The Pigs of Haiti

by Dale H. Easley


Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Its population lives on an average of less than seventy cents per day. The policies of the United States government have often made that poverty worse. The US has invaded Haiti multiple times and occupied it from 1915-1934. In 1991, it instituted an economic embargo on Haiti to force out the military dictatorship that had overthrown the democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. The embargo was originally intended to last a couple of months but lasted three years, devastating what remained of the Haitian economy. However, the damage the Haitian people seem to remember most is the US-led eradication of all the pigs in Haiti in 1982-1984.

Called the Creole pig, the pig of Haiti was a relatively wiry, black pig, quite able of scrounging food and even going two or three days without eating. 80% or more of rural Haitian households raised the pigs, totaling more than a million pigs. 1 The American agriculture industry became interested in Haitian pigs because of an outbreak of African swine fever in the Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispanola with Haiti. A study by the University of Minnesota estimated the potential damage to American agriculture from African swine fever at between $150 million and $5 billion. A subsequent US-funded study found some swine fever in Haiti, though the Haitian pigs seemed remarkably resistant to it. Economically, it made sense to pay for the eradication and replacement of Haiti's pigs. Politically, it was possible, because the dictator in power at the time was one of our guys (anti-communist), and his friends stood to make huge amounts of money in the process. As for the Haitian people, the potentially devastating impact was either poorly understood or ignored.

To understand the impact of pig eradication upon the peasants of Haiti, one must recognize the pig's central importance to peasant families. The pig has been referred to as the peasant's bank. 2 A bank is a place for storing financial resources until they are needed, in the meanwhile letting them grow. The Haitian peasants used money brought in from the slaughter of the pigs to pay school fees, pay for weddings and funerals, pay for emergencies, etc. For example, the year after all the pigs in Haiti were killed, enrollment in rural schools dropped 30%. 3 In addition, agricultural productivity went down, as did protein consumption by the peasants.

At the time of the institution of the program, replacement pigs from America were promised to the Haitian peasants. The peasants called these Iowa pigs four-legged princes. The Iowa pigs required better living conditions than the peasants, including imported food that cost $120-$250 per year, more than the peasants could afford. To receive the pigs, peasants had to show the financial resources to care for them plus construct pigsties that met government specifications. This alone eliminated most peasants from the list of recipients. When the pig-princes arrived, they got sick easily and required veterinary medicine. Yes, they were bigger than the Creole pigs that were exterminated, but required far more resources to keep them alive, much less to make them thrive. Ultimately, the introduction of the replacement pigs was an abysmal failure.

So what can we learn from this experience? Firstly, the decisions of the rich and powerful can have a devastating impact on the poor. Secondly, the poor are generally poor through no fault of their own. Instead decisions made by governments and global industries impoverish them. Thirdly, assumptions based on That's how we do it here can be completely inappropriate in a different environment. Finally, we can recognize the role that we Americans have played in making life worse for many in the developing world and decide that in the future we will work instead to make things better. That will require in turn that we radically increase our understanding and appreciation of others.


1 Much of the information in this article comes from Swine Fever, by Paul Farmer. In The Haiti Files: Decoding the Crisis. Washington, D.C., Essential Books, 1994, pp. 130-133.

2 Swine Fever Ironies: The Slaughter of the Haitian Black Pig, by Bernard Diederich. Caribbean Review 14(1), 1985, pp. 16-17. In Swine Fever, by Paul Farmer. In The Haiti Files: Decoding the Crisis. Washington, D.C., Essential Books, 1994, pp. 130-133.

3 Eyes of the Heart: Seeking a Path for the Poor in the Age of Globalization, by Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Monroe, ME, Common Courage Press, 1999, p. 14.

File translated from T E X by T T H, version 2.72.
On 23 Aug 2000, 11:59.