This week, many articles were published in the liberal or mainstream press to enlighten people about the fact that Haitian history may just be a little more complex than Toussaint L'Ouverture standing at a crossroads in a Jacobin mask with a guitar and making a deal with the devil, then the devil coming up from hell seven generations later. Well, that's the jazzed-up version of Pat Robertson's theory -- I can't bring myself to quote his ravings directly. It begs to be melded with Marley, Delta blues and Haile Selassie into a silly musical. What is irredeemable is that apparently Robertson thinks the Haitians should have rendered unto Napoleon what was Napoleon's and accepted their lot to live and die as slaves.
The problem (with a few exceptions) is that so many of the pieces that set the record straight are offensive or patronizing in their own way. This suggests that people like Pat Robertson are indirectly more dangerous than their racist pulp fictions. They serve as an advance diversion, drawing off the most energetic liberal protests. Then the smoke clears, but the emphasis is still not in the right places.
Not if pieces like this are any indication. "So, how'd Haiti get to be so poor?". Even the subheading is wrong-headed. "Once France’s richest colonial possession, earthquake-hit Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the world." It is not even remotely relevant in this context to say that Haiti was rich or thriving. The French stuffed the place full of slaves like they were force-feeding one of their geese. They imported African slaves and ran an agricultural sweatshop under brutal conditions. There is no economic comparability here; it is as appalling as the notion that if you are not paying workers salaries or providing for them that your enterprise is more profitable or successful. To say this was Haiti Fleuri, even in a headline, is just wrong.
Next, we are told, things got off "to a bad start" -- now who could have imagined? -- after these slaves decided that they would rather be treated as human beings. Immediately we are told of the revolution's reactionary excesses: "Dessalines's rule was short, violent and populist."
We then are told "a nation forged by a slave revolt set a terrible precedent in a world heavily dependent on slave labour and France persuaded Spain and the US to join it in an economic embargo." Fair enough. But "terrible"? Maybe "unwelcome". In any case, for the most part there generally WAStrade between the US and Haiti, but what really is significant is that the US failed to recognize Haiti politically for 60 years. Even Thomas Jefferson, one of the more decent Founding Fathers (apart from his own personal failings) refused. Ouch.
The American occupation in the 20th century gets awfully short shrift, except for that "a period of stability followed". As it always does, including in Iraq. Oh, and "the introduction of chain-gangs to improve the country's infrastructure was deeply unpopular in a country founded by slaves." Oh really? You think?
Then of course the classic post-colonialist pattern. The local Batista/Pinochet/Saddam takes over over - Duvalier. Yes, he had the Americans' blessing, the article says. But this is nothing new or scandalous.
Finally, in a separate section, we are told that deforestation is rampant. Oddly, this is not tied in with the chronological narrative, leaving open the question of where oh where this deforestation could possibly come from. Global warming? Actually, it all kicked off with the artificial overpopulation introduced by the French in the slavery era and snowballed.
Of course, no article about Haiti would be complete without a reference to voudou, the evil religion. Not like Santeria or other forms of syncretism in the region, which are more palatable. Or Carnival in Rio - hey, good times! Even David Brooks of the NYT declared that it spreads a message that "life is capricious and planning futile." What else can we add? People are more temperamental and lazy the farther south you go. Catholicism makes people passive while not being sure if they're saved or damned makes people work harder. Correlation or causation?
Of course, the Haitians are damned if they do and damned if they don't. They stage the world's first successful rebellion against old white males, half a century before Liberia, and they're accused of not being passive enough. But if they are realistic about the duplicitous nature of foreign involvement, then they are accused of thinking that life is capricious and futile.