Latin America

Eating Dirt

By Brian Schwartz

Starving Haitians are eating dirt cookies. Merchants truck special dirt in from the central town of Hinche. Haitians buy this dirt, sift it for rocks, and mix it with shortening and salt, then form the muddy substance into cookies, drying them in the sun. The dried cookies are sold on the streets for five cents a piece. Eating dirt is called geophagy. Pregnant women have used this cookie as an antacid. Human beings resort to geophagy when food and essential minerals are scarce. Today Haitians are using dirt increasingly as a food staple.

Our world is capable of producing and delivering abundant food supplies. A few years ago, even the National Geographic had declared that it was possible at this time to feed the entire human species. NGOs dealing with hunger agree that it is feasible to wipe out starvation through organized distribution of food. It is only the lack of political will to distribute food without profit that prevents starvation from being eradicated.i Malthusian theories of the population exceeding Earth’s capability to provide food are considered crackpot. With environmental catastrophe looming on the horizon Malthus may have his day, but not in this decade at least.

When human beings are reduced to eating dirt in our world where such a tragedy is preventable, answers have to be found and solutions imposed so that lives can be saved immediately. Answers are readily available and will be discussed in this article.

Unfortunately, the solution is not going to be quick, but will have to be realized by the Haitian people themselves. A fatuous parasitic ruling class presides over Haiti’s misery, and, if Haitians are going to feed themselves, they are going to have to neutralize this force just like Fidel Castro’s July 26th movement did in Cuba. If there were forces within the international community that could bring immediate non-military relief to Haiti, who of us would do anything but applaud such a heroic action against the capitalist profit motive. But this time no adequate force in the world is mobilizing right now on Haiti’s behalf. NGOs, the International Committee of the Red Cross, religious charities, are not viewing this crisis with the same concern and urgency they did when the Tsunami struck the Pacific Ocean nations.

Intellectuals would scoff at socialists who urge the Haitians to take the Cuban road. As revolutionaries we socialists hold reality and truth dear. Naomi Klein in her book, The Shock Doctrine explains how aid money raised for tsunami victims initially helped Sri Lankan’s but then the Sri Lankan government and U.S. AID swiped the aid money, using it instead to erect exclusive tourist hotels on beaches once the home of Sri Lankan’s making their living off the sea. The international medical teams and NGO workers had insurmountable hurdles placed in front of them so they could no longer aid the Sri Lankan tsunami victims while the refugee camps became entrenched shanty towns. Only the victims, organized and outflanking their ruling class’s standing governments, can insure they receive the international aid. Reality dictates only too harshly that people have to mobilize, especially in Haiti, where the government is an armed force of thugs ripping off and terrorizing its citizens.

Leading world economist Jeffrey Sachs sheds light on the origins of today’s crisis stemming from the removal of Jeane Bertrand Aristide by the U.S. Government. Presenting his case in a Financial Times article entitled, “Don’t Fall for Washington’s Spin on Haiti,” published on ZNET, March 1, 2004, Sachs writes:

“The crisis in Haiti is another case of brazen U.S. manipulation of a small, impoverished country with the truth unexplored by journalists. In the nearly universal media line on the Haitian revolt, President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was portrayed as an undemocratic leader who betrayed Haiti’s democratic hopes and thereby lost the support of his erstwhile backers. He ‘stole’ elections and intransigently refused to address opposition concerns. As a result he had to leave office, which he did at the insistence of the U.S. and France. Unfortunately, this is a gravely distorted view.

“President George Bush’s foreign policy team came into office intent on toppling Mr. Aristide, long reviled by powerful U.S. conservatives such as former senator Jesse Helms who obsessively saw him as another Fidel Castro in the Caribbean. Such critics fulminated when President Bill Clinton restored Mr. Aristide to power in 1994 and succeeded in getting U.S. troops withdrawn soon afterwards, well before the country could be stabilized. In terms of helping to rebuild Haiti, the U.S. Marines left behind about eight miles of paved roads and essentially nothing else. In the meantime, the so-called ‘opposition,’ a coterie of rich Haitians linked to the preceding Duvalier regime and former (and perhaps current) CIA operatives, worked Washington to lobby against Mr. Aristide.”

