Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Blog the Debt: ‘Economic Terrorism’: Ignoring the Debt Issue in Haiti Part 1

Public Mural in Cayes, Haiti: Yes to Life, No to the Debt! (Photo by Peter Kondrat, June 2007)

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 1

by Michelle Karshan

In May 2007, while in Haiti, friends told me of the rising cost of living. As I spent what seemed like a lot of money purchasing food to cook three meals a day, I wondered how folks were feeding their families even one meal a day at those exorbitant prices.

Michelet, a young man, considerably thinner since 2004, pointed out that he had personally seen a rise in TB in his own neighborhood. He explained that with the increase in the cost of living people could not nourish themselves enough to fend off disease.

Dr. Paul Farmer has so eloquently drawn this connection between infectious disease and poverty, yet the international financial institutions have yet to re-prioritize their economic plans.

Former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide often referred to structural adjustment and the debt as “Economic Terrorism”, because globalization and the way it revolves around creating and keeping impoverished countries impoverished results in starvation, disease, illiteracy and death. And, in the end millions of dollars spent on poverty reduction cannot turn a country around without debt reduction and forgiveness.

Last week, while Haiti and each Haitian there still suffers from the backbreaking debt inherited from the Duvalier regime, former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier was heard on the airways apologizing for the atrocities and corruption during his administration.

Not coincidentally, his plea for forgiveness came immediately following Switzerland’s announcement that they would extend the Haitian government’s period of time to wage their legal battle to recover the millions of dollars in Duvalier’s Swiss bank accounts.

Haitian President René Préval rightly responded to Duvalier’s maneuvers, stating that while forgiveness is good, justice must prevail. Préval made it clear that his government would continue its pursuit of the monies, and that if Duvalier chooses to return to Haiti he will certainly be brought to justice.

It was extremely frustrating working as the Foreign Press Liaison to presidents Aristide, Préval and Aristide again. All the while, the international press ignored the debt that shackled any efforts towards recovery, ignored the U.S.-led embargo against Haiti’s government, and the economic “death plan” Aristide tried to resist. The U.S. Embassy waged a campaign denying that there was any financial embargo and they harassed press who dared to call the embargo an embargo!

The international press, distracting its readers from the real talking points, lay all blame at Aristide’s door, and characterized Haiti as: “spiraling downward;” “a basket case;” “a failed state;” and “a people unable to govern themselves.”

Yet inside the storm, at the eye of the storm, was globalization, the endless debt, the imposed impoverishment of a country up against a proud nation that believes that justice — economic justice — means accessible, universal health care, schools, literacy programs, and the right to work and farm.

It will not be hard for me to begin my fast today. What has been hard is to eat, knowing that more than 8 million people in Haiti cannot eat one meal a day.

Michelle Karshan is the former Foreign Press Liaison for President Jean-Bertrand Aristide