When making a contribution to a national charity, have you ever felt a nagging doubt, wondering what would happen to your money? Or signing up to be a monthly sponsor of a child, struggling to survive in a foreign land? Well, if you haven't, start now.
Take Haiti, for instance. On 17 January 2010, having already been hit by four hurricanes in the previous decade, Haiti suffered a mega earthquake that killed thousands and injured thousands more, left a million homeless, destroyed crops, roads, and bridges. Appeals to help this country of ten million were answered when dollars began pouring into aid agencies.
Even before our media moved on to other news, television screens showed gallons of bottled water stacked in cartons in row after row at the airport at the precise time that Haitians were desperate for safe drinking water. Just who was in charge here?
Military in Control
It turned out that this water was shipped in for use by armed troops who had arrived right after the catastrophe. The military took control of the airports, deciding which planes could land and which would have to wait. An attempt was made to show that aid was being distributed by showing troops tossing out packages of food in a hit or miss fashion from the back of a military vehicle as it moved through a poor area.
Haitians were left to scramble for food and water, to erect makeshift shelters that afforded minimum protection from the elements, to gain access to limited medical treatment, and to live as best they could in unsanitary conditions that fostered the dysentery that quickly spread throughout their camps.
Given the history of how aid had previously been administered in Haiti were there real prospects for a different outcome after this latest disaster?
In Travesty in Haiti , Timothy J. Schwartz reports on what he uncovered in his fifteen years of working in Haiti for Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), beginning in 1991. This article focuses on food aid.
Schwartz writes of his shock at finding that food that had been shipped into the country under the aegis, for example, of a well-known NGO -- CARE International -- was routinely being sold at marketplaces throughout Haiti rather than being distributed free to hungry Haitians. Perversely, during the growing season or during recurring droughts, food aid was not available.
Any first year economics student could predict the results of such a practice. With food flooding into the markets, there was an ensuing drop in food prices that put small peasant farmers out of business, forcing them sooner or later to seek work in the cities.
In 1991, Jean Bertrand Aristide became the first democratically-elected president of Haiti. Among several progressive initiatives, he established a higher minimum wage. Shortly thereafter, he was forcibly removed from office by the first Bush administration and the increase was abolished.
Back in the seventies, multinationals began setting up shop in Haiti. Soon NGOs began arriving to lift "the poorest of the poor" out of their desperate circumstances. At that time Haiti's farmers produced enough food to feed the country's population and Haiti exported produce like coffee, tobacco, mangoes, peanuts and cotton.
During one of his visits, Bill Clinton, our Special Envoy to Haiti, in a fit of remorse exclaimed, "I did that. I caused it to be unprofitable for farmers here to cultivate rice." What he meant was that in the nineties he had worked to further reduce the tariffs on US rice exports that along with our subsidies to US agri-businesses allowed quantities of rice to be shipped to Haiti to be sold at a price that Haiti farmers couldn't match and in the process making a nice profit for US farmers.
Haiti is not only a rice-importing country now, but it also imports beans, corn, wheat, and sugar. So over a period of twenty plus years it has shifted from a nation that could feed itself to one that is dependent on imported food.
Uses of Food Aid
Upon further investigation, Schwartz found the Agency for International Development (USAID) (a known CIA affiliate) was behind this scheme. Also funded by our tax dollars, USAID was helping to carry out the policies of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the InterAmerican Development Bank by contributing to the US NGOs. But the contributions were in the form of boxes of food produced by US farmers. The NGOs needed to turn the food into cash by selling it at markets.