01 June 2021

The Guardian: “Haiti and the failed promise of US aid”

But what worked for the US’s interests worked less well for Haiti. By the 1950s, neither Haiti’s agricultural economy, nor the dollars spent by thousands of American tourists every year, was enough to pay back those debts. By 1961, the US was sending $13m in aid to Haiti – half Haiti’s national budget – in part to help the nation bolster industry. Much of this early US aid to Haiti was looted or wasted by Haiti’s autocratic leaders, especially François “Papa Doc” Duvalier, and his son, Jean-Claude, who spent it on personal militias that terrorised Haiti’s citizenry. Since 1946, the United States has poured about $100m in economic aid … into Haiti without much to show for the money, the New York Times reported in 1963.

The most pernicious part of this programme was the agricultural policies that the US imposed on Haiti beginning in the 70s. The US pressured Haiti to reduce its tariffs on imported crops, then shipped surplus American crops into Haiti’s ports under the guise of “food aid”. Haitian farmers could not compete with all the artificially cheap rice and other food crops from abroad, which was part of the point. The strategy was to create another market for American farmers while pushing Haiti’s labour force away from the fields and into factories. As president, Bill Clinton furthered this programme, creating massive surpluses of crops such as rice by extending hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies to US farmers. In Haiti, the result was that thousands upon thousands of farmers lost their land, but industrialisation never moved fast enough to replace their livelihoods.

Jacob Kushner

This older story about the failures of US-funded reconstruction programs in Haiti shows some parallels to the situation in Afghanistan: Unites States has invested heavily in both countries, but restructuring projects failed to become viable because they were mimicking the US model, without considering the local economy and the needs of the population.

A USAid distribution point in Port-au-Prince after the 2010 earthquake
A USAid distribution point in Port-au-Prince after the 2010 earthquake. Photograph: Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty

Another unexpected connection to present-day issues is how the WHO covered up a cholera outbreak in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. Similarly, last year the WHO delayed declaring the novel coronavirus a pandemic to protect Chinese interests, acting less as an independent, responsible body, and more like an organization controlled by the major world powers. While realistically it could not function without the cooperation and support of these powers, it has to show independent initiative and be able to correctly present facts to maintain some level of credibility.

In fair consideration of the first plot’s theory, the West has been responsible for its own stupid cover-ups. When a mysterious disease broke out in Haiti in October 2010, I had already inadvertently blogged about its cause: a cholera outbreak in Nepal, just before Nepali UN peacekeepers left to take up their post in Haiti’s Artibonite valley. The soldiers disposed of their shit in the Artibonite River, and thousands of Haitians died.

The Nepali connection was vigorously denied by the UN, its agent the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. Well, not exactly denied — the authorities kept saying, instead, that the origin of the outbreak didn’t matter. What mattered was that the cholera had to be contained.

Crawford Kilian

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