Friday, September 9, 1994 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Alexander Cockburn

The Greed Factor Behind U.S. Population Policy

Creators Syndicate, Inc.

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" in Haiti baldly: to obtain 200,000 new "acceptors" of contraception; a "social marketing component" goal of "6,000 cycles of pills/month"; and the establishment of 23 facilities to provide sterilizations - soothingly referred to as "voluntary surgical contraception," an ambition that has been exceeded.

There is no mention of any "targets" with regards to women's health.

The cynicism of the "empowerment" rhetoric is also apparent in the memo's priority recommendation - the "demedicalization or liberalization of service delivery." The agency suggests the "elimination of the practice of requiring physician visits" before doling out hormonal birth-control methods.

In plainer English, this means that the U.S. Agency for International Development feels 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 the Agency for International Development.

Local clinics offered food and small amounts of 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 Moslem clergy.

The Clinton administration is not the first to flourish its concern for individual rights in this area.

Back in 1974, working in Nixon's White House, Henry Kissinger commissioned National Security Study Memorandum 200, which addressed population issues.

In a prefiguring of the present "empowerment" shoe polish, Kissinger's document 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 U.S. is interested." With famine, 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 percent 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 the availability of materials from the Third World. As a natural extension of this logic, the report favored sterilization over food aid.

By 1977, Reimert Ravenholt, director of USAID's population program, was saying that his agency's goal was to sterilize one-quarter of the world's women.

USAID's planning pioneers headed into the Third World with varying forms of coercion. India was a prime target. In one village, 100 percent of the "eligible couples" accepted family planning - mostly in the form of vasectomy - in exchange for a new well. In another case, villagers were promised cash if 75 percent of all male residents agreed to undergo a vasectomy.

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."

Distribution is the issue. But distribution raises uncomfortable questions of social justice. Sterilization, along with less drastic inhibitors, is far easier, particularly when made palatable to the liberal conscience by being tricked out in the verbal bunting of "empowerment" and "respect for the rights of women."

(Copyright, 1994, Creators Syndicate, Inc.)

Alexander Cockburn's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times.

Copyright (c) 1994 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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