By: Wadner Pierre – HaitiAnalysis.com
Amongst the poor in Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti, the lack of affordable food is becoming a mounting problem.
On tap-taps, colorfully decorated automobiles used for transportation by the poor, one can hear this discussion daily. Conversations on the tap-taps are referred to as “Radio thirty two”.
Many poor Haitians have taken to referring meanwhile to hunger as “Klorox”, a reference to a bleach which can kill people if enough of it is swallowed. Riding the tap-tap one hears references to “Klorox” when people mean hunger, a code word to mask the daily misery.
Recently, international headlines have paid attention to hunger in Haiti, where people resort to eating mud pies.
During the 1980s, due to pressure from the United States government, the dictatorship of Jean-Claude Duvalier wiped out the creole pigs (porca) that were indigenous to Haiti. After that catastrophic policy, peasants struggled more than ever to feed their children and to take them to school. The pigs were crucial to the rural economy, the “bank account” of the peasants. The problems were compounded by neo-liberal policies first implemented by the military government of Henry Namphy and continually pressured upon the country over the following decades.
Trade liberalization meant that food imports undercut farmers who were also denied the means to invest in their production.
In recent months students and civil society groups have demanded the government place its focus on rebuilding the rural economy. But most of the government reforms have thus far been superficial. In March 2008 Jacques Edouard Alexis, the Prime Minister of Haiti, invited the United States’ first lady Laura Bush to visit Haiti. This occurred just after Forbes magazine classified Haiti as among the most violent countries, just beneath Afghanistan and Iraq. Mr. Alexis hoped that the visit would improve the image of Haiti in the world. “When a magazine like Forbes classed Haiti in the 4th position after Iraq and Afghanistan for example, this visit should give Haiti a chance to present a different image of what we used to see”, he explained.
While the government continues to work to improve the image of the country, the lasting changes needed to propel a rural economy and social investment programs are null and void. In the Artibonite�s Valley and the Cayes� Valley-two places that could potentially supply all of Haiti with rice-a breadbasket for the country-the government has not proceeded with improving to any large extent.
According to many Haitians, even poor who rely on cheap foreign rice, developing the countries potential is what the government needs to do. Haitians living in the United States are also advocating a multi-pronged program to revitalize the rural economy.
And in Port-au-Prince it is more common now to hear outrage on the streets over the matter. Merisma Jean-Claudel, a young high school graduate from Port-au-Prince explained over the phone “…people can�t buy food. Gasoline prices are going up. It is very hard for us over here. The cost of living is the biggest worry for us, no peace in stomach means no peace in the mind.
Although, many can�t pay taxi or tap-tap fares just from Delmas to the downtown of Port-Au-Prince, I wonder if others will be able to survive the days ahead because things are very, very hard. It is imperative that the government reopen food banks to save lives. In 2003 they had food banks in the popular districts. Now they are closed. The government must reopen them if they don’t want people to die.” Endy, an adult Haitian man, observed �It is really impossible to live. I can�t drive to go to my work. I am pretty sure that things must be changed because they can�t stay like that. People must be able to get a daily plate. They die from hunger. That is the headlines news in almost all the media in the Haitian Capital now �.
He added �The non-profit organizations can�t keep up. They are overwhelmed” and he added many could even close their doors or leave at any time. Their is a sense of desperation and urgency amongst the poor but a will never to give up. Attempts by popularly elected Haitian governments to create sustainable sovereign programs have been crushed, by embargo’s on aid and ex-military insurgencies. In one famous quote �No life and no hope for us�, a man on a radio show in Haiti shortly after President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was overthrown in 2004, spoke sadly of the future for his country.
Instead of a government coordinated food bank program, as established under the Aristide government (2001-2004), the poor have no option now but to pay increasing prices for basic food staples. But the poor are demanding to know what is their government’s agriculture policy, when will the government intervene to defend the rural economy and make sure people have enough food to eat? The two issues are tied together. A large amount of investment and political will is needed if the hunger problem alone is to be solved. Rebuilding the rural economy serves an even larger problem.