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Haiti: Anse d'Hainault (Part 1)

posted by Nik Barry-Shaw Geography: Latin America Haiti Topics: haiti

June 12, 2007

Haiti: Anse d'Hainault (Part 1)

In Haiti, the divide between the capital and the rest of the country, between center and periphery is so great that one author has spoken of the “two worlds” of Haiti. Yet life in the periphery is not totally unconnected to the tumultuous events of the center. Anse d’Hainault, a seaside fishing village that has the distinction of the town furthest from Port-au-Prince, gave us a first-hand view of this dynamic.

Deforestation is endemic to Haiti, with some 98% of the original forest cover destroyed. While the degradation the environment began well before neoliberalism came to Haiti, the IMF-mandated economic reforms of the mid 90s accerated this process.

When agricultural imports from the US flooded into the country following the slashing of tariffs, many Haitian peasants were forced to the wall. Faced with declining prices for their products and desperate to find a new way of making money, many turned to cutting down trees for charcoal, the cooking fuel of the majority in Port-au-Prince.

This initiated a vicious cycle: Peasants cutting down trees led to soil erosion, soil erosion led to a decline in the productivity of the land, and lower productivity led more peasants to switch to cutting down trees.

Located at the tip of Haiti’s southern peninsula, Anse d’Hainault and the surrounding area (the Grand’Anse) are covered with trees. The region escaped the environmental fate of the rest of Haiti largely thanks to the terrible state of the roads (the term here is used very generously) connecting the region to the capital, making charcoal more difficult to bring to market.

Although only 65 km away from Jeremie, the provincial capital, the drive to Anse d’Hainault takes nearly 3 hours. The winding road through the mountains is paved only at the turns and heavy rains often create deep ruts or provoke landslides. In at least one sense then, Anse d’Hainault’s geographical and infrastructural isolation has been a blessing in disguise.

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l"anse d' Hainault

A wealthy Creole family of my acquantance were very prouid to have come from L'Anse d'Hainault and kept poring over old maps of France to find it. The revelation that they were actually Haitian was a mind bender for them.

"When agricultural imports

"When agricultural imports from the US flooded into the country following the slashing of tariffs, many Haitian peasants were forced to the wall. Faced with declining prices for their products and desperate to find a new way of making money, many turned to cutting down trees for charcoal, the cooking fuel of the majority in Port-au-Prince."

Oh yes, blame America first. The author has clearly never investigated the history of Haiti and is simply writing from a leftist standpoint.

The fact is, that Haitians have always used charcoal for fuel and deforestation has been going on for 200+ years. Why charcoal? Because that is the ONLY fuel source available. Why? Because of monsters like Aristide stole all of the foreign aid and never allowed a proper infrastructure to be built.

No infrastructure means no businesses and therefore no jobs. No proper water or sewage, electricity, communications, security, health & safety infrastructure. The money has been there to do these things. Remember Bill Clinton's BIG $1 billion USD "gift" to Aristide? What happened to it? Aristide and his thugs stole all that was leftover after Aristide reciprocated back to the Dem's campaign war chest. Pathetic!

Blame colonialism and imperialism first . . .

Haiti's dire environmental predicament is a legacy of its colonial past and subsequent torturing by the "international community" (i.e. France and the slave-owning US) its day.

"France imported far more slaves into its colony than did Spain. . . . The combination of that higher population density and lower rainfall was the main factor behind the more rapid deforestation and loss of soil fertility on the Haitian side.

"In addition, all of those French ships that brought slaves to Haiti returned to Europe with cargos of Haitian timber, so that Haiti’s lowlands and mid- mountain slopes had been largely stripped of timber by the mid-19th century."

Jared Diamond, "One Island, Two Worlds"

"The political and economic isolation of the nation after its independence [a result of the European and American reaction to the world's first successful slave revolution] and the poverty that persisted pushed the peasantry into more and more marginal land as they tried to produce enough crops to meet their subsistence needs as for export. Large chunks of marginal land were cleared to make way for peasant agriculture which has contributed substantially to the soil erosion problem in Haiti."

Josiane Georges, "Trade and The Disappearance of Haitian Rice"

The disastrous economic policies of the IMF and the World Bank continued this impoverishing of the peasantry:

"In 1994 the Haitian government entered into a new agreement with the IMF that contained a 'medium-term structural adjustment strategy' which 'included sweeping trade liberalization measures.' In 1995 when this agreement went into affect, Haiti's tariffs on rice imports were cut dramatically from 35% to the current level of 3% (the bound tariff on rice imports is 50%). By comparison, the Common External Tariff on rice in the CARICOM (Caribbean Community) zone for rice in 1999 was 25%.

"The decline in the demand for Haitian rice has been devastating to an already desperate rural population. Rice farmers are some of the most vulnerable members of the population; the alternative employment options for farmers in Haiti are extremely limited. Furthermore, competition between Haitian and American rice growers is not exactly fair. While US rice production is 'subsidized through a variety of mechanisms', the small, struggling domestic rice industry in Haiti receives no support from the government. Rice farmers do not receive export subsidies or other types of domestic support."

Georges, "Trade and The Disappearance of Haitian Rice"

In short, it was Haiti's history of colonialist and imperialist domination that doomed it to the environmental fate it faces today, not fantasies about Aristide's corruption.