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Back from Haiti, Rev. Jesse Jackson Calls for Emergency Food Aid to a Starving Nation Devastated by Longtime US-Led Interference, Subversion

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Reverend Jesse Jackson has just returned from Haiti, where the World Food Program is warning of a “major crisis” if international donors fail to help feed Haiti’s poor. Prices of rice, beans and cooking oil have doubled in the past few months. The soaring food prices have had a devastating effect: two-thirds of Haitians live on less than a dollar a day, and 47 percent are undernourished. We speak to Rev. Jackson about the US responsibility to feed a nation long targeted by Western subversion. Rev. Jackson also shares his thoughts on the recent fallout between Democratic candidate Barack Obama and his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. [includes rush transcript]

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StoryApr 24, 2008The US Role in Haiti’s Food Riots
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.


The World Food Program warned Wednesday Haiti is facing a major crisis if international donors fail to help feed Haiti’s poor. Prices of rice, beans, cooking oil have doubled in the past few months. The soaring food prices have had a devastating effect. Two-thirds of Haitians live on less than a dollar a day. 47 percent are undernourished. At least five Haitians died in recent food protests. And Haiti’s prime minister was recently forced out of office as a result.

The Reverend Jesse Jackson has just returned from Haiti, joining us in our firehouse studio. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Reverend Jackson.


Good morning. It is amazing, the relationship between the May Day protests. Where our trade policies drove Mexican farmers out of business, they’re now coming across the border to survive. American trade policy has driven the rice and sugar farmers out of business in Haiti, so they are starving. And so, the need for some comprehensive, fair trade policy and immigration policy must apply to Haitians, as well as others around the globe who are fighting for their basic human rights.


So, what are you calling for?


Well, first we’re calling for emergency assistance for Haiti. I mean, 60 percent of the people make a dollar a day or less, and the price of rice has doubled in the last two months. And so, they are literally starving.

I talked with President Preval. They want for this year 360,000 tons of rice, 180,000 tons of wheat, and then cooking oil, so they can survive until they can get their farmland moving again, because we dropped our subsidized rice on them. Not only did we drop subsidized rice on them, they had to buy rice from us, as it were. And so, they took a double hit. But they really are capable of being an exporter of rice, an exporter of sugar. So they now need, beside the emergency food and water and medicine, they now need tractors and irrigation system, and they can begin to come back again. And we, I think, can do no less.


Reverend Jackson, last week I interviewed Loyola Law Professor Bill Quigley. He was just back from Haiti, talking about the food crisis and particularly the US role. This is a clip of what he had to say.

    BILL QUIGLEY: The problem really is, is that the United States and the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, all of which we, the United States, dominate, have for the last twenty-five, thirty years have insisted that in order to get the loans, which Haiti and these other countries, agricultural countries, need, in order to get those loans, Haiti had to change their economic system so that their country was open to competition from other countries on agriculture, trade, a number of other things.

    Thirty years ago, Haiti imported almost no rice, was an exporter of sugar and other things. Today, Haiti imports nearly all of its rice. It even imports sugar, even though it was the sugar-growing capital of the Caribbean. And the reason is, is that the powers that be said, in order to get these loans, which they need desperately to be able to survive, that they had to open up their markets to competition.


That was Bill Quigley. Reverend Jackson, your response?


Well, right now, he is absolutely correct. I want Secretary Rice to go to Haiti and talk about rice and wheat and cooking oil on the short term. USA can invest more in infrastructure, in roads. And there, I saw, Amy, open sewers and garbage that piled high and people living amongst that vermin and that rot.

You know, last week there was a big article in the New York Times one day about hedge fund billionaires, which make millionaires look poor. Next day, a kid on a garbage dump in Haiti eating the rot of an orange and an apple. What a contrast between wealth and poverty!

And so, I think for three reasons we must get more engaged: one, moral reasons, we should feed the hungry, if we’re able to; (b) for political reasons, the instability, what it is in Haiti — I might add Niger or Egypt or Yemen or Burkina Faso, it’s a global crisis — Haiti is the manifestation in our hemisphere; the third one, of course, is homeland security. If we’re going to get on the front side with an agricultural secretary, a back side with a general trying to stop protests and rebellions, I would rather see the Agriculture Department lead the way on the front side than the Defense Department leading the way on the backside, whether here or Burkina Faso or anywhere around the world where we have these world food riots taking place.


And the role of the International Monetary Fund, and also the corporations that are profiting so handsomely right now, the food corporations?


Well, we were allies, of course, with the Duvalier exploitative regime, and then we forced on them policies against their will. Today, they owe about a billion-five, and they’re paying about $70 million a year in debt service. It’s going to rise to $100 million. They cannot afford to pay $100 million in debt service. And so, there is in the House on the Jubilee bill to forgive these humongous debts. Right now, there is not a senator on the Senate side as co-sponsor to the Jubilee bill. But clearly, debt forgiveness or cancellations [inaudible].

In fact, I met with Preval. I said, “What are your priorities?” He said, “Our first priority is to end the drug flow. We have 7,000 police and nine million people. And so, this is a launching pad for drugs from Haiti right through into Miami. And so, we need your help to stop the drug flow. Second and for temporary — for Haitians who live in America who do not yet have citizenship, don’t bring them back here. They remit a billion-and-a-half dollars a year of monies they make while working here back to Haiti, as indeed as others are doing back to Mexico and other places. Third one is hope, too. The plan allows them to manufacture some products there, particularly textiles, and sell them in our market. The fourth is debt reduction. The fifth would be, of course, a commitment to get them emergency food, wheat and rice and drinkable water and cooking oil.”


