“Papa, I’m hungry”
How US policy intensifies Haitian starvation
Saint Louis Meriska’s children ate two spoonfuls of rice apiece as their only meal recently and then went without any food the following day. His eyes downcast, his own stomach empty, the unemployed father said forlornly, “They look at me and say, ‘Papa, I’m hungry,’ and I have to look away. It’s humiliating and it makes you angry.” –the New York Times
Thirty years ago, Haiti was an agricultural nation. It imported “almost no rice” and was an exporter of sugar. Today, almost all of Haiti’s rice is shipped in. So when imported rice prices soar—as they have recently—the poorest Haitians have little to eat. What happened?
When poor countries hit crises, they apply to the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund (both of which are dominated by the USA) for loans. Part of the price of receiving the loan is economic restructure of the poor nation’s economy, including taking down barriers that protect the nation from overly-aggressive trade by other nations.
So Haiti gets a loan. It takes down its trade barriers. And it’s deluged with rice, mainly from the United States.
Now in the US, rice is grown under government subsidy. So the American rice—Haitians call it “Miami rice”—sells in Haiti’s markets at less than what it costs to grow it. Tough luck, Haitian farmer! One by one, farms fail, farmers quit.
And children say, “Papa, I’m hungry.”
According to Bill Quigley, law professor at Loyola University:
[T]he people of the United States have no idea that … our government has destroyed not just Haiti, but the agricultural bases of lots and lots of very poor countries. … And so, our money is going to these huge [American] farmers … in about five different states, some of them getting hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. … we are directly subsidizing these huge agribusinesses which are putting the small farmers … out of business and really creating this hunger problem … it’s a great little lens for those of us in the United States who care about hunger and care about justice to look and see it’s not just mismanagement in Haiti, it’s not just the fact that they have problems, which they certainly do, but also our country plays a huge role in creating the hunger that has led to the riots.
I live in Iowa, a state that depends heavily on crop exports and government subsidies. But we can’t keep building ourselves up at the expense of those so much poorer. Subsidized crops destroy our neighbors.
As to the forced commerce demanded by the IMF and the World Bank: its devastating kickbacks need the light of justice. Ordinary Americans will have to demand change. Until “Papa, I’m hungry” is something America just won’t go along with.
Tags: hunger, starvation, world+bank, IMF, international+monetary+fund, crop+subsidies, farm+bill, agriculture, Haiti, agribusiness, Monte Asbury
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