Libertarians and evangelicals explain the problem with Haiti

Wednesday, January 13th, 2010 · 59 Comments »

My ex-husband spent some time in Haiti during his brief career as a semi-Marxist semi-revolutionary. He told me that the most shocking thing about the country was the disparity between the visiting rich and the resident poor. In the countryside and on the streets, it was nothing but dirt-eating poverty. But on the beach in Port-au-Prince, huge fancy hotels towered over the landscape, oases for the rich white tourists. It was like seeing a 24th century spaceship inexplicably docked in the slums of Calcutta.

Haiti in normal, pre-earthquake times.  Mud cakes for lunch.

Haiti in normal, pre-earthquake times. Mud cakes for lunch.

Haiti is an open running sore on the conscience of Western civilization. The people there are so poor they eat dirt. Literally: they eat dirt. And that’s during normal times. God only knows what’s going to happen now.

Pat Robertson, good evangelical Christian that he is, explains that the Haitians’ problem is the pact they made with the devil. Tyler Cowen, good liberatarian economist that he is, wonders aloud if voodoo or polygamy is the source of their ills. It’s true that Cowen is a more reputable figure than Pat Robertson, but his reasoning is frankly not much more informed. What could possibly be the problem down there? he asks, as the heads of Haitian historians everywhere explode in simultaneous apoplexy. Maybe, he suggests, they cut their colonial ties too soon.

Why is Haiti so poor? Because it has been victimized and persecuted and robbed for two fucking centuries by France and the United States and the other Western powers, that’s why.

The Haitian Revolution was the third great republican rebellion of the late 18th century, or at least that’s how the Haitians saw it. Hi, France and the United States! There are three of us now! Isn’t it great? Heh. The French thought it was cool for about ten seconds; then they remembered that they needed to keep their sugar plantations going to prop up the economy. Whoops! Forget what we said about all that liberté, égalité, fraternité stuff; we were just talking about white men.

A similar thing happened with the Americans. The U.S. was friendly to the Haitian rebellion for a little while — John Adams was into it, and Alexander Hamilton helped draft the Haitian constitution — but all that changed when the Sage (and Slaveowner) of Monticello became president. Jefferson reneged on Adams’s deal with Toussaint L’Ouverture, cut off trade and contact, and offered Napoleon help in putting down the revolt. We can’t possibly have a black republic down in the Caribbean, he wrote. What would our slaves think? They might get ideas!

The French poured thousands of soldiers into Haiti in an attempt to re-establish control, but damn near all of them died from yellow fever. The Haitians cut down the rest. By 1804 the French were sick of it and Haiti declared its independence. It was the first black republic in the modern world.

And everybody ignored them. Haitian independence was an offense to the status quo: a free black republic of former slaves who had successfully thrown off their masters. Dear god. Black people? A black republic? Former slaves? No fucking way.

So Haiti was isolated: no diplomatic recognition, official embargoes on trade. “You don’t really exist,” said the French. And the Americans. And the British. And the Spanish. The economy foundered. Then the Bourbons started making noises about re-conquering the island. Finally, in 1825, the Haitians signed a deal with France: recognize us diplomatically, call off the gunboats, and in return we will reimburse you for the loss of us as your slaves. The price? One hundred and fifty million francs.

Haiti spent the next 122 years paying off that indemnity. The final installment was in 1947. Nineteen forty-fucking-seven. The entire history of modern Haiti is about paying off that goddamn debt. They borrowed money from European and American bankers to make the installments, took out more loans to pay the interest, and the whole thing turned into a century-long bankrupting of the country. Imagine a giant straw jammed into the Haitian economy, with white bankers sucking hard on the other end for a hundred-plus years, and that’s the story of Haiti. The U.S. even occupied the country for awhile to make sure the goddamn money kept coming. Gotta make those debt payments. By the time Papa Doc Duvalier came to power in 1957, Haiti was a hollowed-out mess.

You’d think a libertarian economist like Tyler Cowen would understand how a crushing debt load might inhibit economic growth and the development of a robust democracy. But as usual, the “libertarian” part seems to have canceled out the “economist” part. Easier to just blame it on voodoo.

