Communist Pigs vs Capitalist Pigs

Only by killing all of Haiti’s pigs could the US force its people to abandon their self-sufficiency

By George Monbiot. Published in the Guardian 2nd April 1996.

African swine fever came to the Dominican Republic by way of a ham sandwich on a Spanish airliner. It soon spread down the Artibonite River and over the border into Haiti. The epidemic swiftly killed one-third of that country’s pigs, but, by late 1981, it seemed to be fizzling out. The United States was taking no chances, however. It funded a programme to slaughter every pig in Haiti.

To the peasants producing most of Haiti’s food, the programme was devastating. Their small black pigs, which largely fended for themselves, were so critical to their economy that the same word was used for “pig” and for “bank”. People hid their pigs in holes and caves, but President Duvalier’s dreaded Tontons Macoutes rooted the animals out and had them shot. Even quarantined herds were exterminated.

The US Agency for International Development (USAID) argued that the slaughter should be seen as less of a problem than an opportunity. By replacing the small black pigs with large white ones from the US, Haiti could become a pork exporter, and a lucky new participant in the modern agricultural economy.

The new pigs grew fast, but needed as much pampering as the Duvaliers. While the peasants lived in bamboo shacks and ate only the food they grew for themselves, the white pigs needed concrete houses, showers and imported food and medicine. Pig-breeding became the preserve of big business, leaving the peasants with nothing. It is no exaggeration to say that the demise of the creole pig sped the demise of Baby Doc.

President Aristide’s new government began to import black pigs from other islands and distribute them to the peasants. As a result, when Aristide was overthrown the new military leaders declared that the black pigs were communist pigs, whose owners should be rounded up as subversives. The white pigs, by contrast, were capitalist pigs, and a source of national pride. By the time Aristide returned, in 1994, the peasant economy had been strangled, and much of the peasants’ land had been bought up by companies growing coffee or flowers for export to America.

Haiti is not the only country to have suffered from the replacement of old, slow-breeding crops or livestock with new, feracious varieties. Over the last 30 years the “Green Revolution” – which has introduced new crops and techniques to countries all over the Third World – has led to a tremendous increase in the volume of such staple foods as rice, maize and wheat, and has helped to avert the famines predicted in the 1960s. But, one by one, its promises of a secure and healthy future are falling away.

A report published this week by the International Food Policy Research Institute confirms the surprising information that, even as the amount of calories consumed has risen, the prevalence of nutrition-related diseases such as iron, zinc and vitamin A deficiency has remained unchanged or has even increased. The new high-yield grain varieties are typically lower in critical nutrients than the crops they replaced. Farmers, the institute suggests, should return to the varieties they were growing before, modified slightly to produce higher yields.

Though they will have to re-learn most of what the Green Revolution has encouraged them to unlearn, peasant farmers may not be slow to take the institute’s advice. Even in the Punjab, where the Green Revolution has ostensibly been most successful, high-tech farmers are reaping soil erosion, pesticide pollution and water shortages, indebtedness, declining incomes and an unhealthy dependence on expensive farm imports.

As peasant producers are knocked out by bankruptcy and ecological collapse, farming all over the world is concentrating in the hands of those who can afford to invest in the most lucrative crops – luxuries for the First World, rather than necessities for the Third. This trend could scarcely suit the First World better. We get cheaper fruit, flowers, coffee and sugar as well as new markets for our surplus grain.

The Green Revolution was engineered, funded and promoted largely by the United States, which also happens to be the world’s most aggressive food exporter. The two roles are not wholly unrelated. Senator Rudy Boschwitz, who helped draft the US Farm Act, argued that “if we do not … discourage these developing countries from aiming at self-reliance now, our world-wide competitive position will continue to slide”.

USAID and other powerful advocates of the Green Revolution have done just as he asked. In Haiti, the agency’s objective was a shift of “30% of all cultivated land from the production of food to the production of export crops”. At first this was impossible, as the peasant economy was too strong. After the pig-stickings it became achievable. While the world’s most powerful pigs have their snouts in the trough, only self-reliance will deliver food security.