How Washington “Aids” Haiti

Against the Current, No. 54, January/February 1995

Dianne Feeley

HAITI — THE JEWEL in the crown of the French empire just 200 years ago, providing its sugar and coffee — is today the poorest country in the Americas:

* 93% of the countryside is deforested.

* The rate of infant mortality stands at 114 out of every 1,000 babies.

* 80% of the population is illiterate.

* 70% of the population are peasants, yet the country imports twice as much food as it exports.

* Before the 1990 coup, the average wage in the assemblies that ring Port-au-Prince was twelve cents an hour.

And now, after three years of a coup that grew increasingly more repressive, hundreds of thousands return from internal or external exile only to find the country looted. The agreement Carter brokered gave the coup leaders nearly a month to cart off what they had not used up. So when Aristide returned there were no doors left on the presidential palace or pipes in the bathroom, and certainly no computers in governmental offices or money in the treasury.

What has been the priority for President Clinton, who claims he has successfully restored democracy through a U.S. military occupation of the country? The U.S. media present the story without the historical context of U.S.-Haitian relations. It has been an unequal relationship in which Washington sets the terms.

But let’s imagine a policy that begins with Haiti’s needs. Given that Haiti is still a peasant society, there would be a series of measures to restore Haiti’s agricultural productiveness: reforestation projects, agricultural extension services, encouraging the production of food for local consumption, instituting land reform and easy credit to the small- and medium-sized farmer, organizing health and literacy programs, drastically reducing the bloated military spending, which eats up half the state budget.

Government’s role would be to provide infrastructure to carry out the necessary campaigns and to create a climate conducive to transforming a repressive society, built on 565 section chiefs and their thugs, into a democratic one.

The assembly industries that sprung up in the 1980s, producing textiles and clothing, sporting goods, electronics and pharmaceuticals would need to be replaced. Although they employed 100,000 people<197>paying the poorest wages in the hemisphere — the industry did not aid Haiti’s development. For every $100 invested, $80 was repatriated. In a transitional period, such industries could come on-line, but only under the conditions of recognizing the workers’ basic democratic right to organize and improve their wages and working conditions.

However, the country’s economic strategy would require an industry linked to the country’s agricultural production: processing its food and whatever additional products could be secured from its crops. The role of industry, therefore, would be to provide food for internal consumption as well as for export.

With this in mind, what was the provisional plan laid out last August by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund? This was a plan written in consultation from “relevant donors,” of which Washington is key:

* Eliminate 50% of all civil servants;

* Privatize public services;

* Slash tariffs and import restrictions, grant “emergency” aid to the export sector, enforce an “open foreign investment policy”;

* Create special corporate business courts “where the judges are more aware of the implications of their decisions for economic efficiency,” and

* Rewrite Haiti’s corporate laws in order to “limit the scope of state activity” and diminish the power of the executive branch in favor of the parliament.

For this, Haiti would receive $770 million in financing, $80 million of which would be matched by another $80 million of Haitian funds and earmarked as interest on the debt owned to international financial institutions.

Clearly the economic policy Clinton favors is highly political, a neoliberal one that requires Haiti to accept a “free market” economy. Just like all too many Third World countries in Central America and the Caribbean, Haiti is encouraged to export “exotic” fruits (like mangoes) and winter vegetables (broccoli, snow peas, etc.), to impose upon itself a sweatshop model of development along with the tourist trade. In the process, Haiti will be bound even more tightly to the United States — forced to purchase seeds and fertilizers from U.S. companies, and to use its technological expertise, its advertising. processing and marketing procedures, its standards of “perfection.”

Alan Nairn, in his excellent Nation articles, has alerted many to an understanding of how Washington finally got rid of the coup leaders (and long-time allies) while “retraining” the repressive forces that will lock the structural inequality into place.

Invisible Threads

I would like to call attention to the other side of the equation: how Washington will attempt to reorganize the economic order so that both peasants and working people continue to bear the brunt of the backbreaking work and indirect taxation, while tied more tightly to U.S.-based multinationals. It happens as a sleight-of-hand trick, often part of a “food for peace” program.

How fitting it is that the last major figure the paramilitary executed under the coup regime was that of Father Jean-Marie Vincent (8/29/94). During the mid-1980s Vincent worked with the Tèt Ansanm (“Heads Together”), an organization uniting 1,000 peasant groups, which called for land and tax reforms and fair prices. As head of Catholic Charity, Vincent was able to channel funding, tools and seeds to the peasant groups. Tèt Ansanm was therefore able to reject the U.S.-designed “food-for-work” and “food aid” schemes, instead organizing “popular kitchens” that used local produce.

In 1987, the Church hierarchy, acting in cahoots with both the General Namphy government and the U.S. Embassy, transferred Father Vincent away from the area. Shortly afterwards armed thugs killed at least 130 Tèt Ansanm members.

But Vincent maintained his ties to the peasant movement. At the time of his death he was establishing a cooperative so that peasants could sell their coffee crops directly to buyers, thus eliminating monopolists (such as the Brandt and Madsen families who control much of the coffee business). He was also responsible for the recent planting of thousands of rare fruit trees. As Haiti Info reported, “The site chosen was symbolic — Titanyen, the army’s traditional dumping group for the bodies of victims of repression.”

For its part, Washington has set aside $5 million in order to provide jobs for the worst torturers of the army and paramilitary forces — those who are so notorious that they can’t be “retrained.” Where will the jobs be? Look for them in the developmental programs established by U.S. AID — here they can acquire status, good jobs, and bury their intelligence operation until the time it will again be in demand.

As U.S. activists we need to develop links with the Haitian popular movement. Only its growth can block Washington’s scenario.

ATC 54, January-February 1995