UK’s new Haiti embassy: More business-savvy than saviour


As someone with a vested interest, it is great and good news that Britain is to open an embassy 47 years after it last had a presence here.

The new embassy will renew and re-confirm a relationship formally begun in 1833, when Britain recognized independent Haiti and Britain’s Slavery Abolition Act ended the practice throughout the British Empire.

William Wilberforce, who led the anti-slavery movement in Britain, kept a weather eye on events in Haiit

William Wilberforce, who led the anti-slavery movement in Britain, kept a weather eye on events in Haiit

There is much to suggest that the English philanthropist and politician William Wilberforce, who led the movement to abolish the slave trade, kept a weather eye on events in Haiti and its bloody slave revolt against its colonial master.

So, to today. The London Evening Standard’s June 6 report presages great and good things as a consequence of the new UK embassy in Haiti.

It will create new trade opportunities for UK firms and boost Britain’s presence in the Caribbean and Latin America region. This last makes sense, considering Britain’s recent attempts to extend its footprint in the region with a new consulate in Recife, Brazil; an embassy in El Salvador and a new one planned for Paraguay later this year.
Though some of the goals are dressed up as altruistic (“to help Haiti’s government with nation-building”) it is clear that Britain sees many less philanthropic advantage in having a presence here.

As the UK Foreign Office minister Hugo Swire points out, “Haiti was an incredibly rich country once and if you look over the border at the Dominican Republic, and particularly its growing tourism industry, there is no reason why it can’t be again. We want our businesses to benefit from that.”

That is all to the good. Surely the healthiest way to build a bilateral relationship is on the presumption of mutual benefit, rather than the saviour and saved.

Mr Swire, will travel to Port au Prince to open the new Britshop, which will be housed in the Canadian embassy, for now.

Jack Kerouac

“Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life”
– Jack Kerouac