Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Mythbusting for Haiti

It is pretty overwhelming to see what is going on in Haiti. But absolutely revolting to see the heartless attitudes some people take toward this tragedy. I especially despise Rush Limbaugh saying that nobody should give a penny to the Haitians.

I saw some comment like:
"What do they expect, they live in little tin roof shacks, of course they are going to be killed in an earthquake"

Fact: You are actually far less likely to die in an earthquake when you live in a miserable shack held up by broomsticks and twine, than you are to be killed when a larger multi story cement structure, probably built during the American occupation, collapses on your head.

Pat Robertson made a lot of errors in his condemnation of Haiti. The "Pact with the devil" they made to get free from France? I have gone over the pact with the devil contract before, it does not hold up to any scrutiny. I don't expect any truth from someone who believes in Adam and Eve anyway. But please, they were not fighting to be free of France. They at first wanted to remain a colony of France, and only to be free of slavery. Toussaint Louverture, their early and successful leader, wanted to negotiate for the end of slavery and remain a colony of France. But he was captured at the official negotiation, by the French, and sent to France where he died of disease in captivity. He was actually lucky, almost every other leader who stood up to the French was burned alive or tortured to death upon capture. It was only after these talks broke down, that the Haitians were forced to choose new leaders and decided to fight again for complete independence, against the treacherous French.

Another big question Pat raised, why are Haitians so poor, when right next door in Dominican Republic people are wealthy and happy? He reasons it's all about the "pact with the devil" which I actually find an improvement over many of the racist slurs other people make to explain the poverty.

Why is Haiti poor? After Haiti's independence, the French refused to trade with Haiti, and no other country would or could trade with them either. Either for revenge, or because of the so-called pact with the devil, of for pure racism. Anyway, no trade, no money. After a number of years of near mass starvation, the Haitians negotiated with the French, who were also hurting a little by this time, as Haiti had been a major source of wealth for them. The French offered a deal, take it or leave it, that the Haitians would have to repay France for every bit of land they took (the entire island of Hispaniola), and the full market price for every slave on the island who was freed by the rebellion, (almost the entire population) and all damages cause by either side in the rebellion. Ask yourself how this compares to the terms England gave to America after the war of independence. You may have to read up on that history again, but I'm sure you will not find reparations or trade embargoes. The Haitians were saddled with paying off a staggering debt, including extremely high interest rates from 1826 to 1879. So don't make disparaging comments about Haitian poverty if you don't know anything about their history.

Is there more? Of course. The entire Island of Hispaniola, for a time was under one government, but in 1844 considering the burdensome deal made with France, half the island split away, leaving the people in the Western half of the island (today Haiti) to pay the entire war reparations to France without the help of the Eastern half, now called Dominican Republic. That's the "wealthy" part that Pat Robertson compares to Haiti to "prove" there was a pact with the devil. Apparently, in Pat Robertson's eyes, poverty proves you have a pact with the devil, even when people are taking money from you unfairly. And by the way, the Dominican Republic is not actually paradise on earth either.

Another myth to dispel is this: That the people of Haiti are congenitally incapable of running a decent country. Either through stupidity, or pacts with the devil or whatever, the myth is, the Haitians just can't do it. Well just read up on their history, and you will find there was a period of time (approximately 1867 to 1911) when the Haitians actually were turning their little country into a nice place to live, with a growing intellectual class, and with arts and literature. Peace and stability were the norm. But Germany saw Haiti as a potential colony in about 1911, and the Americans retaliated by invading and brutally occupying Haiti. Since then it has been either outright American control, or American puppet dictators, more or less steadily. Later in this dictatorship phase (especially in the last 20 years), many of the most wealthy and educated Haitians emigrated to Canada or the USA, leaving the rest to deal with it. Not the best of conditions to try to run a good country.

Then this earthquake, and all of a sudden racists pop out of the woodwork with their opinions that do nothing but show their own ignorance and lack of either education or heart.

Now I see a video on CBC News  of a Canadian teenage girl in Haiti crying. Why? Because she and a group from her church were in Haiti during the earthquake, on one of these volunteer trips, doing some humanitarian work while visiting a developing country. She was crying, overcome with emotion of seeing all the dead bodies, hearing the screaming people trapped in the buildings, and yet in the middle of all this, their Haitians hosts were still doing their very best to make sure the Canadian guests were safe and taken care of.

