Some more things you can do to help Haiti…

1) Sign and repost this petition, at, to cancel the $1 billion debt that Haiti owes to international lenders and has no hope of repaying.

Haiti incurred this debt by a) being forced to pay 150 million francs to France in exchange for recognition of its sovereignty after its successful slave rebellion; and b) taking out loans from foreign countries, which were then misappropriated by dictators such as the Duvaliers. Haiti is the poorest country in the Western hemisphere and probably will never be able to repay this debt following the tragic earthquake 2 weeks ago. (via Wikipedia)

Update: Also, this op-ed from the New York Times succinctly explains the reasons for Haiti’s poverty and debt.

2) Continue to give generously to earthquake relief funds. I suggest some nonprofits in my previous post on Haiti. The NY Times is reporting that charitable donations to earthquake relief in Haiti may be eligible for deduction on your 2009 tax return.

Help Haiti: Drop the Debt (One)
Debt Cancellation (One)
External debt of Haiti (Wikipedia)
Some Frank Talk About Haiti (New York Times)
Haiti in Context and How You Can Help (me)
Donations to Haiti May Be Deductible on 2009 Returns (New York Times)

Haiti in context, and how you can help

Haiti is an ill-fated country. Not that I believe in curses (certainly not of the Pat Robertson variety) — or even fate, necessarily — but there is no denying that Haiti has received more than its share of misfortune.

Even before the earthquake hit last week, Haiti was the poorest country in the Western hemisphere. Eighty percent of the population lives in poverty, and more than two-thirds of the labor force don’t have formal jobs. Excessive deforestation causes regular flooding, and the country lacks reliable infrastructure for transportation or telecommunications. Sixty percent of the population has no access to regular health care. Haitians suffer disproportionately from tuberculosis, malaria, HIV/AIDS, cholera and typhoid, when compared to other countries in the region.

When Christopher Columbus discovered the island of Hispaniola in 1492, a Native American tribe called the Taino inhabited it. Spanish settlers virtually obliterated the Taino within 25 years of Hispaniola’s discovery. In 1697, the Spanish ceded the western third of the island to the French, who established sugar plantations there and brought slaves from Western Africa to work them.

The slaves outnumbered the plantation owners, and in the late 1700s, they revolted. They were probably able to organize the revolt through the religion that developed among the slaves called vodoun, an amalgam of West African beliefs married with some Taino rituals, and camouflaged from their masters by the adoption of Catholic saints and holidays. (Voodoo is a fascinating and much misunderstood religion, but that is the subject for another article.) In 1804, Haiti became the first black republic to declare independence, the high point of its history.

Following the slave revolt, Haiti has been plagued by political violence and abused by a series of dictators, many of them propped up by the U.S. government. Since a military coup ousting President Aristide in 2004, United Nations peacekeepers maintain civil order there. In 2008, four hurricanes passed over Haiti, killing several thousand people and severely damaging the transportation infrastructure and agricultural sector on which most Haitians depend for subsistence. Last week, a 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck the island, killing as many as 100,000 people and destroying the capital of Port-au-Prince.

Despite their history, Haitians surround themselves with beauty. Haiti has a rich culture comprised of a unique language, religion and artistic, culinary, dance and musical traditions. It is hard to imagine what more could befall these unfortunate people. It is hard to imagine how anyone cannot feel compassion toward them.

When disaster strikes, the response from most Americans (although not all) is always immediate and generous. Our first impulse to help when it is most needed has always sustained my faith in my country and its people. I am sure you have already given as generously as you can, but if not, here are some good places to start:

(Please take care when you donate and ensure that your money goes where intended.)

Follow what’s going on in Haiti as it happens on my current events list on Twitter.

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