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Date: Sat, 11 Nov 1995 22:23:13 CST
Reply-To: haiticom@nyxfer.blythe.org
Sender: Activists Mailing List <ACTIV-L@MIZZOU1.missouri.edu>
From: NY Transfer News Collective <nyt@nyxfer.blythe.org>
Subject: This Week in Haiti 13:33 11/08/95
To: Multiple recipients of list ACTIV-L <ACTIV-L@MIZZOU1.missouri.edu>

Neoliberalism in Haiti: The case of rice continues

Haiti Progres, This Week in Haiti,
Vol. 13, no. 33, 8-14 November 1995

American Rice, Inc.
P.O. Box 17253
Washington, D.C. 20041
Tel: 703-478-0822 Fax: 703-478-0335

October 30, 1995

Haiti Progres
Brooklyn, New York

Dear Editor,

In Neoliberalism in Haiti: The Case of Rice in the October 2 issue, Haiti Progress reprinted an article from the Haitian Information Bureau which contained many errors both of facts and opinion. Because rice is so important to the future of their country, all Haitians deserve complete and accurate reporting on the issues involved; an accuracy which I am sure the editors of Haiti Progress always intend to provide. On rice, your readers may be interested in the following facts:

With these facts in hand, readers of Haiti Progress will be better able to understand the current challenges facing the rice industry in Haiti. Rice Corporation of Haiti S.A., backed by the unique capabilities of American Rice Inc., will continue to guarantee that Haitian consumers always will have the rice they want at the most competitive prices. We also hope soon to be able to include quality rice grown in Haiti.


Lawrence H. Theriot

Director, Corporate Communications


Lawrence Theriot proposes to correct errors both of facts and opinion in Neoliberalism in Haiti: The Case of Rice, but then makes few specific refutations.

Mr. Theriot disputes the article's assertion that rice imports are subject to a trifling 3% tariff by writing that the total of customs duties, counselor fees, and withholding taxes paid by RCH to the Haitian state amounts to 8% of the cost of a sack of rice. To arrive at 8%, it appears that he simply pads customs duties with counselor fees and withholding taxes, which cannot fairly be considered part of the tariff. Furthermore, even 8% would be less than half the 16.4% tariff which the U.S., the champion of free trade, places on long-grain semi-milled rice imports, a tariff which protects American Rice Inc. above all others. (U.S. rice imports from the Caribbean are duty-free under the Reagan-launched Caribbean Basin Initiative, or CBI, because Caribbean rice production is either owned by U.S. multinationals or no threat to U.S. rice producers.)

Beyond this, Mr. Theriot and RCH propose that the Haitian State temporarily exempt all rice imports from customs duty, taxes, and port charges. Meanwhile, Mr. Theriot is also calling on the Haitian State to improve the infrastructure -- irrigation, roads, etc. -- that will facilitate RCH's rice operations. Who is going to pay for those improvements, Mr. Theriot, if the State collects no import duties or taxes? Haitian peasants?

Mr. Theriot also contends that RCH's deal-sealing in Sept. 1992 with an illegal government of Haitian putchists did not technically violate the international embargo because rice imports... [were] essential to feeding the Haitian people. He further points to the extreme difficulties and the high cost of operating during the embargo. Does Mr. Theriot really want us to believe that RCH was motivated by compassion and a sense of sacrifice in striking its deal with killers? Even the blindest pursuer of business opportunities could not have missed the media extravaganza mounted by the putchists around the signing of the contract. It was a propaganda boon to a shaky and isolated coup regime responsible for killing over 5000 Haitians. No, the deal was not about humanitarian concern. It was about profit.

Mr. Theriot declares that his rice mill currently is fully staffed by 200 Haitian managers and workers and that it creates hundreds of indirect jobs. However, when Haiti Progres interviewed residents of Laffiteau last May, they said that they had been promised that the rice mill would create 700 jobs, but that, by their estimates, about 70 people worked there. They also were irate that workers at that time were being paid only 25 gourdes a day (equivalent then to about US$1.67), according to them. (The residents were vehemently opposed to the privatization of the other state industries in the area, the flour mill and cement plant.)

