The Haitian Revolution: Sowing the Seeds for Massive Deforestation
Former Haitian Ambassador to the United States Raymond A. Joseph Speaks
The Haitian Revolution may have succeeded in giving Haiti independence from France, but it also laid the groundwork for many of the problems that have plagued Haiti over the past 200 years, said former Haitian Ambassador to the United States Raymond Joseph at a talk at St. Francis College on March 4.
Joseph’s talk, The Haitian Revolution and Haiti's Contribution to the Western Hemisphere, focused on how even before they had won their own independence Haitians came to the aid of the United States during their Revolutionary War. Haitian soldiers fought at Savannah and later at Yorktown.
But, Joseph said, the largest contribution Haitians made to the United States stems from the aftereffects of the Haitian Revolution. He said that when Napoleon lost control of Haiti he also lost what was to be his base for a new French empire in the Americas. Without Haiti, Joseph said Napoleon quickly engineered the Louisiana Purchase.
One other consequence of the revolution was that Haitians were forced to pay France war reparations, largely in the form of timber. This continued a trend of wide deforestation on the Haitian side of the island of Hispaniola and caused what Joseph said is the single, largest problem facing modern Haiti.
“I contend that if a concerted effort is not undertaken immediately to address the reforestation of Haiti all the laudable projects undertaken since the earthquake to build Haiti back better, all of them will come to naught because the country will have become a vast desert.”
Joseph said a country that what was once a massive lush forest now has only 2% tree coverage. He emphasized this point by showing satellite views of the island that paint the Dominican Republic in green while Haiti is brown and yellow.
To combat this, Joseph recently founded the non-profit, A Dollar A Tree For Haiti (replanthaiti.org). He says that the group has already been successful working with communities to teach them how to replant and maintain the forests. At the same time his group is helping people switch to alternate fuel for cooking, solar power. Wood for cooking is one of the biggest reasons Haitians cut down their trees.
About Raymond A. Joseph
Born to Haitian parents in a batey (work camp) in the Dominican Republic, Mr. Joseph has held a broad spectrum of roles, including theologian, diplomat, writer, lecturer, and social activist.
From 1964 to 1970 Mr. Joseph served as Secretary General of the Haitian Coalition, a political umbrella group against the Duvalier dictatorship that inaugurated “Radio Vonvon,” the first short wave daily radio broadcast from New York against the Duvalier regime and which published the weekly Le Combattant Haitien. As a Financial Writer for The Wall Street Journal from 1970 to 1984, he wrote about the asbestos crisis and a series leading to President Joaquin Balaguer’s defeat by the Partido Revolucionario Dominicao (PRD). In 1971 he co-founded with his brother Leo Joseph Haiti-Observateur, the first commercial and anti-dictatorship crusading Haitian weekly newspaper in New York. In 1984, Joseph held the position of Secretary General of ROC (Rassemblement de l’Opposition pour la Concertation), a political umbrella organization against the Duvalier-Bennett dictatorship that coordinated the struggle abroad in the final months of the regime.
From 1990 to 1991 he was Haiti’s Chargé d’Affaires in Washington, D. C., and Haiti’s representative at the Organization of American States. He signed the first accord with OAS Secretary General Baena Soares for the arrival of unarmed election observers in Haiti that made possible the first democratic elections. Joseph later rose to prominence as Haitian Ambassador to the United States serving from 2004 to 2010.
Mr. Joseph earned a pastor’s diploma from Moody Bible Institute (1954), a B.A. degree in Social Anthropology from Wheaton College (1960), and an M.A. in Social Anthropology and Linguistics from the University of Chicago (1964).
St. Francis College, founded in 1859 by the Franciscan Brothers of Brooklyn, is located in Brooklyn Heights, N.Y. Since its founding, the College has pursued its Franciscan mission to provide an affordable, high-quality education to students from New York City’s five boroughs and beyond.
St. Francis College, 180 Remsen Street, Brooklyn Heights, NY 11201