- The Washington Times - Monday, February 16, 2004

Haiti’s starving poor

Sheila Sisulu is trying to focus world attention on Haiti’s hungry hordes, as the crippled Caribbean nation erupts in another convulsion of violence against another brutal government.

Mrs. Sisulu, director of the U.N. World Food Program and a former South African ambassador to the United States, points out the grim statistics in a review of Haiti’s current chaos, while noting the irony of the country’s marking its 200 anniversary of independence this month.

Haiti was born out of violence, when a former slave, Toussaint L’Ouverture, led a revolt against French colonial masters in 1804. The nation has known little peace since then.

Mrs. Sisulu, writing about Haiti’s desperation, said, “This month, Haiti is marking the 200th anniversary of its independence, and for most Haitians, there is precious little to celebrate.”

About 80 percent of the population of 8 million live in extreme poverty. The country has the highest rate of AIDS outside Africa.

“One out of every three children is chronically malnourished, while 8 percent suffer from acute malnutrition,” Mrs. Sisulu wrote, adding that adults fare little better.

Fewer than one-fourth of rural children attend elementary school, and only 6 percent of the schools in the entire country were open last month, she said.

“Deforestation has brought about an ecological disaster in a country where most people depend on agriculture,” Mrs. Sisulu wrote. “And in recent weeks, the few Haitians who did manage to plant and nurture their crops saw them washed away by floods.”

U.N. food aid is reaching about “a quarter of a million vulnerable Haitians, including 131,000 children,” she said.

Mrs. Sisulu noted that most nations have reduced assistance to the government of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who has been accused of political fraud in the 2000 election and of ruling through violence.

However, the “most vulnerable sectors of Haitian society … have become unintended victims in a political standoff,” she said.

“Haiti lies only 600 miles from the United States. It is in the middle of the Caribbean, the tropical playground for the rich and famous,” she wrote.

“Yet, most of its population lives in the conditions of abject poverty normally associated with the most blighted regions of sub-Saharan Africa.”

Free trade, fair trade

Caribbean nations are complaining that the United States subsidizes its agricultural exports but demands that poorer island nations remove price supports for their farm products to gain access to the U.S. market.

These “double standards” are blocking progress on a treaty to establish a Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), said Odeen Ishmael, formerly one of the most senior foreign ambassadors in Washington.

Mr. Ishmael, Guyana’s ambassador to the United States from 1993 to 2003, noted in a recent paper that too little has been achieved since the United States and nations of the Caribbean Common Market, CARICOM, began negotiations on the free-trade agreement in 1994.

As recently as Feb. 6, delegates to the FTAA Negotiations Committee meeting in Mexico made no progress after five days, he said.

“The issue of agricultural subsidies remains as the main stumbling block to any agreement,” Mr. Ishmael said.

The United States wants the trade-subsidy dispute resolved by the World Trade Organization, not the FTAA negotiators.

Criticizing the U.S. position as a double standard, Mr. Ishmael said, “Subsidized agricultural commodities flow into [CARICOM] markets while they, themselves, are forced to cut out subsidies as a condition for multilateral financial assistance. …

“Obviously this is not fair trade.”

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail [email protected].

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