Mark Steel: Consider the risks before you send your cash to Haiti

All of us must wonder if we'll ever get our 50 quid back

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Satan's terms and conditions must have got worse in recent times. America's most prominent TV evangelist, Pat Robertson, announced that the Haiti earthquake was a result of a "pact with the Devil", made when they overthrew slavery 200 years ago. But in the old days a pact with the Devil brought you a life of fame and riches and earthly pleasures. Now you get a few years of life in the world's poorest country and then buried under a pile of rubble.

Maybe the Devil will issue a statement soon, that "due to difficulties arising from the current economic climate, I have found it necessary to temporarily restrict certain privileges to my valuable customers. But you can be certain I will endeavour to maintain my usual high standard of evil, and look forward to satisfying more gluttony than ever once it is financially responsible to do so."

At least Robertson claims a spiritual logic for his sociopathic judgement. Whereas TV presenter Rush Limbaugh complained about the aid effort, saying, "We've already donated to Haiti. It's called income tax." That's the trouble. It's just take take take with some people isn't it?

Or there's the Heritage Foundation, an influential group among American politicians, which declared that "the earthquake offers an opportunity to re-shape Haiti's long-dysfunctional government and economy."

That's the aid they need, a hand-up not a hand-out. Because it takes a functional economist to see a disaster zone and think, "That's handy." If only the Heritage Foundation could get people out there to rummage through the wreckage searching for survivors, so they could call into an air pocket, "I could rescue you, but that would only make you dependent. So come up with a business plan, young fellow, and in years to come you'll thank me for this. Ta-ra."

To start with you'd think if the Haiti government had their wits about them they'd realise there are a lot of reporters out there with very few provisions, so a couple of branches of Costa Coffee would make a healthy return. But no, they're too dysfunctional to organise it.

The most worrying part of this craziness is it isn't far off the official US strategy. The International Monetary Fund has extended $100m in loans to Haiti for the disaster, and according to The Nation magazine, "These loans came with conditions, including raising prices for electricity, refusing pay increases to all public employees except those making minimum wage, and keeping inflation low." I suppose the idea is not to make things even worse. Give them more than the minimum wage and then you'd have binge-drinking to worry about as well.

This deal was probably arranged by the bank ringing Haiti's government and saying "Hello is that the Prime Minister? It's Miriam here from the IMF. I'd like a few moments to talk to you about your account, only I notice from our records that you've had a tectonic catastrophe so you'll need to revise your payments."

Several aid organisations have complained about the role the American government is playing. For example, a spokesman from the World Food Programme said: "They organise 200 flights a day, but most are for the US military. Their priority is to secure the country." This may be why Bill Clinton was able to tell business leaders that this is an ideal time to invest in the country, because, "the political risk in Haiti is lower than it has ever been in my lifetime." Who can honestly say they don't consider the political risk before handing out money to a disaster zone? All of us wonder, as we make our donation, whether we'll get our 50 quid back, with a bit of profit for our trouble, otherwise we're being fools to ourselves.

But Clinton had a point. Because at one point Haiti was ruled by President Aristide, who refused to implement all the IMF's demands for privatisation and keeping wages to a minimum. So the US government backed a coup that overthrew him, exiled him and banned his political party, making the place much less risky for business.

This might explain why the American forces are being treated with suspicion, as their priority may not be to provide aid, but to "secure the country." This could also explain the statement by Robert Gates, US defence secretary, who said he couldn't use transport planes to drop supplies in Port-au-Prince as "air drops will simply lead to riots."

Maybe someone should consult an expert on theology, but I'd say there's a chance that if the Devil's still doing pacts, there'll be something way off the Richter scale soon passing right under Wall Street.

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