HAITI UNION LEADER IN CANADA: "We need your solidarity"

HAITI UNION LEADER IN CANADA: "We need your solidarity"

By Roger Annis

More than 75 people attended a forum in Vancouver on Saturday, April 24 to hear a report on Haiti after the earthquake. The speaker was Dukens Raphael, Secretary-General of the Confederation of Public and Private Sector Workers of Haiti (Confederation des travailleurs et travailleuses des secteurs publique et privé d'Haiti--CTSP).

He was in Vancouver as an international guest of the convention of the Canadian Union Public Employees, British Columbia division. Earlier on April 24, he gave a 30-minute speech to some 400 delegates at the union's convention that received several standing ovations.

Dire situation
In his address to the convention, Raphael focused on the dire situation facing Haiti and its people more than  three months after the earthquake of January 12. "If you arrived in Port au Prince today, you would ask, 'Did it happen yesterday?'"

Several million people were left homeless or otherwise in desperate need of assistance. He said many have yet to receive meaningful assistance, especially those who are the poorest. He warned that the heavy rains now falling in Haiti and the approaching hurricane season could create a new humanitarian disaster if prompt action is not taken.

"We need, food, we need decent, durable shelter, and we need education facilities."

That message was also delivered to delegates in a moving, five-minute video presentation preceding Raphael's speech. It was recently produced by Partners In Health and the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti and can be viewed here: http://ijdh.org/archives/10905.

The first act of the U.S. government following the earthquake, Raphael explained, was to send 20,000 soldiers and seize control of the country's national airport and shipping. It did not consult the government nor anyone else in Haiti. "But what we needed, and continue to need, is material aid," he said, "not more soldiers and guns."

He gave delegates a historical review of Haiti, saying that it was born in 1804 of a slave revolt that was a "bad example" in the eyes of the colonial powers of the time.

Later at the public forum, he explained, "Haiti is not a 'poor country.' It is a country 'made poor' by the policies of the world's powers and by the failings of its national governments."

Raphael noted that of 47 president elected over Haiti's 200-year history, 35 have been overthrown by force and violence. That sad legacy continues in recent times, he said, citing the overthrow of elected governments in 1991 and 2004. The president of both those governments was Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Reconstruction for the Haitian people
Raphael warned that "reconstruction" in Haiti is being imposed upon the country by foreign governments and financial interests. He slammed the Haitian government and parliament for agreeing to majority control of the Interim Haiti Reconstruction Commission to foreign interests. The commission was established at the March 31 United Nations-sponsored Donors Conference in New York City and it will oversee the spending of pledges to Haiti by foreign governments and agencies.

In a published interview with the communications office of CUPE, Raphael explained, "We state very clearly that the reconstruction effort must come first and foremost from Haitians. We need to decide what we need from you, then we will ask for help. We may need expertise, know-how, but we need to decide what that is first. It's not up to the Americans and the international community to decide what we need."

He outlined three gestures of solidarity that his union would like to see delivered to Haiti:
* There is an urgent need for durable shelter that can withstand rains and hurricanes.
* Students need assistance with their education. He urged Canada to follow the examples of Cuba, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic and Brazil in hosting Haitian students and waiving their tuition fees.
* He said there needs to be more bilateral partnerships between progressive groups in Canada, such as trade unions, and their counterparts in Haiti.

Following Raphael's speech to the union convention, Barry O'Neill, president of CUPE BC, pledged that, "CUPE BC and the delegates here will do all that we can to make sure that you can get what you need to rebuild your country. And we will keep on doing that until you don't need any help."

He announced that CUPE was contributing $20,000 to Raphael's union federation, the CTSP. A further $1500 was raised for the CTSP at the public forum.

Raphael sounded some positive notes during his visit to Vancouver. He told CUPE that civil society groups in Haiti--trade unions, women's rights organizations and peasant and student groups-are cooperating like never before in the fight for meaningful reconstruction.

"What we're getting a glimpse of here is that if the government could work with civil society groups, we could get out of this situation. The problem is that although civil society organizations are doing this work, the government just ignores us."

He was interviewed at length on a local program on Radio Canada, Canada's French language national broadcaster.

The public forum was organized by the Canadian Union of Public Employees, BC Division, and co-sponsored by CUPE Metro, Haiti Solidarity BC, Co-Development Canada, CUPE Local 391 and Help Hear Haiti, a coalition at the University of British Columbia. The chairperson was Doug Sprenger of CUPE BC's International Solidarity Committee and translation services were provided by Florence Étienne, a Vancouver resident of Haitian background.

Michelle Langlois from Hope International Development Agency was invited to share experiences at the forum from her trip to Haiti last year as well as the work of her colleagues and organization since the earthquake. She reminded the audience that the consequences of the earthquake are felt all across Haiti. Hundreds of thousands of victims have left the Port au Prince region and have urgent needs that must be met in the areas outside the earthquake zone where they have settled.

"We've been trying to get Haitians help, but the logistical problems have been huge," Langlois said. "It's a mess." Since the earthquake,  her organization has sent three 40-ffot  containers of medical equipment to Haiti via the Dominican Republic.

Raphael continued his visit to Canada with public forums in Toronto and Ottawa on April 26 and 28 and with visits to trade union leaders and activists in those two cities and Montreal.

You can read the interview by CUPE with Dukens Raphael at:

You can sign a petition demanding more prompt action in Haiti by international relief agencies here:

Roger Annis is a coordinator of the Canada Haiti Action Network and can be reached at rogerannis(at)hotmail.com.