D25: Dirt for Food

I’m not the only one who saw this AP news story in the blogosphere, In hungry Haiti dirt is food that tells of the rising costs of even the dirt itself.
At the market in the La Saline slum, two cups of rice now sell for 60 cents, up 10 cents from December and 50 percent from a year ago. Beans, condensed milk and fruit have gone up at a similar rate, and even the price of the edible clay has risen over the past year by almost $1.50. Dirt to make 100 cookies now costs $5, the cookie makers say.
Still, at about 5 cents apiece, the cookies are a bargain compared to food staples. About 80 percent of people in Haiti live on less than $2 a day and a tiny elite controls the economy.
Charlene, 16 with a 1-month-old son, has come to rely on a traditional Haitian remedy for hunger pangs: cookies made of dried yellow dirt from the country's central plateau.

The mud has long been prized by pregnant women and children here as an antacid and source of calcium. But in places like Cite Soleil, the oceanside slum where Charlene shares a two-room house with her baby, five siblings and two unemployed parents, cookies made of dirt, salt and vegetable shortening have become a regular meal.

"When my mother does not cook anything, I have to eat them three times a day," Charlene said. Her baby, named Woodson, lay still across her lap, looking even thinner than the slim 6 pounds 3 ounces he weighed at birth.

Though she likes their buttery, salty taste, Charlene said the cookies also give her stomach pains. "When I nurse, the baby sometimes seems colicky too," she said.

This Caribbean economy depends on imports.The article lists the following items as contributing to almost 40% rise in places:

  • Higher oil prices for fertilizer, irrigation and transportation.
  • Prices up for basic ingredients, corn and wheat
  • Increasing global demand for biofuels is pressuring food markets
  • Floods and crop damage from the 2007 hurricane season
A reporter sampling a cookie found that it had a smooth consistency and sucked all the moisture out of the mouth as soon as it touched the tongue. For hours, an unpleasant taste of dirt lingered.

This story is heartbreaking, but that isn’t the only aspect the indignity of people eating dirt in a world with enough food. I’m not sure if most educated westerners know that Haitians have been the recipients of America’s imperialist strategy for a century or more. I read comments this morning on Sharon’s blog and was shocked at the victim blaming and over simplification of this situation. One commenter was 'advising' Sharon to make her post more brief. Well, it made me cranky.

My own essay contained more historical information. I put off finishing my writing until I could be free of my emotional response to those comments this morning.

Just the political sabotage alone of the 2004 Bush Administration kidnapping of a democratically elected leader, President Jean-Bertrand Aristide is evidence.

The president won two elections, the last with 90% of the vote. If he were in Haiti today and he ran again, he would win overwhelmingly again. The United States provided money through the International Republican Institute to form a false opposition to Aristide in the country. The rich and the elites, who were threatened because he raised the minimum wage from $1 to $2 a day, threatened because he had proposed to banish the use of the word “peasants” on the birth certificate of poor black Haitians, threatened by a man who was loved by his people because he wanted to protect the interests of the poorest among them. And the United States overthrew that democracy. And it is so simply provable. The smallest investigation would prove what the United States has done in this case.

Lest we believe that George Bush and the NeoCons were atypical in interfering in Haitian government, I include several paragraphs of history. This is history that is rarely taught in US schools. I like to think of American Civics or History classes as *mything in action*. A phrase I stole from Heretik and I will continue to use it.

This is from the Randall Robinson, author An Unbroken Agony: Haiti, From Revolution to the Kidnapping of a President, interview on Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now.

RANDALL ROBINSON: Well, Haiti was the largest piece of France’s global empire. It was its great profit center, that slave colony with 465,000 enslaved Africans working there, many of whom had been soldiers in African armies before they were brought to Haiti. And in August of 1789—or 1791, rather, 40,000 of those slaves revolted and started a war that lasted twelve-and-a-half years under the leadership of an ex-slave and a military genius named Toussaint L’Ouverture and Jean-Jacques Dessalines. And this army of ex-slaves defeated two French armies, first the French army before the completion of their revolution and then another army dispatched by Napoleon under the leadership of his brother-in-law, and then the armies of England and Spain. 150,000 blacks died in that twelve-and-a-half-year war. And in January of 19—1804, rather, they declared Haiti the first free republic in the Americas, because the United States was then a country that held slaves.

During the revolution, Thomas Jefferson said he would like to reduce Toussaint to starvation. George Washington lamented and vilified that revolution. The US imposed an embargo, recognized a new French government, but did not recognize the new Haitian free government and imposed a comprehensive economic embargo on Haiti until the Emancipation Proclamation. In fact, France imposed reparations on Haiti in 1825, and the interest that Haiti had to pay in loans that were American and French loans to service this debt to France, absorbed virtually 80% of Haiti’s available budget 111 years after the completion of their revolution until 1915. It was only in 1947 that Haiti was able to pay off its debt.

AMY GOODMAN: The debt that was incurred as a result of France not having access to the enslaved people of Haiti.

RANDALL ROBINSON: The Haitians had to pay France for no longer having the privilege of owning Haitian slaves. That revolution provoked the end of slavery in the Americas. And so, that’s why it is so important that all African people, people generally in the Americas, because Haiti funded and fought in South American revolutions. That’s why Haiti is so honored in places like Venezuela by people like Simon Bolivar. Haiti was central to all of this. And we’re in Haiti’s debt.

