Weekly Commentary — Haiti’s Curse
There are already 150,000 Haitians in the ground. The total death toll may, one hopes, be as low as 200,000, but it could easily be significantly greater.
The world reacted immediately, with countries as far away as China and Israel dispatching rescue teams. President Obama avoided the initial mistakes of the Bush administration with the tsunami, declaring immediate solidarity with Haiti, pledging $100 million, and sending in the Marines. And individual Americans, reacted with a generosity and concern unprecedented in the speed of its mobilization. U.S. relief organizations have collected over $380 million in donations.
Almost no sooner had the earthquake happened than numerous left commentators who had connections with Haiti began criticizing, warning of the dangers, and reminding readers of the sordid history of U.S. and U.N. policy toward Haitians. At the time, I was ambivalent about it. On the one hand, politics and disasters always go together, and it’s reasonable to make the case that people should focus on the potential political problems as early as possible. On the other hand, such behavior is indubitably part of why everybody hates the left.
My ambivalence was happily resolved by David Brooks’ noxious op-ed in the New York Times, blaming Haitians for the disaster and calling for their subjugation under an “enlightened paternalism.” I give him credit for being openly noxious — the same theme, thinly veiled, cropped up in innumerable other places in the mainstream media.
They started it.
Of all of the arrogant, ignorant, paternalistic white commentators, the one who hit closest to the truth was Pat Robertson. Haiti is cursed. There is and has been for 500 years no more benighted place on the planet.
The indigenous population was wiped out by Columbus and his successors in perhaps the most complete genocide in history.
The population was entirely replaced by white settlers and Africans abducted, enslaved, subjected to a brutally deadly passage to the New World, and then subjected to perhaps the most onerous slavery in the history of the world. They were worked to death so fast that more slaves had constantly to be imported.
The first ray of light was the advent of Toussaint and the slave revolt. It was a bloody series of battles spreading over 13 years and costing the lives of hundreds of thousands of the newly freed. Any battle like that creates leaderships composed of hard men, who ruthlessly take the measures they deem necessary for survival. Those who do not, do not survive.
Given that process, Toussaint was a surprisingly enlightened and humane man, remarkably ready to forgive his enemies, stubbornly committed to racial reconciliation, even to the point of welcoming the return of the émigré plantationocracy that was responsible for the crimes committed against his people.
His vision, gradually developing, of an independent Haiti closely connected to, helped and advised by Republican France, which he saw as the foremost source of culture and modern thinking in the world, was an admirable one that, if realized, might have changed Haiti’s history forever after.
He was taken from Haiti by French perfidy and the counterrevolution in France. His successor, Jean Jacques Dessalines, autocratic but efficient, was assassinated, and Haiti broke up, split between different warlords created during the slave insurgency. Do not blame the ignorance and backwardness of Haitians for the fact that, after this mighty effort for freedom, they created emperors and kings to rule them; it was, after all, the ultra-civilized French who voted overwhelmingly to make Napoleon emperor and who later accepted the Bourbon restoration.
Fast-forward over 185 years of constant colonial depredations by France, the United States, and other European powers, including the 19-year occupation started by Woodrow Wilson, during which time Haitians were rounded up into work gangs not so dissimilar from their role in the days of slavery, the French theft of 150 million francs under the guise of compensation for the property lost in the slave revolt — property in the form of the bodies of the slaves — and Cold-War-inspired U.S. support for the murderous Duvaliers.
The second ray of light was the formation of Lavalas and the rise of Jean-Bertrand Aristide. He has now been removed from power by two coups, the first in 1991 by military and feudal elements friendly to the United States and in some case on the CIA’s payroll, and the second openly backed and organized by the International Republican Institute of the National Endowment for Democracy with the connivance of the Bush administration and with the support of the U.N. Security Council. So dangerous is this meddlesome priest that for six years he has not been allowed to return to his country.
Who or what cursed Haiti? Consider this. By all accounts, when Columbus landed on Hispaniola, the island was filled with a prosperous, peaceful, happy people; it seemed to early European observers to be a paradise.