Ruth Messinger at the Change.org Global Poverty blog reports that at a recent Senate hearing, Former President Bill Clinton confessed that the free trade policies that characterized his presidency devastated farmers in developing countries, including Haiti.
When he ushered in the free trade era by lowering agricultural trade barriers, American farmers flooded Haiti with surplus rice, offered at a cost with which Haitian farmers could not compete. Before Clinton’s free trade policies were implemented, Haiti only imported 19% of its food. However, after Clintonian economic liberalism, the situation inverted itself; today, an unbelievable 80% of Haiti’s food is imported.
This precarious food dependency puts Haiti in a vulnerable position, where food prices—as well as all other prices—are subject to the unpredictable whims of weather, deranged dictators, oil prices and Mother Nature’s tectonic plates.
Indeed, a recent Economist article points out that Haitians understand that they should no longer endure being spoon-fed 5.3 billion dollars worth of aid. At a donor conference at the UN, Haiti’s Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive listed increased agricultural productivity and attracting foreign investment in textiles as goals of Haiti’s medium-term rehabilitation agenda. They reflect a desire to graduate spoon-feeding and move on to a bottoms-up development strategy grounded in the private sector.
Haitian President René Préval, a rice farmer himself, asked the donor community to siphon food aid towards developing Haiti’s impotent agricultural sector, as he spoke of a “new Haiti.” Infused with a “crisatunity” outlook, Haitians are seeking a path to food sovereignty, which will likely ameliorate its economic and social woes.
Citing historical evidence, however, some scholars are skeptical; Dan Erikson at the Inter-American Dialogue makes the glum observation that “Haiti has never come back from a crisis stronger.” Will UN Special Envoy to Haiti Bill Clinton be able to atone for his misguided policies?