A Socialist In Canada, Nov 14, 2016
‘A month after Hurricane Matthew blasted through southwestern Haiti, the region is a blighted, apocalyptic landscape of wrecked homes and growling hunger.’
Introduction by Roger Annis: Enclosed is a November 3 report from The Washington Post that reports on the dire conditions in the region of southwest Haiti that received a direct hit from Hurricane Matthew on October 4, 2016. Further below that are reports explaining how decades of imperialist intervention in Haiti have made the country into one of the most economically underdeveloped countries in the Americas.
It doesn’t have to be that way–Haiti is extremely rich in human resources and in its natural setting. There is enormous potential for the development of agriculture, fishing, science, the arts and cultural and eco-tourism. Instead . . .
In February 2004, a paramilitary coup d’etat overthrew Haiti’s elected president, legislature and senate. The coup was the outcome of a conspiracy against Haiti’s sovereignty spearheaded by the governments of the United States, Canada and France. Shortly after the coup, a military occupation mission of the United Nations Security Council was installed in the country. The mission is known by its French acronynm, MINUSTAH. The military component of the mission is directed by Brazil; the political component of the mission is directed behind closed doors by the U.S., Canada and the European Union.
A devastating earthquake struck Haiti’s capital city on January 12, 2010, killing anywhere from 40,000 to 70,000 people. (The foreign powers in Haiti never bothered to conduct a scientific count.) Ten months after that, a cholera epidemic imported by UN soldiers from Nepal broke in Haiti; to date, cholera has killed nearly 10,000 people and sickened hundreds of thousands. The UN Security Council has refused until most recently to take responsibility for introducing cholera into Haiti.
The Western promises of “rebuilding” Haiti never materialized following the 2010 earthquake. The Western powers and their related charities and aid organizations intervened aggressively to ensure that a neocolonial governing regime would remain in place, depriving the Haitian government of material resources and sovereign power.
One month after Hurricane Matthew, 800,000 Haitians urgently need food
By Nick Miroff, Washington Post, Nov 3, 2016
FONDTOUTANU, Haiti — There is no food, so along the road through the mountains there are children begging for something to eat. Most of the trucks rumble past with donations for somewhere else. But one stopped here the other day with sacks of rice, beans and dried herring, setting off a stampede.
Valleur Noel, a trim, short man with a checkered shirt and a shiny crucifix, climbed to the top of the tailgate and told everyone to calm down. It was futile. His organization, Pwoje Men Kontre, had 412 bags of food, a gift from the German ambassador and U.S. donors. Within minutes there were people pouring through a notch between the mountains, hollering and stumbling down the rocky hillside toward the truck.
“No pushing, no pushing!” Noel yelled. “There is enough for everyone!”
It wasn’t true. The latecomers got nothing. But many others did, and Figaro Phito, 29, hugged his sack with both arms, like a pillow. “This will keep us alive until another donation arrives,” he said. “Because that is our only way to survive right now.”
A month after Hurricane Matthew blasted through southwestern Haiti, the region is a blighted, apocalyptic landscape of wrecked homes and growling hunger. At least 800,000 people need food urgently, according to the United Nations, including more than two-thirds of families in the worst-hit departments of Grand’Anse and Sud.
Emergency help is arriving, but there is not enough of it, and it will take several more weeks to reach remote mountain communities where officials say the destruction was total.
The desperation is so explosive that truckloads of food and medical supplies have been looted by crowds gathered along the roadways. A teenage boy was killed Tuesday by police in the city of Les Cayes, where hungry crowds burned tires and blocked roads. Haitian police shot four people, one fatally, on Oct. 26 in the coastal village of Dame Marie, where the arrival of an aid shipment sent crowds surging onto the docks.
The Oct. 4 hurricane hit some of the poorest places in the Western hemisphere. It smashed fishing villages and shredded mountain hamlets with the force of a bomb blast, obliterating crops, killing livestock and leaving fruit trees as bare as matchsticks.
Haiti, a country still digging out from its devastating 2010 earthquake, will need months of emergency aid to stave off famine, according to relief groups and government officials. More than 141,000 storm victims are in shelters, and those are just the ones with someplace to go.
“We are sleeping under the trees,” said Jeudina Alexis, 63, who hadn’t eaten in two days but now had a sack of food from Noel to carry home up the mountain.
In some towns, 80 to 90 percent of homes were destroyed by Matthew’s 140-mile-per-hour winds. The Category 4 storm converted tin roofing panels into flying razors and broken tree branches into spears.
The death toll stands at 546, according to the government, but local officials have reported more than twice that many killed.
