Wednesday, February 10, 2010

open letter to the world bank (re: haiti)...

"In overthrowing me, you have cut down in Saint-Dominigue only the tree of liberty. It will spring up again by the roots for they are numerous and deep"... 
~Toussaint L'Ouverture

How to completely kill a country with an annual GDP of roughly $300 million...

First you establish an economic embargo against a country. You prevent international financial institutions from providing loans to a legitimately and democratically elected government. (For the time being, ignore the fact that development loans and monies were ok'ed during dictatorships and military rule in said country). For example: When the American representative to the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) writes a letter to the President of the Bank urging non-disbursement of an approved $500 million dollar loan, while forcing Haiti to servicing the interest and debt related to funds never received (2002).

Furthermore, though the United States claims to have provided Haiti with over $850 million dollars in aid over the last decade, there is a fundamental difference between bilateral aid that goes directly to a given foreign government and the funding of non-governmental organizations. Over the course of that decade (the 1990s) no funds were given directly to the Haitian government.

Additionally, a U.S. imposed economic embargo, upheld by the European Union and Canada, meant that financial bodies such as The World Bank, The International Monetary Fund, and the Inter-American Development Bank were essentially banned from providing grant or developmental loans to the Haitian Republic. Without such aid you do not have money for the infrastructure, no money for police forces, fire, no money for improving water systems. So while former President Aristide and others has been blamed for the dire poverty witnessed in Haiti that preceeded the recent Earthquake, the state was essentially strangled financially.

Worse, Haiti's foreign exchange reserves were depleted as the Haitian State was forced to service its debt to international institutions, leading to a collapse in the currency exchange rates as the base upholding the value of the Haitian Gourde (gold reserves and American dollar reserves) eroded, inflation rates rose and the value of the Haitian Gourde collapses (apples that cost 100 $HG yesterday costs 150 $HG today while the daily pay of the average Haitian fails to rise in a similar manner); needless to say, the economy will eventually fail. And in the case of Haiti, it has. From the year 2000 to February 29, 2004, the Haiti government received no foreign assistance. None. Without such ban, including a ban on the sale of police equipment to the Haitian state, a group of 200 armed rebels supplied with American-made M-16's would not have been able to overthrow the Haitian government in 2004.

Immediately after its struggle for independence, Haiti went back to being an invisible nation- until the next bloodbath, the next dictatorship, the next disaster. Since its revolution, Haiti has been capable only of mounting tragedies. Once a happy and prosperous colony, it is now the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. Revolutions, the desire of Haiti to free itself from bondage, certain specialists have concluded, lead straight to the abyss; others have suggested, if not stated outright, that the Haitian tendency to fratricide derives from its savage African heredity. Pat Robertson, the influential American Christian televangelist stated as much after the recent Haitian earthquake:

"They were under the heel of the French, you know Napoleon the third and whatever. And they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said 'We will serve you if you will get us free from the prince'. True story. And so the devil said, 'Ok it's a deal'. And they kicked the French out. The Haitians revolted and got something themselves free. But ever since they have been cursed by one thing after another".

The rule of the ancestors. The black curse that engenders crime and chaos. Of the white curse, nothing was said. The drive for insatiable profits in raw materials and goods that developed the economic centers of Western Europe for hundreds of years.

The French revolution in the metropole had abolished slavery, but Napoleon revived it.

"Which regime was most prosperous for the colonies?", he asked.

"The previous one".

"Then reinstate it".

To reinstate slavery in Haiti, France sent more than fifty shiploads of soldiers. The country's blacks rose up and defeated France and won national independence and freedom for the slaves. In 1804, they inherited a land that had been razed to grow sugarcane and a land consumed by the conflagrations of a fierce civil war. And they inherited "the French debt." France made Haiti pay dearly for the humiliation it inflicted on Napoleon Bonaparte. The newly born nation had to commit to pay a gigantic indemnification for the damage it had caused in winning its freedom for their former colonizers. This expiation of the sin of freedom would cost Haiti 150 million gold francs.

The new country was born with a rope wrapped tightly around its neck: the equivalent of $21.7 billion in today's dollars, or forty-four times Haiti's current yearly (2008) budget.

In exchange for this fortune, France officially recognized the new nation. No other countries did so, not even Simon Bolivar. Bolivar received a supply of weapons and ammunition and was granted permission by the Haitian Government to enlist Haitian volunteers who wanted to join in the struggle against Spanish rule in South America. The only condition President Petion requested in providing assistance was for Bolivar to free the slaves in all the countries that he would set free from Spanish domination.

Not even Simon Bolivar recognized Haiti, though he owed it everything.

Haiti was born condemned to solitude...

In 1816, it was Haiti that furnished Bolivar with boats, arms, and soldiers when he showed up on the island defeated asking for shelter and help against the Spanish. Haiti gave him everything with only one condition: that he free the slaves- an idea that had not occurred to him until then. The great man triumphed in his war of independence and showed his gratitude by sending a sword as a gift to Port-au-Prince. Of recognition he made no mention.

Over the years, international economic experts have proved far more destructive than invading troops. Placed under strict orders from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, Haiti obeyed every instruction, without wavering. The government paid what it was told to even if it meant there would be neither bread nor salt. Its credit was frozen despite the fact that the state had been dismantled and the subsidies and tariffs that had protected national production had been eliminated. Today Haiti imports its rice from the United States, where international experts, who are rather distracted people, forgot to prohibit tariffs and subsidies to protect national production within the country. Rice farmers, once the majority, soon became beggars or boat people. Many have ended in the depths of the Caribbean, and more are following them to the bottom, only these shipwreck victims are not Cuban, their plight never makes the papers.

To put it simply, debt kills. Rather than invest in education, the environment, or health care, Haiti’s people are forced to repay a debt they did not ask for or benefit from. Debt undermines democracy and national sovereignty, forcing democratically-elected leaders and citizens to follow debt repayment or specific economic policies imposed by international organizations. Debt structures the relationship with foreign powers, keeping Haiti under foreign control, even if there weren’t a multinational force.

Haiti’s people have more than paid for the debt, in terms of actual payments and in terms of Haiti’s extreme underdevelopment. But despite promises made to annul billions of dollars of debt for 18 low income countries at the 2005 G8 summit in Gleneagles, canceling Haiti’s debt was not even considered. Now, following the destruction wrought by the recent earthquake in Haiti, canceling the debt of Haiti should be one of the first measures taken by the international community to assist in allowing the Haitian state to rebuild itself rather than relying on the "charitable" donations of first-world nations.

On the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, there is a large sign that reads: Road to Ruin. Haiti is a country that has been thrown away, as an eternal punishment of its struggle for dignity. There it lies, like scrap metal. It awaits the hands of its people.

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