***

You can read more about the history of Haiti here:

The Haitian Revolution: A Victory With No Success
How the U.S. impoverished Haiti
Haiti: A Slave Revolution — U.S. embargoes against Haiti from 1806 to 2003

59 Responses to “Libertarians and evangelicals explain the problem with Haiti”

  1. SweetSue says:

    Thanks for this. I knew a little bit of Haitian history from reading “Bury The Chains” but I did not know that Haiti had been paying “reparation ” to France for the loss of slaves.
    Mon Dieux, how goddamn immoral is that?
    I’m off to visit the Clinton Global Initive site and give what I can.

  2. SweetSue says:

    It’s at clintonfoundation.org where one can donate money.
    I trust Clinton to get the money to the Haitians fast.

  3. fortherecord says:

    Clinton has an excellent track record of making sure pals like Marvin Rosen (Fusion telecom) continue the same tradition Violet describes: taking Haiti’s money.

  4. fortherecord says:

    http://www.corpwatch.org/article.php?id=12990

  5. Violet Socks says:

    I would take the claims about Rosen a lot more seriously if they didn’t emanate from right-wingers in the U.S. and corrupt Haitian opponents of Aristide.

  6. Justthisguy says:

    I was in th the Publix this evening and gave what I thought I could spare to the relief fund they are collecting. I wish I had a boat- I only live a couple hundred miles from there, and would like to bring them some Diesel fuel, and Clorox, and Betadine, without it having to go through government operatives.

    The cashier at the Publix, who accepted my donation, is from Haiti. So are half of the cashiers at the closest 7-11. I offered one of the latter the change from my $10 bill when I bought something there today, with the desire that he use it to contact his family. He turned it down and gave it back to me. He does have my prayers.

  7. Briar says:

    Thanks for this. The BBC, of course, are oushing the official white, christian, western line that the Haitians are incapable black morons who can’t rule themselves and must be helped by us.

  8. Pat Robertson is not a human being. « Blue Lyon says:

    [...] Violet expounds on Haiti’s real history. The Haitian Revolution was the third great republican rebellion of the late 18th century, or at least that’s how the Haitians saw it. Hi, France and the United States! There are three of us now! Isn’t it great? Heh. The French thought it was cool for about ten seconds; then they remembered that they needed to keep their sugar plantations going to prop up the economy. Whoops! Forget what we said about all that liberté, égalité, fraternité stuff; we were just talking about white men. [...]

  9. Sophie says:

    Thanks violet. I’m glad you’re feeling better now.

  10. votermom says:

    That is sickening, sickening.

  11. Alison says:

    Thank you so much for writing this, Violet. Pat Robertson’s comments have made me sick to my stomach. I know most people think he’s an idiot, but most people also do not know this cruel history. Thank you for spelling it out for us.

    I taught immigrants for almost 10 years in NYC and simply fell in love with my Haitian students. During my graduate work I kind of prepared myself to work with the Latin community so I had no expectations (nor an understanding of Haitian culture and history) when I first started working with this population.

    They amazed me. Whether they had a first grade literacy level or a college level education, I found most of my Haitian students to be very intellectual, very poetic and very philosophical. And hardworking. Unbelievably hardworking.

    So when I read Pat Robertson’s comments, I simply wanted to cry that anyone could be so hateful to such extraordinary people.

    Wonderful history lesson. Posted this one on my FB.

  12. Sparsam says:

    Great post. I didn’t know that they paid reparations until 1947.

  13. shoes says:

    great post. thanks for the history lesson.

  14. Branjor says:

    Thanks for the history lesson, Violet. Sheesh! France should’ve paid reparations to Haiti, not Haiti to France!

  15. bob coley jr says:

    Thanks for this, Violet! Glad to see your tooth ordeal left your exquisite perception of reality in place. Yup, form something by human trafficking, milk as much wealth and squash as much dignity by force as you can, mistakenly tell them the truth, tell them the truth does not pertain to them, charge them into desperation for refusing to give up on the notion we are ALL CREATED EQUAL, don’t look back when you leave, blame them. SHEESH!

  16. fortherecord says:

    I would take the claims about Rosen a lot more seriously if they didn’t emanate from right-wingers in the U.S. and corrupt Haitian opponents of Aristide.

    Does it really matter who espouses them, if they’re true? Or do you doubt the claims themselves?