On the issue of agribusiness profiting, it’s almost like the oil companies. Now with record gas prices, the oil companies are making record profits. I was looking at a report from the international nonprofit Grain, talking about making a killing from hunger. They point out major multinational corporations are realizing vast increasing profits in the rising misery — amidst this rising misery of the world’s poor. Profits up for agribusiness giants Cargill at 86 percent, Bunge at 77 percent; Archer Daniels Midland, which dubs itself the “Supermarket to the World,” enjoyed a 67 percent increase in profits.


Well, it is precisely that that we are really driving family farmers, small farmers out of business, (a) by dumping on them and undercutting their market, then make them a loan, and then they have to buy from us with the loan. So it’s a kind of double hit.

And so, all I’m saying is that when Cubans come across the border fleeing persecution, they ought to be able to stay. We shouldn’t have one policy for Cubans and one policy for Haitians. Whether it is Haitians, Cubans or Mexicans around the border, there must be some consistency in the policy. And we know that fair policy, fair trade policy, not just free trade policy, is a key in fact to that. And I hope that we would see the value, the moral value and the economic value, in helping to revive Haiti.

We intend to intensify our protest until we get some attention on the issue. Some are focused on the horserace politics, who’s going to be what, where, when. But there’s almost no — Haiti is in the dark. We intend to put a light on Haiti and on the immigration policy.


Reverend Jackson, I wanted to switch gears to the presidential campaign and ask you about a fellow resident of Chicago — two of them, actually — your senator, Barack Obama, and also the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. The conflict continues to brew, as Rev. Jeremiah Wright has come out and spoken publicly a number of times over the last week. This was Barack Obama’s response to some of his comments.

    SEN. BARACK OBAMA: When he states and then amplifies such ridiculous propositions as the US government somehow being involved in AIDS, when he suggests that Minister Farrakhan somehow represents one of the greatest voices of the twentieth and twenty-first century, when he equates the United States wartime efforts with terrorism, then there are no excuses. They offend me. They rightly offend all Americans. And they should be denounced. And that’s what I’m doing very clearly and unequivocally here today.


That’s Senator Barack Obama. I’m in Los Angeles, looking at the Los Angeles Times of yesterday, talking about how Barack Obama angrily disowned his former pastor and friend of twenty years, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Jr., saying Wright’s recent comments about race, religion and the US government were divisive and destructive and it undermined the purpose of Obama’s presidential candidacy. Your response, Reverend Jackson? You know both.


Well, it was a rather painful break, because of their relationship as friends, pastor-parishioner relationship . But the ideology of the pastor, Reverend Wright, and that of Barack are different. Barack had to make an unequivocal, clear break to maintain his campaign for presidency of the whole United States. And so, it’s a painful break. The break was made. And I hope it now is behind them.

It’s a bit early to seek between them reconciliation. At least there can be ceasefire, so the issues of great substance can be dealt with in North Carolina, Indiana, West Virginia and beyond, because while that has become a kind of sideshow on that issue, in the meantime, indebtedness to China and being bailed out by Middle East bankers, the Iraq war continues to rage. In the meantime, the record-breaking home foreclosure crisis. The issues that really do matter are off the front burner, while that diversion is focused on.

I must also say that the same standard on associates must apply to McCain, as well. There are ministers who support him whose ideology is not, quote-unquote, “mainstream.” And this is the kind of new phenomenon of judging candidates by their supporters. But if it’s going to be, let it be one set of rules.


And how do you feel about Senator Obama repudiating Reverend Wright?


He did what he had to do. He didn’t want to do it, because of the personal relationships. And I would hope that people understand that the stage that Barack Obama is now occupying, which could have a comprehensive effect upon all of us, must have supporters who appreciate he is playing the lead in this.

I support him in very strong terms, because I think he has the big vision, the integrity, the strength. And his wife, Michelle, is just a very brilliant and able woman. They represent something good in America. This is not an empty and idle hope. Their hope has in it faith and substance. So I wish them well in the next few weeks of this campaign.


And Reverend Wright, his position in the black church, his significance in Chicago?


It’s a strong one, because he is such an incredibly bright man, a man I’ve known for a long time. I have the highest regard for him. Here’s a case where two friends have a kind of pastor ideology and the political ideology, and they’re not the same. And on this stage, they clashed. They would never have clashed in a normal circumstance.

But on a given sermon, you go to any given church, and ministers speak freely from pulpits. Ministers are highly opinionated. They call it the prophetic tradition. And sometimes they are not mainstream, and they don’t want to be mainstream, because ften the mainstream might be polluted with corruption and fear and wheeling and dealing. So sometimes the prophet is the needle in the society of the big mainstream. So sometimes on the bigger stage that kind of a —-

I remember this biblical story, where David had used his power to get Uriah killed to go to bed with Bathsheba. Because he was -— David had all the power — he was a big political guy — everybody was going with the flow, the mainstream. And Nathan went to visit David and said, “By the way, there is a case where a man on a sheep farm, another man had one baby ewe or one baby lamb. This guy left his sheep farm, in fact, to get this man’s baby lamb.” David said, “That’s an awful thing. That should not have happened.” He said, “I’m talking about you.” I mean, he was a prophet speaking truth to power. That is a tradition. So I would hope that now that chapter is behind us.


We have to leave it there. Reverend Jackson, thanks so much for joining us, just back from Haiti.

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