A version of this piece originally appeared in AlterPresse.
More than 300 peasants from the departments of the South, the West, the Center and the Artibonite were assembled the 22 of August, 2005, in Petite Rive, Artibonite for the 214th anniversary of the Bois Caiman (Cayman Wood) ceremony.
In 1791 the Bois Caiman was the site of a nighttime ceremony which permitted a group of slaves to plan the launching of the Haitian war for independence from their French colonial rulers which eventually led to the formation of the first black republic.
Assmembling at the Petite Rive of the Artibonite on this turning point date, the peasants wanted to discuss the future of national production, particularly rice, and at the same time to denounce the invasion of the national market by American rice, the neo-liberal politics of the International Monetary Fund and the pushing to one side of the peasant sector in Haitian affairs.
The peasants also denounced the enactment, starting on January 1, 2006, of the American Free Trade Zone accord, assembling 34 countries of the American continent, with the exception of Cuba. Representatives at the meeting included members of the Claim Movement of the Arbitonite Peasants, the Network of the Cooperative Associatons of Commerce, the Netowrk of Agricutural Production of the Lower-Artibonite and the National Platform of the Haitian Peasant’s Organization.
Agricultural Production in the process of disappearing
“At this moment, agricultural production in the department of the Artibonite is in the process of disappearing. There are no irrigation canals and no drainage. The fertilizer market is in the hands of the middle class and the peasants need 100 to 200 gourdes to acquire one sack of fertilizer. It’s shameful,” says Assancio Jacques of MOREPLA, the Peasant’s movement for justice in the Artibonite. He affirmed that the State leaves the market to foreign traders who inundate the country with rice imported from the U.S., to the detriment of national production.
In 1985 the department of the Artibonite produced about 200,000 tons of rice. At the time, the Organization for the Development of the Arbitonite Valley trained the peasants and provided them adequate means to produce. According to the peasants, the ODVA has failed today at their mission and instead of supporting local farmer, clear the path for an American subcontracting company, a certain T & S Rice S.A.
This company employs only 300 Haitian workers, while the production of rice involves, in the Artibonite, 80,000 producers, 28,000 agricultural workers and 400 mill owners.
The participants of the August 22nd assmbly, who declare themselves not to be in a position to compete with American rice, call on Haitian authorities to respond with a view to cutting short this practice which will only drive the country into the abyss and totally destoy national production.
“No to the ZLEA, no to neo-liberal politics, no to the occupation of the Haitian market by the T & S Rice company, yes to an equitable agricultural reform, long live national production, long live the rice of the Artibonite,” chanted the peasants and managers coming from the sector, in chorus.
“It is time that the peasant classes have a voice in the big decisions facing the nation. It’s for this reason that we join our forces on this 22nd of August to defend national production, defend the dignity of the country to ensure the future of our children,” they declared.
The land should belong to those who cultivate it
The coordinator of the PLANOPA, Vilfranc Cenare, pointed out that Haitian peasants have always been scrapped (like garbage), treated like poor parents while they represent the heart of the national economy. Cenare, who has struggled until now to understand the dichotomy between peasant and city dweller persisting in Haiti since 1804, has judged that this sector is the most exploited of the country.
“The Haitian peasant, just like the other layers of Haitian society, lives by imported products. There is no food security, agricultural production is neglected and Haitians are prey to all sorts of illnesses, due to the fact that they consume genetically modified food products, ” said the director of the PLANOPA.
“We, the peasants who represent 80% of the population, have decided today to divorce ourselves from the practice of division. We should form, from this moment a single social force in order to rebuild our dear Haiti and we are aware of the historic role that we should play in the fight for the change of this country,” he continued.
“There is no peasant without land and the land should belong to those who cultive it. We should unite to reclaim our right to participate in the management of our country and demand, of the State, an equitable agricultural reform,” he added.
The unresolved problem of agrarian reform
The director of the Peasant Movement of Papaye, Chavannes Jean Baptiste, for his part, estimates that the agricultural question will remain one of the major problems of the country whose solution will be a long time in coming. This question, he clarified, was brought up by the emperor, Jean Jacques Dessalines, at the time of the verification of the titles of ownership and let to his assassination, the 17th of October, 1806.
The problem of the distribution of land has existed, then, since 1804 with the fragmentation of society into large and small landowners. This division largely contributed to the degredation of the national environment. According to Chavannes Jean Baptiste, after independence, the Haitian population was composed of 500 thousand inhabitants and at that time agricultural reform was much easier. However, he said, quarrels arose which served as obstacles to the resolution once and for all of the problem of land distribution.
To resolve this situation, Jean Baptiste proposed an agricultural reform that will not be devoted to the distribution of land to the peasants, but to the creation of cooperatives including all the operators of the sector.
“The plan of death”
Another participant, the economist Camille Chalmers, reviewed the neo-liberal politics. According to the Chalmers, the director of PAPDA, the application of these politics started in the 1980’s with the American Plan for Haiti.
The economist made known that one of the obejctives of the neo-liberal plan, which he qualified as the ” Plan of death,” was to devalue the national currency. The IMF wanted a below-par rating of the national currency to 50 to 60 gourds per dollar, affirmed Chalmers.
“With this below-par rating of the Haitian gourde, foreign investors would have the possibility of finding labor at a better price in Haiti,” he stressed.
According to Chalmers, the Haitian peasant and the small businessmen don’t have access to credi, the rural environment is not a priority for the Haitian state authorities and the minute part of the national budget allocated to this sector is tapped by large businesses.
Foreign trade has also contributed to the degradation of the national economy, because, added the economist, it’s rate of importation is much greater than it’s rate of exportation.
“The massive introduction of imported rice in the local market, the neo-liberal politics of the IMF, of the State Department and of the World Bank threaten the lives of the rice producers of the Artibonite and of the Haitian people in general”, said the director of the PAPDA (Haitian Platform to Advocate Alternative Development).
The assembly of August 22nd was, furthermore, the occasion for participants and organizers to renew their criticism of the CCI(the Interim Cooperation Framework developed by the international community after the ouster of President Aristide). According to the assembly, the peasant sector is not taken into account in the plan concocted by the international community for the reconstruction of Haiti.