Thursday, January 28, 2010

New Dordt Diamond Column: In Haiti, the Past is Prologue

For two weeks now, the world has been fixated on the devastation in Haiti. But even before the earthquake, Haiti was the poorest country in the western hemisphere. 80% of the population was impoverished and life expectancy was fifty-nine years.

If you ask Pat Robertson, Haiti is cursed because its inhabitants “swore a pact to the devil” in the late 18th century. Robertson has been endlessly derided in the media for that statement, and rightly so, but if Haiti isn’t suffering under a Faustian curse, then what’s the deal?

Part of the problem is internal. Haiti has suffered a long line of corrupt leaders who have squandered the country’s resources. By all accounts, the current democratically-elected president, Rene Preval, had been making moderate progress until the quake.

But a large share of the blame lies outside Haiti. The native peoples of Haiti were completely wiped out by the war, slavery and disease the first Spanish settlers brought with them. Eventually, Haiti became a French slave colony. A slave revolt brought independence in 1804, but the French forced Haiti to pay $21 billion in damages for property loss – property including the newly-free slaves! That debt lingers to this day. Haiti makes $58 million in debt payments annually.

The United States occupied Haiti for mostly economic reasons from 1915 to 1934. U.S. Marines killed nearly 3,000 Haitians during a revolt in 1919. Later, in the name of fighting communism, the U.S. supported Haiti’s two most infamous dictators, the Duvaliers. This father-son duo embezzled billions in aid and killed tens of thousands of Haitians. They are responsible for almost half of Haiti’s current debt. The people of Haiti are still paying for their crimes.

So what happens now? Or, more importantly, what happens when Haiti fades from the news and the donations dry up?

If you ask FOX News host Bill O’Reilly, “The USA will once again pour millions into that country...One year from today, Haiti will be just as bad as it is right now.”

As Christian citizens, we cannot accept that attitude. No nation is hopeless. We should give from our plenty to organizations working to rebuild Haiti. We should demand that our leaders enact programs for debt relief and continued development for Haiti. The United States owes Haiti its support, and the church owes Haiti its love. As the Apostle Paul wrote, “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another.”

No comments:

Post a Comment