I’ve been waiting for John Pilger to produce a piece on Haiti and when it came, it was approximately what I expected — some decent polemical material mixed with a vitriolic attack on America’s treatment of Haiti both historically and since the earthquake. Pilger consistently writes about the abuse of power and humanitarian injustices perpetrated by large rich nations over smaller, weaker countries. Haiti fits the bill perfectly here, having been screwed over many, many times – politically, economically, and now by nature.
The theft of Haiti has been swift and crude. On 22 January, the United States secured “formal approval” from the United Nations to take over all air and sea ports in Haiti, and to “secure” roads. No Haitian signed the agreement, which has no basis in law. Power rules in an American naval blockade and the arrival of 13,000 marines, special forces, spooks and mercenaries, none with humanitarian relief training.
Not for tourists is the US building its fifth biggest embassy in Port-au-Prince. Oil was found in Haiti’s waters decades ago and the US has kept it in reserve until the Middle East begins to run dry. More urgently, an occupied Haiti has a strategic importance in Washington’s “rollback” plans for Latin America. The goal is the overthrow of the popular democracies in Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador, control of Venezuela’s abundant oil reserves and sabotage of the growing regional cooperation that has given millions their first taste of an economic and social justice long denied by US-sponsored regimes.
Pilger’s information on oil reserves and other natural resources comes from an article published last year in Salon–“Oil in Haiti – Economic Reasons for the UN/US occupation”,– itself well worth a read.
But the following information was, to me, the key paragraph as it smacks of neo-colonialism, if not a modern analogue of slavery, ironic given the fact that Haiti was the first Western Hemisphere country to throw of the bonds of slavery:
When I was last in Haiti, I watched very young girls stooped in front of whirring, hissing, binding machines at the Port-au-Prince Superior Baseball Plant. Many had swollen eyes and lacerated arms. I produced a camera and was thrown out. Haiti is where America makes the equipment for its hallowed national game, for next to nothing. Haiti is where Walt Disney contractors make Mickey Mouse pyjamas, for next to nothing. The US controls Haiti’s sugar, bauxite and sisal. Rice-growing was replaced by imported American rice, driving people into the cities and towns and jerry-built housing.
The circumstances described here by Piger reminded me of another story about Haiti that I read several years ago and that deserves to be repeated, as it involves a historical wrong perpetrated by the U.S. that had far-reaching consequences for Haitian society and contributed to the conditions that now exist in Haiti. The full story can be found in a book called In the Devil’s Garden by Stewart Lee Allen.
This story takes place in the late 1970s to early 1980s, beginning in 1978 when African Swine Fever was detected in the neighbouring Dominican Republic. Swine Fever is not harmful to humans but it is fatal to 99% of pigs.
Fearful that the fever might spread to the U.S. mainland, the Americans decided that all pigs on the island needed to be eradicated. The thing is, however, that the small black pigs—the couchon-planche—farmed by the Haitians and which formed the backbone of Haiti’s meat-farming economy were largely immune to the fever and by the time the eradication programme got underway, the fever had already disappeared.
But the Americans went ahead anyway, promising to replace each and every Haitian pig killed with a big, fat, American pig that was three times the size of its Haitian counterpart.
So the cull took place, and as the book states, “Haiti’s last pig died on June 21st, 1983.”
Now the problems start, and once again Haiti is about to get fucked over, big time.
For a start, the small Haitian black pigs, perfectly adapted to their environment, needed very little in the way of maintenance, getting by on a scavenger-style diet that required little input from the pig farmer. The pigs lived on garbage, insects and excrement, acting as a natural vacuum cleaner of filth and as a natural insecticide. The almost pure profit derived from selling the pigs meant that farmers could afford to send their kids to school and buy medicine when needed.
The pig that the Americans were offering, however, was a specially bred, maintenance-heavy beast that required both a specialised diet and living conditions. These pigs “turned up their nose at anything less than a special vitamin enriched feed that cost $90 a year, more than half the average peasant’s annual income.”
Then, wouldn’t you know it, after the cull the Americans reneged on their deal (and they wonder why the world gets angry at them!), deciding only to supply pigs to farmers who installed concrete floors and special water systems for the pigs. Because of these onerous new conditions, very few pigs were handed over. Of those that were, none survived, as they were unable to cope with the Haitian heat.
School attendance immediately dropped by 25% because of the lack of pig money. Farmers tried to bring back the black pig but the anti-Communist authoritarian government had both the pigs and their owners executed as Communists. Within ten years, virtually every pig farmer was forced to sell the family farm and move to the city.
But wait, there’s more:
“It turns out that a year before the Americans had started pushing to exterminate the black pigs, their friends at the World Bank had been pressuring the Haitian government to shift the island’s economic focus from subsistence farming to growing crops for export. The idea was for corporations to take over the peasant farms and grow coffee and flowers, while the farmers moved to the cities to become splendidly desperate factory workers creating cheap goods for North American consumers. The peasants, however, had held their noses at the idea — Haiti was home to the first successful slave rebellion in the Western Hemisphere and the area’s first free black nation. So the idea of ending up on some white boy’s corporate plantation went against their grain. The World Bank’s plan, in fact, was going nowhere until the Yanks wiped out the pigs and “accidentally” destroyed the peasant economy. This forced farmers to sell their family plots, which multinationals grabbed up at bargain prices. Within a decade Haiti had switched from subsistence to an export economy. Staple food production decreased by 30%, and the urban population doubled.”
So, tragic mistake or deliberate action? One would like to think that the answer was tragic mistake, but the weight of historical evidence that has now been assembled with respect to destructive meddling by the United States, the World Bank, and the IMF in the economies of developing nations would seem to suggest otherwise.
Filed under: Economy, Nature, Science and Technology, Politics, War and Conflict Tagged: | Colonialism, Empire, Haiti, Haitian Black Pig, Historical wrong, In the Devil's Garden, Injustice, John Pilger, Stewart Lee Allen, USA