Haitian youth engage in mass demonstrations and rebellion after the western imperialist-imposed financial policies have created a rapid rise in the price of food and other consumer goods during April of 2008.
Originally uploaded by Pan-African News Wire File Photos
By Deirdre Griswold
Published Apr 24, 2008 2:13 AM
When hungry people rebel in the streets over the high cost of food, it is only because they have tried every other way to feed their families—and come up with nothing.
That is what is happening around the world today—in so many countries that those whose economic policies have created this situation are truly alarmed. When the problem was just hunger, it was very, very low on their agenda. But now that the problem is seen as one of “social instability,” the huge transnational corporations that control the world market know their “bottom line” could be severely affected.
The U.N.’s World Food Program released a report in mid-April estimating that 800 million people are going hungry every day around the globe and malnutrition is rampant. Many explanations are being given for why, suddenly, so many people are in a dire situation of “food insecurity” after so many promises that the “green revolution” pushed by agribusiness would end world hunger forever.
Some point out that a huge and growing area of rich cropland is now producing crops for biofuel—in other words, to fuel cars, buses and trucks instead of to feed people. Others say it’s because the earth’s population is getting too large.
However, the same WFP report says that food production has been rising along with population and enough food is grown to feed everyone in the world. Yet hundreds of millions just can’t afford to eat.
Was there any warning that a crisis like this was coming?
Absolutely. In fact, people who study food production in the developing world have been literally pleading with the rich imperialist countries—especially the U.S.—to change their policies.
For example, as long ago as 1999 Sophia Murphy of the Institute for Agricultural and Trade Policy wrote an article on “WTO, Agricultural Deregulation and Food Security,” in which she concluded that “Those who face persistent hunger in the world do not have the money to exercise effective demand in a ‘free’ market. ... Nobody needs to go hungry—each person that does is the victim of conscious policy choices and policy failures.”
What Murphy, and others who work in various organizations trying to mitigate the effects of the “free market,” are referring to are the Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs) imposed by the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization on poor countries. These institutions are controlled by the banks and corporations in the rich imperialist countries and do what’s best for them, even though their stated mission is to help the development of poorer countries by loaning them money—at interest, of course.
It is a measure of the enormous injustice incorporated into international agreements that the very countries plundered of their resources during centuries of colonialism are now in the category of “debtor nations.” They are up to their ears in debt and have been forced by these international imperialist institutions to accept the most onerous “adjustment” to their economies just to be able to participate in any commerce or trade.
In fact, in this era of neocolonialism, it is the banks and the transnationals that keep the people of the oppressed nations enslaved. This arrangement is usually more satisfactory for the exploiters than direct rule, although the U.S. is now attempting to reconquer in the old colonial way countries like Iraq that exerted some real sovereignty.
The SAPs were pushed on the poorest countries in the world beginning in the 1980s. That was a time when the vigor of the Third World national liberation movements was waning, along with the aid that had been given developing countries by the Soviet Union and China, whose socialist commitments had been worn down by the unrelenting pressures and costs of the Cold War.
There were two main focuses to the SAPs: privatization and deregulation.
To continue to get loans so they could pay their “debt” and hopefully have something left over, the poor countries had to sell off what had belonged to the state: natural resources, airports, land, even water.
They also had to end import tariffs that had protected their farmers against the inflow of cheap agricultural products—especially products from the U.S., where grains in particular can be grown very cheaply because of abundant land and modern technology.
In Mexico, for example, the flooding in of cheap corn after the implementation of NAFTA ruined millions of small farmers, many of whom have lost their lands and must emigrate to the U.S. in order to get work.
Under the SAPs, countries also have had to eliminate subsidies and price controls that helped keep food affordable for the people.
The imperialist bankers forced all this on the developing countries in order to squeeze out of them even more immense profits and to take over the reins of their economies. The result has been that, where once these countries were fairly self-sufficient in food, much of their agricultural land has now been taken over by transnationals, which produce cash crops for export.
Flowers, palm oil for biofuel, cattle for the huge hamburger chains, and costly fruits and vegetables for export year-round to the colder and more affluent countries of the North are replacing the indigenous crops that had provided a balanced diet for most of the people.
The structural adjustment programs have completely broken down the sovereignty of those countries drawn into their web. Economic decisions are not made in-country, as the military say, but in the boardrooms on Wall Street and its European and Japanese equivalents.
There will undoubtedly be many more studies that show how cruel and unsustainable is the new world order created by imperialist globalization. What will end this nightmare, however, is the revolutionary action of the popular masses. The food rebellions are a signal of their desperation but also of their hope and belief in their own power.
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