"It may have been good for some of my farmers[*] in Arkansas, but it has not worked. It was a mistake," Clinton told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on March 10. "I had to live everyday with the consequences of the loss of capacity to produce a rice crop in Haiti to feed those people because of what I did; nobody else."
"A combination of food aid, but also cheap imports have ... resulted in a lack of investment in Haitian farming, and that has to be reversed," U.N. humanitarian chief John Holmes told The Associated Press. "That's a global phenomenon, but Haiti's a prime example."
The best-seller comes from Riceland Foods in Stuttgart, Arkansas, which sold six pounds for $3.80 last month, according to Haiti's National Food Security Coordination Unit. The same amount of Haitian rice cost $5.12.
"National rice isn't the same, it's better quality. It tastes better. But it's too expensive for people to buy," said Leonne Fedelone, a 50-year-old vendor.
But for Haitians, near-total dependence on imported food has been a disaster.
Cheap foreign products drove farmers off their land and into overcrowded cities. Imports also put the country at the mercy of international prices: When they spiked in 2008, rioters unable to afford rice smashed and burned buildings. Parliament ousted the prime minister.
Three decades ago things were different. Haiti imported only 19 percent of its food and produced enough rice to export, thanks in part to protective tariffs of 50 percent set by the father-son dictators, Francois and Jean-Claude Duvalier.
When their reign ended in 1986, free-market advocates in Washington and Europe pushed Haiti to tear those market barriers down."
Bill Clinton's Empty Mea Culpa on Ruining Haiti's Agriculture Sector, 4/1/10 Democracy Now:
Bill Clinton apologized at a hearing last month before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, "Since 1981, the United States has followed a policy, until the last year or so when we started rethinking it, that we rich countries that produce a lot of food should sell it to poor countries and relieve them of the burden of producing their own food, so, thank goodness, they can leap directly into the industrial era. It has not worked. It may have been good for some of my farmers* in Arkansas, but it has not worked. It was a mistake. It was a mistake that I was a party to. I am not pointing the finger at anybody. I did that."
Amy Goodman: That was former President Bill Clinton speaking last month. Well, on Wednesday, Kim Ives of Haiti Liberte' asked Bill Clinton about his change of heart at the donors conference.
Bill Clinton: Oh, I just think that, you know, there's a movement all around the world now. It was first--I first saw Bob Zoellick say the same thing, the head of the World Bank, where he said, you know, starting in 1981, the wealthy agricultural producing countries genuinely believed ... for twenty years that if you moved agricultural production there and then facilitated its introduction into poorer places, you would free those places to get aid to skip agricultural development and go straight into an industrial era.
And it's failed everywhere it's been tried. And you just can't take the food chain out of production. And it also undermines a lot of the culture, the fabric of life, the sense of self-determination.
So we genuinely thought we were helping Haiti when we restored President Aristide, made a commitment to help rebuild the infrastructure through the Army Corps of Engineers there, and do a lot of other things. And we made this devil's bargain on rice. (Haiti reduced its tariff on rice imports to 3%) And it wasn't the right thing to do. We should have continued to work to help them be self-sufficient in agriculture...
KIM IVES: What about the return of Aristide, which has been asked for by demonstrations even right across the street today? (During an invasion, President Aristide, was taken in a US Army plane to the Central African Republic in 2004 and since then has been denied reentry into Haiti.)