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Haiti is on the edge of failure. The recent earthquake and the assassination of President Moise Jovenel has pushed already weak institutions and a dangerous security situation over the edge making normal trade impossible. One U.S. industry has been hit particularly hard: rice farmers. Rice exporters from Louisiana have been trying to navigate the security situation in Port-Au-Prince to get life-saving American food into stores, but have been met with the terror of gangs that will not allow them to trade freely. Continuing to ignore the quickly deteriorating situation in our neighbor’s capital city comes at the expense of U.S. economic and national security.
Haiti is plunging into Somalia-style failure in which the criminal gangs — who now run Port-Au-Prince — are intercepting offloaded food and taking some, or all, of the shipments for their own benefits. Many are selling through the black market, making rice a bloody currency.
For several months, Louisiana rice shippers have been trying to deliver food to meet the needs of the Haitian population — a population that consumes beans and rice as a staple. To do this, however, the Haitian government needs to provide security to get it from the dock to the store shelves. This was the norm for Louisiana rice for two decades. Since the government crumbled, that security has vanished. This has caused the shippers to lose their war insurance, making an upcoming shipment impossible and putting in peril the entire 500,000 tons a year business.
Louisiana rice growers are now stuck with surpluses of rice, with no way to get it to the Haitian people. Families in Haiti will suffer the most because they will go hungry, but there is enough harm to go around.
There will be many consequences if we continue to ignore Haiti. American rice producers will lose business, causing direct economic impacts at home; Haitian refugees will start fleeing the gang-controlled country in larger numbers than they already are, thrusting more illegal immigrants into America’s already stressed system — immigrants who the Biden administration will then carelessly dump unvaccinated onto the street corners of towns like Shreveport, La., as they have done before; and Haiti will likely reach such a dire state that the U.S. will be compelled to send in even more food aid — through the World Food Program and paid for by U.S. taxpayers, taxpayers like Louisiana rice farmers — to meet the rice shortages.
This is what failure looks like and why it matters.
Protecting U.S. trade of essential goods like rice to a people in need of stability is one of the keys to preventing the situation in Haiti from getting worse. The Biden administration needs to pay attention to stranglehold gangs have placed on Port-Au-Prince. It is at the heart of what we expect our governments to do. Not solving this problem will have real implications, not only for Haiti, but for America, and Louisiana in particular, as well.
Cassidy is the senior senator from Louisiana.
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