Food Insecurity, a Form of Violence

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This post was originally written in Kreyol.

Look at the state of the economy and the inaction of our leaders, and remember what happened last time we were in such a situation.

In April 2008, political protests erupted in Haiti due to the high price of food and the resulting hunger. Many businesses were looted, gas stations were set on fire, rocks were thrown, and tires were burned. It was called “ bleaching hunger” or klowòks. Fortunately, there were no casualties, but it was a troubling day for the country. What led to this? The government of then prime minister Jacques Edouard Alexis did not make the increasing hunger, unemployment or gas prices priorities. The results were catastrophic. Thousands of people took to the streets to decry the “bleaching hunger” and the parliament gave a vote of no confidence to the Alexis government. However, this still did not solve the problem.

Today, from disputed and canceled elections, redoing elections, to finally installing a new government, Haitian politicians still refuse to prioritize the urgent needs of the population. The political class seems to be pushing the population to a place we should never return. My analysis and conversations with many people in various sectors lead me to one question: are Haiti’s leaders deliberately provoking the people?

In the month of December, each congressman received $400,000 Gourdes to supposedly organize end of the year festivities. Senators, congressmen and ministers already receive way too many benefits for the meager results which they produce. To continue to spend unnecessarily on celebrations is an act of provocation. The silent majority is also responsible for leaving the door wide open to the corrupted.

Following hurricane Matthew, we lost a big portion of the Grande Anse department which produced a sizeable amount of the country’s food supply. According to the UN, hurricane Matthew cost $1.7 billion dollars of damages; $580 million of those were to our agricultural sector alone. For an already struggling sector, these damages have made a terrible situation even worse. We lost 80% of our production in the grand south and it will take a concerted effort to rebuild the agriculture infrastructure in the area. Losing 20% of GDP following a natural disaster would be a major hit to any country’s economy. Imagine the impact this is having on Haiti.

Carnival is what we have prioritized after the hurricane. President Jovenel’s first major action as president (in the style of his predecessor, Martelly) organizing an elaborate carnival. Spending 240 million Gourdes on carnival is going overboard and is quite frankly a form of provocation. That kind of money could  have gone towards the hunger emergency in the country.

While the parliament was ratifying the new prime minister Lafontant, Senator Joseph Lambert confirmed on Radio Vision 2000 to journalist Valery Numa, that the parliament’s vote would not be influenced by the prime minister’s capacity or his plan. Instead, he declared that in order to get votes, the prime minister will be engaged in a process of divvying up ministry posts (similar to street vendors dividing up their goods for sale) to members of parliament to appoint people ruefully unqualified for the jobs to which they will be appointed.

Today, the situation is worse than it was in 2008. Inflation has increased, hunger has increased, corruption has increased, and the purchasing power has decreased for the majority of the population. The Gourde has lost half its value because of inflation, while the government is unable to raise funds. According to the president of the senate, Youri Latortue, the national budget is still 136 billion Gourdes, same as it was five years ago. The difference is, 136 billion Gourdes back then was equal to $3.4 billion USD, but today it is equal to $1.7 billion USD. According to Le Nouvelliste, our debt increased by 216% between 2011 and 2017, going from owing $640 million to owing about $2 billion.

Economists believe that Haiti cannot repay its debts, which puts us in a bad position to find more money to borrow. Today, there is not enough money circulating in Haiti for major investments (if there is, it is hidden). The current economic difficulties in Venezuela suggest that the Petro Caribe program will most likely end soon. This program was the only direct source of revenue other than government income. If the socialist government in Venezuela that created the program is no longer in power, it is certain that this program will be ended. If and when this happens, our problems will be more serious.

Without this source of revenue, the government will have no choice but to raise gas prices, and whenever gas prices go up, all other prices go up. Look at the state of the economy and the inaction of our leaders, and remember what happened last time we were in such a situation. The irresponsible, insensitive politics we are practicing is leading us down a very dangerous path. The continuation of corruption is the greatest form of provocation that our politicians are doing to the country. If we look upon recent history, this scenario can’t end well.

Photo via @jgabrielfortune

Etant Dupain

Etant Dupain

Etant Dupain is the founder and Director of Kombit Productions. He is a freelance journalist and producer who started as a reporter for Telesur in the aftermath of the 2010 Haiti earthquake. He has worked as a producer and fixer for numerous international news media outlets and documentary films, including the British film company RAW TV, Discovery Channel’s The Unexplainable Files, the award winning documentary Where Did the Money Go?, Aljazeera, Canal+, Telesur, and Venezolana Televisión Vive TV.

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