The Devils in Haiti
After Haiti’s great earthquake, several theories appeared about the causes. According to Haiti’s consul in Brazil, George Samuel Antoine, the fault lay with macumba, or African spiritism, and the race: “The African himself is damned. Every place where there are Africans is screwed.” [“O africano em si tem maldição. Todo lugar que tem africano tá foda.”]
The influential televangelist Pat Robertson asserted that the misfortune was owed to the fact that the Haitian people had a pact with the devil. A secret pact. Perhaps so secret that, with the exception of Pat Robertson, not even God knew about it. Otherwise the infinite love of the Creator would certainly have averted the deaths of thousands of innocent children as a result of this cosmic plot. Or he knew about it and allowed it to happen, not out of weakness but due to his well-known policy of non-intervention.
Another theory, widely held and distributed by thousands of editors, bloggers, and presidents like Hugo Chávez states that the earthquake that wiped the country’s capital off the map and killed more than a hundred thousand people was caused by the United States in order to destabilize the regime in Iran. Which demonstrates the tremendous technological power of the United States, capable moving the tectonic plates which sustain the oceans and entire countries.
Although secular, the theory retains a lot of the theological tradition according to which God is in the habit of laying waste to entire peoples in order to keep the corner grocer from being unfaithful to his wife.
Other presidents and columnists claim that U.S. aid in reality constitutes an invasion, in order to pillage Haiti’s wealth and achieve a strategic position in the Caribbean, close to Cuba. Further evidence that U.S. intelligence agencies are not paying attention, since everyone knows that Haiti is the poorest country in the hemisphere and that Guantánamo is closer to Cuba, so it’s possible that the United States will therefore invade Guantánamo as well.
Or one might have to wonder whether this kind of anti-U.S. theory is not itself the product of some perverse U.S. agency. Because there is no better way of discrediting any anti-imperialist critique than with anti-American stupidities.
At this rate, the day will soon arrive when few will believe that Truman was the president who ordered that two nuclear bombs be dropped over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. An action which, thanks to the heroic sacrifice of tens of thousands of innocent children, probably avoided the death of tens of thousands of innocent children.
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While every ideological group makes the argumentative most of Haiti’s earthquake, thousands of children continue to suffer and die hopelessly.
But all of our best words are going to die there where a child dies.
All of our best thoughts are going to die there where a child’s tears are stopped by hunger, pain and injustice he does not understand.
All of our best ideas and our best speeches become a handful of sterile soil there where a mother places flowers on a small grave.
If any one of our words of horror and of indignation was capable of averting the death of a single child in the world, it would deserve to live. Which is to say, there is no such word.
If our words were to accompany our acts the way joy accompanies a child’s smile, the way a country’s wealth accompanies the value of its currency, perhaps then our words would have some value.
Our words would then be something more than cowardly symbols, empty speeches, pretty flowers that serve to perfume the bed of the lazy indignant.
And despite everything, perhaps words still matter when they mobilize. We give them value and meaning when we are moved to act by them.
There, words that move emotionally and do not mobilize are useless.
Let’s start by giving something. For those children, a glass of water is worth more than a thousand words.
Translated by Bruce Campbell
Dr. Bruce Campbell teaches Hispanic Studies at the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University in Minnesota, and is the author of Mexican Murals in Times of Crisis (University of Arizona, 2003) and the forthcoming ¡Viva la historieta! Mexican Comics, NAFTA, and the Politics of Globalization (University Press of Mississippi).