Three Years Later Round-up: Clinton Edition

January 15, 2013

Haiti marked the third anniversary of the 2010 earthquake on Saturday. The LA Times’ Tracy Wilkinson reported:

In simple ceremonies Saturday in and around the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince, President Michel Martelly laid a wreath at a mass grave and, earlier, called on his countrymen and women to remember, persevere and move on. He was joined by former U.S. President Clinton, a U.N. special envoy to Haiti.

“Haitian people, hand in hand, we remember what has gone,” Martelly said against a backdrop of a Haitian flag at half-staff and Cabinet members dressed in mourning black, according to the Associated Press. 

Clinton told the Reuters news agency that though some progress has been made, particularly in rebuilding airports and roads, “we still need a lot more infrastructure work.”

“From my point of view, keeping the investment coming in, dealing with the housing and unlocking the education, those are the things I’d like to see real progress on this year,” Clinton said.

As Democracy Now noted, Clinton was questioned about the U.N.’s responsibility for bringing the cholera epidemic to Haiti:

Reporter: “And cholera? What about — you’ve said the U.N. introduced cholera to Haiti. Do you think they should be liable for all of those deaths? There’s nearly 8,000 people who have been killed.”

Bill Clinton: “I think that’s a decision someone else has to make now. I think the most important thing is that the U.N. asked Paul Farmer to oversee the response. We’ve got the infection and mortality rate cut in half, and I think it can be contained, so I’m encouraged by that.”

Speaking of Bill Clinton, Foreign Policy magazine has taken a cue from Clinton’s now (in)famous mea culpa that U.S. food aid policy “may have been good for some of my farmers in Arkansas,” but also resulted in the “lost capacity to produce a rice crop” in Haiti – something we’ve examined on this blog before. Maura O’Connor reports from Stuttgart, Arkansas, where:

…the farm bill has been a tremendous source of anxiety over the last year. For rice farmer Dow Brantley, the consequences are huge. Cuts to subsidy programs would take away his safety net and the risk of growing rice would become prohibitive, forcing him to turn his fields to corn or soybeans. “There’s a lot of fear in the countryside,” he said.

O’Connor notes that cutting the subsidies might have hurt Arkansas farmers, but could have helped their Haitian counterparts:

…for the last year a piece of U.S. legislation that could have arguably changed the playing field for Haiti’s farmers has been stalled in Washington, D.C. A new $500 billion, five-year farm bill that might have cut subsidies to American rice farmers was never passed. And in the final hours of 2012, politicians extended the old one for another nine months.

The move effectively kicked the can down the road for changes to America’s decades-old agricultural policies — changes that could represent the first challenge to the “devil’s bargain” Haiti and Arkansas have been a part of for so long.

It is a “devil’s bargain,” because, as O’Connor writes:

Since 1995, when it dropped its import tariffs on rice from 50 to 3 percent as part of a structural adjustment program run by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank, Haiti has steadily increased its imports of rice from the north. Today it is the fifth-largest importer of American rice in the world despite having a population of just 10 million. Much of Haiti’s rice comes from Arkansas; each year, Riceland Foods and Producers Rice Mill send millions of tons of rice down the Mississippi river on barges to New Orleans, where the rice is loaded onto container ships, taken to port in Haiti, and packaged as popular brands such as Tchaco or Mega Rice. Haiti today imports over 80 percent of its rice from the United States, making it a critical market for farmers in Arkansas.

This was after, following the end of Haiti’s revolution in 1804:

Shut out of global markets, Haiti’s farmers managed to survive, feeding the population and producing trade surpluses into the 20th century. Throughout the 1970s, Haiti imported a mere 19 percent of its food. The regimes of François Duvalier and his son Jean-Claude (“Baby Doc”) Duvalier had abysmal human rights records, but they largely protected farmers from foreign competition by instituting virtual bans on foreign food with tariffs that neared 100 percent. The country was self-sufficient when it came to rice production in part because Haitians only ate rice two or three times a week as part of a diverse diet that included corn and sorghum.

Open markets, virtually no access to banks and credit, and a lack of private and public sector investment made it impossible for Haitian farmers to thrive. Today, most farmers have an income level of just $400 per year and they view the policies that brought them to this state as not just bad economics for Haitians, but also as an ongoing assault by foreigners on their cultural independence.

In a related op-ed for The Guardian, Jonathan Katz writes on U.S. motivations behind food, and other “aid”:

Addressing an audience of wealthy New Yorkers, [Secretary of State Hillary Clinton] laid out a vision of what the US is trying to accomplish in the world; it was very telling for those trying to understand foreign aid – and its younger, hipper cousin, investment.

Clinton told the audience: “Our problems have never respected dividing lines between global economics and international diplomacy. And neither can our solutions.” That is why, she explained, she has put “economic statecraft” at the heart of the US foreign policy agenda. Clinton further defined how the US can use “the forces and tools of global economics” to bolster American “diplomacy and presence” abroad and to strengthen the economy at home. She argued that America should “put economics at the center” of its foreign policy. In foreign relations, the question should always be “how will this affect our economic growth?”

A superpower such as the US would, of course, always consider its domestic interests, especially economic ones, when it acts abroad. But we tend to forget this whenever the conversation turns to a specific circumstance – the intervention in one war instead of another, or the way we choose to respond to a humanitarian crisis abroad.

Take the 2010 Haiti earthquake. Clinton herself said in the wake of the disaster that it was necessary to work with Haiti’s government and not go around it by supporting NGOs or foreign-government projects as had been done destructively in the past. Bill Clinton remarked in March 2010 that a policy of importing huge amounts of heavily subsidised US rice and other grain into the impoverished country, which undercut Haitian farmers and drove families into poverty, had to change. Yet none of the US humanitarian funds spent in Haiti after the quake, and only about 1% of the longer-term recovery funds, went to the government. And the food policy remains unaddressed.

As CEPR Co-Director Mark Weisbrot noted in a statement last week, one proposal that could have supported Haitian farmers and helped provide food assistance to people who needed it never went far policy makers in Washington: “Some 2.1 million people now live in severe food insecurity in Haiti, up from 800,000 in 2011,” Weisbrot said. “The U.S. Congress had an opportunity after the quake to support Haitian farmers by buying up their crops as part of U.S. food aid, but this proposal went nowhere.”

Amy Wilentz meanwhile writes in The Nation of another Clinton-linked initiative: the Royal Oasis hotel, the name of which is laden with disturbing symbolism:

The “five-star” Royal Oasis is a violation of human decency. Not because it’s big and luxurious in a desperately poor country, although it is that: it has 128 rooms, five restaurants, five bars, a conference center, an art gallery and an upscale shopping mall. But the indecent, depraved thing about it is that—amazingly, astoundingly—its construction was financed in part by grants from organizations ostensibly providing post-earthquake reconstruction funds: $7.5 million from the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation went to the Oasis project, as well as $2 million from the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund, the recovery group headed by former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. (Having funded the Oasis, among other enterprises, the Clinton Bush fund announced that it was ceasing operations at the end of 2012.) The Royal Oasis is one of the few post-quake projects that have come to fruition, unlike dozens of housing and school construction projects. 

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