Let’s talk about demons. The Christian Spanish reached America at the end of the 15th century, a discovery that fit their ambitions well. A gruesome killing ensued, led by Christopher Columbus’ troops against the original population living on the island that today houses the Dominican Republic and Haiti.
Around 1540 the island’s indigenous population had all but disappeared. This genocide was caused by European diseases, slavery, killings and famines, all at the hands of the same men who kissed the cross of Christ.
Years later in 1697, the Christian French pushed the Spanish out of half of the island, and Haiti became the point of arrival for countless slaves from Africa. The slaves arrived and died by the thousands, then more were brought to replace them. It was a country of newly arrived young people.
The France of the revolution for individual freedom had a completely different outlook in Haiti, the country whose cane fields provided the sugar that supplied European tables. Independence for the Haitians was a gruesome and surrealist process without a trace of humanity. Mini-dictators who managed to further sink the country rose up from among the Haitian population.
But Haiti was unable to “take off” despite there being no reason for them to be condemned to extreme poverty. Surely the poor local leadership was a contributing factor. However, with nerve more extraordinary than the great Parisian monuments, Christian France demanded a severance fee for having plundered, enslaved and treated this small nation so brutally. The debt was paid by taking on other loans over the course of 50 years, and the weight was too much. Crisis was everywhere.
Then bankers from New York – also Christian? – entered the scene; they controlled most Haitian credit and did not wish to lose those debts. In 1915, President Wilson sent Marines to Haiti to take control of the country. They practically ruled Haiti for more than 20 years. Christian North America reinstated the recruitment of young people for forced labor, brought more of the country into the elite class and did little to care for the poor.
Demons have no nationality, however.
So in 1957, Francois Duvalier, one of the most harmful characters to have governed any country, terrorized Haiti with an unhealthy concoction of religion and politics, voodoo and power. The U.S. government gave him its blessing.
Known as Papa Doc, Duvalier left power and was succeeded by his teenage son, Jean Claude, nicknamed Baby Doc. He had the International Monetary Fund as economic advisor and enjoyed the approval of many transnationals involved in Haiti. His dictatorship fell in 1986, and democratic elections took place under international supervision.
The rest is more recent history, with Jean Bertrand Aristide’s presidency, his loss and regaining of power. The United States did not like his closeness to Cuba or timid reforms. But he did not do much either; he got wrapped up in a gruesome political conflict with his opposition. He assures us now that he did not resign voluntarily, but due to political pressure from the country to the north. The crises hit in waves: bank, election frauds, rampant corruption, a nearly non-existent state, a population of 9 million in a country of only 27,000 square meters.
Several friends from aid and development agencies say that nongovernmental organizations are taking on tasks for which the government should be responsible. Many of these organizations have offices in Haiti. The earthquake has been one more scratch – a thick and painful scratch – on Haiti’s devastated social skin.
Haiti is an example of how both flesh-and-bone politicians – and sometimes the States – can look convincingly like demons.
Charles Spurgeon once said something to the effect that “men generally teach the devil himself how to be bad.”
Haiti does not deserve this type of life; it does not deserve the thousands of dead in its streets and throughout its history. Will we Christians be able to do more than cast out the demons from others without as much as looking at our own? Will we be able to take global solidarity seriously, setting aside racial, religious and national prejudices?
Haiti does not need charity; it needs justice. Part of this, of course, is standing to support them through this tragic natural disaster, but the biggest part comes later when the cameras stop flashing and Haiti is no longer front-page news. May God help us to live his gospel of peace and justice.
Alfonso Wieland is one of the founding members and executive director of Peace and Hope Partnership International, which is actively involved in community development as well as defending the human rights of individuals and communities through its four offices – Ayacucho, HuÃ¡nuco, San MartÃn and San Juan de Lurigancho – covering the coast, highlands and jungle of Peru. Wieland’s column was distributed by Latin American and Caribbean Communication Agency and is used by permission.