The Blood of the Earth : Agriculture, Land Rights, and Haitian History

From an Interview with Ricot Jean-Pierre

15 January 2016 by Beverley Bell , Jean-Pierre Ricot

CC - Flickr - marie-chantalle - Île-à-Vâche

Yesterday, January 12, on the sixth anniversary of the 7.0 earthquake, Haitians mourned the countless lives lost. Among the many aftershocks they face is disaster capitalism, in which the Haitian elite and foreign corporations - backed by the US government, World Bank, and Inter-American Development Bank - are grabbing lands for extraction and mega-development projects. Ricot Jean-Pierre, social worker and program director of the Platform to Advocate Alternative Development in Haiti (PAPDA), tells how inequitable control of land has devastated the vast majority throughout Haitian history, from enslavement to today.

Today we live in a crucial moment in which peasants are confronting challenges as they grapple with global warming, with the power of multinational companies over what they eat and how they live, and with an agricultural model that can’t provide them livelihood. Among the risks and catastrophes the peasants confront are lack of quality and quantity in food production, and their right to live as human beings. They also face a challenge in accessing the basic resources they need to produce, especially seeds and water.

The biggest problem has to do with access to land. Land defines social relations and economic systems in communities and countries. The right to land is linked with the agricultural system peasants want and to the kind of economic model that can buttress it. We see this in Haiti as all over in Latin America, Africa, and other parts the world.

There has to be a battle over the future of the global economic model, linked with the agricultural model as defined by Via Campesina. That model has to be family-oriented, peasant-oriented, and ecological. It has to adequately address questions of land ownership, of what and how peasants produce, of all the questions linked to their future and the future of the planet. Today, all of this is greatly threatened by the agro-industrial model of production, within the broader model of capitalist production that threatens life itself. That agro-industrial model does not augur a good future for the world’s people.

Land: Lynchpin in Haitian History

Let’s look at the issue of land in the Haitian context. Even though Haiti has a specific history, it must nonetheless be placed in a context of global forces. These processes have been more acute in Haiti than in many countries, being an area that - since 1492 with the arrival of Columbus - was subjugated sequentially by Spain, France and others in the triangular trade between Europe, Africa, and the Americas. The colonizers used Indians first, replacing them with Africans next, to work the land as slaves and produce great wealth.

In 1791, we had a slave revolt driven by two major demands: freedom and access to land. The latter was the central concern of the peasantry vis-à-vis winning the country’s liberation, under generals who promised access to land as a major incentive. The struggles of the dominated were to achieve control over their lives, the land, their own production processes, their own economy and, ultimately, the political independence of country.

Since [the liberation from both France and enslavement in] 1804, we have seen a fight between two models of production. One was driven by the generals promoting large plantations, producing for export to generate income while disregarding the needs of the local population to achieve food sovereignty. This led to the exploitation of the peasantry, and their spiraling fall into poverty.

This also led to more resistance resulting, as one example, in the rise of the peasant leader Jean-Jacques Acaau in 1843. Through the 19th and 20th Centuries, the resistance was met with massacres. This happened, for instance, in 1987 in the area of Jean-Rabel [when landowners and hired goons killed 139 peasants in one day] and Piatre [when paid killers assassinated 11 people in one day in 1990].

Global forces have continued to control land ownership and agriculture. They include international institutions like the World Bank World Bank
The World Bank was founded as part of the new international monetary system set up at Bretton Woods in 1944. Its capital is provided by member states’ contributions and loans on the international money markets. It financed public and private projects in Third World and East European countries.

It consists of several closely associated institutions, among which :

1. The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD, 189 members in 2017), which provides loans in productive sectors such as farming or energy ;

2. The International Development Association (IDA, 159 members in 1997), which provides less advanced countries with long-term loans (35-40 years) at very low interest (1%) ;

3. The International Finance Corporation (IFC), which provides both loan and equity finance for business ventures in developing countries.

As Third World Debt gets worse, the World Bank (along with the IMF) tends to adopt a macro-economic perspective. For instance, it enforces adjustment policies that are intended to balance heavily indebted countries’ payments. The World Bank advises those countries that have to undergo the IMF’s therapy on such matters as how to reduce budget deficits, round up savings, enduce foreign investors to settle within their borders, or free prices and exchange rates.

, the IMF IMF
International Monetary Fund
Along with the World Bank, the IMF was founded on the day the Bretton Woods Agreements were signed. Its first mission was to support the new system of standard exchange rates.

When the Bretton Wood fixed rates system came to an end in 1971, the main function of the IMF became that of being both policeman and fireman for global capital: it acts as policeman when it enforces its Structural Adjustment Policies and as fireman when it steps in to help out governments in risk of defaulting on debt repayments.

