This week, amid the reports of the tragedy and the heroic response of everyday people around the world, I was stunned and saddened by the disgraceful assertion by the Rev. Pat Robertson that Haiti's suffering was due to a pact it had made with the devil. It struck me that most of us really have no idea why Haiti is so poor. Its people did indeed make a pact long ago...but it was not with the devil.

In 1804, Haiti became the first black nation to gain independence from slavery. But its independence came at a rare price. After a bloody revolution, the country was forced to pay 150 million francs (the equivalent of $21 billion) to the French as a condition of their independence. On threat of a military invasion, the fledgling nation was compelled to secure high-interest loans, creating a vicious cycle of borrowing from French banks to pay the French government. Haiti did not complete these payments until 1947.

What would have happened to the United States if for 100 years after independence we'd had to pay reparations to the British?

In this time of crisis, it is crucial that each of us donate whatever we are able to support the people of Haiti. We should do this not only for the good of those on the ground, but for the sake of our own humanity and the inherent value we place on the lives of all people.

But in this moment of awakening to the Haitian plight, I would propose that we ask ourselves the bigger question: "How did Haiti become the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere?" And after asking, I propose we push for a singular and decisive action.

The international community must agree to a forgiveness of Haiti's debts. The billions of dollars that nation was forced to pay at it's inception as the price for its freedom from enslavement is the crime against humanity that left the country so vulnerable to the ravages of poverty. It was not a pact with the devil that made Haiti poor, but rather a pact with those who would put profit over people.

In 2010, the global community has a chance to say that the leadership of our world is in new hands, to declare vigorously and decisively that all people are indeed created equal and that liberty is not a commodity to be traded nor dispensed according to means. We may be 200 years late, but the tragedy of this earthquake may well be our opportunity to finally give the people of Haiti a true chance at freedom.

How you can help the victims in Haiti


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