WASHINGTON — Lawmakers on Tuesday demanded immediate debt relief for Haiti and the release millions of dollars in food aid as the Caribbean nation struggles with soaring food prices.
Members of the Congressional Black Caucus launched a campaign to raise awareness on the Haitian plight, citing the humanitarian crisis unfolding just a short distance from the United States. Angry protesters caused the recent ouster of the prime minister in a nation that has long battled grinding poverty and political instability.
The legislators painted a dire predicament of starving Haitians eating mud cookies and a looming threat to the government of President Rene Preval unless the United States and other nations move quickly.
"We need all hands on deck," New York Democrat Rep. Gregory Meeks said at a news conference with other lawmakers and the Rev. Jesse Jackson, of the Rainbow/Push Coalition.
Haiti has been allotted $96 million as part of the U.N. World Food Program but only $13 million has been released so far, the lawmakers said.
Legislators want the Treasury Department to use its clout with the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank so that Haiti can skip a $48.7 million payment due to multilateral lending agencies this year.
Haiti is in the midst of an IMF-supervised process that eventually will ease its total $1.6 billion debt burden by 60 percent, but this is not expected to happen before early next year, said Andreas Adriano, an IMF spokesman.