Thursday, February 12, 2015

Aiding the Corporations

On the 12th of January 2010, Haiti was devastated by a magnitude 7.0 earthquake. An estimated 3 million people were affected, with upwards of 160,000 to 316,000 people killed. In the wake of this disaster a massive aid-campaign was initiated. However, much of the allotted funds have not been used to help the people of Haiti.

At the head of the post-earthquake aid effort was the the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), which reported that in 2013 alone it had spent over $270m in Haiti. From this significant figure, American non-profits received 40% and a further 50% went to US-based corporations. One such company is Chemonics International, which was allotted more than $58m. Chemonics claimed this would be dedicated to further “promoting recovery and laying the foundation for long term development in Haiti.” The aid money that was allotted to Chemonics international is being funneled towards the “Watershed Initiative for National Natural Environmental Resources” (WINNER) program. The stated aim of WINNER was to implement methods of watershed conservation which would in turn help local farmers. However the aim of this program has shifted substantially to “focus more on large-scale agricultural production, processing, and commercialization in the economic corridors.” The extensive funding of Chemonics in Haiti raises the question of the actual agenda being promoted and the corporations behind it. The WINNER program faced harsh criticism from the office of the US Inspector General in a 2012 audit of the program. The audit found that not only did the WINNER program not focus on its original goal of restoring local agriculture, its actions posed significant environmental and health risks within Haiti.

WINNER faced criticism in particular for “not encouraging safe handling of pesticides” and not “adhering to USAID’s biodiversity code.” Both of these problems are linked to the partnership with Monsanto as it was found that Monsanto products were being distributed without proper signage or safety measures, leaving Haitians at risk. The WINNER program puts small businesses in danger by distributing Monsanto seeds that do not replenish naturally for the coming seasons. There is also the added risk of actively encouraging the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. These chemicals were provided by Chemonics “to the agricultural supply stores that support WINNER’s agricultural campaigns.” The auditors were shocked to find that the storage of both Monsanto seeds and chemical pesticides was practiced without the implementation of basic safety measures.

Instead of focusing on rebuilding Haiti, especially after the 2010 earthquake, the aim of these groups has been to undermine local businesses by installing systems that support corporations such as Monsanto. Though the ICG originally proposed a financial intervention based on purported environmental and poverty-based concerns, this was then twisted by USAID and Chemonics into delivery programs for Monsanto products. The actions and of these immensely powerful, multinational aid groups and their corporate sponsors are what the people of Haiti face in their prolonged struggle for financial independence. Small, grass-roots activist groups are fighting for the basic human rights of not only preserving Haitian livelihoods but also retaining indigenous biodiversity. Under the guise of philanthropy and humanitarian projects, corporations are silently annexing Haiti’s agricultural economy and consequently the basic freedoms of its population.


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