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Jesse Jackson in Haiti

Calls on U.S., IMF to forgive debt

Published May 10, 2008 6:54 AM

Responding to the raging hunger in Haiti, civil rights activist the Rev. Jesse Jackson, along with two dozen elected officials, pastors and community activists, visited Haiti at the end of April on a fact-finding mission.

They met with high-level political figures, like the U.S. ambassador, Janet Sanderson; Haitian President Rene Préval; parliamentarians; and leaders of the aid groups in Haiti. But the defining moment of the trip was a walking tour of Cité  Soleil, an extremely poor seaside community of 500,000 people in Port-au-Prince.

Jackson said, “Today our walk through the slum, the suffering people sleeping on cement among vermin and rats and goats eating garbage—that will be a lasting memory.”

According to a press release from PUSH, Jackson’s organization, “Before the delegation left Port-au-Prince, they began discussing ways to provide children with school supplies in the fall and to convince Congress and the Bush administration to facilitate food relief.” They are also going to push for debt relief for Haiti and for allowing Haitian textiles to be exported on a duty-free basis to the market created by NAFTA.

For months as food prices kept on rising, Haitians have been eating cookies made from salt, butter and brown dirt to stave off hunger, going days without a real meal. Finally, when food prices peaked in early April, hungry Haitians had no choice—they rebelled. As U.S. Ambassador Sanderson put it, “There is food available in Haiti but people can’t afford it.” In April, those in need took it.

Since the April rebellion in Haiti coincided with rebellions over food prices in the poor countries of West Africa, in Egypt and Yemen and elsewhere, the imperialist bourgeoisie decided it was time to get the U.N. to provide a bit of food aid.

They also told the food merchants in Haiti to lower their prices. The merchants agreed, but only for one month. A pound of rice in Port-au-Prince, even with the price cut, still costs more wholesale than a pound of rice costs retail in New York City.

And the rice sold in New York City might have been grown in the same field—owned by U.S. agribusiness—as the rice sold in Haiti. Haiti is the fourth largest market for U.S. rice in the world.

Thirty years ago Haiti exported rice and sugar, while the Duvaliers, father François and son Jean-Claude, received big loans from the World Bank for their luxurious living and to supply the Tonton Macoutes, the vicious security force that kept them in power. Over half of the $6 million a month Haiti pays to the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF)—scheduled to increase soon to $8 million a month—pays for the Duvaliers’ loans.

Haiti is exporting capital to the wealthy countries of the world, which control the IMF and World Bank, while its people starve.

Since 1980 when the loans started to flow, its per-capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has shrunk by nearly 40 percent. Haiti became the poorest country in the Americas, and one of the hungriest countries in the world. Over half of all Haitians struggle to survive on $1 a day or less, 70 percent make less than $2 a day, and few poor people live past the age of 55.

The main reason why Haiti can’t feed itself is that the World Bank and the IMF insisted as a condition for the loans they granted Haiti that it open its markets to the rice, corn and beans that U.S. agribusiness gets substantial subsidies to produce. These cheap imports drove local producers from the markets, which meant Haiti was at the mercy of the world market.