    Do you consider corpwatch.org a right-wing site? Is Lucy Komisar a right-wing operative?
    http://thekomisarscoop.com/tag/haiti/

    The fact that Aristide was illegally and immorally deposed with the help of Bushco does not mean that Clinton was a friend to Haiti. The fact that Aristide’s prominent Haitian opponents are corrupt does not mean that he is not. It also doesn’t mean that Haitians who do not want Clinton influencing their country’s policy (including by pitching investments by private foreign companies – which he focused on before the quake and continues to beat the drum about) ARE corrupt.

    I selected the Fusion telecom deal to illustrate the consequences of the kind of foreign company investment Clinton is praising because it is not only quite public, but a nonpartisan issue (via IDT, more Republicans than Democrats are involved in the decisions that form the basis for the RICO suit Haiti filed against Aristide and the telecoms).

    The myth that seems to be arising in SOME leftist Obama-critiquing quarters appears to be that when it comes to repeating criticisms touted by right-wingers, it’s okay re: the CURRENT administration, as long as the criticism is true (or, not proven false), but that critiquing anything with the name Clinton on it (particularly the Glory Of The 90s) is flogging for Gingrich a decade and a half afterward or Rove or Axelrod right now.

    The myth assumes that there was once a more ideal Democratic Party – in the 90s – that it was NOT a giant corporate giveaway (especially to the telecom industry) and that its failings are attributable to Republicans.

    Now, if you’re invested in either of these myths, I understand your resistance to criticism of Clinton and Haiti.

    If not, I really don’t understand why you would dismiss them on the basis of bedfellows.

  17. Violet Socks says:

    Fortherecord, this has nothing to do with Obama or defending Clinton or anything else. It has to do with Haiti.

    I am skeptical of claims that are promulgated by unreliable individuals with a known axe to grind and a history of lying, when I have no other way to verify the information. I should think this is normal prudence.

    In the case of Haiti, a hell of a lot of the stuff that floats around is ultimately coming from pro and anti-Aristidists, etc. To anyone who is interested in Haitian politics, I recommend you cultivate skepticism.

    I’m sure Lucy Komisar is a nice person. But anybody writing anti-Aristide articles for the Haiti Democracy Project is bound to raise eyebrows. I mean, assuming you know the HDP is a right-wing front.

    I don’t think there are very many Haitian politicos with clean hands. As in, probably none, including Aristide. But you started this by referring to Clinton and Rosen as grafters bent on robbing Haiti. I don’t think that’s true. Not because I think Bill Clinton is a saint, but because I really don’t think that’s why the Clintons are interested in Haiti.

  18. m Andrea says:

    I had no idea. France needs to return that money, even if they have to borrow the money and pay interest.

    Thank you very much for the history lesson.

  19. gxm17 says:

    fortherecord, you posted your first comment @ #3 after the previous comment mentioned the Clinton Foundation as a good place to send donations for the Haiti Earthquake Relief. In your following comment you linked to a 2,700 word article that does not once mention the Clinton Foundation.

    Violet’s post didn’t mention Clinton (or Obama for that matter), so I’m not sure what you’re trying to do here: insinuate that the earthquake relief fund is funneling money elsewhere? Or if you just want to use the disaster to get on an it’s-not-fair-to-criticize-Obama soapbox (after all he is the one in the WH now, the Clintons left a decade ago) but IMHO your intentions would appear less questionable if you included something positive in your comments, such as a url for Obama’s or Lucy Komisar’s earthquake relief fund, or whatever organization you feel will make the best use of the donations.

  20. gxm17 says:

    Enlightening, and disturbing, post! I’m with m Andrea at #18. France needs to return that money, with interest.

  21. FembotsForObama says:

    I have read a bit of the Touissant revolution, but had no idea that Haiti was still paying reparations in the last century, for God’s sake, and had to borrow money from other countries to do so!! And the disparity of riches within this country is truly horrible!! If anything Haiti’s economy should also serve as a lesson to what happens when a country goes so far in DEBT and then has to borrow from another country to pay it off!! [Yes, I'm thinking USA to China relations.]

    IMO, that Randi Rhodes on Air America Radio was citing the Clinton’s ties to the telecoms and WJC’s part in particular, for the continual economic degradation of Haiti as well as the graft both Clintons received as one of the primary reasons she was so virulently against Hillary Clinton during the primaries. She even began calling the Clintons “EVIL” because of the Clinton Foundation’s involvements.

