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Jane Smiley

Jane Smiley

Posted: January 16, 2010 06:22 PM

Capitalist Pigs

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The horror that is the aftermath of the Haitian earthquake has many of us, of course, looking around for explanations of why Haiti is so poor. Since I have no ideas to offer for the resurrection of Haiti, I've spent my time looking for people to blame, and there are many. Some of them are French, since the government of Charles X committed an act of armed extortion in 1825 when it demanded of its former slaves 150 million francs in reparations (you know those French, the pact with the devil that was enslavement wasn't enough for them--they had to make a second pact with the devil that insured Haiti's impoverishment for generations). The US has been fiddling with Haiti off and on since the French went away, but the sin that really struck me in my researches took place during the Reagan Administration (as did so many in all areas). American hog farmers became nervous about the appearance of African Swine Fever in Haiti, in the 400,000 strong population of indigenous black swine, animals that the peasantry depended upon for survival (article here). American authorities and Haitian authorities then set about exterminating ALL of these hogs. Don't you love that? Then they sent the peasants a few experimental white hogs from Iowa that were used to luxury conditions, just to see if they might be able to live there. The Haitian hogs were classic hogs who did classic hog business--scavenging, getting fat, making use of what they could find. The new American hogs needed to live in American hog idleness in a world without the facilities they were used to.

Guess what happened to the Haitian peasantry and to their land? The land is denuded, the peasantry has moved to Port-au-Prince, and over-populated Port-au-Prince is now one of the great disaster areas in modern history.

I don't know--is everything the US does a shocking embarrassment? Couldn't the hogs have been tested for the virus? Couldn't the virus be contained? Couldn't they have waited and seen? Couldn't they have used the opportunity to breed some hogs for the conditions, or maybe exported some of these wild boar we have in my neighborhood, who are good scavengers? Did we have to panic and kill all of them? Did we have to then drop the ball? I can't find anything on the net other than this Time article, so if someone knows what happened next, please fill me in. But it seems to me that slaughtering those black Haitian swine was a disgustingly short-sighted and hubristic thing to do. I guess I'll send some more money to Haitian relief (Mercy Corps this time). I'll send in the name of our own Missouri pig, Rush Limbaugh.