Some remote mountain villages are so inaccessible that government emergency workers say they will not be able to reach them until the end of November. One man who walked out of the mountains recently after hiking two days told authorities that too many people had died in his town to bury the bodies, so villagers burned them and put the ashes in the river.
The United Nations has raised just one-third of the $120 million in emergency funding it says it needs to help 750,000 people, including 315,000 children, get through the next three months.
Noel has told his donors he will need to feed people for even longer. “If they plant sweet potatoes and corn, it will be three or four months before they can harvest, but they don’t have seeds,” he said.
‘We are starving, too’
The storm-hit areas have reported at least 3,500 suspected cholera cases in recent weeks, but some of the outbreaks are happening in far-off settlements where help has yet to arrive.
The aid organization Doctors Without Borders recently sent staff by helicopter to one village, Pourcine, to investigate reports of a patient with cholera, only to find 20 stricken from it. The disease spreads rampantly once the bacteria enters the water supply. “We are sending materials to contain the epidemic, but there are people dying from cholera every day,” said Emmanuel Massart, the group’s field coordinator in Grand’Anse.
It is largely a challenge of distribution. Tim Callahan, the U.S. official in charge of the American emergency response, said the U.S. government has delivered 34 metric tons of water treatment tablets to Haiti, enough to supply the entire country for three months. But getting them to families is another matter because roads are impassable or nonexistent in the worst-affected areas.
The 2010 earthquake killed at least 200,000 and damaged many of the government buildings in the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince. The city was largely spared by the recent storm, and that has allowed the Haitian government to take a more active role in directing the relief effort, Callahan and others say.
Peter Mulrean, the U.S. ambassador to Haiti, said the fact that so many international relief organizations were doing post-quake reconstruction left them better prepared to respond to the hurricane.
Unlike in the post-quake period, when aid efforts were often haphazard and inefficient, international relief organizations have been coordinating their donations and activities with Haitian officials, using the network of modern, air-conditioned emergency response centers set up in every region after the earthquake.
“We want Haitian institutions to come out stronger than before,” Mulrean said.
But the man-made disasters of Haitian politics remain an obstacle. Last year’s contested presidential election led to a political impasse and the installation of a caretaker government. New elections are scheduled for Nov. 20, but it’s hard to see how Haitian officials can deliver and count ballots in hurricane-hit areas.
Making matters worse, the public schools that double as polling stations are being used as homeless shelters.
At the Lycee Nord Alexis in Jeremie, the battered capital of Grand’Anse, children sleep on the cement floors of classrooms, some naked or clothed in adult-sized T-shirts that hang below the knee. Food comes irregularly. The blind, disabled and maimed lie around in dark, stifling rooms, swarmed by mosquitoes.
Guerline Brumaches, 40, was languishing in a corner, naked from the waist up, with a suppurating wound the size of a baseball on her swollen left foot where she had been cut by flying debris. A month-old chemistry lesson was written on the chalkboard above her. Flies nibbled at her foot. “If I lose my foot, I don’t know what I’ll do,” she said.
The school had no running water. One of the stairwells had become a latrine. Xavier Charlemagne, 20, said there were several hundred people sleeping every night in the classrooms and corridors. “We’re not leaving until they give us tarps,” he said.
Jeremie is the only town with large-scale daily food distribution in Grand’Anse, in part because it is the only place with armed security to suppress potential rioting. The U.N. World Food Program gives out 1,000 one-month rations of rice, chickpeas and cooking oil each day in the central plaza, in the shadow of a 200-year-old cathedral with a ripped-off roof.
But the sight of so many convoys headed to Jeremie has stirred resentment in towns that say they are not getting their share. At one highway junction where a broken-down truck carrying beans had been attacked a day earlier, dozens of young men lingered on a recent day, watching for signs of mechanical trouble among the vehicles groaning up the pass, as if stalking wounded herd animals.
“We are starving, too,” said Ricardo Dauphin, 29, alongside dozens of other men in the town of Carrefour Charles, watching U.N. trucks roll by in a cloud of dust, escorted by police and Brazilian soldiers.
There is no electricity across a wide swath of southern Haiti where utility lines are down, so at night families burn storm debris and garbage with huge bonfires that leap into the darkness and foul the air.
On a muddy hillside near the town of Cavaillon, scores of people have settled in crude lean-tos made of sticks, plastic and tattered bedsheets. The nearby river flooded in the storm, forcing those living along the banks to higher ground.
Olicia Jean-Louis, 23, said her widowed mother was washed away in the storm, along with the family’s house and all the secondhand footwear they used to sell in the market. Now Jean-Louis was in charge of her siblings, ages 12, 10, 5 and 2. The youngest ones had started calling her “mama,” she said.
