Monday, April 21, 2008

America's Role in Haiti's Hunger Riots

Go to TruthOut original
by Bill Quigley
Riots in Haiti over explosive rises in food costs have claimed the lives of six people. There have also been food riots worldwide in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cote d'Ivorie, Egypt, Guinea, Mauritania, Mexico, Morocco, Senegal, Uzbekistan and Yemen.

The Economist, which calls the current crisis the silent tsunami, reports that last year wheat prices rose 77 percent and rice 16 percent, but since January rice prices have risen 141 percent. The reasons include rising fuel costs, weather problems, increased demand in China and India, and the push to create biofuels from cereal crops.

Hermite Joseph, a mother working in the markets of Port-au-Prince, told journalist Nick Whalen that her two kids are "like toothpicks - they're not getting enough nourishment. Before, if you had $1.25, you could buy vegetables, some rice, 10 cents of charcoal and a little cooking oil. Right now, a little can of rice alone costs 65 cents, and is not good rice at all. Oil is 25 cents. Charcoal is 25 cents. With $1.25, you can't even make a plate of rice for one child."

The St. Claire's Church Food program, in the Tiplas Kazo neighborhood of Port-au-Prince, serves 1,000 free meals a day, almost all to hungry children - five times a week in partnership with the What If Foundation. Children from Cité-Soleil have been known to walk the five miles to the church for a meal. The costs of rice, beans, vegetables, a little meat, spices, cooking oil and propane for the stoves, have gone up dramatically. Because of the rise in the cost of food, the portions are now smaller. But hunger is on the rise, and more and more children come for the free meal. Hungry adults used to be allowed to eat the leftovers once all the children were fed, but now there are few leftovers.

The New York Times lectured Haiti on April 18 that "Haiti, its agriculture industry in shambles, needs to better feed itself." Unfortunately, the article did not talk at all about one of the main causes of the shortages - the fact that the US and other international financial bodies destroyed Haitian rice farmers to create a major market for heavily subsidized rice from US farmers. This is not the only cause of hunger in Haiti and other poor countries, but it is a major force.

Thirty years ago, Haiti raised nearly all the rice it needed. What happened?


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