Violence and tensions have mounted in recent weeks in Haiti. The poor poured out of Haiti's slums into the streets of the country's major cities in a desperate political act to exclaim to the world the misery that has befallen our Hemisphere's most impoverished nation.
In a virtually unprecedented act, the poor peacefully marched on the palace where President Preval was working with the cry, "Nap grangou"—"We are hungry." Years of neglect and hypocrisy have brought Haiti to this newest low. On April 25, a high level donor meeting will take place to discuss aid and economic initiatives in Haiti.
Prices for rice, corn, cooking oil and other essential products have jumped by 50 percent to 100 percent. Oil and gas prices have skyrocketed, exacerbating food insecurity. As we in the United States struggle to fill up our gas tanks, imagine the situation for poor and small business in Haiti.
Local farmers have been devastated for years by deforestation, lack of infrastructure weakening their ability to provide food for the country. The weakening of the infrastructure is a direct result of the dumping of products, including rice, by multinational corporations and U.S. agro-business, leading to the displacement of local farmers who could not compete with the cheap products.
Haiti is a country that is not poor. It is a country that has been made poor. The proverb "Bay kou bliye, pote mak sonje" the giver of the blow forgets, the bearer of the scar remembers, describes the sham amnesia of the international community about its relationship to Haiti's poverty and the understanding Haitians have of the current condition of their nation. Haitians have every right to hold the international community responsible for their current condition. The birth of this revolutionary nation was met with utter disdain and institutionalized racism.
Haiti was forced by the international community to repay France for the loss of its slaves and its colony. Fast forward to the 20th century and beyond, the United States and its allies turned a blind eye to human abuses and blatant corruption throughout the Duvalier dictatorships. When a military coup d'etat removed the first democratically elected president, Jean Betrand Aristide, the United States welcomed it and ignored the deaths of democracy advocates for three years at the hands of the military.
When democracy was restored, Haiti was forced to open its markets even further to cheap imports, workers' rights were ignored and government services were slashed. President Aristide's attempts to slow these liberalizations during his second term led to a defacto humanitarian aid embargo, halting aid from regional and international donors.
When a coup d'etat was mounted against Aristide again, the puppet interim government cracked down on democracy advocates and sped up U.S. economic policies.
It is these policies that have made Haiti so very vulnerable to the fluctuations in the world's economies. As the high level donors prepare for April 25, they must do so quickly to undue two centuries of bad policies toward Haiti:
• Haiti's debt must be relieved now: while Haitians starve, the Haitian government is forced to pay almost $1 million per week to international donors in services to odious debts, most of which are loans from U.S.-backed dictatorships. This money could be used to alleviate poverty and build infrastructure to benefit Haiti not international interest.
• International donors must be clear how much of the "aid" attributed to helping Haiti is really helping Haiti. International institutions, governments, even large NGOs have huge overhead costs and a significant portion of aid money returns back to the host countries in salaries and contracts. Real aid would support Haitians finding their own indigenous solutions.
• President Preval's call for investment in internal agricultural structures is a good one. The international community should pay for it and allow the Haitian government and the people to determine that structure.
• President Preval has requested Temporary Protected Status for Haitians currently in the United States who are deemed deportable. President Bush must act quickly to grant this status. Deportees are a huge strain on Haiti's fragile infrastructure because many deportees' families actually live in the United States.
As stated earlier, Haiti is not a poor country. Haiti is made poor by international policies that continue to cripple the country politically and economically. The time has come for people of good will and good conscience to demand an end to centuries of abuse of one of the hemisphere's most vulnerable nations.
Nicole C. Lee is the Executive Director of TransAfrica Forum. (NNPA)