Haïti seems to be in the media almost every day and most of the news reflects the extremely difficult environment which exists. In spite of the best efforts of the US Marines, life has become unbearable for many of its residents with sporadic electrical
power and shortages of the basic necessities. Having visited Haïti in better days, although
there have been few in recent times, I have great empathy for the struggle of most Haïtians. But Haïtians have known these problems in the past and with the help of the Diaspora, and sheer grit, they always manage to survive.
During the height of the political turmoil with the resignation of President Aristede leaving the country under questionable circumstances, I received an email from a Haïtian named Daniel Elie. Included with his email, Daniel attached a small scan of a banknote I had never seen. He mentioned,
almost in passing, that he had completed the design of a new series of six
bicentennial commemorative banknotes. I was amazed, but quickly realized that life in Haïti goes on in spite of problems most of us can't possibly imagine.
Daniel's email reminded me that in 1999, Haïti also prepared another banknote, a new high denomination 1,000 Gourdes. This design was painter and architect Daniel Elie's first foray into banknote design. Daniel is a person who
is proud and passionate about Haïtian history and was selected as the General Secretary of the committee honoring the 250th Anniversary of Port-au-Prince. His design incorporates both the founding of Port-Au-Prince and President
Hyppolite, whose administration was inexorably linked with the capital city. Stocks of these notes, printed by De La Rue, have been sitting in the vaults of the Central Bank, Banque de la République d'Haïti (BRH) for almost 5 years, awaiting the law authorizing their issuance. With the political turmoil that has existed in the country, there has
not been a government in place to pass the needed legislation allowing their distribution. This new high denomination is badly needed with the low exchange value of the Gourde, currently about $12 USD for 500 Gourdes, the highest denomination now
circulating. I guess that's typically Haïti, a new banknote would facilitate commerce and make life easier but Lavi difisil jodi-a (nowadays life is difficult).
For the first time on a Haïtian banknote, pictured on the front of the 1,000 Gourdes, is Louis Mondestin Florvil Hyppolite, who was born in 1827 and served as President from 17.10.1889 until his death on 24.3.1896.
Hyppolite joined the Provisional government of Pierre Théoma Boisrond-Canal in 1876, having previously served as the Minister of War in the Sylvain Salnave administration. On 27.11.1888 Hyppolite was proclaimed President of the République Septentrionale, the Revolutionary Committee of the North. His rebels fought against President Denis Légitime’s army and on 22.8.1889
captured Port-Au-Prince. Hyppolite was chosen as the President of the Republic on
9.10.1889 and inaugurated a week later.
In April of 1893 Hyppolite staked out his place in Haïtian history by outmaneuvering the Americans who wanted to lease Môle Saint Nicolas as payment for their support in his war against Légitime. Frederick Douglass, the US Ambassador to Haïti, reminded Hyppolite of the “services rendered, of the friendship shown for his government by the U.S. Government, and of certain promises by the Haïtian Provisional Government which was now the desire of the government at Washington to have fulfilled."
Hyppolite stated that Haïti “would not-could not-negotiate under the bullying of the guns of seven foreign warships or for that matter under the bullying of the American press.” In the end his government simply stated that “there could be no lease of Môle because Haïti’s constitution precluded any such alienation of sovereignty(1).” With these words, the American Atlantic fleet withdrew from Haïtian waters. Frederick Douglass returned to the USA never to see Haïti again.
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