This is nothing new. Robertson has being saying ridiculous and offensive things since long before he joined Jerry Falwell in blaming 9-11 on feminists, called for the assassination of Hugo Chavez or suggested dropping a nuclear weapon on Foggy Bottom. But something about blaming the earthquake in Haiti on Haiti itself seems like an especially appalling lack of good taste, judgment or decency.
On a recent broadcast of “The 700 Club,” Robertson used his platform to repeat an old story about the Haitian revolution, that the people of Haiti made a covenant with Satan back in 1802, to bind themselves and their descendants to the devil and his service, if only he would give them freedom from the French.
Haiti is, of course, the first nation in history where the slave revolt ended in victory for the slaves. It’s also a nation that has been plagued ever since with corruption, economic and environmental ruin, and a host of other problems. That’s the cost of dealing with the devil, though, right?
The tale is an old bogeyman trope, perfect for casting the Haitian people as captives to a dark and evil religion, waiting for liberation to come on the wings of Western missionaries and their intervention. It also explains how a great military empire like France could lose to a former slave colony, and allows the rest of the world to wash its hands of the mess Haiti is in. They brought it on themselves, and have no one else to blame!
The truth is, if Pat Robertson wants to find a pact with the devil to hang Haiti’s woes on, he need look no further than the pacts the U.S. and France made to keep human beings as slaves.
Enslaved Africans there were worked brutally; by the dawn of the 19th century a slave could expect to live on average about seven years, and when they died they were replaced easily with new slaves brought from Africa. Despite these expenses, the island was home to a sugar trade so profitable that France used the profits from the sugar trade there to finance the American Revolution.
The U.S. might have made Haiti’s history much brighter by recognizing its independence in 1804, especially considering that many of its leaders fought for our freedom in 1776. Alas, recognizing the independence of a former slave republic didn’t sit well with the slave owners in the United States, with the result that Washington refused to recognize Haiti as an independent nation until the end of the Civil War — in 1865. By that time, of course, ruin was writ in large letters upon Haitian society.
So, Pat Roberston is correct at least in saying Haiti owes its current woes to a pact with the devil. The difficulty is that it wasn’t they who signed it, but we ourselves.