    For the Record @ #16 — While the Clinton Foundation may have less than altruistic interests in Haiti, it wouldn’t be unlikely that the foundation also has a history of wanting to aid its economy. Isn’t that kind of the way most foundations are, especially those involved in foreign relations? There always exists a double-sided sword their power wields.

    As for the Clintons, I believe that they do have Haiti’s goodwill in mind, given their beloved history of spending their honeymoon there, as well as subsequent visits since.

    If anyone can shed light on this ….
    I’ve also wondered why there is so much animosity between the Haitians and their neighbors on the other side of the aisle, the Dominicans. Anybody know why this is? I’ve had experience with Dominicans who have told me that they hate those scum Haitians; comments, which I didn’t understand at all. They both seem to be fairly tourist economy based, so I assumed from what this person said at the time that there was just competition for those tourist dollars. But then additional comments later showed such vitriol which lead me to believe that it is more of a “race” issue. Many Dominicans consider themselves to be of Italian or Spanish descent and separate themselves from the Black heritage of the island as a whole. They seem to place the Blackness to the Haitian side and attribute the Europeanness to the other side of the island. Combined with that is the preeminence of the Christian God on the DR side and the voodoo on the Haitian side.

    Violet, Thoughts???

  22. fortherecord says:

    I don’t think there are very many Haitian politicos with clean hands. As in, probably none, including Aristide. But you started this by referring to Clinton and Rosen as grafters bent on robbing Haiti. I don’t think that’s true. Not because I think Bill Clinton is a saint, but because I really don’t think that’s why the Clintons are interested in Haiti.

    Note that I didn’t mention the ClintonS at all.

    I took Sue’s initial comment, “I trust Clinton to get the money to the Haitians fast,” to be a statement about the trustworthiness of Bill Clinton (alone) on matters related to Haiti.

    I see no reason for such trust. That may be because I don’t care WHY he is interested in Haiti. Guilty conscience, philanthropy, robber baron, I don’t care what he’s thinking.

    I care what will HAPPEN as a result of his interest in Haiti. As far as I can tell, all signs point to continuation of the same pattern. As far as I can tell, Clinton is still a neoliberal who will cheerlead private corporate investment in Haiti as the solution to its problems. I suspect that is the case because he’s already DOING that.
    http://www.miamiherald.com/news/americas/haiti/story/1268343.html

    Some people truly believe that bringing the garment industry into Haiti will make it a better place.

    Other people do not trust these people. Speaking of evaluating information from the default position of skepticism.

  23. Toonces says:

    Thank you so much for this post. There’s all this world history I have little to no idea about. Of course, the more I learn, the less hope I have that the future will be better.

  24. RKMK says:

    Susie Madrak has a great post up on this topic too.

  25. RKMK says:

    (PS: Violet, I was in the thralls of post-vacation depression and not engaging much on blogs last week – glad you’re feeling better!)

  26. Violet Socks says:

    Fortherecord, you’re talking in circles.

  27. lisas says:

    Pat Robertson was just jealous of all that lovely gooey publicity Sharon Stone got when she claimed the Chinese got “karmic payback” for being mean to HER favourite religious figure. Is he trying to get his own reality show?

  28. Toonces says:

    Hey Haiti, you just need to keep eating those mud pies until we rid the world of unfettered capitalism/the free market religion. Don’t worry it should only take about 100 years.

  29. jackyt says:

    “France needs to return that money, …” yeah, with interest AND in 2010 dollars!

    fortheaxetogrind ~ Last night (Bill) Clinton encouraged governments who have pledged aid to Haiti in the past to fulfill their pledges, acknowledging that getting them to live up to their commitments has, heretofore, been unsuccessful. He referenced recruiting private investment as a stop-gap measure to help the people of Haiti while they wait for the promised public contributions.

  30. slythwolf says:

    France needs to return that money, even if they have to borrow the money and pay interest.

    You are not wrong.

  31. Violet Socks says:

    You guys, it’s not just France. American bankers made a fortune off of Haiti. From the loans to the interest, from the seized assets to the dictated terms, to the point when the Americans actually took over the fucking Bank of Haiti and so managed to pay themselves for their own loans….the whole thing is a sordid nightmare. What we did to that country.

