Thousands Of Haitians Will Die Unless U.S. Beefs-Up Relief Efforts
By MARK WEISBROT
WASHINGTON -- President Clinton apologized on March 10
for the role that his government played in destroying a
big part of Haitian agriculture: "It may have been good
for some of my farmers in Arkansas, but it has not
worked. ... I have to live every day with the loss of
capacity to produce a rice crop in Haiti, to feed those
people, because of what I did."
Beginning in the 1980s, subsidized U.S. rice wiped out
thousands of Haitian rice farmers and made the country
dependent on imported food.
Clinton's apology is important and presents an
opportunity to change U.S. policy toward that has
been a major cause of suffering in this desperately poor
Most urgently, the current relief effort has to be
ramped up immediately to help the 1.3 million homeless
Haitians before thousands are killed by rains or the
hurricane season. A relatively brief rain on March 19
brought images of Haitians struggling through mud in
squalid camps to try to keep from being overwhelmed by
The rainy season is just beginning and it will get much
worse, especially for 200,000 homeless in 29 camps that
could get washed away when the rains get heavy.
Danny Glover is an actor and chairman of the board of
the TransAfrica Forum. Both he and TransAfrica have
worked to help Haiti for many years.
"It doesn't make sense that they can't even get people
tents two and a half months after the earthquake," he
told me in Washington.
Indeed it does not: the needed tents cost about $100
apiece; even if we double the government's request for
200,000 tents, the cost is $40 million, not even 2
percent of the public and private donations coming from
the U.S. and other countries.
Congress needs to turn up the heat by immediately
announcing that it will fulfill its oversight role,
complete with hearings and a report on how U.S. dollars
- taxpayer and private donations - have been spent in
Haiti. This would give some incentive to the larger
organizations and U.S. government contractors to help
save thousands of Haitian before they are killed by
rains or the hurricane season, which begins in June.
Chemonics, which has received multiple contracts
totaling tens of millions of dollars from USAID, is a
subsidiary of ERLY Industries, which is also the parent
company of American Rice Corp., a major beneficiary of
the policies that Clinton apologized for.
The has received an estimated one-
third of the billion dollars that American relief
organizations have raised for Haiti. It has had some
scandals in recent years involving the receipt of some
hundreds of millions of dollars of funds that were not
spent on the particular relief efforts for which they
The most urgent needs are clear: in addition to the
necessary shelter and relocations, there needs to be
more aid provided outside Port-au-Prince so that people
are more able to live elsewhere. More aid to agriculture
for the current planting season is also urgent.
The international community, which is currently
providing most of Haiti's food, should commit to buying
at least the current and next season's crop of locally
produced rice at a profitable, guaranteed price, before
distributing any imported rice. Currently, as has
happened in the past, imported rice is pushing down the
price of local rice and can make it difficult or
impossible for farmers to survive.
The Haitian government also needs budget support; it is
currently getting only a tiny fraction of U.S.
government dollars, not nearly enough to even have a
functioning government that is necessary for the
It is both wrong and counter-productive to try to
exclude Haitians from having a voice in the future of
their own country.