[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

#3234: U.S.-Haiti Trade: The Politics of Rice... (fwd)


U.S.-Haiti Trade: The Politics of Rice American Firm Says It Helped
Farmers, But Some Wonder Who Really Benefited
By Michael Dobbs Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, April 13, 2000; Page A24 

 Lawrence Theriot, chief Washington lobbyist for the U.S.-owned Rice
Corporation of Haiti, likes to tell a joke that illustrates the special
nature of the international rice trade. Rice, he says, is a foodstuff
that is "4 percent protein, 96 percent politics." A Louisiana Cajun who
was once in charge of the Reagan administration's aid programs in the
Caribbean, Theriot has the  personal experience to prove his point. By
forging special  relationships with both U.S. politicians and Haitian
military dictators,Theriot and his Texas friend Douglas Murphy have
turned the impoverished nation of 7 million people into one of the
largest markets for American rice anywhere in the world.In the process,
they have made powerful enemies, and equally  powerful friends.
Third World advocacy groups have cited the privileged position of the
Rice Corporation as a case study in "corporate welfare" that has
 resulted from the free market policies advocated by the World Bank
 and International Monetary Fund. Last month, the Haitian government
 finally moved against the American rice merchants, fining them $1.4
 million for allegedly evading customs duties and smuggling rice into
 the country over a period of several years.Outraged by the fine, and
insisting they had done nothing wrong,Murphy and Theriot took their case
to Capitol Hill. They convinced Senate Foreign Relations Committee
Chairman Jesse Helms (R-N.C.)that the case was a simple matter of a
left-leaning Third World government harassing a legitimate U.S.-owned
business. Helms responded by ordering more than $30 million in U.S. aid
programs to Haiti frozen and asking the State Department to deny U.S.
visas to the Haitian finance minister, police chief and eight other
senior officials. On closer examination, the Rice Corporation's story
turns out to be  more complex than either side has acknowledged.

"The truth is complicated, lies are very simple," said Theriot,
objecting to the portrayal of his company as the enemy of Haitian rice
farmers and the beneficiary of free trade policies imposed on Haiti by
the IMF. He maintains that the Rice Corporation has benefited Haitian
consumers by keeping rice prices low as well as helping more than
100 Haitian rice growers improve yields and market their products.
While conceding that low tariffs helped the Rice Corporation
penetrate the Haitian market, particularly in the early 1990s, Theriot
argues that IMF policies have harmed the company in recent years.
He says the IMF encouraged the Haitian government to boost
revenues by imposing various sales taxes on rice after 1996, raising
the effective tariff rate from 3 percent to 9 percent. The effect, says
Theriot, has been to put the Rice Corporation at a huge disadvantage
to smugglers who avoid paying taxes.But the image propagated by Helms of
Murphy and Theriot as innocent victims of Third World arbitrariness is
also incomplete. Court records show that Murphy, in particular, has been
involved in a string of controversial business dealings. Most recently,
he was ousted as president of Rice Corporation's parent company,
American Rice Inc.,after being found guilty of fraud by a Texas court.
The past and present owners of American Rice are struggling for control
over the  profitable Haitian subsidiary.
Earlier this year, the new owners of American Rice filed suit in
 American and Haitian courts, accusing Murphy and Theriot of
"corporate looting." Western diplomats in Port-au-Prince, Haiti's
capital, believe that the Haitian authorities used the suit as
justification for cracking down on long-suspected tax evasion by the
Rice Corporation.