March 25, 2014, marks the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade. From the 1400s through the 1800s, more than 15 million children, women and men were transported as slaves to the Americas and around the world.
The theme for this year’s edition of the UN Observance Day is “Victory over Slavery: Haiti and Beyond”.
The Transatlantic Slave Trade
The Transatlantic Slave Trade began in the mid-1400s towards the end of the Middle Ages in Europe.
Western slavery as an economic engine dates back more than 6,000 years to the time of Mesopotamia. However between the 1400s and the 1800s, the development of the Transatlantic Slave Trade came to be considered as one of Europe’s most profitable economic engines.
During this 400-year period, over 12 million Africans were forced into slavery in the Americas. Many of the African men, women and children taken into slavery did not survive the voyage due to the conditions on the slave ships that caused mass illnesses; those who did survive, were treated like animals for the rest of their lives.
In the late 18th Century the first successful slave heroes rose in the Caribbean: Boukman, Toussaint L’Ouverture, Jean Jacques Dessalines and Henri Christophe.
With the support of thousands of African slaves, these leaders helped bring about the first successful fight for freedom from slavery in all of the Americas. This fight culminated in January 1st, 1804, with the birth of the Republic of Haiti.
The Haitian Fight
Unfortunately, freedom for Haitian slaves was not immediate. Although Napoleon Bonaparte had decreed the abolishment of slavery in all French colonies in 1794, the new African landowners in Haiti continued to maintain their African slaves for quite some time.
Since 1804, Haiti has been plagued with political instability and poverty:
- 36 out of 44 Haitian presidents were either assassinated, forced out of office, or resigned;
- Although once known as the Pearl of the Caribbean, Haiti’s GDP per capita (Gross Domestic Product divided by population) has never surpassed $1,200USD. According to the World Bank, GDP per Capita in Haiti is currently around $770USD– the highest it has been in over 20 years.
In 2010, the Haitian Capital, Port-au-Prince, was struck with a decimating 7.3 magnitude earthquake: over 20% of buildings were destroyed and more than 10% of the capital’s population was lost.
But, it is not all-horrendous news.
Haiti has overcome its battles and continues to exist as a nation and as a people. The earthquake, the politics, and the poverty are nothing compared to the strength of the Haitian people’s ability to survive, have hope, and be happy.
Since the earthquake in 2010, Haiti’s economy has improved: GDP has grown 13% (approximately 3-4% a year) and since 2012 capital investments have increased while international assistance has decreased- a sign that Haiti may be moving towards economic, political and social stability.
Today We Remember, Tomorrow We Improve
Today, as we remember all the victims of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, let us also remember that although certain forms of slavery continue to exist, the international community is working together to end all forms of slavery and towards a world filled with everlasting justice and humane treatment of all.
To find out more about the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade please visit http://www.un.org/en/events/slaveryremembranceday/