Wednesday, February 03, 2010


Here are links to two articles by Gary Younge and Richard Kim on the West's refusal to cancel Haiti's debt, a debt which is itself a result of historic demands and interventions by the West.

As Younge rightly says, "Haiti needs a bail out." But Western governments have been as slow in agreeing a just policy towards the people of Haiti as they were quick to bail out some of the biggest corporations and institutions in the world.

Without such justice, Haiti will be saddled with even more debt in years to come. The earthquake caused such destruction because its distant and recent history have left it in a uniquely vulnerable position.

Haiti became independent in 1804, after a victorious slave rebellion against colonial France. Within 20 years of independence, this infant republic had been forced to pay reparations to French slave-owners to compensate for loss of earnings (how does one begin to explain such repulsive hypocrisy?), and by the turn of the 20th century, it was spending 80% of its budget on repayments.

During the 20th century, both France and the US supported Papa Doc's dictatorship, and tolerated / sponsored the coup which deposed the democratically-elected Jean-Bertrand Aristide in the middle of the last decade. In the 1990s, the IMF's structural adjustment programme reduced Haiti's economic independence by slashing its tariffs (Haiti used to be a net exporter of rice, but is now forced to import most of its rice from the US).

And this year, two days after the earthquake hit, the IMF loaned Haiti $100m, to be added to its existing $165m debt. The conditions of this loan are that Haiti increases its utility bills and freezes wages.

The IMF must write off Haiti's debts, and other lenders (the Inter-American Development bank) must be pressurised to follow suit. As Younge says, this "would not be an act of charity, but reimbursement and reparation. This is not a hand out but a hand back. In terms of Haiti's needs, it would be the beginning not the end. The country needs investment in its social and civic infrastructure so that it can shape its own future. It needs the kind of long-term interest from honest brokers that does not arrive for a coup or disaster and then leave when the cameras are gone." Otherwise this will be disaster capitalism of the sickest kind.


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