None of them had eaten that day, Jean-Louis said. It was raining again, and the 2-year-old boy, naked, leaned into her threadbare blue dress, his nose running.
Asked what she would do next, Jean-Louis shook her head. “I will rely on you,” she said. “Can you help me?”
Nick Miroff is a Latin America correspondent for The Post, roaming from the U.S.-Mexico borderlands to South America’s southern cone. He has been a staff writer since 2006. Follow @nickmiroff
Related articles in The Washington Post:
After massive aid, Haitians feel stuck in poverty, Nov 1, 2016
The foreign roots of Haiti’s hunger
By Milo Milfort, published in Haiti Liberté (weekly), Nov 9, 2016
At the beginning of October 2016, Hurricane Matthew ripped through three of Haiti’s southern departments (Nippes, South, and Grand’Anse), causing terrible destruction. Along with infectious diseases, such as cholera, hunger has spiked in the aftermath.
“The people are desperate, their plantations destroyed and difficult to access. Hunger is at the door.” This was the cry for help of the residents of Counoubois, a rural section of Chambelan in the Grand’Anse region that went viral on social media networks for several days after Hurricane Matthew passed through.
Grand’Anse is Haiti’s bread-basket, but now its agriculture is more than 80% destroyed. In other regions, food stores have suffered serious damage, and the availability of local produce is reduced. Livestock has been lost in some areas, fishing is paralyzed, all subsistence crops have been lost, and fruit trees have been severely damaged. Matthew left at least 546 dead, 128 missing, and 2.1 million victims throughout the country, according to Haitian authorities.
The history of Counoubois symbolizes the reality of many hard-hit rural regions, which are not easily accessible due to the lack of infrastructure. About 1.4 million Haitians need food assistance, more than half of them – 800,000 – urgent food assistance, according to an emergency assessment carried out by the Haitian government, the National Organization for Food Security (CNSA), the World Food Program (WFP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
The report they produced at the end of October confirms “the pressing need to provide immediate food assistance and to help rebuild people’s livelihoods.”
“If we do not act now to provide them the grains, fertilizers, and other materials they need, they will not be able to plant and will face persistent food insecurity,” said Nathanaël Hishamunda, the FAO’s Haiti representative.
Hurricane Matthew has worsened a situation that was already complicated. For five years, Haiti has been ranked among the world’s 15 most hungry countries. Almost 75% of the population lives in poverty, with millions of people living in extreme poverty. Before the hurricane, getting enough to eat in Haiti was already a luxury for many. By August 2016, the number of people in a situation of food insecurity was close to 3.2 million.
As with previous disasters, most international humanitarian aid consists essentially of thousands of tons of food distributed in certain key affected areas. But what explains the constant hunger that prevails in Haiti?
A history of poverty
“Poverty in Haiti is not a natural phenomenon,” explained Haitian sociologist Franck Seguy. “History records its process and progress. The process has been done in collaboration with Haitians, not with all of them, but with government leaders and the ruling class allied with the international bourgeoisie, in particular in the United States and its farmers. Looking for markets, they identified Haiti as an ideal place to sell U.S. products. To do this, they are forced to systematically destroy Haiti’s domestic production, which is precisely what has been done until now.”
According to Seguy, after its 1804 revolution, Haiti was forced to compensate France. To pay this debt, Haitian governments used domestic production, including coffee, sold to speculators who paid taxes to the state. Given that between 1825 and 1922 Haiti’s bourgeoisie did not pay taxes, payment of the “independence debt” came essentially from the sweat of farmers.
The leading role of other countries in creating the objective conditions for Haiti’s hunger is often ignored. In 1825, the King of France, Charles X, forced Haiti, which had proclaimed its independence 21 years earlier after defeating Napoleon’s army, to sign a treaty where, in return for recognition of the new nation, France would receive a compensation of 150 million gold francs. That amount was to be paid within five years.
Unfortunately, the sum represented 10 years of Haiti’s tax revenue. Jean Pierre Boyer, Haiti’s president at the time, had no choice but to accept, as France’s negotiators were accompanied by a flotilla of 14 warships.
“From Haiti’s independence in 1804 until today, debt contributes to the creation of hunger,” said Professor Seguy. “Most of the funds that the state could have invested in domestic production were used to pay interest on the debt.”
Since the 1980s, international actors such as the World Bank (WB), the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the U.S. government have imposed neoliberal economic policies on Haitian rulers. In Seguy’s view, this constitute “the recipe for a debt crisis.”
