Information about the situation in Haiti. Vatican Radio service.*
Informacje o sytuacji na Haiti.Serwis Radia Watykańskiego.**
Informations sur la situation en Haïti, service de radio du Vatican.***
Informacja pomiędzy 8min 37 do 10 min 47. nagrania
You may have seen recent headlines on the current situation in Haiti. One featured the phrase “There is no hope,” the other asked, “Does anyone care?” As someone who lived in Haiti for years, travels there frequently, has two Haitian-American sons, and currently works to raise support for an extraordinary group of local leaders in the country, these headlines made me physically cringe.
You’d be hard-pressed to come up with two phrases that better encapsulate the narrative that those of us who know, love, and advocate for Haiti are working to fight against. That said, the content of the pieces themselves was not sensationalist, reductionist or lazy. There’s been no earthquake or hurricane, but Haiti is truly in crisis.
The crisis is ostensibly about fuel and corruption. In 2006, under a program called PetroCaribe, Haiti’s government began to take advantage of oil subsidies offered by Venezuela. Under the program, the government purchased oil, paid 60% upfront, and deferred the remaining 40% for up to 25 years. A condition of the subsidy was that the money saved be spent on programs benefitting the struggling population of Haiti. The majority of those funds were stolen or misused, and people in Haiti are angry. A potent and disorganized opposition has paralyzed the country to demand that the president, who’s been implicated in the scandal, resign. The president refuses. The country suffers.
I speak to friends in Haiti daily, both in Port-au-Prince and in the rural city I now work in, Petit Trou de Nippes. For most, “normal” conditions are what we would consider poverty — as you know if you’ve ever read an article about Haiti, it is rarely separated from its sad moniker, “the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.” Even so, usually these conversations are not about poverty or desperation. They are about birthday parties, or grandma’s health, or about how school is going. Lately, though they are fearful, and mostly about a looming food crisis.
Over 60% of Haiti’s food is imported. This is problematic for several reasons, the most relevant of which is that it makes Haiti extremely vulnerable to inflation. Haiti’s currency has lost 50% of its value in the past two years and people can not afford to feed their families.
What do we in the U.S. have to do with this? A lot, in fact.
U.S. foreign policy beginning in 1981 effectively decimated large sections of Haiti’s agriculture industry by dumping large amounts of subsidized American rice onto the country. In 2010, as U.N. Special Envoy to Haiti, President Bill Clinton said the following of U.S. policy towards Haiti, “it may have been good for some of my farmers in Arkansas, but it has not worked. It was a mistake. I have to live every day with the consequences of the lost capacity to produce a rice crop in Haiti to feed those people, because of what I did.” In a subsequent interview, he called it a “devil’s bargain,” and added that the policy has “failed everywhere it’s been tried” and that it “undermined a lot of the culture, the fabric of life, the sense of self-determination” of the country.
There is a long history of political unrest in Haiti. There is an even longer tradition of grassroots, community-based agriculture and of cooperative models wherein Haitian people look out for their neighbors. We should invest in this history. Just because we can’t solve Haiti’s political crisis does not mean there’s no role to play.
The Colorado Haiti Project is providing dedicated assistance through locally-led initiatives designed to help people survive the crisis in a way that fits with a long-term, community-based approach. A community response fund will go to small farmers working in a co-op model, to providing health workers discretionary funds to help those at greatest risk in their communities, and to giving loans to families as part of a community savings bank.