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#4584: Aristide: The Persistence of Poverty in the Age of Globalization (fwd)
From: radman <email@example.com>
> The Persistence of Poverty in the Age of Globalization
> Speech by Jean-Bertrand Aristide
> University of North Carolina
> Chapel Hill, North Carolina
> October 20, 1997
>I wish to begin by thanking the University of North Carolina for the
>invitation to be here with you. This lectureship is dedicated to the
>discussion of the persistence of poverty, either material poverty or poverty
>of spirit. Allow me to ask first of all what it means to be poor. You are
>students, going to school, if it is not to become rich, but certainly not to
>become poor. Nobody goes to school to become poor. Today 1.3 billion people
>in our world live on less than one dollar a day. This is material poverty.
>Not one hundred years ago, not ten years ago, today, right now.
>At the other end of the economic scale, we find that worship of the market
>and its invisible hand is fast becoming a world religion in which the tunnel
>vision of economic growth has become the measure and the limit of our human
>project. Globalization, the integration of world markets, promises to lift
>everyone, rich and poor. Does this mean that poverty will no longer persist?
>Since 1980 most third world countries have opened their economies to the
>world market. They have lowered tariffs, embraced free trade, and allowed
>goods and services from the industrialized world to flow in. Breathtaking
>technological advances are bringing the world closer together, and a global
>culture of sports, entertainment, and consumer goods is being created. Yet
>where in 1960 the richest 20% of the world?s population had 70% percent of
>the wealth of the world and the poorest 2.3%, today the richest have 85% and
>the poorest just 1.1 %. 358 individual billionaires have more wealth today
>than the combined yearly income of 45% of the world?s people. Poverty, it
>would seem, is not only persisting in the age of globalization it is
>becoming more entrenched.
>This persistence is somehow rooted in structural factors. Haiti, Latin
>America?s oldest republic was not always poor. In 1789 it was France?s most
>valuable colony and accounted for 1/3 of all French commerce. More ships
>docked in our ports than in the great trading center of Marseilles. And in
>that same year, 1789, Haiti produced more wealth than all 13 of the North
>American colonies put together.
>In 1791 Haiti?s 400,000 black slaves, the producers of this great wealth,
>revolted against their servitude in what became the world?s only successful
>slave revolution. The French waged a total war, which lasted ten years, and
>destroyed Haiti?s infrastructure and agricultural productivity.
>Lasting peace with France was only achieved in 1823 when Haiti agreed to pay
>$150 million francs to reimburse the French for the loss of their land and
>slaves, making Haiti Latin America?s first debtor nation. To pay the first
>30 million-francs, Haitian President Boyer closed all of Haiti schools. This
>was an early case of structural adjustment, that is, the application of
>government austerity measures to enable the payment of foreign debt.
>Indebtedness also persists. In 1995, severely indebted low-income countries
>paid one billion more dollars to the International Monetary Fund than they
>received from it. For the 46 countries of Sub Saharan Africa foreign debt
>service is currently four times their combined governmental health and
>Haiti?s heavy debt to France not only discouraged investments in
>infrastructure and education it also encouraged the logging of Haiti?s
>tropical forests for export to Europe, precipitating the almost total
>deforestation that exists in Haiti today. Without the trees to hold the
>soil, one percent of Haiti?s topsoil washes to sea each year, driving
>Haiti?s peasant farmers further into poverty as the land produces less and
>less each year.
>But if the structures of poverty persist, the poor also persist. They
>persist in surviving; they persist in struggling for a better life. They
>persist in creating a way where there is no way.
>Let me share this story with you. On weekends we invite kids from the
>neighbor hood to spend time with us at home. One day last year, Florence, a
>beautiful little girl of four years old, who has no mother and no father,
>was visiting. As the kids were preparing to go to swim I asked Florence
>where she was going. She pointed to the pool, and said "in that big bucket."
>She had never seen a pool before. I asked her if the pool was big or small.
>She said, "it is beautiful." Later as we were serving the kids cola I was
>teasing her, telling her not to taste it because it was rum, she said, "no
>it is cola." I asked her which did she prefer cola or rum? She responded
>firmly " I prefer juice.".
>Florence is a child. She responds in a natural way. But we adults can take
>from this story something else. When presented with two options, we can
>always create a third way.
>During the past few years, while I was in exile from Haiti, and now since
>finishing my term as President, I have traveled and spoken to groups around
>the world: to students throughout the United States, at conferences in
>Europe and Latin America, to young people in Japan, and recently in Finland.
>Each time I address a new group I am struck - the same questions - the same
>hunger to create this third way, to find alternatives, to respond to poverty
>in a moral way. In Japan last year I said to a group of University students
>"When someone is hungry I am hungry, when someone is suffering, I am
>suffering." And there I saw the unmistakable flash of recognition of truth
>in their eyes.
>If poverty persists, the thirst to challenge poverty also persists, and from
>this persistence movements for social change are constantly renewed.
>In Haiti in 1986 - A 30-year dictatorship was brought down.
>In 1990 - We had our first fair and free democratic elections.
>In 1991- the military seized power through a brutal coup d?etat and held the
>nation hostage for three years.
>In 1994, thanks to the continuous non-violent resistance of the Haitian
>people and the support of the International Community, the coup d?etat was
>reversed. I returned to Haiti to complete my term as President.