  32. jackyt says:

    Okay, Violet, I’m on board. Give France and the US 24 hours to figure out how they share the burden for repayment. (I’d encourage the US to tax all the Wall Street/Bank/Insurance Industry bonuses at 100% just to get the ball rolling.)

  33. la-t-da says:

    Good, piece! Democracy Now has today’s show dedicated to Haiti. All the history and more, that Violent is voicing here.

    Corporatism shows it’s ugly face in these “shocking” times if we are willing to look the fullness of it and our country and really ourselves in the face.

    “We have to be absolutely clear that this tragedy—which is part natural, part unnatural—must, under no circumstances, be used to, one, further indebt Haiti and, two, to push through unpopular corporatist policies in the interest of our corporations. This is not conspiracy theory. They have done it again and again.” ~ Naomi Klein Interview with Amy Goodman

  34. la-t-da says:

    I am so sorry, that “Violet is speaking of…” Please feel free to moderate my post, Violet, for that horrid typo.

  35. Dongi says:

    If you want to find the Devil in the case of Haiti, look to the bankers of both France and the United States and to the diplomats and chief executives as well. What they have done to Haiti over the years is disgraceful. When it comes to money and power these two western nations are totally without honor.

    Thanks, Violet, for the excellent history lesson.

    Finally, Pat Robertson, imo, is just a shill for the forces of evil. What a karma he is accumulating!

  36. Petro says:

    Chris Floyd has a post up at Empire Burlesque on this – his information complements yours here.

  37. fortherecord says:

    Yes, thank you, La-t-da.

    Klein’s comments are here:

    http://www.democracynow.org/2010/1/14/naomi_klein_issues_haiti_disaster_capitalism

  38. Kookaburra says:

    Once again, Violet, you’ve nailed why I became fed up with the “Libertarian” movement. I’m all for non-interference…but willful blindness to the original interference that got so much of the world in the fix it’s in today, and how that needs to be rectified first just drove me up the wall.

    And Voodoo? REALLY? WTF!

  39. Topper Harley says:

    @38 You did see the part where Tyler Cowen mentioned that he was collecting hypotheses and doesn’t actually endorse them all, right?

    @21 There’s a racial component to it, but there’s something like 100 years of bad blood between the two countries as well. Then there’s the fact that citizens of the DR are, on average, 6X wealthier than the average Haitian. Americans are about 4X wealthier than Mexicans (again, on average) and we see a lot of the same attitudes here, no?

  40. Adrienne in CA says:

    Americans are about 4X wealthier than Mexicans (again, on average) and we see a lot of the same attitudes here, no?

    Yeah, that’s why they’re referred to as “poor hoards.”

    *****A

  41. Violet Socks says:

    Adrienne, what are poor hoards? I don’t understand that. Is it a typo?

  42. Adrienne in CA says:

    No, not a typo, just sarcasm. Pat Buchanan referred to south of the boarder populations as the brown hoards.

    *****A

  43. Adrienne in CA says:

    Oops, border, not boarder. That WAS a typo.
    *****A

  44. Violet Socks says:

    Hordes — groups of people. Hoards — miserly stocks of gold bullion, Green Stamps, ammunition.

    So Pat Robertson called them “brown hordes” or “poor hordes”? That man is like the Chucky the Clown of christianity. Holy my ass.

  45. Adrienne in CA says:

    Buchanan called them brown hoards. Topper Harley thinks it’s all about money, and I’m saying he’s wrong. Because when the anti-immigrant folks say what’s really on their minds, they don’t complain about the poverty.

    *****A

  46. Violet Socks says:

    Wrong Pat! Sorry.

    Interesting thought: are all men named Pat evil? Discuss.

  47. monchichipox says:

    Very sad. I can’t add anything of worth to the political statements just a personal observation. When I was younger and a slave to wind in my hair I took a couple of semesters off to sail. Not as an idle wealth type person I worked on the boat. We docked in Haiti for a few days. It was a study in contrasts. So much shocking beauty when you looked one way and such crushing despair just the other way. I couldn’t even take pictures because I had this idea of misery as entertainment in my head and couldn’t bring myself to steal some snapshots.

    At the risk of sounding like a Godbag: I’ve seen so much beauty in my life that I have no doubt God exists. Seeing the poverty in Haiti left me with no doubt that the Devil too does exist.

