By Frederic Thomas, CETRI, Feb. 16, 2023
The Confederation of Haitian Workers (La Confédération des travailleurs haïtiens - CTH) and the Confederation of Public and Private Sector Workers (la Confédération des travailleurs et travailleuses des secteurs public et privé - CTSP) reaffirmed their roots in the Haitian social movement and work to achieve the goal of "transition de rupture" (transition through the rupture), with the support of an international solidarity campaign.
February 7, 2023 marked the thirty-seventh anniversary of the fall of the Duvalierist dictatorship (1957-1986) and the second year without a legal government in Haiti. Former President Jovenel Moïse refused to leave office and insisted he had the constitutional right to govern for one more year. Time he claimed would be devoted to organizing elections and a referendum on the Constitution. Moïse was assassinated on July 7, 2021. Since then, de facto Prime Minister Ariel Henry has ruled the country. Presently, there is no longer a single elected official in Haiti.
The picture painted by the latest United Nations report published in January is apocalyptic: inflation is exploding, food insecurity is increasing, cholera is spreading, and impunity reigns. Violence linked to organized gangs has reached proportions not seen "for decades": homicides and kidnappings have increased by more than 35% and 100% respectively, between 2021 and 2022. Systemic rapes remain "a strategic weapon to terrorize populations".
It seems the whole country is approaching collapse. The terms “abyss” and “chaos” also often came up in the words of Haitians speaking at the international trade union meeting, held in Ouanaminthe, on the Dominican-Haitian border, on January 25 and 26, 2023.
Contrary to the international media coverage and the discourse of the diplomats which is tinged with neocolonialism, everyone attending the meeting insisted on the fabricated and organized nature of this chaos. They also agreed that the international community shares responsibility for the current crisis.
The meeting initiated by the CTH and the CTSP, both of whom are affiliated to the International Trade Union Confederation (CSI), had a dual objectives. One, to launch an international solidarity campaign with Haiti, based on the demands of Haitian organizations and the "road map" laid out by CTH and CTSP. Two, to reaffirm the anchoring of the unions in the Haitian social movement and the goal of "transition de rupture".
A COUNTRY TAKEN HOSTAGE
Thamara Étienne is a young woman in her twenties. A widow and mother of a three-year-old boy who lives with his mother who she supports financially. Étienne is an unionized worker in a textile subcontracting factory. When asked what her dreams are, she replies: “finish my studies and find a normal job, a decent job”*.
But, how can we speak of employment, of decent work, when more than 90% of workers work in the informal sector? When production is concentrated in "free zones"? When the economy, dominated by a few families, is practically reduced to an import-export counter?
Sae-A, a South Korean multinational, announced in February of 2023 the dismissal of 3,500 workers. This announcement was the culmination of a recent wave of layoffs which has hit the Haitian textile sector. Sae-A was the main employer of the Caracol Industrial Park (PIC). The layoffs demonstrate the bankruptcy of the development strategy pursued over the past decades.
PIC was to consecrate the success of the public-private partnership, based on international aid. PIC was the main project of US cooperation to rebuild Haiti, supposedly “for the better”. But resulted in many ill-conceived, uncoordinated and unfinished projects.
Symbolizing economic renewal for Haiti, PIC was to create 65,000 jobs and make the country the “Taiwan of the Caribbean”. At the height of its production, the largest "free zone" in Haitian territory employed 20,000 people at very low wages. The textile subcontracting sector, as a whole, employed nearly 60,000 workers, many of them women. Rather than facilitating the industrialization and development of Haiti, it further trapped the country at the bottom of the international division of labor. Completely dependent on the United States which sets the conditions and imports all of PIC's textile exports.
"The trade union movement recalls that these layoffs only aggravate the cycle of poverty in a country where social protection is almost non-existent", according to Haitian trade unionists at the meeting.
This, while poverty, the lack of public policies, and the absence of employment prospects for young people lead to recruitment by gangs. “It is easier for a Haitian to have a weapon than bread,” laments Jean Bonald G. Fatal, president of the CTSP. “Haitians and the economy are taken hostage”.
The Haitian government, seemingly indifferent and passive when it comes to the fate of the population, has so far not reacted to Sae-A's announcement. Neither has Washington or international financial institutions, which have never ceased to praise, support, and finance PIC and the strategy of "free zones".
Western embassies and the Ariel Henry, united in the establishment of a new High Council of Transition (CTH) under the December 21 Accord, is yet another attempt to force a passage of a false “national consensus”. Moving to organize elections before addressing the rupture in Haitian society.
“We are for elections,” says Jacques Belzin, president of the CTH. “But not just any elections: elections that take place under good conditions, where the people can freely express their will. And currently, it is not possible to organize elections in Haiti. There are too many problems. Armed bandits, financed by politicians and the corrupt economic sector, currently occupy more than 60% of the territory. If we organize elections under these conditions, we will have a parliament filled with legal bandits, ministers and a president appointed by bandits”.
Like the bet made on the PIC "free zones", this latest maneuver of the Haitian government is doomed to fail. Internationally driven, ignoring the local situation, and disregarding the demands of social movements, they maintain the economic and political conditions of the status quo, which Haitians no longer want.
BUILDING THE NEW HAITI
Conditions have pushed the Haitian trade unions to go beyond the traditional framework of their struggle. Social services, almost inaccessible to the population, have been subcontracted to international NGOs, privatized or, simply, sacrificed to special interests, making it difficult for unions to emphasize their role in social struggle.
How do unions promote social dialogue with a corrupt state captured by an oligarchy that controls most trade? How can we defend decent work in the most unequal country on the most unequal continent in the world?
To address these questions, Haitians must rebuild public institutions through the prism of popular sovereignty. All the problems facing Haitian unions have their roots in a series of shocks, including: the US military occupation (1915-1934), the Duvalierist dictatorship, the liberalization of the economy from 1983, the election of Michel Martelly and the PHTK (today targeted by Canadian sanctions for his support for armed gangs) and of which Jovenel Moïse was the heir apparent. The current explosion of violence is the latest in a series of shocks that led to the capture of the State. A State that is dependent on the international community, in general, and Washington, in particular.
The unions were stakeholders in the popular uprising of 2018-2019 and the convergence of civil society actors within the Montana Accord, signed on August 30, 2021. Establishing the consensus around national sovereignty and the project of a "rupture de transition".
The Ouanaminthe declaration which concluded the international trade union meeting of January 25 and 26, 2023 reaffirms this convergence and this project: implementation of the decent work agenda, social justice measures and public policies, paying particular attention to women's rights, and ensuring access to social services.
Fighting against insecurity and corruption implies undoing the entire chain of chaos, from the members of armed gangs to the oligarchy which finances and exploits them, putting the State on the fast track to gangsterization.
The crisis in Haiti is structural. Its resolution necessarily involves a transition and a break “with the historical cycle of crises, shocks and interference”. And it also requires international solidarity capable of overturning the UN and Western policies that lock Haitians in a crisis with no way out, mortgaging, as the declaration says, "the construction of this new Haiti to which the people aspire". .
* All quotes are from interviews conducted in Ouanaminthe on January 25 and 26, 2023.
Translated by CHIP editors
Posted Feb. 26, 2023