Poverty

Poverty is human-made.  It is not a natural state of being nor is it an ontology of geography or culture.

Poverty is created by governments, the urban elite , private industry and  transnational organizations (ie. the World Trade Organization, The World Bank, the International Monetary Fund) all of which make decisions regarding trade, development, loan and relief policies.  The policies across the world tend to protect the interests of the rich while disavowing the poor from their economic and democratic rights.  More directly, indebtedness is how poorer people are controlled by richer people and the results can be seen across the globe:  from the 60 farmers in India who committed suicide in July 2009 out of desperation to the fact that one of every six people on the planet do not get enough to eat and seven out of ten of these people are girls and women.   And let us be completely transparent:  poverty in richer countries is increasing, not decreasing with 36 million people living below the poverty line and conterminously 100 billion pounds of food is wasted each year in the United States.  The statistics for hunger are well above 700 million.

On Stopthehunger.com as I write this these are the current statistics on world hunger and the economy:

6,828,445,574 current total world population

1,022,293,324 undernourished people in the world right now

1,146,850,009 overweight people in the world right now

341,322,912 obese people in the world right now

1,643,430 people who died of hunger (as of 27.02.2010) this year

161,500,000 $ US spent due to obesity related diseases in the USA today

75,533,222 $ US spent on food purchased and then tossed by US households today

70,363,458 $ US spent on weight-loss programs and products in the USA today

1,054,612 $ US food aid budget spent on domestic processing and shipping

616,543 $ US revenue for four large US agribusiness derived from food aid programs

30,927,800 $US spent on pet food in Europe and USA today

87,357 tons of food wasted in the United States today

18,214 tons of global food aid provided today

80 percentage of harvested corn, grains and soy beans fed to animals in Europe and North America

78 percentage of malnourished children who live in countries with food surpluses

90 percentage of hungriest nations on earth that are net exporters of food to rich nations (36/40)

These statistics show a very clear relationship between the haves and have-nots and the excessive spending, waste and over-consumption by certain people and the contradistinction of the under-spending, need and starvation of other people.  We are part of this process.

The 2010 earthquake in Haiti alone did not cause the deaths of over 100,000 people.  Poverty caused these deaths. According to the city’s mayor, over 60% of the buildings in Port-au-Prince were badly constructed and unsafe even under normal circumstances.  Why is it that in places such as Japan and Chile, earthquakes of greater intensities kill far fewer people?  Poverty is the underlying factor in the death and desperation of Haitians today and it is important to understand that poverty is not a natural disaster, it is a human-made one.

To understand the true destruction of Haiti, one only has to look at the imperial policies from the Canadian and United States governments towards Haiti which have over recent years wrecked the country in implementing neoliberal economic policies which have only aided the Haitian elite and impoverished the masses while also wrecking the government.  Both Canada and the United States treated Haiti’s democratically elected Aristide government quite scandalously by basically taking all forms of aid away. But after the coup, the doors of economic aid opened once again from Ottawa and Washington and these governments embraced the illegal coup regime and right-wing death squads which terrorize supporters of Aristide and the Lavalas Party.  In fact, the repression of people’s rights was well documented to both Ottawa and Washington, but it was not in the best interest of either government.  More to the point, what we are told is “economic aid” from these governments is usually quite the opposite as monies are given to control the flow of money into the hands of rich while destabilizing local labor movements.  Money flowed purposefully from the Canadian and United States government to encourage destabilization in the region with reports such as this one below  evidencing the problems imposed by the Latortue government which forcibly took power in 2004:

There has been a crackdown on labor unions and peasant associations. We met with peasant organizers who told us of cooperatives being ransacked, with tools and equipment stolen. One organizer told us of repeated death threats and an assassination plot against him in late May. We met with a labor union organizer who told us of a steadily mounting anti-union campaign directed at the assembly sector. He has received many reports from workers who say that factory owners are not respecting the minimum wage, which was raised last year by the Aristide government. In addition, three hundred workers have been fired from a Grupo M factory in the free trade zone along the Dominican border.

On July 13th, shortly after we left Haiti, the Latortue government announced that it would be offering a tax holiday of up to three years to large businesses who suffered losses between December 2003 and March 2004. No state support was offered to the thousands of poor people who have lost their homes or livelihoods due to the coup d’etat.[1]

Just as economic aid on Wall Street tends to recognize the impending poverty of millionaires, so too does economic aid in Haiti flow to the richer parties.  Likewise, there are problems of NGOs and the UN troop presence in the country which present their own set of problems.  The United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti which began in 2004 has been marked by numerous incidents of rape, murder and other violent acts by these troops.  Since the earthquake, the Obama administration granted Haiti $1.2 billion in debt relief but this government has not cancelled all of Haiti’s debt.  This means that basically the US policy towards Haiti is “business as usual”.

I propose that aside from giving money to help the relief efforts, that individuals who can take leave from their jobs to go down to Haiti and volunteer their time and expertise and then bring back your stories to your communities, write your senators and representatives.  The United States, Canadian and French governments must do three things and we much push our governments to do so now:

1. Forgive all debt to Haiti

2. Pay reparations to Haiti

3. Allow the people of Haiti autonomy in their political processes and to cease meddling in the government of Haiti

Our governments have created the situation in Haiti and it is only through dialogue, debate and lobbying of our government that we can stop our participation in the destruction of this country, of our brothers and sisters.

[1] Office of the Prime Minister, “Prime minister to travel to Haiti”, 12 November 2004; Laura Flynn, Robert Roth, and Leslie Fleming, “Report of the Haiti Accompaniment Project”, 29 June–9 July 2004.