It is Time for the Financial Times to Change the Adjective Used to Modify the Noun Haiti

Dear Financial Times,

Haiti’s President Jovenel Moïse assassination in his private residence in Port-au-Prince on 7 July 2021 was widely covered by the global media, including the Financial Times. Over the past couple of days, I have been reading the FT’s coverage and have noticed a disturbing trend. Some FT journalists have been using the adjective poor to modify the noun Haiti. As a result, the phrase “Haiti, the poorest nation in the Americas,” is being used repeatedly.

In an article titled, Haiti police arrest émigré over presidential assassination” published in the 11 July 2021 edition of the FT, Michael Scott, the Latin American Editor wrote, “The murder has plunged Haiti, the poorest nation in the Americas [emphasis added], deeper into chaos as politicians, business leaders and powerful gang bosses vie for power amid spiralling violence and dire food and fuel shortages.” Gideon Long, the FT Andean correspondent, wrote in an article titled, “Colombian police name suspect in assassination of Haitian president” published on 16 July 2021, “The murder has plunged Haiti, the poorest nation in the Americas [emphasis added], deeper into chaos as politicians, business leaders and powerful gang bosses vie for power amid spiralling violence and dire food and fuel shortages.” Mr Long repeated the phrase verbatim on 19 July 2021 in an article titled, “Haiti’s interim prime minister agrees to step aside. “The assassination has plunged Haiti, the poorest nation in the Americas [emphasis added], deeper into chaos as politicians, business leaders and powerful gang bosses vied for power amid spiralling violence and dire food and fuel shortages.

The above are not the only instances in which the FT has obsessed itself with the phrase “Haiti, the poorest nation in the Americas.” It has a long history of describing Haiti in derogatory terms.

Nick Foster wrote in an article “Bright prospects in Nicaragua” published on 8 June 2007, “Nicaragua is also, of course, poor — the poorest nation in the Americas after Haiti. Much of the country’s infrastructure is funded by the European Union, Japan and the US.” On 28 April 2010, the author of an article titled, “A superpower uses its power for good,” wrote, “President Obama vowed to be “a friend and partner” to Haiti, the poorest country in the western hemisphere, and tasked Dr Shah with co-ordinating aid efforts.” Benedict Mander wrote in a piece titled, “Critics question flow of Venezuelan aid, “While ostensibly aimed at the poor, Venezuela’s petro-​diplomacy is benefiting another group in Nicaragua, the second-​poorest nation in the Americas after Haiti, according to these critics.” A couple of months later, Mander wrote on 2 November 2012, “Although Jamaica and Cuba also sustained direct hits from Sandy, the bulk of the 71 deaths registered so far in the Caribbean were in impoverished Haiti, the poorest country in the western hemisphere where many still live in flimsy shacks since the 2010 earthquake.

Matthew Garrahan, a News Editor at the FT, in an article titled “Sean Penn on rebuilding Haiti” published on 6 December 2013, wrote, “Once we are seated again I ask Lamothe about the trip to Silicon Valley and wonder what Haiti, the poorest country in the western hemisphere, could gain from the world’s technology hub.” Andrew Jack and Andres Schipani wrote on 16 April 2015 in a piece titled “Reality needs to match Haiti’s aspirations, “Labadie is a metaphor for the potential and the problems that face Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas. It has been hit by successive natural and human catastrophes in recent decades, none more powerful than the earthquake in January 2010 that killed an estimated 230,000 people and displaced 1.5m.” Nearly a year later, Kathrin Hille and Simon Greaves wrote in the Week Ahead Political Diary, “Another deadline passes for Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas, to hold much delayed run-​off presidential elections, which was due to be held between before 26 June. The Caribbean country has not had a president since Michel Martelly stepped down on 7 February.

