I was too busy with my client commitments back in 2010 when I wrote a few posts about the tragedies in Haiti. But I did post this and today in 2014 I’ve updated the links. As is often the case humor can be a great way to get to the unvarnished truth:
Americans laid eyes on actual Haitians for the first time on Jan. 12.
PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI—Less than two weeks after converging upon the site of a devastating magnitude 7.0 earthquake, American anthropologists have confirmed the discovery of a small, poverty-stricken island nation, known to its inhabitants as “Haiti.”
Located just 700 miles off the southeastern coast of Florida, the previously unaccounted-for country is believed to be home to an estimated 10 million people.
Even more astounding, reports now indicate that these people have likely inhabited the impoverished, destitute region—unnoticed by the rest of the world—for more than 300 years.
Enlarge Image Researchers believe this was once the capital, though it’s unclear if the Haitian people ever had a truly functional government.
“That an entire civilization has been somehow existing right under our noses for all this time comes as a complete shock,” said University of Florida anthropology professor Dr. Ben Oliver, adding that it appeared as if Haiti’s citizens had been living under dangerous conditions even before the devastating earthquake struck. “Of course, there have been rumors in the past about a long-forgotten Caribbean nation whose people struggle every day to survive, live in constant fear of a corrupt government, and endure such squalor and hunger that they have resorted to eating dirt. But never did we give them much thought.”
Added Oliver, “Had it not been for this earthquake, I doubt we would have ever noticed Haiti at all.”
Though anthropologists said they still did not know much about Haiti’s history, they claimed that, by observing the Haitians’ reactions to this particular disaster, and studying the way the people had come together and taken solace in one another’s sorrows, it appeared as if most of them were accustomed to tragic, even horrific, events.
Researchers also came to the “startling” conclusion that Haiti’s inhabitants must have at some point in their history been exposed to the English language, as many seemed capable of uttering such phrases as “Help us,” and “Please don’t abandon us again.”
“They are normal people just like you and me,” said Harvard University’s Aimee Coughlin, who before last week had never come across any mention of the struggling island republic, whether in conversation, on television, or while scanning the front pages of newspapers. “They communicate with one another, they have families and loved ones, and they value religion. However, judging by the way they are fending for themselves—a position they seem almost resigned to—it’s clear these mysterious Haitian people don’t have much else.”
According to Coughlin, the Haitian civilization was discovered on the night of Jan. 12, when relief workers were rushed to several resorts in the Dominican Republic to see if any American tourists had been injured in the quake. During an aerial tour of the island of Hispaniola, members of the Red Cross noticed signs of human life coming from Haiti.
“When we first landed there, I thought, ‘No person could possibly live here,'” Oliver said. “Not only did the arid landscape look incapable of sustaining any sort of agriculture, but there was absolutely no infrastructure either. Had we known about this desperate, desperate place sooner, perhaps we could have shared some of our technological advancements with them.”
“I’ve vacationed just miles away in beautiful St. Kitts many times,” Oliver added. “Never did anyone say anything about this Haiti place.”
Members of the world community were equally shocked at the discovery of such an impoverished civilization. U.N. representatives noted that Haiti’s location puts it in the direct path of recent natural disasters such as Hurricanes Jeanne, Hanna, and Ike, disasters that probably caused massive flooding, disease, and death.
Likewise, leaders from a number of Western nations announced Tuesday that they were dumbfounded to learn people were still living without decent shelter, hospitals, or regular access to food and water.
“They must have had no way of communicating with the outside world, because had we known about these Haitians, we would have done everything in our power to help them,” U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said. “Of that I have no doubt.”
Here’s the full text of an excellent email that arrived today from a U.Washington global health feed:
Why The US Owes Haiti Billions – The Briefest History
Jan 17, 2010 By Bill Quigley
Bill Quigley’s ZSpace Page / ZSpace
Why does the US owe Haiti Billions? Colin Powell, former US Secretary of State, stated his foreign policy view as the “Pottery Barn rule.” That is – “if you break it, you own it.”
The US has worked to break Haiti for over 200 years. We owe Haiti. Not charity. We owe Haiti as a matter of justice. Reparations. And not the $100 million promised by President Obama either – that is Powerball money. The US owes Haiti Billions – with a big B.
