The Haitian Rice Industry: Has Haiti Really Been Decolonized?

Slums in Pond-Sonde, Haiti. Source: NBC News

We are living in a world so corrupt that the Global North can exert power, exploit and dominate the Global South. They are able to do this through the means of policies that claim they will ‘develop’ countries, so no one questions what they are doing. In reality, these policies are extremely harmful and need to be challenged. The destruction of the rice industry in Haiti is a compelling example of how the West has been able to influence what goes on in previously colonised countries to this day. In order to understand this destruction more clearly, we must first take a look at Haiti’s history. In an earlier period, Haiti was referred to as the ‘Pearl of the Antilles’ due to its agriculture sector booming and being one of the best of its time. However, in 1804 Haiti won its independence from France. Consequently, Haiti was told that they must pay for their revenue shortfall in order for the international system to recognise their independence. Since Haiti required this recognition in order to receive an economic income, Haiti took out a loan of equivalent to US $21 billion dollars in current times. This loan meant that 80 percent of Haiti’s national budget went towards paying off the loan, which they did not fully pay off until 1947. This resulted in Haiti being unable to invest in education, healthcare, roads etc. This destructive history has led to Haiti being one of the ‘poorest nations in the Western hemisphere’. Over 80 percent of the population live in poverty; 7/10 are unemployed. The per capita gross domestic product of Haiti is approximately US $250 compared to the average of US $3320 for the overall Latin America and Caribbean region. As a result, the people of Haiti are completely impoverished.

In contemporary times, instead of being crippled by colonialism, Haiti suffers from neoliberal policies put in place by the IMF and World Bank with a strong backing from the United States. In 1986, the IMF loaned Haiti $24.6 million. However, this loan was not provided without repercussions. Many conditions were attached to these loans in which Haiti was not subject to negotiation as they were viewed to be inferior. These conditions consisted of neoliberal policies that were implemented with the apparent intention to aid Haiti’s development and align their economy with the rest of the world. However, the idea that Haiti will achieve success in the global economy could not have been further from the truth. Through a series of Structural Adjustment Programmes, Haiti was forced to open up its economy to competition from outside countries and adopt some of the lowest tariffs in the Caribbean. This led to highly subsidized rice from the United States coming into Haiti and the Haitian government removing any subsidies provided to local farmers. By 2008, Haiti was the world’s third largest importer of US rice. From this analysis on where subsidies are allocated, it is clear that inequality is present and Haiti is engaged in a fight that they can never win; accordingly, local producers of rice ceased to be of significance. In 1980, agriculture accounted for over half of GDP and 65% of export earnings. In 2008 it accounts for 25% of GDP and 5.6% of export earnings. Therefore, it is clear that these neoliberal globalization policies have resulted in the re-traumatization of Haitian people after their brutal history of colonization, rather than the prosperity that they were supposed to bring.

The question that comes to everyone’s mind is: where have all these formerly rice producers gone? Since the majority of people in Haiti made a living from the agriculture sector, the destruction of this has led to devastating effects. High poverty and unemployment rates were already present before the crash of the rice industry, so, now situations have only worsened. Farming was a rice producer’s specialty and often this was the only skill they held. Therefore, when trying to find another job, there is often few opportunities available for them outside of the rice industry due to their unskilled nature. It is then likely that many of these previous workers are unable to find a job, so several will have been displaced and potentially have had to move into slums. However, often this is the best-case scenario. There have been many instances where people have tried to emigrate illegally. Usually, they try to escape on boats towards the British administered Turks and Caicos Islands. However, these boats can be very dangerous. For instance, 60 people died halfway into a journey due to the vessel capsizing.

It is therefore clear that policies implemented by the IMF and World Bank that claim to be emancipatory and ‘universal’, are merely tools of colonialism that will impoverish people further, such as those living in Haiti who were involved in the rice producing industry. The IMF and World Bank help to achieve prosperity for a small elite (usually those living in the Global North) and impoverishment for many. Therefore, these policies are implemented in order to achieve people of the West’s best interest. People living in Haiti may technically be ‘independent’, however, they are still being exploited and controlled by the West, so claims of Haitian decolonization should always be subjected to scrutiny.

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