How about if we just give these people a break for once?

Top picture: Haiti, taken from a travel blog here:



  1. Well put, being born into a poor country does not make you deserve anything bad - it just happens. Being born in a rich country does not make you more deserving of fortune. I know the anti religios feeling here but true Christians would remember that Jesus had few good words to say about the rich except in their ability to help the poor.

  2. Very well put and, as to the Roadpoet entry, you are right. I was raised in that faith and I always had a problem with the hypocrisy involved in some of the 'true believers'. Jesus would have condemned both Pat Robertson and Rush Limbaugh for what they have said and done about Haiti's current state. How can a person of faith not have a problem with these evil men?

    The truth is that they are just so unbelievably greedy - more for me, none for you - that they have no more understanding of right and wrong anymore. That is the conservative mindset these days; they consider aiding in the time of a terrible disaster to be welfare for the useless. Very sad.


  3. As you point out, all too many people seem to have a very poor concept of the history of Haiti.

    In the interests of historical accuracy, the 1826 loans for reparation payments to the French for loss of possessions were actually paid off under Michel Domingue's government in 1879, during a period of relative political stability and economic improvement on the island (c. 1875-1910).

    That period of stability came to an end in 1910 with insurrections, compounded by yet another instance of American intervention. Concerned about the influence of the German community in Haiti, in 1910 the U.S. State Department supported a move by American bankers to grab control of the Banque National d'Haiti - not only the sole commercial bank but also basically the government's treasury. Further, in 1915, in response to Pressure from American banks concerned about the safety of their Haitian loans, the U.S. militarily occupied Haiti; a fairly brutal occupation which resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of Haitians and included draconian measures such as the reintroduction of the corvée.

    Although the Americans withdrew their occupation forces in 1934, they retained control of Haiti's finances until well after WWII. A decade of instability, from 1947 through 1957, ensued, culminating in the election of François Duvalier - the infamous Papa Doc with his Tonton Macoutes goons. Duvalier, of course, was a dictator for life, and was succeeded (in 1971) by his son, Jean-Claude (Baby Doc), who enriched himself at the expense of the population, until he was forced into exile by a military coup in 1986.

    Duvalier's embezzlement and the 1986 military coup largely established the pattern for Haitian politics ever since: suspect elections, political deadlock, rampant corruption, human rights abuses, massive drug trafficking, and the inability to form an effective, functioning government.

    The result of the past 100 years of interference and instability is an economy that does not function, and Haiti remains the poorest country in the Western hemisphere. And, especially since the late 1940s, U.S. policy has been a major factor, in terms of supporting 'friendly' rulers - at the expense of the general population.

    The ongoing propagation of myths of Haitian poverty as a result of beliefs in Voodoo, or some spurious 'pact with the devil,' is detestable.

    As you so aptly put it, 'Then this earthquake, and all of a sudden ignorant racists pop out of the woodwork with their opinions that do nothing but show their own ignorance and lack of either education or heart.'

  4. I made that correction to the date the loan was paid off. I just heard on TV this morning that Haiti's current foreign debt is going to be forgiven. I forget the number but it was under $300 million, these days quite a trifling amount. Certainly small compared to the damage caused by the earthquake. And Bob Rae said, while being interviewed about Canadian involvement in the relief effort, that Haiti has been a sovereign nation for 200 years. Which is wrong, and although Bob was not saying anything to disparage Haiti, it is not helping people to understand the history either.

  5. In fairness to Bob Rae, it all depends on one's definition of nationhood, and how one dates these things.

    If the U.S. is dated as a sovereign nation from its Declaration of Independence in 1776, then Haiti can claim nationhood from its declaration on January 1, 1804, under Jean-Jacques Dessalines.

    France recognized Haiti's independence in 1825 - once Haiti agreed to pay reparations for 'lost' French property, plunging them into debt for the next half-century.

    So Haiti is arguably the second oldest republic (after the US) in the Western Hemisphere. (The U.S. itself did not formally recognize Haiti, because of the slavery issue, until 1863 after the Southern States succeeded.)