The US has worked for centuries to break Haiti. The US has used Haiti like a plantation. The US helped bleed the country economically since it freed itself, repeatedly invaded the country militarily, supported dictators who abused the people, used the country as a dumping ground for our own economic advantage, ruined their roads and agriculture, and toppled popularly elected officials. The US has even used Haiti like the old plantation owner and slipped over there repeatedly for sexual recreation.
Here is the briefest history of some of the major US efforts to break Haiti.
In 1804, when Haiti achieved its freedom from France in the world’s first successful slave revolution, the United States refused to recognize the country. The US continued to refuse recognition to Haiti for 60 more years. Why? Because the US continued to enslave millions of its own citizens and feared recognizing Haiti would encourage slave revolution in the US.
After the 1804 revolution, Haiti was the subject of a crippling economic embargo by France and the US. US sanctions lasted until 1863. France ultimately used its military power to force Haiti to pay reparations for the slaves who were freed. The reparations were 150 million francs. (France sold the entire Louisiana territory to the US for 80 million francs!)
Haiti was forced to borrow money from banks in France and the US to pay reparations to France. A major loan from the US to pay off the French was finally paid off in 1947. The current value of the money Haiti was forced to pay to French and US banks? Over $20 Billion – with a big B.
The US occupied and ruled Haiti by force from 1915 to 1934. President Woodrow Wilson sent troops to invade in 1915. Revolts by Haitians were put down by US military – killing over 2000 in one skirmish alone. For the next nineteen years, the US controlled customs in Haiti, collected taxes, and ran many governmental institutions. How many billions were siphoned off by the US during these 19 years?
From 1957 to 1986 Haiti was forced to live under US backed dictators “Papa Doc” and “Baby Doc” Duvalier. The US supported these dictators economically and militarily because they did what the US wanted and were politically “anti-communist” – now translatable as against human rights for their people. Duvalier stole millions from Haiti and ran up hundreds of millions in debt that Haiti still owes. Ten thousand Haitians lost their lives. Estimates say that Haiti owes $1.3 billion in external debt and that 40% of that debt was run up by the US-backed Duvaliers.
Thirty years ago Haiti imported no rice. Today Haiti imports nearly all its rice. Though Haiti was the sugar growing capital of the Caribbean, it now imports sugar as well. Why? The US and the US dominated world financial institutions – the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank – forced Haiti to open its markets to the world. Then the US dumped millions of tons of US subsidized rice and sugar into Haiti – undercutting their farmers and ruining Haitian agriculture. By ruining Haitian agriculture, the US has forced Haiti into becoming the third largest world market for US rice. Good for US farmers, bad for Haiti.
In 2002, the US stopped hundreds of millions of dollars in loans to Haiti which were to be used for, among other public projects like education, roads. These are the same roads which relief teams are having so much trouble navigating now!
In 2004, the US again destroyed democracy in Haiti when they supported the coup against Haiti’s elected President Aristide.
Haiti is even used for sexual recreation just like the old time plantations. Check the news carefully and you will find numerous stories of abuse of minors by missionaries, soldiers and charity workers. Plus there are the frequent sexual vacations taken to Haiti by people from the US and elsewhere. What is owed for that? What value would you put on it if it was your sisters and brothers?
US based corporations have for years been teaming up with Haitian elite to run sweatshops teeming with tens of thousands of Haitians who earn less than $2 a day.
The Haitian people have resisted the economic and military power of the US and others ever since their independence. Like all of us, Haitians made their own mistakes as well. But US power has forced Haitians to pay great prices – deaths, debt and abuse.
It is time for the people of the US to join with Haitians and reverse the course of US-Haitian relations.
This brief history shows why the US owes Haiti Billions – with a big B. This is not charity. This is justice. This is reparations. The current crisis is an opportunity for people in the US to own up to our country’s history of dominating Haiti and to make a truly just response.
On Wednesday morning, Dr. Robertson stated that the nation of Haiti made a pact with the devil. “True story”, he said, and claimed that this explains why Haiti suffered so much in the years since. Au contraire: everything about his statement is false.
“Haiti was under the heel of the French, Napoleon III or whatever.”
“They got together and made a pact with the devil: ‘We will serve you if you get us free from the French.’
“The Haitians revolted and got themselves free, but ever since they have been cursed by one thing after another, desperately poor.”
“The island of Hispaniola is cut down through the middle — Haiti on one side, Dominican Republic on the other. Dominican republic is prosperous, healthy, full of resorts, etc. Haiti is in desperate poverty. Same island.”