The Financial Times is in good company as other western media powerhouses have also fallen in love with regurgitating the phrase “Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas.” In its coverage of the assassination, the BBC stated, “Mr Moïse, 53, had been president of Haiti, the poorest nation in the Americas, since 2017. His time in office was rocky as he faced accusations of corruption and there were widespread demonstrations in the capital and other cities earlier this year.” Jim Wyss of Bloomberg wrote, “The assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moise follows a bitter constitutional power struggle in the poorest country in the Americas.” In covering the low vaccine take up in Haiti, Wyss noted, “Haiti, the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere, has earned another grim distinction: it’s the only one that hasn’t vaccinated a single resident against Covid-​19.” Martin Thomas of the Sydney Morning Herald wrote, “If there was a country least able to absorb a disaster such as the devastating quake that rocked Port-au-Prince this week, it would be Haiti, the poorest nation in the Americas.” Campbell Clark of the Globe and Mail wrote in 2013, “Canada is one of the largest aid donors to Haiti, the poorest nation in the Americas, which was devastated by a major earthquake in 2010.

I guess by now, you must be bored stiff with my reference to the expression “Haiti, the poorest nation in the Americas,” but I thought that by mentioning it nineteen times, you would realise the absurdity of its excessive usage. To the western journalist, it might sound reasonable to use the adjective poor to describe Haiti, but it does not for black people around the world. Haiti holds a special place in our hearts. Just as the white side of the colour line views America as a beacon for democracy, the black side of the colour line views Haiti as a beacon for revolution, emancipation and justice. In his book Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire, Akala, the British writer, singer and activist, notes, Haiti was the “First and only successful slave revolution in human history, and only the second colony in the Americas to be free of European rule … and became the first state in the world to outlaw racism in its constitution, despite everything done in the name and practice of white supremacy on the island over the preceding centuries.

Despite Haiti’s monumental contribution towards liberty, western journalists are preoccupied with dismissing Haiti as the basket case of the Americas. Perhaps it is convenient for western thinkers to ignore Haiti’s history. As Raoul Peck put it, it imposes a different narrative, which renders the dominant slave narrative of the day untenable. As western journalists fetishize about the USA being the land of the free and home of the brave, shouldn’t they equally be praising Haiti rather than insulting her?

If the FT and its reporters adhered to the journalist creed of being quickly indignant at injustice, it would devote more time shedding light on the West’s role in putting Haiti in its present state rather than hammering on Haiti’s economic status. It would educate its readers that in 1825 Haiti was forced to pay France 91 million gold francs for the loss of slave labour, which wasn’t fully settled until 1947. If one of your journalists is feeling lazy and is thinking of a phrase to describe Haiti, may I suggest they use the term, “Haiti, the first black republic,” or Haiti, the first country to ban slavery permanently?”

I am sure many of you would consider it absurd if you open the pages of one of the world’s most reputable newspapers and read the following: “More than 260 people were arrested across England, the most racist country in Europe for football-related incidents in the 24 hours after the final which saw Italy beat the Three Lions to be crowned European champions, the National Police Chief’s Council (NPCC) has said,” or “The Balearic Islands government is set to crack down on boozy all-​inclusive trips in Mallorca and Ibiza by bringing in the new regulation. Holidaymakers from England, the drunk capital of Europe are in for a surprise with free alcohol on package holidays set to be banned in Spain.”

In October 2018, I wrote an open letter to the FT where I highlighted the lack of black contributors, black columnists and black leadership. Since then, I have noticed, especially in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, several articles written by black contributors and one of two additional black columnists. But before you pat yourself on the back, you need to reflect on the fact that this would count for nothing more than tokenism if the very country we blacks look to as a symbol of freedom and revolution is being disparaged as the poverty capital of the Americas. I trust you will show Haiti more respect and amend the editing process to prevent the usage of the expression “poorest country in the Americas” in the future.

Selah.

Ahmed Olayinka Sule, CFA

suleaos@gmail.com

@Alatenumo

July 2021

Writer and social critic