Televangelist Pat Robertson explained the devastation of he Haitian Earthquake as the result of a curse that God set on Haiti at its liberation. Religious Right/racist hostility to Haiti continues.
They were under the heel of the French, you know Napoleon the third and whatever. And they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said 'We will serve you if you will get us free from the prince.' True story. And so the devil said, 'Ok it's a deal.' And they kicked the French out. The Haitians revolted and got something themselves free. But ever since they have been cursed by one thing after another
Bet you heard about the earthquake. Bet you don't know how bad it is in Haiti.
It's worse than a failure to deliver promised aid. Haiti is a country of euphemisms, of fear to say how bad it really is, of lack of words to say how bad it really is, more so than anywhere else I have encountered. Worse than the Dog Whistle US South, but for many of the same reasons.
[I rearranged some of this material later. In particular, I put the Pat Robertson quote in the Intro where it belongs.]
Where to Next?
What has been accomplished in the past six months? Perhaps most momentously, last week Congress—after much delay—approved President Obama's $2.8 billion aid package for Haiti. Earlier this year, both Houses of Congress approved cancellation of Haiti's remaining debt to international institutions, and requested that future assistance be in the form of grants, not loans. The international-lending institutions later ratified this important victory. Your advocacy also helped bring about the Obama Administration's decision to grant Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to Haitians in the United States.
Uh, yeah, hooray, kind of. Two centuries late.
Today, however, we're asking for your help to urge Congress to pass immediately the Haitian Emergency Life Protection (HELP) Act of 2010. This legislation, H.R.4616 and S.2998, would help reunite the more-than 55,000 Haitians with approved family petitions who remain separated from their close U.S. relatives due to backlogs in the U.S. family-visa system.
The good news came in an e-mail alert from The Episcopal Public Policy Network. I'm a Buddhist, and not in any way partial about who helps the Haitians. If you are a Christian, I will take the liberty of suggesting to you that you find out who is most effective and make your donations to them, without bias towards projects of your own denomination, and that you pray for forgiveness for the ignorance that others have taught you, but you had to choose to accept. "Always we must be disturbed by the truth," we say in my tradition.
Disclosure: I was the first software localization administrator for Haitian Creole, Kreyòl Ayisyen, for One Laptop Per Child. Lovely language. I can't understand a word of it when spoken, although I can read it somewhat due to its overlap with French. My job was simply to recruit Haitians to take over the project. Done. I continue to do other things that nobody has thought about.
Anyway, here is more of the message.
From Alexander Baumgarten, Director of Government Relations for the Episcopal Church:
WHAT YOU CAN DO
What remains to be done? First, the United States government will need to work in the coming years to see that all aid to Haiti is used cohesively with that of other donors, and in support of Haitian-led development initiatives. Additionally, Congress and the President should extend new trade preferences to Haiti so that the Haitian people can build a sustainable economy for themselves.
Today, however, we're asking for your help to urge Congress to pass immediately the Haitian Emergency Life Protection (HELP) Act of 2010. This legislation, H.R.4616 and S.2998, would help reunite the more-than 55,000 Haitians with approved family petitions who remain separated from their close U.S. relatives due to backlogs in the U.S. family-visa system. Absent legislation, the Obama Administration could also end this backlog through administrative order. Please click here to send a message to your lawmakers.
Doesn't sound at all bad if you don't know the historical context and the extent of the need, but it is in reality pitiful. A shameful and disgusting abdication of Christian principles, or Buddhist principles, or any sort of principles whatever other than White Supremacy Worldwide. No, it is not wrong to plead for the widow and the orphan, but it is wrong to treat the wrong wound.
I think I have a better idea than all of the above put together. Not that I would tell anybody not to do any of these worthwhile things, but that we need that cohesive effort, not just among existing programs, but of thinking about what programs are really most needed, and especially of making it possible to ask all Haitians, and then really listen.
Let's fully fund both current recovery efforts, and competent education for all Haitians. The recovery efforts necessarily include rebuilding, preferably to some sort of earthquake code, and restoring all services to at least the levels before the quake, and preferably to a much higher level. This includes government, of course, and water, communications, health, trade, and so on. Look at the UN's Millennium Development Goals for the basic ideas. But it also means the rebuilding of tortured humanity.
By competent education, I mean One Laptop Per Child, which would also put all Haitian children into contact with each other, and give them access to the entire world via the Internet. But that is not the theme of this Diary Entry. You can read about my ideas on that at OLPC News and Earth Treasury.
The Right Wound
Haiti's fundamental problem is not any of these particular circumstances, as dire and difficult as they are. It is this: Haiti had the only successful slave rebellion in any European colony in the Americas in five centuries. It has never been forgiven by the powers that were, or that be today. Certainly not by slave owning pioneers of human rights such as Thomas Jefferson, nor by Southern Strategy panderers to remnant US racism such as George W. Bush.