>In 1995, in accordance with the wishes of the great majority of the Haitian
>people we disbanded the military, which had up until then consumed 40% of
>our national budget. This was an historic step in our struggle to eradicate
>Today I believe Haiti?s path to democracy is irreversible, but it remains
>fragile due to the economic situation. During the coup d?etat the already
>battered economy shrunk drastically. The average Haitian survives on about
>$220 US dollars a year, while one percent of the population still controls
>45% of the national wealth. 50% of children under the age of five in Haiti
>In nations around the world, even those experiencing rapid economic growth,
>there are millions of children living on the streets, refugees of a system
>that puts the market before the person. Every three seconds, one of these
>children dies of hunger. If we listen closely, these children have a message
>for the next century. Eleven years ago we opened a center for street
>children in Port-au-Prince. This year, we opened a radio station with our
>400 kids. Radyo Timoun (little people?s radio) broadcasts their music, their
>news, and their commentaries 14 hours a day. The station is a testament to
>the power of human spirit. I was recently listening to a commentary on
>democracy prepared by three eleven-year old girls. They defined democracy as
>food, school, and health care for everyone. Simplistic or visionary? For
>them democracy in Haiti doesn?t mean a thing unless the people can eat.
>The poor have a message for us as well. Consider this: five months ago a
>newborn baby was found in a pile of garbage by one of our teachers. Ants had
>eaten part of the child?s hand. The teacher, Rose, is a poor woman. She took
>the baby, named him Ti Moise (little Moses). He has become the smallest
>among our 400 kids. This woman teaches us that beyond market values there
>are human values.
>Around the world, very often mothers, in a special way, protect human
>values. It is no exaggeration to say that the survival of the people rests
>on the strength of women. If we look at worldwide income generated through
>the informal sector, that is income not counted in GDP, it is sixteen
>trillion dollars a year, and of this eleven trillion is generated by women.
>Studies around the world have shown that when household budgets are in the
>hands of women, they are more likely to be spent for primary needs (food,
>education, and health care). I would hazard to predict that when the budgets
>of nations are in the hands of women we will see the same result.
>Women, children, the poor must be subjects, not the objects of history. They
>must sit at the decision-making tables; they must fill the halls of power.
>Their participation will bring a wealth of human spirit that we need to lead
>us into the next century.
>In civil society, through grassroots organizations, non-governmental
>organizations, peasant movements, and environmental groups, we find
>structures for this participation being built throughout the world.
>In Haiti at the Aristide Foundation for Democracy we are creating structures
>for economic participation. In 1996 we created a 12,000-person cooperative
>that offers low interest loans to its members. Later, the cooperative opened
>a community store where the members can buy rice, beans and other
>necessities for about two-thirds of the market price. The power of this
>cooperative is not its economic capital; it is the capital of confidence
>that the members are building. They are investing in one another, something
>the global economy is unwilling to do.
>In a world seeking alternatives, on the eve of the next century, small
>experiments like these, like the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, may offer the
>seeds of hope.
>The need is urgent. We know that global spending priorities are grotesquely
>skewed. It is estimated that only 10% of development aid goes towards
>meeting primary human needs (education, health care, clean water, and
>sanitation). This amount represents less than what the industrialized world
>spends on athletic shoes each year. It would take six billion dollars a
>year, from now to the year 2000 in addition to what is already spent, to put
>every child in the world in school. This seems an impossible amount, yet it
>represents less than 1% of world military spending.
>In Cite Soleil, Port-au-Prince?s largest slum over 200,000 people live in
>one square mile, in perhaps the worst living conditions in the Western
>Hemisphere. When you go there you have the impression that the people never
>sleep, there is activity day and night. This is because there is not enough
>physical space for everyone to lie down at the same time. They sleep by
>How do these people survive? Why is suicide practically unheard of in Haiti?
>To understand we must move beyond statistics. To see the richness of the
>Haitian people we must examine cultural factors: wealth of humor, warmth of
>character, ease of laughter, Dignity, Solidarity. We have traditions in
>Haiti that allow us to: share food when we can; raise the child of a friend
>or relative who cannot; work together in a Konbit to bring in a crop, or
>build a neighbor?s house, in exchange for a meal shared at the end of the
>day; make one more place on a tap-tap that is already impossibly full;
>survive in a vast informal economy that remains beyond the statisticians,
>yet provides the main source of sustenance for 70% of the urban workforce.
>And then we still smile, and we still laugh. In Haiti we are rich in these.
>A vast wealth of experience, knowledge, and skill resides with the poor.
> From all this creativity, this panorama of human endurance of the poor in
>Haiti, and the poor in Mexico, and in Brazil, and Southeast Asia and Africa,
>and more and more of the poor in North America and Europe, we can learn.
>There is a wealth of spirit here and will persist
>The United Nations Human Development Report for 1997 tells us that poverty
>is no longer inevitable. The world has the material and natural resources,
>the know-how and people to make a poverty-free world a reality in less than
>a generation. This is the challenge of the next century.
>If this challenge seems impossible, reflect on this: During the coup, while
>I was in exile, a member of our parliament who was fiercely opposed to our
>return, declared on television that I would never return. The people should
>stop talking about Aristide, he said, for when did you ever see an egg laid
>by a chicken go back into the chicken? After my return, the people painted
>murals on walls throughout the country: a huge chicken, a huge egg, and a
>finger pushing the egg back into the chicken.
>The impossible became possible.