Rice

Haiti’s recent food riots have caused several deaths and lots of pain and suffering. This is depressing, and a reminder of what happens when globalization and “free trade” is approached from the point of view of helping the U.S. at the expense of the rest of the world:

Thirty years ago, Haiti raised nearly all the rice it needed. What happened?

In 1986, after the expulsion of Haitian dictator Jean Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) loaned Haiti $24.6 million in desperately needed funds (Baby Doc had raided the treasury on the way out). But, in order to get the IMF loan, Haiti was required to reduce tariff protections for Haitian rice and other agricultural products and some industries, to open up the country’s markets to competition from outside countries. The US has by far the largest voice in decisions of the IMF.

Doctor Paul Farmer was in Haiti then and saw what happened. “Within less than two years, it became impossible for Haitian farmers to compete with what they called ‘Miami rice.’ The whole local rice market in Haiti fell apart as cheap, US subsidized rice, some of it in the form of ‘food aid,’ flooded the market. There was violence … ‘rice wars,’ and lives were lost.”

“American rice invaded the country,” recalled Charles Suffrard, a leading rice grower in Haiti in an interview with the Washington Post in 2000. By 1987 and 1988, there was so much rice coming into the country that many stopped working the land.

Did the IMF force the U.S. to stop subsidizing its rice farmers in exchange for access to the Haitian market? Of course not. That would have been too fair.

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