It is this gang of rich Haitians and CIA operatives Sachs writes about, which hogs the country’s wealth leaving ordinary Haitians eating dirt.

Our world of capitalist classes and their corrupt governments refer to themselves as the “international community.” “Community” implies a group of people living together in an area under rule of law and working for the common good of that community. Too many times has this so-called “international community” broken laws and defied common human decency. The United Nations is a cesspool for do-gooders, seedy intellectuals, and no-name political careerists pretending to put a human face on the world capitalist economic order. In reality, the UN rubberstamps and supports the right of the advanced capitalist countries to exploit and dominate the developing world.

Any improvements for infrastructure or immediate rescue from famine can’t exceed the boundaries drawn by capitalists protecting their amassed wealth, which they cannot spend in their lifetimes or the life of their children. So nothing gets done and wretchedness chokes our globe from Haiti to Kenya.

Jean Bertrand Aristide and his Lavalas Party couldn’t lift Haiti out of poverty because of the limitations imposed upon them by the Haitian elite supported by the U.S. capitalist class and its military forces. Aristide didn’t choose the road to revolution. Instead, he became catatonic, mustering only enough strength to board a U.S. plane into forced exile.

Revolutionary mass action is not an easy road to take when the U.S. empire has no qualms using its military hardware to massacre civilians for profit and gain. Many combinations of international class struggle will be vital. It can’t be foreseen how the class struggle will erupt in Haiti or what forces in the international working class will come to her aid.

It is awful to contemplate, but so murderously real—Haiti’s people sentenced to death twice. They can die of starvation and do nothing or they can die fighting for a possible revolutionary government that will take the Cuban road regardless of the consequences, maybe establishing an economic order expropriating the wealth of the Haitian elites and their American business counterparts invested in Haiti.

Given the present situation where American workers are not on the move protecting theirs or anyone’s interests; where peace activists are looking to the Democratic Party itself just as committed as the Republicans to funding the American empire’s military adventures abroad; and students keep their noses in their textbooks rather than cultivating a social consciousness. Outraged people who are shocked by the plight of Haiti can do a few things individually. First, vote for socialist candidates running against the Democrats and Republicans. Second, encourage the formation of independent movements for social change such as a nation-wide, independent and democratically organized antiwar movement to end the war in Iraq and Afghanistan now, immediately, unconditionally!

Demand from NGO’s such as “Feed The Poor”, the UN, and the International Committee of the Red Cross that they take immediate action against the “dirt-eating crisis” and distribute food free to those who need it everywhere in the world.

More catastrophes are imminent if we don’t compel the ruling elites into relinquishing their unspendable wealth. Money amassed in personal fortunes does not build necessary infrastructure moving food where human beings are starving. Exploiting our world’s resources on a for-profit basis means that greed and social chaos takes precedence over building orderly societies where all human beings have their needs met. Opportunities for genuine individual cultural enrichment will be realized once the vicious cycle of the day-to-day scramble for survival is phased out of the human condition.

In the meantime for you, the UN, NGO’s, philanthropists, and smarmy intellectuals who can’t envision a world that moves its goods and services without a profit motive, remember what Jesus Christ said in Matthew chapter 7:

“Which one of you would hand his son a stone when he asks for a loaf of bread. Or a snake when he asks for a fish?”

Haiti is eating dirt. What will you hand her? More despair and ruin maintaining a capitalist world order?

—February 2, 2008


i Thomas Robert Malthus 1766-1834. British political economist theorizing that population would always exceed man’s capability to provide food and well being for all. Malthus’s philosophical writings were a rebuttal against his father and philosophers inspired by the age of reason and a hope that mankind could continually improve his life on Earth.