Writing in the New York Times, UC Berkeley journalism professor Mark Danner describes America's role in the forging of the dystopian Haitian state. After a slave revolt against Napoleonic France, Haiti became the world's first self-ruled black republic in 1804.
Consequently, writes Danner, "American slaveholders desperately feared that Haiti's fires of revolt would overleap those few hundred miles of sea and inflame their own human chattel. For this reason, the United States refused for nearly six decades even to recognize Haiti. (Abraham Lincoln finally did so in 1862.) Along with the great colonial powers, America instead rewarded Haiti's triumphant slaves with a suffocating trade embargo - and a demand that in exchange for peace the fledgling country pay enormous reparations to its former colonial overseer. Having won their freedom by force of arms, Haiti's former slaves would be made to purchase it with treasure.
"The new nation, its fields burned, its plantation manors pillaged, its towns devastated by apocalyptic war, was crushed by the burden of these astronomical reparations, payments that, in one form or another, strangled its economy for more than a century."
Danner's full essay, which outlines how he believes the U.S. can effectively help Haiti, is online.