Monday, January 18, 2010

Pat Robertson, Haiti, And Sweeping History Under The Rug

By now you've probably heard of the recent remarks on Haiti by one of the pillars of the American conservative movement.

Televangelist and former Republican presidential candidate Pat Robertson blamed the earthquake on a pact the Haitians made with Satan in the 1790s. He also used their alleged alliance with The Devil of Hell to explain Haiti's multigenerational poverty and the "one thing after another" that has afflicted the country since Haitians overthrew their French slave masters. Blaming the victims right after a major disaster is nothing new for Robertson. He did the same thing after September 11th and Hurricane Katrina. But the statement on Haiti is especially evil, because not only does it wag the finger at the bleeding and dying victims, but it also tries to erase historical facts that are uncomfortable for conservatives. They are facts that might otherwise stir an even greater sense of responsibility for us to reach out and help our neighbors in Haiti. They are facts that might make us realize the causes of Haiti's sad history are neither peculiar to Haiti nor confined to history.

According to Robertson, Haiti's poverty is chiefly the result of a deal with Satan.

Never mind that for 300 years, Haiti was a slave colony of European empires--first Spain, then France. (That can't have anything to do with why they're poor, can it?)

Never mind that Haitians staged the world's first successful slave revolution in 1804 to overthrow their French masters and win independence. (Don't give them credit for that; give credit to Satan, just like the slave masters did.)

Never mind the crushing economic embargoes by the U.S. and France that followed Haitian independence. (The U.S. wanted Haiti to crumble so its own slaves wouldn't get any ideas.)

Never mind that France later forced Haiti to reimburse them for all those freed slaves.

Never mind that to pay "reparations" for freeing themselves, Haitians had to take out massive loans from U.S. and French banks--$20 billion in today's dollars.

Never mind that the U.S. occupied and ruled Haiti for two decades by force and for several more decades by propping up right-wing "anti-communist" dictators.

Never mind that U.S. and international financial institutions devastated Haitian agriculture by forcing the country to open up to unrestricted U.S. imports of sugar and rice.

Never mind the U.S.-sponsored coups against elected governments. (Come on, that happened everywhere!)

Never mind any of the stuff that actually--you know--happened. Because all of Haiti's problems go back to that damned deal with the devil in the 1790s. Or so Pat Robertson would have us believe.

It's fair to say that since Columbus first stepped foot on Hispaniola, the most powerful nations in the world have focused like lasers on extracting as much wealth as possible from Haiti. Over time, as Haitians organized and resisted, the colonial tactics changed. The tools of wealth extraction shifted from sugar plantations and slave drivers' whips to high-interest loans from international banks and "economic austerity" programs pushed by the World Bank. But all along the way, an independent, democratic, self-sustaining Haiti has been the enemy. It's a lot harder to suck wealth out of a country like that.

Anyway, Pat Robertson probably has a few screws loose. If he didn't still have a million daily TV viewers, there'd be no point in talking about him. The point is, the political movement he is a part of and the world view he preaches benefit dearly by dismissing Haiti's real history and replacing it with cartoon-like hocus pocus.

More to follow on other quite revealing American conservative reactions to the crisis in Haiti.


Camp Papa said...

I cannot adequately express my revulsion at Robertson and his remarks about Haiti. I immediately thought about what Jesus said about some people killed by a collapsing stone structure during his ministry, "Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them - do you think they were more guilty (of sin) than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no!" Luke 13 (Parenthetic insert is mine.)

Robertson would be just a pathetic old man if he weren't so corrosive to our national dialog.

Veronica said...

One of my husband's favorite jokes is: "What's the difference between an Irishman and an American?"--the answer is, to an Irishman, 100 miles is a long way. To an American, 100 years is a long time. ... Robertson is despicable, and thank you for the round-up of history... I think the scariest part is how easy it is to get away with the forgetting of history that happened "clear back in the nineteenth century" here...

Jason said...

Dave great post! Amy and I were just discussing this the other day. The statements that Pat Robertson made are "shocking", as they say down here. also as Veronica said thank you for the history it is very eye opening.

Yet as a conservative myself who strongly disagrees with the remarks made by Robertson reading your post I cant help but feel that I am being lumped in with him and the likes of him.

You mentioned at the end of the post that you would give more examples of the conservative response to this crisis. Are there conservative leaders who are part of the Haiti relief effort? Also what has been the general conservative response to Robertson's statements, if any? I haven't heard much so I'm wondering if you have.

Becky said...

Great post and good points, all. I agree with Jason--every Christian should be quick to condemn what Robertson said.

And good on you for talking about how oppression just takes on different guises after slavery. And now I'm wondering what the "shock doctrine" response will be from people who will try to profit from "rebuilding" Haiti.

Camp Papa said...

I wish all American "conservatives" were conservative in the way that Jason is conservative. Then no one would be defending the barriers that keep everyone from reaping the full benefits of what our nation claims as its ideals, while hiding behind a claim to support our best principles.

Dave said...

As Jason alluded to, I'm pretty sure Republican politicians and conservative TV commentators have been quick to denounce Robertson's remarks. I can't imagine a public figure that wouldn't. As for the relief effort, I know that Presidents Dubya and Bubba have teamed up to raise money, and I just assume that groups of all political persuasions are offering help.

And Jason, I definitely don't mean to lump you in with Pat Robertson’s satanic comments! But in writing this blog, I've decided to use the word "conservative" for something that I probably should be more specific about.

In the past, I've defined conservatives as, "The few (usually the very wealthy) who seek to hoard power (usually money) at the expense of the many, and those who support the efforts of the former." For all its faults, I think this short definition can apply in any culture at any time in history back to the early civilizations.

So when I'm thinking of American "conservatives," I'm usually thinking of the crusty old power structure--the super rich and corporation managers--sitting on their growing pile of gold, spitting down on everyone else who is trying to organize for a better life. I’m thinking of those who think they are better off by making most people worse off. But it always takes a social and political movement of ordinary folks to sustain those Scrooges in their places of power. It always has. In the Old South, for the slavocracy to last, enough poor Whites had to think that they benefited from rich Whites owning Black slaves. The monarchs of Europe needed common foot soldiers to defend them against democratic revolutionaries--even if many of those soldiers didn't understand what they were doing.

In my opinion, most of the American Right today, most self-identified conservatives, are those foot soldiers. That sounds abrasive. And it’s the challenge in writing this blog to demonstrate how the ideas promoted by “conservatives” like Pat Robertson, the Christian Coalition, tea party activists, etc., end up serving the interests of the big-money conservatives. But I do ardently believe that. It doesn’t mean that I question the motives of any of my friends and family who think of themselves as conservatives. The way I put it, 99% of us want the same kind of world for our kids and neighbors, we want to get to the same place, we just disagree over how to get there.

Marie said...

Great post, Dave. Talk about inconvenient truths. Thanks for the real history.

Dave said...

Hi Marie! Thanks. I'm glad you're reading.

Sara said...

Thanks for such a great post.
Pat is so far out of whack that I just feel bad for him. What he said was totally irresponsible, but he has to be out of his mind, right?

Anywho, after reading this post, I'd like to hope that though Haiti sows (and has sown) in tears, they will finally be heading toward reaping in joy.

So how's about spin it the other way, Pat. God is preparing them for a great blessing.