Haiti has been taken as an inspiration by freedom fighters all over Latin America, Africa, and the rest of the world. Only Haiti and Britain share the distinction of having defeated Napoleon's army and navy.
These are strong statements, and need strong evidence. I can't tell you the whole story here, but we can hit the highlights, and I can tell you where to find the rest.
As Thomas Jefferson said in a different context, let facts be submitted to a candid world.
- Due to the Royal Code Noir (Black Code) of Jean-Baptiste Colbert, slavery in Haiti was, by general agreement, nastier and more brutal than in the other colonies of the time, which is saying something.
- In a rather complicated affair (actually more complicated and more sordid and vicious than we have room for), Mulatto slave leader Toussaint l'Ouverture agreed to raise slave forces to fight for France against Spain and Britain, on a promise to end slavery. After he succeeded, however, France set out to reinstitute slavery. They arrested and imprisoned l'Ouverture, who died a few months later.
- At this point the slave generals Dessalines and Pétion took up the cause. At the end of the second round, with Napoleon beaten off, only half of the former slave population of Haiti had survived.
- Before the rebellion, Haiti was known as the Jewel of the Caribbean for its productivity in sugar, indigo, coffee, and tropical fruits. After the war, France put Haiti under total embargo, joined by the rest of Europe and the United States.
- Fear of slave rebellions trumped all other concerns in the US, including the Jefferson Administration. Such rebellions indeed began to occur in the US.
- In 1825 France sent a fleet to reconquer Haiti, but ended up negotiating an end to the embargo for a ransom together with reparations to the former slaveowners, in the amount of 150 million francs (reduced in 1838 to 60 million francs), in gold. (Wait, France demands reparations in more gold than there is. I've heard that story somewhere.) Haiti accepted rather than starve, with little more than sugar, coffee, and fruit to eat, or be subjugated yet again.
- To pay the French, agriculture was forced to produce more than was sustainable, leading to rapid destruction of soils, which have never recovered, and to nearly complete deforestation.
- With the complete destruction of Haiti's production capabilities, nearly the entire population was reduced to bare subsistence, with a tiny, increasingly tyrannical Mulatto elite descended from the original slave masters on top of them, culminating in the savagely repressive Papa Doc Duvalier, and his son Baby Doc.
- The United States interfered with Haitian affairs on a routine basis throughout both of their histories, in the interest of "stability", which meant no uppity former slaves making anything of themselves, and continuing tyranny.
- After the US marine invasion of 1915, the US administration dismantled the constitutional system, reinstituted virtual slavery for building roads, and established the National Guards that ran the country by violence and terror after the Marines left.
- US interference has continued after the end of the Duvalier period, and continues to emphasize "stability" over any sort of human rights, as in the kidnapping of President Aristide. There were 32 coups in two centuries, and numerous invasions by European powers and the US.
- "The wages Haiti requires by law belong in the department of science fiction: actual wages on coffee plantations vary from $.07 to $.15 a day."—Eduardo Galeano
- It isn't a Free Market if you can't get to it.
I'm sorry, I can't go on right now. Everything I thought I knew about Haiti was wrong. Everything you think you know about Haiti is wrong. The reality is much, much worse. Eduardo Galeano, however, was evidently made of sufficiently stern stuff. Paul Farmer quotes him at the beginning of Pathologies of Power. These are the euphemisms, the code that justifies the oppression and the punishments.
Fleas dream of buying themselves a dog,
and nobodies dream of escaping poverty:
that, one magical day,
good luck will suddenly rain down on them—
will rain down in buckets.
But good luck doesn't rain down,
yesterday, today, tomorrow or ever.
Good luck doesn't even fall in a fine drizzle,
no matter how hard the nobodies summon it,
even if their left hand is tickling,
or if they begin the new day on their right foot,
or start the new year with a change of brooms.
owners of nothing.
running like rabbits,
dying through life,
screwed every which way.
Who are not, but could be.
Who don't speak languages, but dialects.
Who don't have religions, but superstitions.
Who don't create art, but handicrafts.
Who don't have culture, but folklore.
Who are not human beings, but human resources.
Who do not have faces, but arms.
Who do not have names, but numbers.
Who do not appear in the history of the world,
but in the crime reports of the local paper.
who are not worth the bullet that kills them.
Please read and watch.
- Thorstein Veblen, The Theory of the Leisure Class. Understanding politics of any kind requires an understanding of Veblen. Understanding master and slave politics many more times so.
- Paul Farmer, The Uses of Haiti, introduction by Noam Chomsky, foreword by Jonathan Kozol.
- Paul Farmer, Pathologies of Power: Health, Human Rights, and the New War on the Poor
- Amartya Sen, Development as Freedom
- Graham Greene, The Comedians. Also a movie starring Richard Burton.
Please add further recommendations in comments.