[diggers350] The U.S. Role in Haiti's Food Riots

Alan Hill awhill at globalnet.co.uk
Tue Apr 29 22:18:21 BST 2008

One of the most disgusting aspects of the world food crisis, well 
exemplified in the instance of rice, is how the rising price of staple foods becomes a golden opportunity for speculators to make huge profits by buying and hoarding foodstuffs in the expectation of rising trading prices on the world's exchanges - the futures market in foodstuffs is the golden goose for current speculation. How on earth do we live in a world where some people can make massive profits out of such misery for so many others?

Alan Hill

[Thanks Alan. Could parts of the British establishment be behind this? The evil spirit of the Irish potato famine is on the rise again - ed.]

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Massimo A. Allamandola" <suburbanstudio at runbox.com>
To: <diggers350 at yahoogroups.com>; <LegacyofColonialism at yahoogroups.com>
Sent: Tuesday, April 29, 2008 8:27 AM
Subject: [diggers350] The U.S. Role in Haiti's Food Riots

> 30 Years Ago Haiti Grew All the Rice It Needed. What Happened?
> The U.S. Role in Haiti's Food Riots
> Riots in Haiti over explosive rises in food costs have claimed the lives
> of six people. There have also been food riots world-wide in Burkina
> Faso, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivorie, Egypt, Guinea, Mauritania, Mexico,
> Morocco, Senegal, Uzbekistan and Yemen.
> The Economist, which calls the current crisis the silent tsunami,
> reports that last year wheat prices rose 77% and rice 16%, but since
> January rice prices have risen 141%. The reasons include rising fuel
> costs, weather problems, increased demand in China and India, as well as
> the push to create biofuels from cereal crops.
> Hermite Joseph, a mother working in the markets of Port au Prince, told
> journalist Nick Whalen that her two kids are “like toothpicks” they’ re
> not getting enough nourishment. Before, if you had a dollar twenty-five
> cents, you could buy vegetables, some rice, 10 cents of charcoal and a
> little cooking oil. Right now, a little can of rice alone costs 65
> cents, and is not good rice at all. Oil is 25 cents. Charcoal is 25
> cents. With a dollar twenty-five, you can’t even make a plate of rice
> for one child.”
> The St. Claire’s Church Food program, in the Tiplas Kazo neighborhood of
> Port au Prince, serves 1000 free meals a day, almost all to hungry
> children -- five times a week in partnership with the What If
> Foundation. Children from Cite Soleil have been known to walk the five
> miles to the church for a meal. The cost of rice, beans, vegetables, a
> little meat, spices, cooking oil, propane for the stoves, have gone up
> dramatically. Because of the rise in the cost of food, the portions are
> now smaller. But hunger is on the rise and more and more children come
> for the free meal. Hungry adults used to be allowed to eat the leftovers
> once all the children were fed, but now there are few leftovers.
> The New York Times lectured Haiti on April 18 that “Haiti, its
> agriculture industry in shambles, needs to better feed itself.”
> Unfortunately, the article did not talk at all about one of the main
> causes of the shortages -- the fact that the U.S. and other
> international financial bodies destroyed Haitian rice farmers to create
> a major market for the heavily subsidized rice from U.S. farmers. This
> is not the only cause of hunger in Haiti and other poor countries, but
> it is a major force.
> Thirty years ago, Haiti raised nearly all the rice it needed. What
> happened?
> In 1986, after the expulsion of Haitian dictator Jean Claude “Baby Doc”
> Duvalier the International Monetary Fund (IMF) loaned Haiti $24.6
> million in desperately needed funds (Baby Doc had raided the treasury on
> the way out). But, in order to get the IMF loan, Haiti was required to
> reduce tariff protections for their Haitian rice and other agricultural
> products and some industries to open up the country’s markets to
> competition from outside countries. The U.S. has by far the largest
> voice in decisions of the IMF.
> Doctor Paul Farmer was in Haiti then and saw what happened. “Within less
> than two years, it became impossible for Haitian farmers to compete with
> what they called ‘Miami rice.’ The whole local rice market in Haiti fell
> apart as cheap, U.S. subsidized rice, some of it in the form of ‘food
> aid,’ flooded the market. There was violence, ‘rice wars,’ and lives
> were lost.”
> “American rice invaded the country,” recalled Charles Suffrard, a
> leading rice grower in Haiti in an interview with the Washington Post in
> 2000. By 1987 and 1988, there was so much rice coming into the country
> that many stopped working the land.
> Fr. Gerard Jean-Juste, a Haitian priest who has been the pastor at St.
> Claire and an outspoken human rights advocate, agrees. “In the 1980s,
> imported rice poured into Haiti, below the cost of what our farmers
> could produce it. Farmers lost their businesses. People from the
> countryside started losing their jobs and moving to the cities. After a
> few years of cheap imported rice, local production went way down.”
> Still the international business community was not satisfied. In 1994,
> as a condition for U.S. assistance in returning to Haiti to resume his
> elected Presidency, Jean-Bertrand Aristide was forced by the U.S., the
> IMF, and the World Bank to open up the markets in Haiti even more.
> But, Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, what reason
> could the U.S. have in destroying the rice market of this tiny country?
> Haiti is definitely poor. The U.S. Agency for International Development
> reports the annual per capita income is less than $400. The United
> Nations reports life expectancy in Haiti is 59, while in the US it is
> 78. Over 78% of Haitians live on less than $2 a day, more than half live
> on less than $1 a day.
> Yet Haiti has become one of the very top importers of rice from the U.S.
> The U.S. Department of Agriculture 2008 numbers show Haiti is the third
> largest importer of US rice - at over 240,000 metric tons of rice. (One
> metric ton is 2200 pounds).
> Rice is a heavily subsidized business in the U.S. Rice subsidies in the
> U.S. totaled $11 billion from 1995 to 2006. One producer alone, Riceland
> Foods Inc of Stuttgart Arkansas, received over $500 million dollars in
