in the artist ‘s show thanks to a game of trading places and multiple reflections. Chrome boxes are arranged in a grid of monoliths that create a cityscape of mirrored cubes onto which the artist has silk screened a dizzying array of images. I think it’s perfect; It’s just how I’ve been feeling when walking about New York city – drunk from trying to take it all in! It is very interesting how the artist plays with bi dimensions; I am strangely attracted by some disregarded toys. Its all about combining the reality through dimensions, perspectives, and collage. The viewer is thrust into an uneasy place, trying to understand how to walk in this new world. The hyper real state of the objects are meant to represent your and my reality…

72009 Plaster, paint, bread 10 x 21 x 15 cm.

Urs Fischer presents an installation that turns the Museum’s architecture into an image of itself—a site-specific trompe l’oeil environment. In a maddening reproduction exercise, each square inch of the Museum architecture has been photographed and reprinted as a wallpaper that covers these very same walls and ceiling it is meant to portray. A piano occupies the room, appearing to melt under the pressure of some invisible force. Simultaneously solid and soft like a Salvador Dalí painting in three dimensions, this sculpture seems to succumb to a dramatic process of metamorphosis.

8Marguerite de Ponty.

On the fourth floor, Fischer presents five new aluminum sculptures cast from small clays and hand-molded by the artist. Hanging from the ceiling or balancing awkwardly in space, these massive abstractions resemble strange cocoons or a gathering of enigmatic monuments. Fischer is an engineer of imaginary worlds who has in the past created sculptures in a rich variety of materials, including unstable substances such as melting wax and rotting vegetables. In a continuous search for new plastic solutions, Fischer has built houses out of bread and given life to animated puppets; he has dissected objects or blown them out of proportion in order to reinvent our relationship to them.


In 2007, in a now-legendary exhibition, he excavated the floor of his New York gallery, digging a crater within the exhibition space. Throughout his work, with ambitious gestures and irreverent panache, Fischer explores the secret mechanisms of perception, combining a Pop immediacy with a Neo-Baroque sense for the absurd. And I am glad a taste of it!


The exhibition Urs Fischer: Marguerite de Ponty is ending on February the 7th, 2010. The New Museum is a modern building located in 235 Bowery Street, New-York.

Is it just me, this web or did anyone else find the mainstream media coverage of Haiti’s earthquake confusing, misleading, inconclusive and, quite frankly, infuriating?  OK, so that’s what I should expect from mainstream media sources, I hear you cry.  But when all the countries now so involved in aid have been so recently implicated in the de-stabilisation of Haiti’s government and economy, not talking about it in over two weeks of constant prime time broadcasts constitutes pure misinformation. 
Illustrations by Anieszka Banks

There was perhaps a fraction of an abstract half-mention about previous US intervention somewhere…but basically nothing.  Instead, we heard vague statements about Haiti’s ‘history of violence’ and ‘bloody revolutions’ rolled out like a broken record as if this was actually meant to tell us something.  It could easily lead us to conclude that Haitians’ economic poverty was down to themselves, their culture and their inability to sort their country out.  Haitians are being represented as savage looters to justify the need for foreign military presence.

So how about the country that was the first ever to revolt against slavery and emancipate itself from centuries of barbaric colonial rule?  And how about the socially, politically, environmentally and economically destructive role of France, the US and other Western nations in Haiti?  I resolved to get back to BA French books, essays and notes for some intense history revision.  This week I looked at Haiti’s colonial history and debt.

Haiti, now 98% deforested, was a rich and beautiful island before colonisation and debt.  Haiti’s name comes from the native language, which described the island as ‘Ayti’ (mountainous), until the Spanish changed it to ‘Hispaniola’ (little Spain), which the French later changed to Saint Dominique.   Columbus found it in 1492, tried to form a settlement, found the natives hostile to his ideas, and returned in 1493.  Hispaniola was the first European settlement in the ‘New World’.

The Spanish colonisers gradually eradicated the native population with diseases and inhumane treatment, so hundreds of thousands of Africans were enslaved and transported to Haiti to meet the rising need for labour.  The French started getting interested in the booming economy, and gradually gained possession of the island by 1659.  By 1750 Haiti was Europe’s most important exporter of sugar, making it the main source of economic growth for the French government.