AMY GOODMAN: Simon Bolivar came to Haiti.

RANDALL ROBINSON: Haiti, and was given arms and was given men, was given a printing press, because the Haitians believed that anybody who was enslaved anywhere had a home and a refuge in Haiti. Anybody seeking freedom had a sympathetic ear in Haiti. But because of that, the United States and France and the other Western governments, even the Vatican, made them pay for so terribly long. It’s as if the anger of it never abated. I mean, you can hear Frederick Douglass talking about it in the late 1800s, about this thing in the American craw.

AMY GOODMAN: The US government didn’t recognize Haiti for decades, the Congress, going back to Thomas Jefferson, afraid that the slave uprising would inspire US slaves.

I feel it is vital that we look honestly at our country’s behavior in the world. It is painful and shameful. But, it is moronic to make world hunger a simplistic issue of our global warming, climate crisis issues alone. Racing around wanting to ‘fix’ these developing countries is precisely the arrogant error imperialist apologists are claiming to do. Even the well meaning actions of the United Nations must confront the imperialist power of the US, despite our preference for Myths America.

AMY GOODMAN: Randall, you talked about how when President Aristide was president, before he was forced out, he was supposed to be getting hundreds of millions of dollars from the Inter-American Development Bank, I think it was, for health issues.

RANDALL ROBINSON: The loan had been fully approved. It was for $146 million. It was for health issues, for literacy, for things associated with social programs, roads and some infrastructure projects. The United States blocked that loan. And so, on the one hand, it starved the economy of Haiti. On the other hand, it trained the opposition. On another hand, it armed the paramilitaries. And in the last analysis, American forces invaded and abducted the president. [emphasis mine]

I too want to believe the US action around the world fit my best notions of the best people I have known, read and respected. But that is a fairy tale. Some really stupid, shortsighted and even miserable human beings have represented our nation with secret orders, and objectives. That is, the worst rather than our best.

Lest we believe that Haiti is unique, I turned to our latest invasion and found more people eating from the dirt, the garbage heaps.

IRAQ: Hundreds forced to scavenge for food in garbage bins
Barira Mihran, a 36-year-old mother of three, scavenges every day in other people’s dustbins in Baghdad for leftovers on which to feed her children.

“Sometimes you have to fight for a dustbin. Many women know which houses have good leftovers and so they wait for hours near the houses until the leftovers are thrown in the bins outside. Then you can see at least 10 people, women and children, running to get it, and I will be in the middle of the crowd, for sure,” Barira added.

Barira, an educated woman, has now joined hundreds of other mothers who rummage through rubbish bins for food to feed their children, according to the Baghdad-based Women’s Rights Association (WRA), which conducted a survey of displaced families and people living on the streets in 12 provinces (excluding the Kurdistan region) between January and August 2007.

“This is now a common sight, especially in Baghdad - mothers standing near dustbins trying to find some food for their children,” Mayada said.

Government monthly food rations - including rice, beans, lentils, flour and cooking oil - are in principle available to Iraqi families regardless of income, on production of proof of citizenship and a fixed address.

The system was introduced by former President Saddam Hussein to offset the impact of sanctions and paid for by Iraqi oil under UN administration. The system is currently reaching only 60 percent of its target, and quality and quantities are in decline, Iraqi officials say.

With refugees in the hundreds and hundreds of thousands, possibly more than a million, the picture of people unable to get this assistance is pretty clear. But we can’t deny the cause of a nation of starving people, primarily women and children. Our pResident and his cronies took us to war on a lie. And I can imagine no Iraqi family even thinking they would have to plan for feeding a family if the food supply was taken from them.

We who are paying attention to the global issues of war, peak oil, corporate greed, climate crisis and economic failure are trying to make our green plans. We want to do whatever we can for our own families and for the larger world community. Final words on this today I lifted again from Democracy Now.

In August Democracy Now had guest Naomi Klein, author chilling book , The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism and Think Tanks to Battle Tanks as a guest on her program.

Is Another World Possible?’ That was the theme of this year’s annual meeting of the American Sociological Association that was held in New York City this past weekend.

“We did not lose the battles of ideas. We were not outsmarted and we were not out-argued,” journalist and author Naomi Klein said. “We lost because we were crushed. Sometimes we were crushed by army tanks, and sometimes we were crushed by think tanks. And by think tanks I mean the people who are paid to think by the makers of tanks.” [snip]

“The real problem, I want to argue today, is confidence, our confidence, the confidence of people who gather at events like this under the banner of building another world, a kinder more sustainable world. I think we lack the strength of our convictions, the guts to back up our ideas with enough muscle to scare our elites. We are missing movement power. That’s what we’re missing. “The best lacked all convictions,” Yeats wrote, “while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” Think about it. Do you want to tackle climate change as much as Dick Cheney wants Kazakhstan’s oil? Do you? Do you want universal healthcare as much as Paris Hilton wants to be the next new face of Estee Lauder? If not, why not? What is wrong with us? Where is our passionate intensity?
I would rather that the elite eat dirt. Do I have the intensity?