Food riots in Haiti caused the deaths of five people last week, including a UN peacekeeper, and forced the country’s prime minister out of office. The country is "a place of terrible turmoil," Raj Patel, of UC-Berkeley’s Center for African Studies, tells The Real News Network. Patel, author of Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System, lays the blame for Haiti‘s dire situation at the feet of the global trade system, which has forced Haitians to buy imported food staples, despite the existence of a once-robust agricultural economy.
VOICEOVER: Brazilian soldiers handed out food to the residents of a shantytown in Haiti on Tuesday in the calm after the rioting over food prices.
HAITIAN WOMAN (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): I’m happy that the Brazilian soldiers are giving food; we have a terrible food situation in this country.
VOICEOVER: No country has escaped the effects of escalating wheat and rice prices. The poor nations like Haiti have been hardest hit. The Real News spoke to Raj Patel, author of Stuffed and Starved: Markets, Power and the Hidden Battle for the World Food System, about the factors driving the food crisis in Haiti.
RAJ PATEL, AUTHOR, "STUFFED AND STARVED": Haiti at the moment is a place of incredible turmoil. For months, people in Haiti have been going hungry. There have been stories of people there eating mud cakes, cakes made of margarine and soil and salt, to keep hunger at bay. The recent rises, particularly in the price of rice, have tipped people over the edge. And last week, five people were killed in protests: four protesters and a UN peacekeeper. And over the weekend, the prime minister of Haiti was voted out of office by a special session of the Senate. There’s such endemic poverty that people can’t afford to eat. That poverty is a result in part of US policy and in part to do with the economic policy of the regime in Haiti. In ’94-’95, there was a coup against President Aristide. Bill Clinton made a deal, saying, "Look, Aristide, we’ll get you back in power, but only if you liberalize your economy." And so this means, very specifically, getting rid of tariff protections around wheat and around rice. Farmers are being absolutely driven out of business by US rice that comes with subsidies and with all kinds of agri-, you know, support policies. And the tragedy is that we need farmers now more than ever. There are ways of buying food locally as food aid and distributing it locally. That’s a much better short-term solution than shipping things all the way from Canada. But in the medium term, policies that support local agricultural production and that allow people on low incomes to access food effectively are the kinds of policies that are required. And, unfortunately, those are the kinds of policies that are illegal under the World Trade Organization rules as they stand at the moment. The reason that you haven’t been hearing the World Bank, for example, sounding the alarm about this is that the World Bank has been precisely responsible for generating the kinds of free trade economic policies that have led to this situation. And I find it profoundly ironic that the response of the head of the World Bank, a man called Robert Zoellick, is it’s absolutely urgent that we liberalize trade even further, so that food is available to poor people. [Inaudible] this as an opportunity to further deliver the same medicine that sent this message in the first place. In the international aid agencies, it was inconceivable that we could be going down a road that looked different from a basic neoliberal strategy. As a result of that and a result of policies that make markets freer, we’re seeing the market doing exactly as it should and discriminating against people who can’t afford to eat.
Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.
Thursday April 17th, 2008