Tuesday, April 22, 2008

America's Role in Haiti's Hunger Riots

Haiti used to be the lushest island in the region; rice and coffee were major exports. But political turmoil, mismanagement, lack of planning, deforestation, and natural disasters have taken their toll. Today, less than 2 percent of the country is forested.
"Thirty years ago, Haiti raised nearly all the rice it needed. What happened?

In 1986, after the expulsion of Haitian dictator Jean Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) loaned Haiti $24.6 million in desperately needed funds (Baby Doc had raided the treasury on the way out). But, in order to get the IMF loan, Haiti was required to reduce tariff protections for Haitian rice and other agricultural products and some industries, to open up the country's markets to
competition from outside countries. The US has by far the largest voice in decisions of the IMF.

Doctor Paul Farmer was in Haiti then and saw what happened. "Within less than two years, it became impossible for Haitian farmers to compete with what they called 'Miami rice.' The whole local rice market in Haiti fell apart as cheap, US subsidized rice, some of it in the form of 'food aid,' flooded the market. There was violence ... 'rice wars,' and lives were lost.""
With the vast majority of Haiti's 8.5 million trying to survive on just $2 a day, eking out even an extra penny is as difficult as the government's challenge of providing electricity – or potable water, inaccessible to 75 percent of the population. It is the poorest country in the hemisphere.