Pat Robertson, the religious broadcaster, went furthest by suggesting that Haiti’s earthquake flowed from a pact with the devil more than two centuries ago. While it’s not for a journalist to nitpick a minister’s theological credentials, that implication of belated seismic revenge on Haitian children seems defamatory of God.
Why is Haiti so poor? Is it because Haitians are dimwitted or incapable of getting their act together?
Haiti isn’t impoverished because the devil got his due; it’s impoverished partly because of debts due. France imposed a huge debt that strangled Haiti. And when foreigners weren’t looting Haiti, its own rulers were.
The greatest predation was the deforestation of Haiti, so that only 2 percent of the country is forested today. Some trees have been — and continue to be — cut by local peasants, but many were destroyed either by foreigners or to pay off debts to foreigners. Last year, I drove across the island of Hispaniola, and it was surreal: You traverse what in places is a Haitian moonscape until you reach the border with the Dominican Republic — and jungle.
Without trees, Haiti lost its topsoil through erosion, crippling agriculture.
To visit Haiti is to know that its problem isn’t its people. They are its treasure — smart, industrious and hospitable — and Haitians tend to be successful in the United States (and everywhere but in Haiti).
A report for the United Nations by a prominent British economist, Paul Collier, outlined the best strategy for Haiti: building garment factories. That idea (sweatshops!) may sound horrific to Americans. But it’s a strategy that has worked for other countries, such as Bangladesh, and Haitians in the slums would tell you that their most fervent wish is for jobs. A few dozen major shirt factories could be transformational for Haiti.
So in the coming months as we help Haitians rebuild, let’s dispatch not only aid workers, but also business investors. Haiti desperately needs new schools and hospitals, but also new factories.
And let’s challenge the myth that because Haiti has been poor, it always will be. That kind of self-fulfilling fatalism may be the biggest threat of all to Haiti, the real pact with the devil.
This is the link to Kristof's column: Some Frank Talk About Haiti.