Saturday, January 16, 2010

Who's Doing the Devil's Work?

Haiti is our responsibility, because we helped to create it

By "we" I mean not specifically the United States, but all of us who live under the domain of the World Financial Machine. I'll define that term another day; for now, let's consider it a convenient metaphor You know what I mean.

The intellectual father of capitalism, Adam Smith, promoted the myth that on Hispanola (the original Spanish name for the island on which Haiti resides), Columbus found "nothing but a country quite covered with wood, uncultivated, and inhabited only by some tribes of naked and miserable savages". In fact, an eyewitness account from 1552 described it as "perhaps the most densely populated place in the world, a beehive of people," who "of all the infinite universe of humanity, ...are the most guileless, the most devoid of wickedness and duplicity" (Bartolomé de las Casas).

And those were the people who made a pact with the devil?

Of course not. That was, allegedly, some 250 years later, when Toussaint L'Ouverture led the slave revolt that expelled the French colonial rulers and their allies. And it was not even their descendants, because the indigenous population was virtually exterminated through a combination of mistreatment, disease, and mass suicide. They were rapidly replaced by African slaves who supported the new plantation economy. The righteous disdain of Pat Robertson is directed at the descendants of the African slaves, many of whom clung to vestiges of their ancestral religions, which are now characterized as "pacts with the devil".

Fortunately, the people of the world have opened their hearts and wallets to the people of Haiti. I hope that, going forward, we will be able to help the Haitians recover from this devastating natural catastrophe -- without condition or blame. Whatever lessons are to be drawn from this tragedy, they most certainly do not include the notions that ordinary Haitians are primarily responsible for their own plight or that they are unworthy of our aid.

Following the immediate recovery efforts (which are likely to be long-lasting), there will be legitimate questions about what forms effective aid should take. But we'll leave the discussion of colonial exploitation for another day, too.

Details of Haitian history are taken from Year 501, a 1993 book by Noam Chomsky. I highly recommend you read this book for a perspective on colonialism that is sadly and conspicuously absent from the popular dialog.