Dog of Another Color

Poodle Barks at Haiti

ZOMBIELAND: Given recent catastrophes in the Caribbean, it’s high time somebody finally got serious about suing God. Santa Barbara certainly has no shortage of attorneys; with economic hard times driving down divorce rates, maybe one or two have time to take on the Almighty. Sure, there was that lawsuit filed two years ago by Nebraska State Senator Ernie Chambers. But that was tossed out of court because the Supreme Being, having no fixed mailing address, could not be served properly. Chambers, it turns out, had a hidden agenda. He was making a broader satiric point about legislative efforts then taking place to protect the guilty by barring certain types of lawsuits from ever being filed. But the text of Chambers’s complaint proved chillingly accurate when describing the unfathomable miseries inflicted upon the nine million souls whose only crime has been being born in Haiti. In court papers, Chambers accused the Omniscient One of making terrorist threats. By way of specifics, Chambers merely copied what could have been another Haiti weather report: “Fearsome floods, egregious earthquakes, horrendous hurricanes, terrifying tornados, pestilential plagues, devastating droughts, genocidal wars, birth defects, and the like.”

Angry Poodle

Pat Robertson, I hate to admit, actually got it partly right. God obviously has an axe to grind where Haiti is concerned, and for the past 500 years, he’s been sharpening it to a bloody point on the necks of the Haitian people. Robertson famously blamed that country’s misery upon the successful slave revolt of 1804, from which Haiti emerged the first black independent nation state in the Western hemisphere, not to mention the second-oldest republic. Robertson claimed Haitian slaves sold their souls to Satan to be free of their French colonial masters. From that single sinful transaction, quoth Rev. Pat, Haiti’s sorrows follow. Robertson — whose mean-spirited ignorance gives rednecks, reactionaries, fundamentalists, revelationists, flat-earthers, and creationists everywhere a bad rap — has proven himself an even more incompetent historian than theologian.

Haiti’s problems with Yahweh began approximately 312 years before the slave revolt to which Robertson — ever eager to blame the victim — alludes. We have a convenient tendency to forget that when Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue back in 1492, he first touched down on the island that would later become jointly occupied by Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Columbus quickly set about hacking off the arms and limbs of the native Arawak Indians he encountered. Whoever the musket and machete couldn’t kill, the new Euro-trash germs finished off.

In short order, the Island of Española — as Columbus dubbed it — was denuded of all native human life. Columbus should not be judged harshly for this; that’s just what people did back then. When the Spaniards discovered there was less gold on the western end of the island than they originally thought, they lost interest, and, in 1664, they let in the French. The French were far more interested in the fortunes to be realized from sugar and coffee. To that end, they repopulated the island with African slaves — a half-million by the time the French were forced out — and strip-mined the forests for the fuel needed to process the sugar into molasses. The molasses would go to New England, where it would be converted into rum by the Puritan proto-industrialists of the time. Rum production would provide the foundation for the subsequent industrialization of what became the United States. In addition, rum production — long before cotton — would fuel the transatlantic slave trade for nearly two centuries. And if slaves got out of line — as they always did in Haiti — then Haitian slave owners thought nothing of boiling them alive in molten molasses. But that’s just what people did back then.

When Haitian slaves finally revolted and took control in 1804, France retaliated and imposed a severe economic blockade. To lift the embargo, France demanded payment of $150 million in gold francs as compensation — in part — for all the slaves whose emancipation had transformed them from a “what” to a “who.” The United States, which France assisted during our Revolutionary War, helped enforce that blockade. Ultimately, Haiti was forced to take out huge loans at crippling interest rates to pay off the French, which they did in 1879. But the loans themselves would not be paid off until 1947. Along the way, in 1915, the National Bank of Haiti found itself totally in hock to National City Bank of New York. When it looked like Haiti would default, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson did what people did back then: He sent in the U.S. Marines to seize the country — lock, stock, and barrel — as collateral for the shaky loans. Who knows, if Obama did that with Wall Street, instead of bailing it out with untold billions, maybe Massachusetts voters wouldn’t have filled Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat with a faux-folksy Boy-Toy Republican who’s vowed to vote against health-care reform.

As it happened, the Marines would remain in Haiti for 21 straight years, only to return nearly as many times since to prop up one gangster thug after the next. From this experience, we’ve learned Americans are better at conquering the world than running it. The Brits, by contrast, had a habit of building roads, trains, and schools when they invaded a country. They also created a class of skilled and educated technocrats and administrators who could run the country when the boss was away. But when the Marines tried to “modernize” Haiti, they rounded up Haitian males by point of bayonet, forced them into unpaid labor teams — in lieu of taxes — and put them to work building new roads. Given Haiti’s grim history with involuntary servitude, many Haitians, understandably, resisted. That may be just one reason there’s not much of a road system in Haiti today, by which desperately needed relief supplies can be distributed.

Until now, many Americans knew Haiti only as the country where zombies — the walking dead — originated. Now we know it as the place where 200,000 souls have been buried alive. With numbers like that, desperate measures are called for. We’ve already called in the Marines; now is the time to sue God.


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