The storms that have impacted and changed the lives of so many along the Gulf Coast, devastating agriculture, housing and infrastructure, have left much of the Caribbean in crisis this season as well. During Facing South's coverage of Hurricane Gustav, we reported on the the devastating impact the above-average hurricane season has had on both Haiti -- the poorest country in the Western hemisphere-- and on Louisiana -- one of the poorest states in the U.S.
In the past few weeks, the crisis in Haiti has only grown worse. Wracked by four major storms in quick succession -- Fay, Gustav, Hanna and Ike -- the impoverished island nation is facing "the largest catastrophe to strike the country in several years," according to Haitian Interior Minister Paul-Antoine Bien-Aime.
With hundreds dead, thousands displaced, stranded and missing, more than a hundred thousand refugees in storm shelters, and as many as 800,000 affected by the four major storms, aid and relief is critical. Huge tracts of crop land are underwater and scores of livestock are gone. Roads and bridges have collapsed, new rivers have appeared, and many parts of the country are still suffering the consequences of massive flooding and mudslides. By some estimates, 80 percent of the country's population has been displaced by wide-ranging flood damage.
The impact of U.S. and multinational policies continue to haunt the country. Haiti faces a deepening food crisis after the storms destroyed much of the country's rice crop, reports Reuters. Over the years, due to harsh policies and pressure from the United States, World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, Haiti has been forced to undergo strict structural adjustment policies that have had a devastating impact on its local economy, including it's rice crop. Critics argue that international lending organizations helped worsen hunger in Haiti by pursuing free market policies that undermined domestic rice production and turned the country into a market for U.S. rice, reports Reuters. This food crisis was further compounded by crippling sanctions, political destabilization, and environmental destruction.
Last week Haitian grass-roots activists in Florida joined together to urge President Bush to grant temporary protected legal status (TPS) to Haitians who are here without proper immigration documentation and to halt deportations to storm-ravaged nation. "The U. S. government heartlessly continues to let deportations take place without regard to human tragedy," Randy McGrorty, executive director of Catholic Legal Services, told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
TPS allows immigrants from countries experiencing armed conflict or environmental disasters to stay and work in the U.S. for a limited time. Despite the devastation of the recent hurricanes, Haitian immigrants' calls continue to go unheard.
"The events happening in Haiti only underscore the need for [TPS]," Steve Forester, senior policy advocate with Haitian Women of Miami, told the Sun Sentinel. "Haiti has been hit hard by these storms; hundreds are dead. This is precisely what temporary protected status is for. They need to temporarily stop deporting people."
TPS would also allow immigrants to continue to provide remittances, a valuable source of income for the impoverished nation. According to the AP:
Advocates say about 20,000 illegal Haitian immigrants would benefit from the status and help maintain a significant flow of money and food to the hemisphere's poorest country where half of its 8.5 million people live on less than $1 a day. Haitians abroad sent about $1.83 billion home last year, amounting to about 35 percent of the country's gross domestic product, according to the Inter-American Development Bank.
The last two storms are estimated to have caused $5 billion in damage in Cuba. Cuba has refused $5 million in aid from Washington, instead asking U.S. officials to ease trade sanctions for at least for six months so it can buy U.S.-made products to aid its recovery, reports the AP. This week hundreds of Cuban writers, musicians and artists took up that call, asking the U.S. to ease trade restrictions and speed the import of food and building supplies to help the island rebuild.