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Haiti’s hunger made in USA

Published May 22, 2009 6:56 PM

The U.S. Coast Guard and a few individual boaters pulled 27 people out of the ocean off south Florida May 13. Ten of them were dead after fleeing mass hunger and misery in Haiti. The sailing vessel they were on had sunk around 2 a.m. and the survivors had to tread water for 10 hours until their rescue. (Boston Globe, May 14)

“The boat was obviously overloaded,’’ Coast Guard Captain James Fitton told the Boston Globe. “It’s a tragedy that someone would be so callous with human life.’’

But the real callous operator in this tragedy is the U.S. government.

There are 30,000 Haitians under deportation orders in the United States. As soon as the U.S. can sort out the details, it intends to send them back.

However, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano could use an execute order to grant them the immigration status called temporary protected status (TPS). A whole host of U.S. organizations, newspapers and local governments—such as the NAACP, the Washington Post, the New York City Council, the Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners—all support TPS. This status has in the past been granted to residents of El Salvador, Nicaragua, Somalia and Liberia, but never to Haitians.

Conditions in Haiti are so horrendous that they obviously justify TPS. More than 80 percent of Haitians live on less than $2 a day and 50 percent live on less than $1 a day. The Famine Early Warning Systems Network of the United Nations estimated the size of the “food-insecure population” in Haiti as 2.4 million in April. This is an improvement over February, but it still means one out of four Haitians never get enough to eat, are seriously hungry all the time. Children are stunted. Adults are prone to get sick and have trouble working.

The worldwide financial crisis is squeezing Haiti, which lives on remittances. The $1.65 billion received from Haitians abroad in 2008 was more than a quarter of the country’s annual income. But as Haitians living abroad lose income, what they can send home is going to shrink. Sending back home 30,000 Haitians now living in the U.S. will mean an additional big drop.

Haiti still hasn’t recovered from the four hurricanes—Ike, Hanna, Gustav and Faye—that hit in 2008, causing over $1 billion in damage and taking nearly 800 lives. Millions of tons of mud still clog the streets of Gonaïves in the north. Less than 2 percent of the terracing work designed to protect the city against mud slides from another hurricane has been done.

Thirty years ago Haiti supplied nearly all its own food, including rice and sugar. But in 1986, when it went to the International Monetary Fund for emergency money after the regime of Jean-Claude Duvalier collapsed under mass pressure and a U.S. plane flew him to the French Riviera, the IMF insisted Haiti open its markets to foreign rice.

IMF spokespeople piously and cynically explain that Haiti didn’t have to agree. It could have forgone the loans. The IMF fails to mention that this would have led to a complete collapse of the Haitian economy.

Since the late 1980s, through a cycle of coups, economic pressure and enticements, along with free food from time to time amply distributed by all sorts of NGOs, the market for food produced in Haiti has been destroyed.

Now, according to Avi Lewis, a producer for Al Jazeera’s “Inside the USA,” nearly all the food sold in Haiti is imported and Haiti is the third-largest market for U.S. rice. Rice is the most subsidized U.S. food. Beyond this, more than 50 percent of the cost of all the rice the U.S. donates to Haiti goes directly to U.S. producers, processors and transporters. By law, the U.S. is forbidden to buy food outside the country that it is “donating” for relief. So the cheaper solution—just buying the rice in Haiti, giving farmers there an income and saving transportation costs—was outlawed.

While hunger and misery, along with U.N. occupation forces, roam the streets of Haiti’s cities, the people have become more politically conscious. In recent partial Senate elections in which Fanmi Lavalas, the party of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was arbitrarily kept off the ballot, only 1 to 3 percent of the people voted. (Haiti-Liberté, April 22-28) The democratically elected Aristide, who had strong popular support, was kidnapped by the U.S. in 2004 and flown out of the country. He has been living in exile.

Berthony Dupont, director of Haïtí-Liberté, points out: “It is with much dynamism and courage that the people not only resisted the Duvaliers’ dictatorship but equally grew politically. Today they know their class enemies as a result of a profound maturing of people’s consciousness confronting the anti-people practices of the owning class and its international allies.”

E-mail: gdunkel@workers.org