“They need to have (and we need to pray for them) a great turning to God, and out of this tragedy I’m optimistic that something good may come.”
1. Wrong century, Pat. Napoleon III came to power as President of France in 1848, then took over as Napoleon III in 1852. The Haitian revolution lasted from 1791 to 1803, inspired by the French Revolution 2 years before, and the American Revolution 14 years before that.
2. In my post yesterday I cited a Salon.com article, which points out that the “pact with the devil” myth is a major distortion of what occurred in a secret meeting on August 14, 1791. At this meeting in a place called Bois Caiman, slaves confided in one another how much they resented their treatment by white settlers. In harmony with their African tribal past, one of the women in the group slit the throat of a pig and “distributed the blood to all the participants of the meeting, who swore to kill all the whites on the island.” It’s quite possible that the woman who led the meeting was indeed possessed by a spirit, as Christians would say it. This was a common part of the voodoo ritual religion that these people had grown up with. But she was acting alone, as one enslaved person in a meeting on the topic of oppression by a wealthy white minority. It is utterly false that this can be called a national “pact with the devil”. Moved more by the spirit of freedom that actuated the American and French revolutions than by demon possession, these poor oppressed blacks righteously decided in the face of abuse and outrage, to throw off the shackles that had been enslaving them. About a week later, the insurrection began in the northern mountains of Haiti … the first paroxysm of justifiable rage in a long-awaited revolution. But the early first successes were quickly suppressed with overwhelming power and violence by the French settlers.
There is actually some recent disagreement among historians as to whether the Bois Caiman meeting even took place. You can read an exchange among academics on the subject here.
The Bois Caiman story is so deeply intertwined in the history of a free Haiti (much like our Boston Tea Party or the Ride of Paul Revere) that to question it in Haiti is unthinkable. Whether precisely true or not, it’s been handed down from countless sources as an oral history about the quest for freedom from tyranny by this oppressed people. One thing seems clear, though — there is very little of a religious nature in the original story. The blood-covenant was more of a cultural expression, having roots in the indigenous people’s practices, mixed with traditions that came from the Senegambian coast where many Black Haitians had been captured by the French and Spanish. The blood ritual described in the oral traditions of Bois Caiman was not unusual. It was a cultural custom, transported by the slaves who had been uprooted from Africa, along with the tribal and Islamic influences that had shaped them for centuries before. Indeed, this story is not unlike the Biblical account of a blood-sealed pact of revenge by the people of Israel against the perpetrators of an atrocity — as recorded in Judges 20. Here, the people are galvanized into action in revenge, not by a testimony meeting and a symbolic use of pigs blood — but by messengers carrying the dismembered body of the single victim. The point is, it would be pointless to argue that the people of Haiti were any more primitive than the people of the Bible.
3. “The Haitians revolted and got themselves free.” Not really. This was a very unsatisfactory revolution. It lasted from 1791 to 1803, and was beset by both internal strife and outside invasion first by the French, then the English, then the French again. Yes, in the end it did result in Haiti becoming “only the 2nd republic in the Americas.” But the country was exhausted and in ruins, and no nation on earth at the time, including the United States, was willing to do business with a black republic… for fear it would enflame their own slaves’ desire for freedom. Remember, this is 50 years before the slaves began to be released in England, Russia, and finally the United States.
And so Haiti was free in name only. While it remained the richest colony in the history of colonial exploitation, as a free nation it was forced to endure an economic embargo not unlike the one we have enforced against Cuba for the last 50 years. The southern states, who of course had enormous clout in every American administration, viewed black Haiti very much the way cold war-era Americans viewed Communist Cuba. Haiti was the worst of all possible worlds: Black, and intertwined with the French, who were now led by an ambitious non-democratic emperor, Napoleon I.
