Friday, April 11, 2008

Haiti News Bulletin: Rapid Rise in Food Prices Spark Mass Demonstrations and Rebellion

Anger over hunger in Haiti bursts out

By G. Dunkel
Published Apr 10, 2008 8:53 PM

For the past few months poor Haitians have been calling the hunger that they feel every day “Clorox,” because it is so painful that it feels like they have drunk bleach.

After weekly demonstrations in Port-au-Prince and elsewhere against rapidly rising prices of basic necessities and gasoline, the growing anger at these desperate circumstances spilled into the streets.

It began April 3, in Les Cayes, the third largest city in Haiti, about 125 miles south of Port-au-Prince. Five thousand people set up barricades of burning tires and wrecked cars, stopped at least two food trucks carrying rice, distributed the rice to the crowd and attacked a United Nations compound.

Sonia Jeanty, 32, told the Haiti Information Project during a telephone interview from Les Cayes: “We are hungry and have given up on the U.N. and the Préval government to help us. After all the money they have spent here, most of us are eating only one meal a day. It’s unacceptable, especially as we hear the U.N. trying to tell us every day on the radio that things have gotten better. It’s a lie!”

The U.N. and the U.S. have spent around $2 billion in Haiti in the past four years trying to stabilize the situation after the last coup against President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. While the U.N. runs the show in Haiti, it’s the U.S., with the active cooperation of Canada and France, that calls the shots.

More people came out in Les Cayes April 4 and again attacked the U.N. compound. The U.N. soldiers, mostly from Uruguay, fired on protesters who tore down a wall and attacked two U.N. trucks. Four protesters were killed and 20 were injured, according to Sen. Gabriel Fortune, who represents the area in Haiti’s parliament.

Local television network Tele Caramel showed a dead person close to the U.N. base in Les Cayes. Schools, stores and banks remained closed in Les Cayes on both days.

Also on April 4, hundreds of people demonstrated against high prices and hunger in the northwestern port city of Gonaives. U.N. workers there were evacuated to a police base, although the protests in Gonaives remained mainly peaceable. Five people in Gonaives, according to the Haitian Press Agency, were injured by rocks when protesters demanded a school let its students out.

In Petit-Goave, a small city 45 miles south of Port-au-Prince, demonstrators closed schools, but the cops kept them from attacking public buildings. They were, however, able to beat up the mayor.

For the past few months a group called Aba Satan (which is Creole for “Down with Satan”) from Cité Soleil, has been holding demonstrations in front of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry demanding the government lower the price of gasoline and basic foodstuffs. The response of the government has been, “Haiti doesn’t produce petroleum; we can’t subsidize its price.”

Aba Satan told the ministry head, Magguy Durce, that she should lower the taxes on these items even if that would cause the World Bank to stop congratulating Haiti for its “remarkable results.”

As production in the world’s economy spirals down and price inflation spirals up, the big capitalists use all their powers to protect their investments by shifting the burden onto their working classes and onto countries like Haiti.

Haiti’s farmers were bankrupted by the free food coming from all the aid programs over the past 20 years. The pressure of the IMF and World Bank for Haiti to only make “profitable” investments has kept it from developing its tremendous agricultural potential.

Of the 420,000 tonnes of rice Haitians consume yearly, 340,000 tonnes are imported. Of the 31 million eggs the Haitian population eats monthly, 30 million are imported from the Dominican Republic. About 80 percent of farmers earn less than 135 dollars a year.

These types of protests have overthrown Haitian governments in the past. If President Préval and Prime Minister Alexis don’t do anything concrete—other than demanding respect for private property—they are going to face more serious mass protests.
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View from Haiti: Aid worker

Prospery Raymond, Christian Aid's representative in Haiti, reports on the food riots that have plunged this troubled nation into crisis.

It is getting very serious now. The stores are all closed and my family is running out of food.

Even my six-year-old daughter knows that people are being killed on the streets. She has heard the shots and the rioters breaking windows.

Now the schools are closed, the markets are closed, and yesterday the airport closed for international flights - everyone is shut up at home.

People are hungry and angry. There are food stocks in the dock but the importers cannot get them out.

Looters are everywhere. They have even stormed a UN warehouse that was stockpiling emergency food rations in preparation for this year's hurricane season.

The staple foods in Haiti are rice and beans.

We used to grow enough to feed ourselves, but most of our rice is imported from the US now and prices have shot beyond people's reach.

A cup of rice costs about 50 gourdes. For those who are earning - and most are not - the average daily wage is only about 35 gourdes.

We still grow beans ourselves but last year's disasters, Hurricane Dean and Tropical Storm Noel, destroyed a lot of the harvest.

It is raining now in the north-west, and farmers should be planting their beans.

But because there is no food, they have already eaten the grain and beans that they would have used as seed.

If our farmers cannot plant now, they will harvest nothing and the crisis will simply roll on for another year. They need seeds urgently.

Christian Aid's local partner is monitoring the situation in the north-west, and is hoping to provide corn, beans, sorghum and pistachio seeds to about 2,000 farmers here.

If they plant now, they will have food again in a few months' time.

Rice does not grow well in the north-west, but in the areas where it does, the government too should be distributing seeds.

Supporting our rice farmers is vital, both immediately and in the longer term.

So far, the government has done little to address the problem.

They urgently need to import food and start subsidising rice and beans. Lowering the price of petrol, as an emergency measure, would also help.

Ultimately, Haiti needs to do more to support its own producers.

We import 30 million eggs a month from the Dominican Republic, and only produce one million ourselves.

This year there was an outbreak of bird flu in the DR, and our government banned all chicken and egg imports.

It is not good for a country as poor as ours to be so wholly reliant on buying in food, because when international prices rise, or disease strikes, people cannot eat.

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2008/04/10 22:08:10 GMT

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