Haiti: Monsanto offers “poisoned present”?

At a May 12 press conference Haitian agriculture minister Joanas GuĂ© announced that the government had accepted a “gift of 475,947 kilograms [about 523.6 US tons] of hybrid corn seeds along with 2,067 kilograms of vegetable seeds” from the Monsanto Company, a US-based biotechnology multinational that produces genetically modified organisms (GMO). He denied that the seeds were genetically modified.

Jean-Yves UrfiĂ©, a retired chemistry professor and Catholic priest, had written an article charging that Monsanto was offering GMO seeds, which he called “a poisoned present to Haitian peasants,” since “to have the right to sow again later, it will be necessary to pay Monsanto royalties each time.” He said the seeds had been distributed in GonaĂŻves, Kenscoff, PĂ©tionville, Cabaret, Arcahaie, Croix-des-Bouquets and Mirebalais. On May 13, after the press conference, UrfiĂ© published a letter withdrawing his original charge. He explained that “according to a credible agronomist, there was a real offer of 400 [metric] tons of GMO seeds, but Minister GuĂ© personally rejected this offer.” (AlterPresse, Haiti, May 13, May 14)

The Monsanto controversy came as questions increased about other donations made after a Jan. 12 earthquake killed some 230,000 people and destroyed much of Port-au-Prince and the surrounding area. An investigation by CBS News found that most of the hundreds of millions of dollars raised by five US charities—CARE, Catholic Relief Services, the Red Cross, the Clinton-Bush Haiti Fund and the separate Clinton Foundation Haiti Fund—had still not reached Haiti four months after the earthquake. CARE had spent about 25% of the $444 million it raised, while Catholic Relief Services had spent just 8%. The charities said they were keeping the money for long-term projects. CBS calculated that enough had been raised to give “a check for $37,000” to each family made homeless by the quake. (CBS News, May 12; Center for Economic Policy and Research blog, May 13)

On May 14 France Hurtubise, a spokesperson for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Haiti, announced that the office now estimates the number people left homeless by the quake at 1.7 million, up from previous estimates of 1.5 million. Most have been living in improvised shelters in informal encampments around the city. Hurtubise claimed that 235,000 people had been moved to new camps in the area and that 60,000 tents had been distributed to homeless families. (Radio MĂ©tropole, Haiti, May 14)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, May 16.

See our last post on Haiti.