An Initial Statement on the Current Situation of Workers,
Tuesday, May 4th, 2004
From: The International Labor/Religious/Community Fact-Finding Delegation to Haiti (April 26-May 2nd) organized by the San Francisco Labor Council
A nine-member international labor/religious/community fact-finding delegation has just returned from a week spent in Haiti. Its objective was to assess and report on the current situation of Haitian workers, the Haitian labor movement, and the state of human rights in that country. Within this mandate, particular attention was given to understanding the new realities following the coup d'etat that deposed President Jean-Bertrand Aristide on 29 February 2004. The brief statement, which follows, is an initial report on our findings.
The delegation's work focused on interviews with Haitian trade unionists and workers, as well as political leaders and activists. Part of this time was spent attending the National Congress of the CTH (the Confederation of Haitian Workers), the largest labor federation in Haiti composed of 11 different union federations. Based on these interviews and discussions, we can report that in the labor movement is in significant crisis, brought on in large part by the decade-long economic and political destabilization campaign orchestrated in Washington. The crisis has become much worse since 29 February, with the campaign of violence by the US-backed opposition that preceded and followed the coup. Facing a massive problem of unemployment (estimated at some 70% in the formal economy), the turmoil and economic difficulties of recent years has only been worsened with the change of government.
The coup regime was formed by a coalition of the unelected political opposition; the governments of France and the United States; former Haitian military and paramilitary death squads (FRAPH); and the Haitian business elite - particularly the "Group 184", led by Andre Apaid. Mr. Apaid, a US citizen who is known by Haitian workers as the single most notorious owner of Haitian sweatshop factories, has been a virulent opponent of unions organizing in his factories. The delegation heard reports of extremely dire working conditions in the Apaid-owned sweatshops, with little or no access to safe drinking water, and wages at the legal minimum of 70 Haitian gourdes (approximately US$1.80) per day - or less. Those workers courageous enough to attempt the organization of trade unions face dismissal. Clearly, Mr. Apaid and his clique are no supporters of Haiti's workers or their labor movement.
The coup also led to serious attacks on Haiti's trade unions. The delegation heard reports from one union, the FTPH (Federation of Public Transport Workers of Haiti), of criminal attacks on over 100 of the buses that they had purchased for use in the bus cooperative operated by the union. These attacks involved the torching and destruction of the union co-op's buses, yet went unreported in the North American media, despite having taken place in the days immediately following the 29 February coup d'etat (the peak period of international media presence). Given their timing, and the fact that the union bus cooperative?s success had been viewed as a positive symbol of social advances under the Aristide government, such attacks were seen by the union as acts of political reprisal by supporters of the coup. No arrests have been made in association with these attacks.
The general living conditions of Haitian workers and the general population have drastically worsened since the coup of 29 February. The delegation heard that the price of rice has jumped dramatically, as much as doubling. Other vital foodstuffs have seen even more serious price inflation. Several witnesses testified that whereas before the coup, Haitians were able to eat at least once per day, the cost of food has reduced this to as little as 3 meals per week. Even those Haitians fortunate enough to have a job are barely subsisting.
As for human rights, things are even more serious. The coup which deposed President Aristide has led to a serious wave of attacks and persecutions of supporters of President Aristide and his Fanmi Lavalas Party. The delegation heard testimony from an elected member of Parliament for the Fanmi Lavalas who is living in hiding, having been driven out of his town under gunfire. Other political leaders and known activists have also been forced into hiding, living underground, fearing the death threats and violence directed at supporters of the ousted government. Despite its obvious popularity, the Fanmi Lavalas movement is not currently able to have political demonstrations or otherwise take open political action due to the threat of attack. The coup regime, supported by an international military coalition led by the US, France and Canada, has not provided security for those currently most at risk. The names of Lavalas supporters - and even those suspected of being Lavalas supporters - are being read off on right-wing radio stations as an implicit threat. Neither the coup regime nor its international backers have taken action to contain what many Haitians refer to as an anti-Lavalas "witch hunt" that continues to this day.
Based on six days of interviews, meetings, recorded testimony, and on-site examinations, the International Labor/Religious/Community Fact-Finding Delegation has collected extensive material to compile and report. We wanted to provide this brief summary as soon as possible for immediate use. A more detailed written report will soon be published and circulated which will contain a more detailed overview of our findings.
This report was compiled by delegation participant Kevin Skerrett