Pat Robertson thinks that Haiti is poverty stricken (and earthquake-stricken) because the country made a deal with Satan to help them overthrow the French.
Back in May, the Times Online provided some slightly better insight into Haiti's past. Beyond a vague assumption that Imperialism had probably screwed Haiti somehow, I didn't know much about the country's history. Reading this story has been nothing short of nauseating.
Summary: Haiti was forced to pay France for its freedom. When they couldn't afford the ransom, France (and other countries, including the United States) helpfully offered high-interest loans. By 1900, 80% of Haiti's annual budget went to paying off its "reparation" debt. They didn't make the last payment until 1947. Just 10 years later, dictator François Duvalier took over the country and promptly bankrupted it, taking out more high-interest loans to pay for his corrupt lifestyle. The Duvalier family, with the blind-eye financial assistance of Western countries, killed 10s of thousands of Haitians, until the Haitian people overthrew them in 1986. Today, Haiti is still paying off the debt of an oppressive dictator no one would help them get rid of for 30 years.
The rest of the world refuses to forgive this debt.
So, in a way, maybe Robertson is right. Haiti is caught in a deal with the devil, and the devil is us.
Update: mgfarrelly points out another thing I didn't know—the U.S. Congress is currently considering a bill called The Jubilee Act for Responsible Lending and Expanded Debt Cancellation. Part of what this bill would do is help countries like Haiti get their debt canceled, without making that cancellation conditional on things like closing down free schools or raising the cost of fresh water. Maybe a good time to contact your representatives about about this bi-partisan measure.
Maggie Koerth-Baker is the science editor at BoingBoing.net. She writes a monthly column for The New York Times Magazine and is the author of Before the Lights Go Out, a book about electricity, infrastructure, and the future of energy. You can find Maggie on Twitter and Facebook.