The Haitian Information Bureau (HIB) noted in the article that the RCH-provided U.S. agronomists who were to help improve rice production in the Artibonite were not evident and conjectured that RCH will position itself to buy up land as little and big landowners go broke. Mr. Theriot protests that RCH's technical assistance to aid Haitian farmers is only being held up by the Aristide government and that RCH has never considered or proposed buying any land in Haiti.

History belies these assertions. We presently can only speculate about the intentions of Erly Industries, which is the parent company of American Rice Inc., in turn the parent of Comet Rice, Inc., in turn the parent of RCH. But an Oct. 27 special report just released by the Washington Office on Haiti (WOH) offers invaluable insights into this multinational's background and practices.

Erly and/or its subsidiaries have been investigated for possible involvement in money laundering and illegal arms deals, debarred from government contracts, delisted from the NASDAQ stock exchange due to precarious fiscal status, and named in an investigation of illegal lobbying on the part of a former Reagan official, WOH notes in the report's introduction. In a later section entitled A Troubling History, WOH writes that Erly companies have been involved in various questionable deals, state and federal government investigations, near foreclosures, loss of licenses, and a dizzying series of complex sales and acquisitions of some Erly companies by other Erly companies, Among the cases cited:

The WOH report also details how Lawrence Theriot was the first director of the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI), serving in that capacity from 1982 to 1988. In January 1985, the Washington Post reported that CBI had been promoted with 'almost missionary zeal'... The 1985 Post article also reveals that Mr. Theriot even saw opportunity when Duvalier ruled Haiti, just as when the putchists were in power: If there is a jewel in CBI's crown, ironically it is Haiti, the region's poorest country. 'No one was better prepared to take advantage of CBI,' Theriot said. 'The Haitian businessman is very sophisticated and professional. The country has virtually been a free zone since the late' 60s. The people are nice.'

The WOH report goes into many other aspects of Erly Industries' history and role in Haiti and the world, as well as offering useful analysis of and alternatives to the nefarious effects of so-called free-trade and structural adjustment policies on the world's poor. As the WOH notes, the RCH and other [s]uch projects -- wrapped in development rhetoric about creating jobs, ensuring an affordable food supply, and improving agricultural production -- raise key questions, not only for the Haitian poor but also for the U.S. citizen whose tax dollar usually funds free market enterprises which richly benefit powerful U.S. corporations while further disempowering the peasant majority. The report closes by formulating some of these questions:

Given the way Comet treated California growers it had done business with for decades, how can Haitian peasants expect to be treated?

RCH's contract specifies that the price it pays for rice will fluctuate to reflect changes in the exchange rate. Do the wages it pays also fluctuate to reflect such changes?

Are the fertilizers, pesticides and other chemicals RCH will use toxic to people and/or the environment? Are they purchased from another Erly company? Are they purchased with U.S. tax dollars?

Will genetically engineered plants be introduced? In 1994, the Union of Concerned Scientists reported that very little is known about the potential risks of transgenic crops. For example, scientists have found that genetically engineering plants to resist existing viruses may actually stimulate the evolution of new viruses.

Will a credit system be offered to -- or imposed on -- Haitian rice growers with very easy terms at first, later followed by stiff interest rates, contract penalties, or other changes which will put them out of business?

How much will RCH's activities benefit Erly versus how much they benefit Haiti? Will foreign-owned agribusiness replace the small farming family, the peasant cooperative?

Have other Erly programs proven of benefit to the poor in Third World countries? How does buying rice from one poor country and selling it to another benefit either one?

Were the legal and ethical irregularities associated with Erly company projects in the past -- e.g., the Jordan project and the 1991 sellout of California growers -- a series of unfortunate coincidences, or an established pattern which should raise serious concerns about operations in Haiti?

Will the effects of this project be harmful to the Haitian poor, like the floods of donated rice were harmful and the swine eradication program was harmful?

As Mr. Theriot says: Because rice is so important to the future of their country, all Haitians deserve complete and accurate reporting on the issues involved. We think the questions above provide an framework for future investigation, and we look forward to the results.