Date: Wed, 21 May 97 13:37:34 CDT
From: Haiti Progres <>
Subject: This Week in Haiti 15:9 5/21/97
Article: 11327

How U.S. AID promotes famine

Haiti Progres, Vol. 15 no. 9, 21—27 May 1997

Food is power, said Senator Hubert Humphrey of U.S. foreign assistance in 1974, and in a very real sense, it is our extra measure of power.

Since the Second World War, the U.S. government has used this power to persuade hungry nations to toe its political line while helping giant U.S. food corporations to muscle into new markets. This dynamic is well illustrated in a new report just released by the independent aid agency Grassroots International entitled Feeding Dependency, Starving Democracy: USAID Policies in Haiti by Laurie Richardson.

U.S. food aid to Haiti furthers U.S. economic interests, not Haitian development, asserts the report, which is chock full of well-annotated and well-presented research and figures to buttress its findings. Food aid is also used by the U.S. government to entice and/or pressure the government of Haiti to adopt neoliberal, export-oriented economic policies and to help open new markets for U.S. production while it drives down cereal prices, thus discouraging Haitian peasants from producing food crops for local consumption and shifting them instead to export crops.

While the destructive self-serving nature of food aid is not exactly news, Richardson’s first-hand investigations in the Haitian countryside offer valuable new examples of how U.S. humanitarian assistance and jobs-creation programs have undercut Haitian farmers and Haiti’s food security. Take, for example, the case of two road improvement contracts administered in 1994-1995 in Haiti’s Northwest by CARE, which works hand in glove with the U.S. State Department’s Agency for International Development (USAID) in Haiti and throughout the Third World. CARE scheduled road-work during the critical autumn planting season, luring people off the land to work for a little cash on a project which local residents consider non-essential. When the U.S. provides work at the very time when people should be planting or harvesting, it is as though they want us to lose, one peasant organizer from the region told Richardson.

Today, the same Northwest region is engulfed in a severe famine affecting more than 350,000 Haitians who have taken to eating weeds, seeds, roots, wood, cats and dogs to survive. At the same time people are starving, farmers are seeing their efforts to increase food production undermined by U.S. policies and U.S.-funded aid projects, said Tim Wise, executive director of Grassroots International.

Responding to the report, U.S. government officials have said that it is foolish to suggest that Haiti could produce its own food and be self-sufficient, even though 65% of the population gains its livelihood from agriculture. Grassroots International seems to be against the principle associated with free market economies, one official said.

The report blasts the notion of export-led development as well as U.S. government pressure on Haiti to reduce tariffs and implement policies which undermine Haitian food producers and weaken the development of democratic institutions in Haiti. However, the report, by its own admission, does not critique the Haitian government (nor certain government-affiliated peasant organizations which Grassroots International supports) which has proved to be a willing accomplice in the anti-development schemes of Washington and the international lenders.

Another weakness of the report lies not in its content, but rather in its proposed purpose. Wise wants the report to be a wake-up call for U.S. policymakers, and the report’s main recommendation is that aid policies and programs should support the goal of enhancing Haiti’s food security by supporting Haitian food producers. The call is futile. The process which is destroying Haiti’s food production and transforming peasants into refugees, factory workers and slum-dwellers is the necessary result of the relentless prowling appetite of U.S. capital, which no policymaker can curb. Haiti’s only escape from growing food dependency and hunger will not come from enlightenment in Washington nor scattered self-help projects, but rather from the struggle of the Haitian people for a government which rejects foreign military occupation, embraces self-determination and offers a genuine agrarian reform.