Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Blog the Debt: ‘Economic Terrorism’: Ignoring the Debt Issue in Haiti Part 2

Mother and Children, Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Photo by Evens Sanon, Copyright 2003

Economic Terrorism: Ignoring the Debt Issue in Haiti.

Michelle Karshan, the former Foreign Press Liaison for former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, blogs her perspective on how Haiti's struggle with debt and economic recovery was ignored by the international press.

Blog the Debt: ‘Economic Terrorism’: Ignoring the Debt Issue in Haiti Part 2

By Michelle Karshan laughingmaze.blogspot.com

In Part One of my blog I said it would not be difficult to begin my fast but by 9:30 a.m. I had already started experiencing actual hunger pains.

At first I reflected on why I was feeling so intensely hungry after such a short period of time. I thought perhaps it was because I was starting to feel deprived, but then also realized that I had eaten very little the day before — very similar to how most Haitians actually live.

I thought of the homeless children who hang out in downtown Port-au-Prince or hide behind tombstones at the main cemetery while keeping an iron grip on plastic bottles filled with glue which they keep at their noses all day.

Apparently, glue sniffing not only gives one a dangerous buzz, but more importantly it eases the pains of hunger.

And there are the street children, boys and girls, forced to sell their bodies, risk contracting HIV/AIDS, and are subjected to brutality, just to buy a meal to eat. Other children, live in domestic servitude — as slaves — serve hefty meals to their masters, and pray that a few scraps will be made available to them.

And what of those who wear their hunger like a billboard?! The children with orange hair and distended stomachs , the prisoners with swollen bodies dying from Beri Beri, a fatal and painful illness from B vitamin deficiency, children with stunted growth, or even the average Haitian so thin that the bones in their faces protrude and many people collapse in the street from weakness and dehydration.

Why is there still hunger in Haiti if millions of dollars are pouring into the country, as the press would have us believe? In fact, contrary to press releases issued by various donors, and press stories to back them up, much of the funds we read about don’t actually get to Haiti when they say, if ever.

And, as a USAID representative testified before Congress some years ago, 84 cents on every dollar of USAID monies to developing countries actually goes to U.S. workers, consultants, companies, or materials. That means only 16 cents on every dollar actually goes to the receiving country.

Written in the early 1990s, but still relevant today, this extraordinary breakdown and analysis by the Washington Office on Haiti entitled Where Did the Money Go? “AID” Received by Haiti: October 94 – October 1995, explains:

It is not difficult to see how the large infusion of foreign “aid” had relatively little impact on most people’s lives. The economy did recover from the severe negative growth of the embargo years to a positive 4.5 percent real growth rate, but this is still quite slow a rebound from such a deep slump. The influx of foreign exchange has helped to stabilize the currency and therefore inflation. But there was very little in the way of investment in infrastructure, agriculture, soil conservation, education, credit to small farmers and employment creation – the most pressing needs that might improve the economic opportunities of the vast majority. And this is primarily because the money has not been allocated for these purposes.

Also, to understand the extent of the theft of monies and the creation of the debt accumulated by the Duvalier regime, which Haiti is still struggling to pay back today, please see the story of Duvalier, Haiti’s former dictator, and the monies he stole from the Haitian people.

The best piece for an overview and analysis on the imposition of structural adjustment on Haiti, as well as an in depth look at Haiti’s debt, is Democracy Undermined, Economic Justice Denied: Structural Adjustment and The Aid Juggernaut in Haiti by Lisa McGowan for The Development Gap.

Michelle Karshan is the former Foreign Press Liaison for President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Haiti’s president in 1991, then from 1994 to 1996 and from 2001 to 2004. Aristide was the second elected leader of Haiti.