> rice subsidies between 1995 and 2006.
> The Cato Institute recently reported that rice is one of the most
> heavily supported commodities in the U.S. -- with three different
> subsidies together averaging over $1 billion a year since 1998 and
> projected to average over $700 million a year through 2015. The result?
> “Tens of millions of rice farmers in poor countries find it hard to lift
> their families out of poverty because of the lower, more volatile prices
> caused by the interventionist policies of other countries.”
> In addition to three different subsidies for rice farmers in the U.S.,
> there are also direct tariff barriers of 3 to 24 percent, reports Daniel
> Griswold of the Cato Institute -- the exact same type of protections,
> though much higher, that the U.S. and the IMF required Haiti to
> eliminate in the 1980s and 1990s.
> U.S. protection for rice farmers goes even further. A 2006 story in the
> Washington Post found that the federal government has paid at least $1.3
> billion in subsidies for rice and other crops since 2000 to individuals
> who do no farming at all; including $490,000 to a Houston surgeon who
> owned land near Houston that once grew rice.
> And it is not only the Haitian rice farmers who have been hurt.
> Paul Farmer saw it happen to the sugar growers as well. “Haiti, once the
> world's largest exporter of sugar and other tropical produce to Europe,
> began importing even sugar-- from U.S. controlled sugar production in
> the Dominican Republic and Florida. It was terrible to see Haitian
> farmers put out of work. All this sped up the downward spiral that led
> to this month's food riots.”
> After the riots and protests, President Rene Preval of Haiti agreed to
> reduce the price of rice, which was selling for $51 for a 110 pound bag,
> to $43 dollars for the next month. No one thinks a one month fix will do
> anything but delay the severe hunger pains a few weeks.
> Haiti is far from alone in this crisis. The Economist reports a billion
> people worldwide live on $1 a day. The US-backed Voice of America
> reports about 850 million people were suffering from hunger worldwide
> before the latest round of price increases.
> Thirty three countries are at risk of social upheaval because of rising
> food prices, World Bank President Robert Zoellick told the Wall Street
> Journal. When countries have many people who spend half to
> three-quarters of their daily income on food, “there is no margin of
> survival.”
> In the U.S., people are feeling the world-wide problems at the gas pump
> and in the grocery. Middle class people may cut back on extra trips or
> on high price cuts of meat. The number of people on food stamps in the
> US is at an all-time high. But in poor countries, where malnutrition and
> hunger were widespread before the rise in prices, there is nothing to
> cut back on except eating. That leads to hunger riots.
> In the short term, the world community is sending bags of rice to Haiti.
> Venezuela sent 350 tons of food. The US just pledged $200 million extra
> for worldwide hunger relief. The UN is committed to distributing more 
> food.
> What can be done in the medium term? The US provides much of the world’s
> food aid, but does it in such a way that only half of the dollars spent
> actually reach hungry people. US law requires that food aid be purchased
> from US farmers, processed and bagged in the US and shipped on US
> vessels -- which cost 50% of the money allocated. A simple change in US
> law to allow some local purchase of commodities would feed many more
> people and support local farm markets.
> In the long run, what is to be done? The President of Brazil, Luiz
> Inacio Lula da Silva, who visited Haiti last week, said “Rich countries
> need to reduce farms subsidies and trade barriers to allow poor
> countries to generate income with food exports. Either the world solves
> the unfair trade system, or every time there's unrest like in Haiti, we
> adopt emergency measures and send a little bit of food to temporarily
> ease hunger."
> Citizens of the USA know very little about the role of their government
> in helping create the hunger problems in Haiti or other countries. But
> there is much that individuals can do. People can donate to help feed
> individual hungry people and participate with advocacy organizations
> like Bread for the World or Oxfam to help change the U.S. and global
> rules which favor the rich countries. This advocacy can help countries
> have a better chance to feed themselves.
> Meanwhile, Merisma Jean-Claudel, a young high school graduate in
> Port-au-Prince told journalist Wadner Pierre "...people can’t buy food.
> Gasoline prices are going up. It is very hard for us over here. The cost
> of living is the biggest worry for us, no peace in stomach means no
> peace in the mind.¦I wonder if others will be able to survive the days
> ahead because things are very, very hard."
> “On the ground, people are very hungry,” reported Fr. Jean-Juste. “Our
> country must immediately open emergency canteens to feed the hungry
> until we can get them jobs. For the long run, we need to invest in
> irrigation, transportation, and other assistance for our farmers and
> workers.”
> In Port au Prince, some rice arrived in the last few days. A school in
> Fr. Jean-Juste’s parish received several bags of rice. They had raw rice
> for 1000 children, but the principal still had to come to Father
> Jean-Juste asking for help. There was no money for charcoal, or oil.
> Jervais Rodman, an unemployed carpenter with three children, stood in a
> long line Saturday in Port au Prince to get UN donated rice and beans.
> When Rodman got the small bags, he told Ben Fox of the Associated Press,
> “The beans might last four days. The rice will be gone as soon as I get
> home.”
> Bill Quigley is a human rights lawyer and law professor at Loyola
> University New Orleans. His essay on the Echo 9 nuclear launch site
> protests is featured in Red State Rebels: Tales of Grassroots Resistance
> from the Heartland, published by AK Press. He can be reached at
> quigley77 at gmail.com People interested in donating to feed children in
> Haiti should go to http://www.whatiffoundation.org/
> People who want to help change U.S. policy on agriculture to help combat
> world-wide hunger should go to:
> http://www.oxfamamerica.org/ or http://www.bread.org/
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