Socialist Worker

Devastating storm hits poor in Haiti

by Ken Olende
Issue No. 2118

The Caribbean islands have been struck by three tropical storms – Gustav, Hanna and Ike – in the last three weeks.

According to the United Nations (UN) some 600 people have died in Haiti – which is occupied by UN troops – and 650,000 have been made homeless.

Yet the neighbouring island of Cuba rarely suffers deaths during tropical storms. As the storm fronts approached, more than 800,000 Cubans were evacuated from the coastal areas.

In the nearby Turks and Caicos islands the government opened shelters and brought in an emergency food shipment.

Haiti has suffered more than its neighbours, largely because of extreme poverty and related severe deforestation.

Some 70 percent of the population live on less than two dollars a day.

Most cooking is done with charcoal and the wood cutting required for this is partly responsible for the country’s deforestation.

Haiti’s “plant cover” is just 2 percent. In neighbouring Dominican Republic the figure is 30 percent.


This lack of cover, and subsequent soil erosion, makes the impact of severe flooding much worse.

Haitian Environment Minister Jean-Marie Claude Germain admitted that, in Haiti, “there’s no environment policy”.

Throughout the 1980s the US pursued a strategy of forcing the country to open its economy to the global market.

Since the overthrow of dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier in 1986, a series of US-sponsored military juntas have implemented neoliberal policies, slashing tariffs and allowing cheap imports to flood the Haitian market.

Structural adjustment programmes from the IMF and the World Bank have cut public spending in Haiti and increased poverty.

Trade liberalisation meant that food imports undercut local farmers, who were denied subsidies, and drove them off the land.

Between 1986 and 1989 the value of US agricultural exports to Haiti more than doubled from $44 million to $95 million.

A country that was once self-sufficient in food is now dependent on aid and remittances from Haiti’s large overseas community to stave off starvation.

These policies have made the country, in Haitian commentator Robert Fatton’s words, “the most open economy in the world”.

This cycle of debt and destruction is nothing new for Haitians.

Having been the first independent black republic, the new state was initially ignored for years, then forced to pay reparations to France, its former colonial ruler.

The country was made poorer by the descendents of slaves being forced to pay for the losses made when they freed themselves.

For all the wringing of hands from the West it has been Western intervention that has consistently made the situation worse.Ordinary Haitians, in contrast, have not sat back as the free market continues to devastate their country.

Food riots forced the prime minister to step down in April, but it was only last week that a new government was appointed.

As recently as 25 August demonstrators erected burning barricades in the southern city of Les Cayes to protest against rising food prices.

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Tue 9 Sep 2008, 18:55 BST
Issue No. 2118
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