Thursday, March 11, 2010

Haiti and Tony Campolo

Tony Campolo in an essay entitled 'Making Matters Worse' suggests that the mission work done by thousands of American Christians is Haiti is the reason for the poverty of the country; 'thousands of church groups that have taken "mission teams" to Haiti to build schools and churches in Haitian villages across that little country. Yet Haiti has continued in a downward spiral into greater and greater poverty and social disorganization, not in spite of all these "good works," but in great part because of them. So much of what has been done in Haiti has disempowered Haitians and diminished their dignity by doing for them what they could have done for themselves.'

I'm all for incisive and intelligent criticism, and I think one could also make some critique of some of these mission trips. But in this case Campolo's critique is woefully lacking in any historical or political perspective. Now I'm no expert in Haitian History, but here is a sample of what I do know

Haiti was a slave plantation controlled by France. In 1804, inspired by Toussaint L’Ouverture (after whom the now barely functioning airport in Port-au-Prince is named), the slaves rebelled, founding the world’s first black republic. Under military threat from France in 1825, Haiti agreed to pay reparations to France for lost “property,” including slaves that French owners lost in the rebellion. It was either agree to pay the reparations or have France invade Haiti and reimpose slavery. Many Haitians believe that original debt, which Haiti dutifully paid through World War II, committed Haiti to a future of poverty that it has never been able to escape. (While France, as part of the deal, recognized Haiti’s sovereignty, slave-owning politicians in the United States, like Thomas Jefferson, refused to recognize the black republic, afraid it would inspire a slave revolt here. The U.S. withheld formal recognition until 1862.)

Loans from the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) imposed “structural adjustment” conditions on Haiti, opening its economy to cheap U.S. agricultural products. Farmers, unable to compete, stopped growing rice and moved to the cities to earn low wages, if they were lucky enough to get one of the scarce sweatshop jobs. People in the highlands were driven to deforest the hills, converting wood into salable charcoal, which created an ecological crisis—destabilizing hillsides, increasing the destructiveness of earthquakes and causing landslides during the rainy season.
this comes from a piece entitled 'Haiti Forgive Us' by Amy Goodman.

another essay on this issue by William Fisher In this essay Fisher says, 'Aid to Haiti has been marked by fre­quent inter­rup­tions, par­tic­u­larly in assis­tance from the U.S., for polit­i­cal and ide­o­log­i­cal rea­sons. Within Haiti, mas­sive and con­tin­u­ing gov­ern­ment and pri­vate cor­rup­tion has siphoned off large chunks of fund­ing and mis­di­rected money to peo­ple who didn’t need help.'

My point is this. It is easy to blame small church groups, even though there are thousands of them, for Haiti's poverty and corruption. But what Campolo's essay does is over-simply a terribly complicated issue (more complicated than I understand I'm sure.) There is no mention of the historical injustice imposed by France or the lack of support from the U.S. There is no mention of the corruption of government which is surely not the fault of the citizens. No mention of the policies of our own government, and no mention of American consumerism, and its role in this isseu. Campolo provides smoke and mirrors to keep the public from learning of the another possibility; that governmental policies, our own governmental policies for hundreds of years, and our own ongoing interests, not to mention institutional racism have caused Haiti to find itself in poverty.

What so many of the world's poor need is for American consumers to better research their purchases to ensure that slave labor wasn't used, as well as the American consumer to stop consuming so much. If Tony Campolo challenged the U.S. government to create more just policies or American Christians to live lives of justice and generosity in solidarity with Christian sisters and brothers around the world, now that would have been radical, risky and prophetic.
But this essay falls far short of prophetic.

1 comment:

madisonmartha said...

Of historical interest -- You can see a clip of Toussaint's last moments in prison from the award-winning new short film "The Last Days of Toussaint L'Ouverture" at