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
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’
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.
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