In 2010, former President Bill Clinton publicly apologized for forcing Haiti to drop tariffs on imported subsidized U.S. rice during his time in office. It wiped out rice farming, seriously damaging Haiti’s ability to be self-sufficient. “It may have been good for some of my farmers in Arkansas, but it has not worked. It was a mistake,” Clinton said in 2010.”I have to live every day with the consequences of the lost capacity to produce a rice crop in Haiti to feed those people, because of what I did.” Six years after Clinton’s apology, Haiti faces a new food crisis in the wake of Hurricane Matthew. We speak to Ninaj Raoul, executive director of Haitian Women for Haitian Refugees and a board member of IFCO/Pastors for Peace.
AMY GOODMAN: After the earthquake, and still many people live in makeshift tents because of the earthquake from 2010, but being there in Port-au-Prince and seeing ceremonies with President Bill Clinton, who said there are two critical issues in his life at that time. One was the marriage of his daughter, the imminent marriage of Chelsea, and the other is the reconstruction of Haiti. He was a major force in Haiti. What happened?
NINAJ RAOUL: So, first of all, we have to go back. When we look at Bill Clinton and his relationship in Haiti when he was president, one of the worst things the he’s done, that’s still hurting Haiti now, especially in the wake of these disasters that keep happening to Haiti, is this policy where he took the excess rice from Arkansas, where he’s from, and dumped it in Haiti and used our tax dollars to subsidize it. Up until this past recent year, there’s legislation that keeps getting knocked off to reverse this policy. Although he’s apologized for it—
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to that apology.
NINAJ RAOUL: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: Yes, in 2010, former President Clinton publicly apologized for forcing Haiti to drop tariffs on imported subsidized U.S. rice during his time in office. The policy wiped out Haitian rice farming, seriously damaging Haiti’s ability to be self-sufficient. This is the president apologizing at a hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. At the time, he was the U.N. special envoy to Haiti.
BILL CLINTON: Since 1981, the United States has followed a policy, until the last year or so when we started rethinking it, that we rich countries that produce a lot of food should sell it to poor countries and relieve them of the burden of producing their own food, so, thank goodness, they can leap directly into the industrial era. It has not worked. It may have been good for some of my farmers in Arkansas, but it has not worked. It was a mistake. It was a mistake that I was a party to. I am not pointing the finger at anybody. I did that. I have to live every day with the consequences of the lost capacity to produce a rice crop in Haiti to feed those people, because of what I did. Nobody else.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s President Clinton. Ninaj Raoul?
NINAJ RAOUL: This practice is still in effect in Haiti. It’s always getting rice dumped on them. Rice is a staple. There’s no reason why Haiti should be importing rice, because it’s something that’s always—the rice grown in Haiti is much healthier. Ever since this rice has been coming in, there have been diabetes epidemics. People didn’t used to have that much diabetes. This is the worst thing that could have happened to Haiti.
AMY GOODMAN: But right now, in the aftermath of the hurricane, with Haitian officials warning there could be a famine, what are the most critical actions that you feel need to be taken?
NINAJ RAOUL: I think it has to be supporting the farmers that are in these hardest-hit areas. You know, by bringing rice and other things that could have been grown in Haiti, that’s not helping at all. I think we need to support the farmers to start to recrop, you know, going forward and for the long term of Haiti. We need to start growing our rice in Haiti again, supporting the farmers in the Latibonit version—the Latibonit region of Haiti, where rice has always been grown in Haiti and supplied for the entire country.
AMY GOODMAN: And for the families of loved ones who have died, for the cholera epidemic, what is most critical right now, that you’re hearing from family and friends there?
NINAJ RAOUL: I just think support. I mean, most of the families are supported by their families over here. And the fact that these refugees are being returned, these are refugees that want to work to support their families. If they’re going to keep them in detention, they’re not able to work. Prior to this announcement on September 22nd, they were letting them in; 4,000 to 5,000 people came in. They simply stopped it, because they thought it would look bad for Hillary Clinton, with the election coming on, having all these refugees come in. There are thousands more on the way. Let these people work, and let them support their families.
AMY GOODMAN: Ninaj Raoul, I want to thank you for being with us, executive director of Haitian Women for Haitian Refugees, on the board member of IFCO. That’s Pastors for Peace.
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