As for the World Bank, a weighted voting system operates: depending on the amount paid as contribution by each member state. 85% of the votes is required to modify the IMF Charter (which means that the USA with 17,68% % of the votes has a de facto veto on any change).

The institution is dominated by five countries: the United States (16,74%), Japan (6,23%), Germany (5,81%), France (4,29%) and the UK (4,29%).
The other 183 member countries are divided into groups led by one country. The most important one (6,57% of the votes) is led by Belgium. The least important group of countries (1,55% of the votes) is led by Gabon and brings together African countries.
, and the WTO WTO
World Trade Organisation
The WTO, founded on 1st January 1995, replaced the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT). The main innovation is that the WTO enjoys the status of an international organization. Its role is to ensure that no member States adopt any kind of protectionism whatsoever, in order to accelerate the liberalization global trading and to facilitate the strategies of the multinationals. It has an international court (the Dispute Settlement Body) which judges any alleged violations of its founding text drawn up in Marrakesh.

, in complicity with countries and governments [everywhere]. Between 1983 and 1996, in accords with the European Union, CARICOM and the WTO, we underwent a very harmful process of liberalization. One result of this process is that small farmers can now only produce 40% of the food the country consumes.

These actors have made land into a resource that has to be controlled as a central nexus of all processes of production. They have pushed small producers, peasants, and even states out of the way.

In recent years, we’ve seen a shift towards agro-industry, involving large agricultural plantations and mono-cropping [the cultivation of a single crop on large scale] with a negative impact on the environment, the quality of life of people, the de-structuring of the local economy, and greater dependence on the international economy.

Anti-Peasant Government Programs

The current [Martelly] government is fundamentally anti-peasantry, returning the peasantry to slavery without control over their own means of production, and without the necessary tools to be an actor in the social and economic life of the nation. The government has implemented laws, measures, and projects that exclude the peasantry, such as trying to expropriate people on [[the small island of] Île-à-Vâche->] to make way for tourism. Similar projects are being considered for the islands of La Tortue and La Gonâve.

Beyond tourism, a second target area is exploitation of mines. The World Bank has helped draft a mining law would benefit multinational companies – American, Canadian, European and others – and displace an unknown number of peasants. Both exploration and actual mining are underway even though there hasn’t been a functioning parliament that could pass the law.

The third area has to do with the creation of free-trade agricultural zones to seize the land from peasants for the benefit of investors. Peasants who used to cultivate the land to make a living are reduced to finding daily work in the free trade zone for a few dollars a day. Agritrans [a company led by heir apparent to the presidency, Jovenel Moïse] aims to do just that, to produce bananas for sale in Europe.

In fact, 25% of the country’s GNP Gross National Product
The GNP represents the wealth produced by a nation, as opposed to a given territory. It includes the revenue of citizens of the nation living abroad.
comes from peasant agriculture. Even with their simple tools, peasants play an important role in the economy of the country. Yet they are treated dismissively as poor country cousins.

A fourth action on the part of the government, resulting in loss of peasants’ rights to land and life, is the creation of free-trade industrial zones in rural areas. The industrial park in Caracol is a good example of what has happened since 2012, with the complicity of USAID and the Clintons. Another example is in Maribahou, in the North East where Codevi, a Dominican outfit, created a free trade zone. In Caracol, with the displacement of the peasants in a most fertile area, hunger has grown.

The government has abandoned any idea of agrarian reform, contrary to the demands of the peasants. Instead, through land ownership reform, the government is aiming at the expulsion of the peasantry with violence. They are planning to seize the land and eliminate the actors that have prevented the economy and country from sinking since 1791.

The Need for Democracy in Land and Agricultural Policy

Peasant groups are fighting to protect their rights, to get land, to undo the public policies being adopted by the government. They are working to defend a peasant-, family-oriented and ecological agriculture, to promote food sovereignty, and to fight rural poverty through economic and social policies. The mobilizations that have taken place since 2012 are to do away with multinational organizations and companies working endlessly to be the lords and masters of the land. The mobilizations are to let the citizens take control of the country and draft public policies to satisfy their demands. These include the right to land, water, seeds, local markets, food; and to reshaping the connection between agriculture and the larger economy.

We need to create strong organizations and networks to empower people so they can serve their role as citizens and have democratic control of public policies. These organizations and networks must link with their counterparts everywhere to promote food sovereignty in global public economic policy.

Source : Other Worlds

Jean-Pierre Ricot

Social worker and program director of the Platform to Advocate Alternative Development in Haiti (PAPDA)



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