This is the creole pig, or kochon kreyol, a small, hardy, long-snouted animal introduced to the island of Hispaniola in the Columbian exchange, and now prevalent across Haiti. Between 1984 and 1987, however, the species did not exist in the country.
This pig is more than just future meals or market opportunities for rural Haitians. It does political work, and has since 1791, when, legend suggests, it was sacrificed at the vodou ceremony that initiated the Haitian Revolution.
By 1984, however, the animal was eradicated by USAID, after USDA officials began to fear the spread of an outbreak of African swine fever from the Dominican Republic to North American shores. Despite few recorded cases of swine flu in Haiti during the eradication period of 1982 to 1984, thousands of Creole pigs were slaughtered across rural Haiti. Peasants were promised compensation for their lost animals, though evidence suggests that many were not fairly paid or paid at all for their pigs.
Between 1984 and 1989, a USAID-directed program replaced the creole pig with NorthAmerican piglets, bred in Iowa. Although they were using an entirely different breed of pig, USAID nonetheless termed this the “Interim Swine Repopulation Program.” These pink pigs, which Haitians called blan – white or foreign, were expensive to feed, and often failed to thrive in the tropical climate. Peasants’ feed reserves allowed inadequate time towards fattening the pigs, whose Creole kin had survived on a diet of forage and household refuse. The pink pigs required shelter and suffered for lack of veterinary care. Obliquely recognizing these barriers to the success of their program, USAID-led efforts to establish breeding operations and veterinary pharmacies in Haiti were intensified in 1987, a full three years after the launch of the Repopulation Program.
The program was terminated in 1989, citing the same “ironies” raised in the 1987 evaluation as ongoing impediments to success. It bears mention that the interim swine repopulation program coincided with the post-dictatorship years of dechoukaj, or uprooting, during which both Haitian and foreign actors negotiated what would replace the structures of the 30 year Duvalier regime.
To reiterate the formula: at a time of extreme political instability in a vastly unequal nation emerging from a totalitarian regime, a problem that barely existed motivated a transnational exercise in species substitution, at a cost of more than 9 million dollars. This exercise generated a new problem of sustainability, which could only be solved by an indefinite quantity of North American inputs. The second half of the pig story continues into the present.
In 1987, The Peasants’ Movement of Papaye initiated a kreyol pig reintroduction program. MPP was then associated with Lavalas, the party of populist president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. After a military coup in 1991, this association led both to the pig’s appellation as MPP pig and to threats on the MPP director’s life. Human Rights Watch reports that peasants were fearful of buying the piglets offered at market for anxieties about political violence against owners of an ‘Aristide pig.’ Today, the kreyol pig is re-established across the country and a staple source of meat in most rural areas. MPP continues to highlight the kreyol pig campaign as an ongoing model of success in their claim to peasant self-sufficiency. The pig’s likeness appears all over the country, at political demonstrations and especially at Kanaval.
What does the Creole pig story teach us about the enmeshment of human and non-human animals in the politics of development? For me, thinking about the kochon kreyol opens the possibility of thinking about development ‘otherwise.’ Under mainstream development’s guiding rubrics of state-building, market expansion, and intensification of production, one pig can replace another. Although the reasons for their failed integration into Haitian peasants’ daily lives are myriad, it is clear that the blan pigs could fulfill neither the political and cultural nor the economic roles that the kochon kreyol played. The pig story highlights, then, the extent to which failures of development (which Haiti is routinely cited as exemplifying) entail a profound misrecognition of the extent to which particular ecological relationships sustain and mobilize social worlds that are rooted in historical, political, and environmental conditions. This opens the possibility for rethinking the way that such concepts as poverty, participation, and sustainability, for example, operate within the frame of development, training a micropolitical lens on the processes by which those environmental actors we call the “rural poor” are choosing what to carry with them into our common future.
Sources for this post:
IICA interim swine repopulation project final report. (1990). IICA Biblioteca Venezuela. Retrieved from http://books.google.com/books?id=6yMrAAAAYAAJ
USAID. (1987). USAID/Haiti Evaluation Summary Part I. United States Agency for International Development.