By 1791 the slaves had started organising themselves in revolt and what followed was a long battle for emancipation.  Led by figures like Toussaint L’Ouverture , they freed themselves from their European masters and gained independence in 1804, the first colonised country ever to do so.  They had managed to defeat the last-ditch attempts of the huge armies of three empires to recapture Haiti:  Britain, who sent 50 000 troops in 1796, France in 1803 (the Haitians defeated 35 000 troops led by Napoleon Bonaparte), and numerous Spanish armies between 1791 and 1804.   The US, another nation dependant on slavery, only recognised Haiti’s independence almost 60 years later, in 1862. 

But by 1825, Haiti was again trapped by extreme debt.  The French government, defeated and humiliated by the loss of its most prized colony, ordered Haiti to pay the ex-colonisers compensation for the property they had lost, and the estimated economic loss to the French government.  This totalled $150 million: $150 million that ex-slaves had to pay back to their ex-masters.  France and other Western powers, fearing that their other colonies would also start revolting, threatened Haiti with an economic embargo if they refused to pay the compensation, so Haitians had no choice.  It was a sum that left the island crippled with debt to French, US and German banks, and one that it was only able to finish repaying about $90 million of in 1947.  So until so recently, Haitians were still repaying this sum to the wealthy French government, preventing them from investing it in their own economic development.

Haiti also still owes the International Monetary Fund $165 million.  IMF and World Bank loans came with strict conditions called Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs).  SAPs aim to reorganise a country’s government and economy so it can repay debt as rapidly as possible.  Requirements include cuts in public spending, making more money available for debt repayment but meaning health care and education become inaccessible for the majority of the population.  Cheap, intensive, trade-union-free labour needs to be made readily available for easy foreign investment.  The economy needs to become export-led. Imported products become cheaper than domestic goods.  Farmers and manufacturers within the country can no longer compete and lose their livelihoods meaning domestic agriculture industry and trade are stifled.  The best land is used for intensive, large-scale, export-bound production, leading to soil erosion and deforestation. 

Deforestation in Haiti

Food production was so badly managed as a result of the structural adjustment free-market policies, that Haiti, once a huge exporter of rice, became a net importer of it.  Growing starvation in the once self-sufficient rural regions meant that people had to migrate en masse to cities, forming slums on its outskirts.  This is also why the devastation in Port au Prince was particularly severe.  

Haiti continues to owe about $891million to international banks and governments and NGOs worldwide are calling for people to sign petitions for it to be dropped.  So next time you see appeals for aid, remember how much of it Haiti will have to send back in debt repayment.  

“It is one of the poorest countries in the world and yet the International Monetary Fund (IMF) response to the earthquake was to offer a $100 million loan. This loan would increase Haiti’s debt burden at this time of crisis. If  Haiti’s debts aren’t cancelled, the country will be sending tens of millions to the IMF and other international bodies even as it struggles to rescue and rebuild” say Oxfam

There are various petitions you can sign to pressure the IMF to drop Haiti’s debt, whether they help or not is another question.  Haiti should, in fact be repaid every last penny of what it paid in compensation to ex-colonisers.  But what certainly is needed is a rapid growth of consciousness about how sustainable development and democracy continue to be stifled by the economic policies of our governments and financial institutions.

Join the No Shock Doctrine for Haiti facebook group,  and here are two petitions calling Haiti’s debt to be canceled :
Oxfam International


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4 Responses to “Haiti: Time to Cancel all Debt and Pay Back What We Owe”

  1. Adam Ramsay says:

    You can also join the “no shock doctrine for Haiti Facebook group, where more than 30,000 members are discussing and taking action on these issues:

  2. Amelia says:

    Thanks, already a member! Zofia

  3. Kat says:

    Interesting read.

    Have you considered the high number of aid agencies that were active in Haiti before the earthquake? They actually have the highest rate of aid agencies to population (10,000)… It leaves me wondering how with such a vast number of aid agencies (and injection of funds) more improvements were not seen in Haiti…

  4. [...] and soil erosion, the video neglects the underlying market mechanisms (see historical background also) that caused this degradation of the island state’s natural ecosystems in the first place, [...]

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