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Weeping for Haiti

All of us have heard the horrific news filtering through from Haiti, a country that has already suffered far more than its fair share of misery over the past century. It is hard not to weep at the reports coming out--of anywhere from 100,000-500,000 dead, which would make this anywhere from the 2nd to the 15th-deadliest earthquake in history, but, considering Haiti's small size (1 million people) and terrible poverty, even the smaller number would probably make it proportionately the worst natural disaster ever to strike any nation in modern history (100,000-500,000 dead would be equivalent to 3.5-18 million dead in the US). The disaster has stricken high and low alike, demolishing the headquarters of the UN humanitarian mission and apparently wiping out most of its leaders, demolishing the National Cathedral and killing the Archbishop and many of his colleagues, and causing the collapse of the Parliament Building and Presidential Palace.

Pat Robertson, ever prone to massive public faux pases, said this morning that this quake is one more blow in the long curse Haiti has been suffering for the "deal with the devil" that they made in order to become free from French oppression in the 1830s, which surely ranks among the bizarrest and most tactless statements ever made on television. Of course, it is true that Haiti has long been "cursed," but not by divine retribution so much as human oppression, much of which the United States is squarely responsible (a brief account of some of the U.S.'s appalling actions in Haiti can be found in Paul Farmer's Pathologies of Power). Robertson's statement is simply the most extreme form of the kind of statement that we hear frequently from conservative evangelical leaders--excusing the actual human sins of the United States by blaming the suffering of our victims on divine retribution. Jeremiah would not have been impressed.

Obama has pledged "an all-out rescue and humanitarian effort, adding that the U.S. commitment to its hemispheric neighbor will be unwavering." Let us hope that he means it, and that we use this opportunity to atone for some of our past sins against Haiti.

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