The Haitian victory over the last of several French attempts to re-impose slavery in 1803 presented an alert Thomas Jefferson with a golden opportunity. Jefferson saw that France wanted Haiti back even more than they wanted to risk war with the United States over the ownership of the Louisiana territory. He also was not as afraid of a black nation as President Adams and all the southern statesmen had been. He is reported to have said, “”Provided that the Negroes are not permitted to possess a navy, we can allow them without danger to exist and we can moreover continue with them very lucrative commercial relations.” So Jefferson reinforced the slave leaders in Haiti prior to the French invasion, and when, as he hoped, the French suffered a disastrous defeat at the hands of the Haitian rebels, Jefferson was able to swoop down and buy the Louisiana territory for a pittance. As the Haitian ambassador stated in response to Pat Robertson’s foolish prattle, Haitian victory was the direct cause of the United States gaining the land of 13 of our western states:
Yet racism and religion-based prejudice continued to create outside pressures which continued to afflict Haiti. Beginning in 1825, the victors became the vanquished when France with the help of the other great powers forced the Haitians to pay reparations to France for their victory. “They were forced to pay again with their sweat for the freedom they had already purchased with their blood.” The details of this outrageous penalty, and its impact on Haitian society ever since, are described here. (Thanks to Paul Tullis) This immoral demand, which impoverished Haiti while it enriched France, was not paid off by Haiti until 1947! And the results are still felt to this day. Their curse was not from God, but from the White race, the “Christian” “civilized” world, who drained Haitian money away 10 different ways.
4. The Dominican Republic is not prosperous, either. It suffers from a very similar fate — poverty in the midst of plenty, government corruption, a tiny privileged class and masses who live at the edge of poverty. While it is true that the Dominican Republic has about 6 times the per-capita income of Haiti, and much better life expectancy, many of the same problems afflict this half of the island as well. I’ve been there, and once you leave the wealthy resorts for the native towns, you see grinding poverty and desperation. Pat’s characterization of the country as “healthy and prosperous” may be true of the American real estate moguls who have built golf courses and resorts, but it is certainly not true of the local people. Santo Domingans can hardly be said to own the land they inhabit.
5. Centuries of failure in Haiti have combined with an indigenous belief in supernatural causes for natural events to create a dominant attitude of fatalism. Any truly moral framework, whether Christian, Jewish, or Moslem, could make a positive impact, working one person at a time. For example Nazarene missionaries since 1950 have made a positive impact, not by producing a “great turning to God”, but by teaching people how to improve their soil, build wells, terrace hillsides, and eat the tropical fruits which easily grow in Haiti (which tribal culture teaches are harmful to pregnant women). These are not religious changes but practical agricultural and lifestyle transitions. I applaud the earnest efforts of people like Howard Culbertson to invest in Haitian improvement, one person and family at a time. But the cause of their troubles was grossly misstated by Robertson — they were not cursed by God, but by godless people masquerading as followers of Jesus. Just as fake Christians slaughtered millions and sowed weeds of poverty in the Congo, so western “Christian” “civilization” has destroyed and denuded Haiti.
When a spiritual descendant of these kinds of religious mobsters blames the victims for their troubles, I just see red. Shut up, Pat, cash in your fortune and give the money to someone who is soberly working to undo the multiple curses of exploitative “Christianity”. I don’t know for sure who might be effective, but I am certain the test we should go by is not related to the Christian doctrines or the church affiliation of the workers. “Christians” have been the curse of Haiti since Columbus first opened Pandora’s box there. Tomorrow I’ll begin to tell the story of how the arrogant jerk that my home town was named for launched Haiti’s woes, plundering the land for the queen of Spain.
After I finish telling the story of the exploitation of Haiti by one “Christian” nation after another, I’m going to examine what the Bible says about all of this, and see if we if there is any evidence that there is a God who sees, cares, and plans to do anything about exploitation by people who think they’ve got the “true religion”.
But perhaps to salve my conscience I’m going to use this as the occasion for my re-entry into the blogosphere, a year and a day after my last post here on HappyGod.
Since my topics are God and what’s wrong with the world, let’s talk about Pat Robertson. Not the man, but his ideas. OK, alright, let’s talk about the guy too, and his habit of rushing in where angels fear to tread. (Thanks, Alexander Pope, for helping me break the spirit of Matthew 5:22 without disobeying the letter!)
Sometimes we’re confronted with foolishness that is so laughably evil, so hatefully dumb, that all we can do is gape in amazement. Where do I begin?
Keith Olberman was articulate and strummed some chords I wanted to hear:
Whoopi Goldberg and friends were similarly indignant and equally articulate about Dr. Robertson…
Even God weighs in (humorous press release, via Andy Borowitz, in which God distances himself from the Christian right)
I’m going to leave Pat Robertson squirming in the discomfort of his own religious hotsauce, and come back tomorrow with some historic perspective on the real cause of Haiti’s disproportionate suffering.