Following Haiti’s devastating 2010 earthquake, the televangelist Pat Robertson made an extraordinary claim. Legend had it, he intoned, that the nation of Haiti was cursed, the result of a pact with the devil made by its people to guarantee the success of their 1791 slave revolt against the French. He was immediately rebuked by scholars for peddling a superstitious calumny, one that had been invented to discourage anti-slavery movements in the Americas.
Robertson’s ignorance aside, Haiti does tilt the mind towards the metaphysical. Only six years after the earthquake killed at least 100,000 Haitians, wrecking vast areas of Port-au-Prince and overflowing the morgues, the tiny Caribbean nation has been struck yet again. Hurricane Matthew, which was initially reported to have taken the lives of 100 or fewer Haitians, has now exacted a death toll of more than 800. Haiti’s government estimates that at least 350,000 people need some form of urgent assistance. And because Haiti is the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, hurricanes bring with them a host of dangers that wouldn’t be seen elsewhere: roofless houses, dirty water, cholera.
A country that had little now has even less. The hurricane, said one Haitian, “took shirts from our backs.” Another warned that “the thieves were out all day after the storm stealing everything they could get.” With many roads still impassable, nourishment could also become a problem: the World Food Program reports that in some areas 80 percent of the harvest has been destroyed. Aerial shots show houses that have been crunched to pieces, leaving behind little lots of debris.
Say a prayer for Haiti. And then, once you’ve done that, donate, to the International Red Cross or one of the charities listed in this Time article. The true story of the 1791 rebellion isn’t that Haiti was eternally cursed. The revolt of Haitian slaves against their French masters was temporarily settled after they were granted emancipation in 1794, but when Napoleon assumed power five years later, he decided to tighten his grip. In 1802, he sent 30,000 troops to Saint-Domingue, as the French called their colony, only for the Haitians to inflict the first military defeat of his reign. Consequently, France decided to divest in the Caribbean. Haiti became an independent nation, and because Napoleon’s recently acquired North American holdings had been strategized around Saint-Domingue, he arranged a fire sale with the United States of America.
It would become known as the Louisiana Purchase and it never would have happened without those Haitians. So donate! You’re under obligation.