Cut through all the reassuring lingo about "empowering women" and consider the realities of U.S. population policy today in Haiti.
As revealed in an internal U.S. Agency for International Development report, the fundamental goal of the American government is to keep the natives from breeding.
The June, 1993, document (unearthed by the Washington-based newsletter CounterPunch, of which this writer is co-editor) states policy "targets" for Haiti baldly: to obtain 200,000 new "acceptors" of contraception; a "social marketing component" target of "6,000 cycles of pills/month," and the establishment of 23 facilities to provide sterilizations--soothingly referred to as "voluntary surgical contraception," a goal that has been exceeded.
There is no mention of any "targets" with regard to women's health.
The cynicism of the "empowerment" rhetoric is also apparent in the memo's main recommendation, the "demedicalization or liberalization of service delivery." The agency suggests "elimination of the practice of requiring physician visits" before doling out hormonal methods.
In plainer English, this means that AID feels that doctors in Haiti need not waste time with pelvic exams or pap smears; just get the "acceptors" on stream with the hormonal method of choice.
A Brooklyn-based Haitian women's group, Women of Koalisyon, has published a pamphlet detailing abuses at clinics in Haiti funded by AID.
Local clinics offered food and money to encourage sterilization. "Acceptors" were promised that vasectomies were not only reversible, but would help prevent AIDS. Women were offered clothing in exchange for agreeing to use Norplant (the five-year contraceptive implant), which led to a host of problems including constant bleeding, headaches, dizziness, nausea, radical weight loss, depression and fatigue. Demands that the Norplant rods be taken out were obstructed.
Such brute realities of population control are rarely mentioned in the United States, where reports from the U.N. population conference in Cairo have depicted a clash between libertarian respect for individual choice and the medieval tyranny of the Catholic or Muslim clergy. The Clinton Administration is not the first to flaunt its concern for individual rights where such issues are concerned. Back in 1974, in Nixon's White House, Henry Kissinger commissioned National Security Study Memorandum 200, which addressed population issues.
Prefiguring the current "empowerment" shoe polish, Kissinger stressed that the United States should "help minimize charges of imperialist motivation behind its support of population activities by repeatedly asserting that such support derives from a concern with the right of the individual to determine freely and responsibly the number and spacing of children."
But the true concern of Kissinger's analysts was maintenance of U.S. access to Third World resources. They worried that the "political consequences" of population growth could produce internal instability in nations "in whose advancement the United States is interested." With famine and food riots and the breakdown of social order in such countries, "the smooth flow of needed materials will be jeopardized."
The authors of the report noted laconically that the United States, with 6% of the world's population, used about a third of its resources. Curbs on Third World population would ensure that local consumption would not increase, and possibly affect availability of Third World resources. As a natural extension of this logic, the report favored sterilization over food aid.
By 1977, Reimert Ravenholt, the director of AID's population program, was saying that his agency's goal was to sterilize one-quarter of the world's women. The gearing between Third World fecundity and First World prosperity is still a core policy theme. The immensely wealthy Pew Charitable Trusts--a cluster of foundations with an abiding interest in population control, recently issued a report that stated frankly: "The average American's interest in maintaining high standards of living has been a prime motivator for U.S. population policy from its earliest formation and it is likely that this will continue for the foreseeable future."
In other words, the issue is distribution. But distribution raises uncomfortable questions of social justice. Sterilization, along with less drastic inhibitors, is far easier, particularly when it is made palatable to the liberal conscience by being tricked out in the verbal bunting of "empowerment" and "respect for the rights of women."