From this period and until now, every World Bank project and every new loan from the IMF, including Haiti’s debt restructuring and cancellation, has been conditioned on, among other things, more adjustments, privatization of public companies, elimination of subsidies, deregulation of labor markets, liberalization of markets, reduction of tariffs, and elimination of barriers to free trade.
In 1995, under pressure from Washington, President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s government reduced practically to zero the tariffs on several foodstuffs. The IMF demanded this as a condition that the U.S. government imposed on Aristide to be able to return to the country after the 1991 coup. Thus, taxes on imported rice went from 35% to 3%. Haiti became the country with the lowest customs tariffs in the Caribbean.
Former U.S. President Bill Clinton (1993-2001) played a leading role in deepening Haiti’s hunger. During his time as governor of Arkansas – a major rice producer – and as president, he helped weaken Haiti’s domestic rice production (a strategic product) in favor of Arkansas growers looking for new markets for their products.
“It destroyed Haiti’s potential by invading with cheap rice,” explained Professor Seguy. “From that moment on, rice producers in the Artibonite Valley could not find a market for their product and could not afford to grow. When they stopped growing, imported rice producers increased their prices in order to recover their losses and make a profit.”
In 2005, the Haitian government spent $52 million to repay debt arrears to the World Bank in a period when the country could have used the money to deal with various structural problems.
In his mea culpa in 2010 following the massive earthquake that hit Haiti’s capital region on January 12, 2010, Bill Clinton acknowledged having made the wrong decision in trying to solve Haiti’s problem of hunger by filling the Haitian market with rice imported from the United States. He admitted that this decision hurt small Haitian farmers and producers by abruptly reducing domestic production.
Even today, it is easier and cheaper to buy American rice in Haitian markets than that produced in Haiti. This has led to the impoverishment of thousands of peasant families who have left the countryside to live in city slums. In the 1970s and 1980s, Haiti had 98% grain self-sufficiency. Today, it imports almost everything.
In 2006, a report from Christian Aid revealed that the results of Haiti’s lowered tariffs “have been disastrous.” In this sense, excessive trade liberalization is closely related to falling agricultural production, growing poverty, exodus from the countryside to poor neighborhoods, and increasing hunger, according to the NGO.
These radical policies have crowned more than 200 years of what the Haitian economist Fred Doura calls an “extroverted” economy of a country totally “dominated and exploited” by foreign powers like France and the U.S., among others.
Humanitarian aid has its share of contributing to creating hunger in Haiti. Much of the food that is distributed as food aid is imported and, as a consequence, domestic production is not used, as has been seen in the days following Hurricane Matthew, just like after the January 2010 earthquake.
In these cases, instead of strengthening the country’s capacity by buying directly from Haitian farmers who could in turn reinvest, products are imported from the Dominican Republic and the United States, which destroys national production.
The original version of this article was first published by Spain’s El Diario and is the second in a series of articles and specials of the FAM project (www.projectefam.cc) on hunger, in collaboration with eldiario.es.
Haiti is desperate for aid in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew, broadcast on CBC Radio One’s ‘The Current’, Oct 12, 2016
25-minute broadcast on CBC Radio One‘s daytime newsmagazine program ‘The Current’. Starts with an interview with Haitian journalist Caral Pedre, fresh back from the hurricane zone. Then a performance by a spokesperson of the Canadian Red Cross. Finally, the gem in the broadcast is with Marylynn Steckley, assistant professor of global and international studies at Portland State University. She has lived in Haiti for five years and has worked with the Mennonite Central Committee. Listen here:
Haiti’s promised rebuilding unrealized as Haitians challenge authoritarian rule, by Travis Ross and Roger Annis, January 12, 2015 (This article was translated and published in Spanish in Uruguay; find the Spanish version here.)
Five years following the January 12, 2010 earthquake that struck the capital city of Haiti, the loudly-trumpeted reconstruction of the country is still an unrealized dream. The beginning of the year 2015 finds Haitians engaged in a massive movement of political protest and empowerment seeking to renew, against all odds, their 210-year old nation-building project. Winning a renewal means setting aside the false promises and cruel betrayals of the past five years by the big governments and aid agencies of the world.
Haiti’s humanitarian crisis: Rooted in history of military coups and occupations, by Roger Annis and Kim Ives, May 11, 2016
THE INTERNATIONAL mainstream media presented the November 2010 election in Haiti as a predictably chaotic event in a country notorious for political violence, corruption, and dictatorship. But something new crept into some analysis of the event, a sense that the big powers present in Haiti had a big hand in the election-day fiasco…