In a $16 million campaign, the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture is killing the entire pig population of Haiti.
A sequel to similar eradication in the Dominican Republic on the eastern two-thirds of Hispaniola Island, the slaughter marks the second phase of what experts say will be the first time such a broad area has been cleared of livestock in an effort to wipe out disease, in this case, African Swine Fever.
The disease is harmless to humans but devastating to pigs, making it difficult for them to feed or breathe. Highly contagious and sometimes spread by feeding pigs garbage from airplane meals, it traveled to the American continent from Spain and Portugal after moving up to Europe from its origin in Africa in the late 1970s.
The United States, Canada and Mexico have contributed heavily to the campaign. Besides helping Haiti, these nearby countries are ensuring their own farmers against spread of the disease that has infected this island and can be combated only by killing the pork population and starting anew with healthy animals.
To persuade Haitians to bring in their pigs for slaughter, specialists have had to overcome a tradition that makes pig ownership similar to a bank account for peasants saving to pay for an illness, a daughter's wedding or a son's schooling.
"Pigs for the Haitian peasant are a security blanket," said Marie-Therese Sebrechts, coordinator for information in the Project for the Eradication of African Swine Fever and Development of Pork Production in Haiti, known by its French-language initials as PEPADEP.
The main weapon has been money. Haitians who bring their pigs in for slaughter get $40 for an adult, $20 for a young animal and $5 for a piglet. In addition, they keep the meat, which remains unaffected by the disease, for sale at prices ranging from $10 to more than $60.
The result has been to double the value of pigs in a country where the average annual income remains less than $250. If this is not strong enough as a selling point, Haitian authorities, including the Tontons Macoutes political police, make sure all peasants get the word that slaughter is imperative.
Marie Celonie and several friends showed up at this slaughter site 10 miles south of Port-au-Prince recently with 10 black pigs squealing and straining at their twine leashes.
As dozens of other pigs grunted, heaved and shrieked around her, Marie tugged her own herd toward the slaughtering pit. A wiry little man with a shiny wooden club attacked the animals, swinging furiously at the top of their snouts until they lay still and a young boy could step up with a kitchen knife and slit their throats.
Blood flowed into the hole while a second boy sliced off the ears, handing one from each pig to Marie. With 10 dripping trophies in hand, she walked to the paymaster set up under a tree. After signing the receipt with a thumb print, Marie left with $400 in Haitian gourdes and enough meat to sell for almost double Haiti's per capita annual income.
Nearby, a youth in a yellow T-shirt and tan shorts was seen leading a small pig by a leash toward the slaughter pit, chanting in rhythm "PEPADEP, PEPADEP."
Anthony Pluviose, a Haitian employed by the institute, had carefully counted out the money and handed it over to Marie in a solemn gesture. The cash had been handed to him seconds earlier by a foreign paymaster with sole access to the canvas bag where the money was stored. A Haitian policeman armed with an aged Garand sat beside the sack.
Dr. Igor Platanow, one of the campaign's top administrators, underlined the importance of joint responsibility for money in a country notorious for aid projects drained away by pilferage and graft.
More than a dozen slaughtering teams, each with a paymaster, are at work in Haiti most days. Their activities range from muleback rides to small villages with only a few animals to permanent kill sites such as this one, where about 375 pigs a day are bought and slaughtered.
Since the killing began last May, about 150,000 pigs have been slaughtered. By the time it is over next summmer, 250,000 animals will have died, Platanow said.
Scientists at the institute, which is affiliated with the Organization of American States headquartered in Washington, say African Swine Fever is believed to have come to Haiti via the Dominican Republic, which probably got it from Brazil.
The Dominican Republic, after an eradication campaign similar to Haiti's, has reintroduced pigs only in controlled areas far from the border. Authorities there are awaiting the end of the Haitian campaign to resume full pork production.
After several months without pork production, Haiti will begin repopulating with imported pigs, Platanow said. Some areas where all pigs have been slaughtered already will be getting their first new pigs in April under strictly controlled conditions.
Similar mass eradications of livestock have been carried out in Mexico for hoof-and-mouth disease, the United States for pork cholera and Cuba for African Swine Fever, Platanow said. But these have concentrated on certain areas and the slaughters in the Dominican Republic and Haiti are the first of an entire animal population.