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Haiti: How US Ag Policy Hit Before the Earthquake & How You Can Help

Haiti, hit January 12 by a devastating earthquake, is the poorest country in the hemisphere.

The first priority is to get aid to Haiti. Please donate. The Organic Consumers Association recommends the Haiti Emergency Relief Fund, which is focusing its resources on helping Haiti's grassroots organizers -- including those involved in sustainable agriculture projects -- survive the crisis and rebuild. (Facebook users: Donate through Causes and spread the word.)

But, it is also important to understand why Haiti is so poor, and that Haiti did not become poor by accident, but as the result of actions of the US government -- including support for violent coups -- and US complicity in trade and lending policies that have destroyed civil society, crushed democracy, crashed the economy and turned a food exporting country into a food importing country, one where few have money to eat. 

These articles describe the forces that shaped Haiti before the earthquake struck:

  • In 1991 Haiti's first democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was removed in a military coup. As a condition for supporting his return, the U.S., IMF and World Bank required that he further open up the Haitian economy to foreign trade. Haitian tariffs on rice were reduced from 35% to 3%, the lowest in the Caribbean region, and government funding was diverted away from agricultural development to servicing the nation's foreign debt. Without government support or protection, Haitian farmers were in no position to compete with their highly subsidized U.S. counterparts. Subsidies for rice producers in the U.S. totaled approximately $1.3 billion in 2003 alone, amounting to more than double Haiti's entire budget for that year.
  • Haiti: Roots of Liberty, Roots of Disaster
  • At the beginning of the 1980s, Haiti grew the majority of its own rice. It had the farmers, land, and technique to grow rice sustainably. But because of trade policies pushed by Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, who both insisted on World Bank and IMF "structural adjustment" loans to Haiti, Haitian rice farmers were forced to compete directly with US rice farmers. The US rice industry gets a billion dollars every year in subsidies, while Hatian rice farmers were prevented from getting anything. So therefore it's no surprise that Haitian rice farmers were destroyed by this trade policy. And it's not surprising that in Haiti, as the result of US policy, there have been food riots, including the food riots there just last year. The bitter irony is that when there are food riots in Haiti, the people are fighting over bags of rice printed with the stars and stripes and labels that say "Gift of the people of the United States."
  • Food, Finance and Democracy in Crisis
  • Like many other countries, Haiti was subjected to trade liberalization and privatization in the mid 1980s by international financial institutions such as the World Bank and donor countries like the U.S. During this time, U.S. agribusinesses flooded the local market with massive quantities of cheap subsidized staple foods with which Haitian peasants couldn't compete. After the large-scale imports had succeeded in paralyzing local production, prices skyrocketed. A kilo of imported rice is now worth an average day's salary in the Artibonite, a region once known as Haiti's "rice bowl."
  • Why Food Sovereignty Is the New Food Security
  • The attraction of Latin American and Southeast Asia for US companies, such as Sears, Gitano, and Eddie Bauer, is easy to understand: no pesky environmental standards to put up with, no worker safety codes, minuscule corporate taxes, and astoundingly cheap labor costs. In Haiti, for example, workers making the lucrative, movie-related clothing lines for Disney make no more than 28 cents an hour, or around $40 per month. Even in this impoverished country, that's not enough to live on without making sacrifices. Some costs, such as rent (which can consume half of the monthly pay), cannot be reduced. So usually it comes down to eating less. As Bob Herbert, a columnist with the New York Times, observes, these companies "thrive on the empty stomachs and other hardships of young women overseas."
  • Boycott Sweatshop Products

Democracy Now is covering the aftermath of the earthquake from Haiti and has been covering the effect of US action on Haiti for over a decade. Here are a few enlightening Democracy Now reports:

  • “Bush Was Responsible for Destroying Haitian Democracy”–Randall Robinson on Obama Tapping Bush to Co-Chair US Relief Efforts
  • January 15, 2010  We speak with TransAfrica founder Randall Robinson, author of An Unbroken Agony: Haiti, from Revolution to the Kidnapping of a President. On President Obama tapping former President Bill Clinton and former President George W Bush to co-chair US relief efforts in Haiti, Robinson says, “Bush was responsible for destroying Haitian democracy…Clinton has largely sponsored a program of economic development that supports the idea of sweatshops… but that is not what we should focus on now. We should focus on saving lives.”

  • US Policy in Haiti: “Why Impact of Natural Disaster Is So Severe”

  • January 14, 2010  We discuss the situation in Haiti following Tuesday’s massive earthquake, as well as the history of Haiti, with two guests who have spent a lot of time there: Bill Quigley, the legal director at the Center for Constitutional Rights, and Brian Concannon, director of the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti.

  • The US Role in Haiti’s Food Riots
  • April 24, 2008  As people around the world continue to protest the soaring prices of basic food items, the World Food Program has described the crisis as a silent tsunami.

  • April 08, 2008   Global food prices have risen dramatically, adding a new level of danger to the crisis of world hunger.

  • U.S. Funding of Coup Leaders in Haiti
  • March 17, 2004  Part II of Democracy Now's exclusive broadcast of Amy Goodman's interview with Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide aboard his flight from the Central African Republic to Jamaica.
  • Haiti After the Caribbean Summit
  • May 14, 1997  Haiti is facing famine that is threatening 300,000 people. Haiti has been the recipient of massive amounts of food aid since 1954, but the aid has reduced Haiti's ability to produce its own food.