“They were under the heel of the French, you know Napoleon the third and whatever. And they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said ‘We will serve you if you will get us free from the prince.’ True story. And so the devil said, ‘Ok it’s a deal.’ And they kicked the French out. The Haitians revolted and got something themselves free. But ever since they have been cursed by one thing after another,”
Pat Robertson doesn’t know it, but he’s right. Haiti is involved with a devil of sorts. That devil is eternally cursing Haiti; sweeping in when the country is at its most vulnerable and working against its best interests. That devil is the United States.
The United States has been interfering in Haitian affairs since the very beginning. First it was a State Department supported move by American investors to take over Haiti’s national bank. Then Wilson’s subsequent nineteen year long occupation of Haiti with the sole interest of protecting those investors under which the US basically ran Haiti’s government for them. This was followed by a road building system, crafted by the US, which amounted to indentured servitude. Peasants would build roads in lieu of paying a tax. When the United States finally left Haiti, we left them with a $40,000,000 debt to us. Let’s break this down. We take over their national bank. When social unrest starts hurting American investment in the country, we invade and take over their government. Our officials acting as their government take a loan from us for them and we leave them with the debt.
This debt, continuous social unrest and overall lack of true independence put Haiti in a never ending unstable position. This worked out perfectly, though, for the International Monetary Fund (IMF) which preys on unstable third world countries to globalize the reach of multinational corporations and foster market/state relations which advance corporatist agendas and undermine democracy and the common good. Is it any wonder that corrupt leaders took structured IMF loans? The United States can hardly keep tabs on where Pentagon money is being spent. How easy do you think it is for Haitian leaders to cut some favors and pocket the cash?
How do the global capitalist elite win? The IMF tells Haiti that they can receive “aid” (loans) if they drastically change up their economic policy. Haiti agrees not to subsidize their farmers (despite the fact that their agricultural sector is enormously important to their economy). They agree to open up their borders to foreign investors. They agree to drop tariffs on imports. So, what happens?
Well, first world countries aren’t held to the same standard as third world countries. They can subsidize the heck out of anything they please. They can set tariffs, close borders, tighten health and safety standards and even embargo countries they disagree with. So, when the US subsidizes rice (a former cash crop in Haiti) it can sell it way below it’s actual value. This is called dumping and other countries aren’t allowed to do it, so says the IMF. Haitian farmers (lacking subsidies) are now entirely exposed to the foreign rice market. They have to compete with US agribusiness but can only do so with what’s in their pockets. They’re not backed by a wealthy state. Naturally, they go out of business. It becomes too costly to even maintain their farms and so they sell their property to foreign investors. While all of this is going on, US corporations are setting up sweatshops in urban centers across Haiti. Farmers, now jobless and likely homeless, flock to these urban centers to find work (think of the Industrial Revolution). The only difference is that Haitians can’t afford to purchase the products they’re making in these sweatshops due to abysmal wages and living conditions. The majority of what is produced is exported to first world nations and the profit is pocketed by foreign investors and maybe, just maybe, a handful of Haitian elite. Haiti doesn’t benefit. Period.
If I may, I want to talk a little bit about the multiplier effect which is present in first world urban centers but missing in countries suffering under neo-liberal colonialism. When you work in your community, you create value. This value is measured in money. Normally, the goods you help produce and sell go to people within the community and the money comes back to you and your co-workers who, in turn, spend that money within the community. This creates a circulation of capital in which the community becomes a real market place where independent businesses can thrive as well as services. You’ll find everything from coffee shops to law offices in most communities and these types of businesses are able to remain afloat due to the local circulation of capital. This doesn’t happen in Haiti for exactly the reasons listed above. Haitian sweatshop workers are making less than enough to actually survive. They can’t afford legal advice or coffee shops. They can barely afford to live. They don’t live paycheck to paycheck, they live penny to penny, hour by hour. There is no community. Only slavery.
So, in the wake of this current tragedy, is it any wonder that the IMF is swooping in with $100,000,000 in structured loans for Haiti? This is stacking debt on top of debt with the sole purpose of maintaining control of them. Some of the stipulations for receiving the loan? Freeze public service sector wages (y’know- doctors and nurses. People you don’t really need during a crisis). Raise the price for electricity. Hold down inflation (this means less government spending… During a crisis).
So, Peep The Strategy:
Aid is aid. Loans are loans. Loans are not aid. I really don’t have much to say here. There is no strategy short of dismantling institutions like the IMF and dethroning the corporate elite. This is not to say that all hope is lost but rather that it’s going to take a complete overhaul in how we view politics and economics before we can take out the trash and rebuild the world as we see fit. Oh, yeah, and Obama’s an IMF cohort. Don’t be fooled.