    What do we do?

  48. octogalore says:

    In Cowen’s post, another libertarian, Arnold Kling, makes the point you made about isolation and behavior of Western countries causing a lot of economic and cultural problems. I don’t think there is any necessary connection between being a libertarian and being ignorant of history.

  49. Kookaburra says:

    @39 – yes, and it’s a chickenshit way to get out of having to answer for your words. All he has to say when an uproar starts over some of his points is, “Oh, I don’t endorse that one!”

    Well, then why didn’t you say you thought it was a load of bullpocky in the first place? And why call it an “insight”? Sounds like an endorsement to me.

  50. Nessum says:

    Thank you so much for this post, Violet.

    And can I add that a contributing factor in Haiti’s poverty, and the reason why natural disasters hit Haiti so much harder than the boardering Dominican Republic, is deforestation and habitat loss.

  51. Violet Socks says:

    I don’t think there is any necessary connection between being a libertarian and being ignorant of history.

    Actually, I think there is. In fact, I predict that any libertarian who does study history will not remain a libertarian.

    Libertarianism would make perfect sense if we all lived on our own desert islands with abundant natural resources and no problems. It would be great if we were all on a level playing field, starting from exactly the same point. But we’re not.

    Libertarians are like the physicists who assume a spherical horse. And they’d rather keep imagining that horses are shaped like beach balls than drop their theory.

    It is no accident that a “libertarian economist” would have a stunning lack of knowledge about a country’s basic history, particularly as it pertains to that country’s staggering poverty vis-a-vis its neighbors, including us.

  52. Toonces says:

    Here’s a petition to drop Haiti’s debt:

    While the US has already forgiven Haiti’s past debts, we need Haiti’s other creditors—the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, and countries like Taiwan and Venezuela—to follow our lead and do the same. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has the power to help make that happen.

    http://www.one.org/blog/2010/01/15/help-haiti-drop-the-debt/

  53. Nina M. says:

    “Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has the power to help make that happen.”

    Now those are some ominous words. Made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, they did.

  54. MojaveWolf says:

    There was a really terrific book that I lost in one of my moves by (I think) Paul Davies (?) called “The Uses of Haiti” that I read in the early 90′s and might be helpful to those looking for historical background. I’ve felt somehow culpable as an American (even tho I don’t really think that makes sense) for the situation in Haiti ever since. Also the writings of Amy Wilentz.

    (put here in part to be of use for those wanting more background on Haiti’s history and in part because Violet sounds like she knows a lot more about this and can tell me if these sources are less great than I think; my knowledge of Haiti is primarily from these sources, the regular media and The Serpent and The Rainbow (book, not movie), so when I say “this is terrific!” I’m going on instinct rather than firsthand knowledge)

  55. Violet Socks says:

    Paul Farmer. (Paul Davies is the physics guy!)

  56. Jeff says:

    If you finish Tracy Kidder’s book about Farmer, Mountains Beyond Mountains, without being inspired, you don’t have a pulse.

  57. Justthisguy says:

    @VioletSocks at 2:25pm:

    I concur about extreme libertarians.

    As Jerry Pournelle has said, if you have total laissez-faire capitalism, you end up with human flesh being sold in the marketplace. He believes that maintaining a congenial civilization is more important than making maximum money, and the Devil taking the hindmost.

    As someone else has said, what happens there is that the Devil takes the foremost.

    I am registered to vote as a Libertarian because that’s the closest thing to an old-fashioned Democrat around here, but I refuse to officially join their party.

  58. octogalore says:

    There’s a wide range of “libertarian” beliefs, from left libertarians to laissez-faire folks. It’s overly simplistic to dismiss the entire range as ignorant of history.

  59. grossness54 says:

    A bit of fascinating history that wonderful, corporate-published texts conveniently leave out. Under onerous conditions like that, poor Haiti never had a chance. And Pat Robertson? The problem with him and his fellow rich preachers and their corporate supporters is that they’re the ones who make a pact with the Devil, because there must be so many rich folks down there that they’ve put in air conditioning. If there’s any real karmic justice, these characters should come back as poor rural Chinese labourers. THEN they’d be getting a good dose of the medicine they’d like to prescribe for all the rest of us!