What happened to your paradise island?

When the Taínos people welcomed Columbus with gold in 1492, he admired the white- sand beaches and fertile valleys of ‘La Española’. But his men brought diseases which wiped out the Taínos people. And when the mines they started were not productive, 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 and planted sugar. Your sweat made Saint- Domingue the richest colony in the world. 

You gained independence in 1804, and called your new country Haiti, ‘mountainous land’. But the sugar plantations had depleted the soils. You needed more farmland to feed your growing nation, timber to make charcoal for fuel. You had to fell more and more trees over the years. In 1923 forests covered sixty percent of Haiti; today, less than two. 

The Spanish side of the island, the Dominican Republic, was less populous. A dictator protected its forests, subsidising imported gas so the poor did not have to rely on charcoal. Today its lands are still productive and much more of its forest-cover remains. 

Once-rich Haiti has become one of the poorest, most densely-populated nations in the world. 


Alex Harvie

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