Image from Haitiaction.net.
I have a piece about Haiti in today’s Daily Texan. Check it out.
The Texan editors messed with my piece a little and I wanted to add a few things, so I’ve produced a podcast to accompany the piece. It runs just under 7 minutes. Enjoy the music!
Download the MP3 here. Transcript with links to sources below.
That’s Sak Rase by the Welfare Poets – and this is a podcast about the need for democracy in Haiti.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stood on the floor of a textile factory in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti earlier this month and talked about America’s commitment to Haiti’s impoverished democracy
Sounds good, right? But when Clinton finished her speech and smiled the applause was muted. Many of the workers could not understand her speech because it was not translated into Kreyòl, the language spoken by the vast majority of Haitians. Clinton’s obliviousness typifies the mindset of policymakers who are ignoring a deeply flawed democratic process in Haiti, while pushing anti-poverty schemes on Haiti from afar.
Clinton, along with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, are touting a plan devised by Oxford economist Paul Collier to expand tariff-free export zones around Haiti. Their plan calls for Haiti to lift urban slum-dwellers out of poverty through jobs in textile factories, like the Inter-American Garment Factory at which Clinton spoke.
There is little popular demand in Haiti for this maquiladora-style development. Workers at the factory assembling clothes for American companies like Levi’s are paid twice Haiti’s minimum wage, but they complained to Al Jazeera English that the wages are still so low that they cannot escape poverty.
The former President of Haiti, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, whose Lavalas party has enjoyed overwhelming support among Haitians in election after election, tried during the 1990s to triple the minimum wage. But under pressure from US officials and people like Andy Apaid, Aristide was forced to drastically scale back the wage increase. Apaid is a rich Haitian who owns numerous sweatshops and the garment factory that hosted Hillary Clinton two weeks ago.
In 2004, Apaid and other members of the tiny Haitian elite successfully conspired to overthrow President Aristide with the help of the U.S. government. Aristide was flown out of the country on a U.S. jet surrounded by Marines and dumped in the Central African Republic. Aristide says he was kidnapped and still has not returned to Haiti.
Aristide and Lavalas represents a grassroots threat to the centuries-old status quo in Haiti and the international interests that have sought to exploit it. Aristide raised taxes on the rich, launched highly effective literacy and anti-AIDS programs, and built schools and hospitals across the country during his two presidential terms, each cut short by U.S.-backed coups. Journalist Kevin Pina reported on March
1312 for Flashpoints radio on mass demonstrations demanding the return of Aristide.
The Lavalas party has tried to carry on amidst continuing repression. A heavily armed UN peacekeeping force has repeatedly shelled and occupied Cite Soleil, a slum outside the capitol and one of Lavalas’ strongest bases of support. Many of the party’s leaders, like former Prime Minister Yvon Neptune and singer So Anne, were imprisoned on bogus charges by the post-coup regime, and without Aristide the party is less united than it once was. Lovinsky Pierre-Antoine, a leading human rights and Lavalas activist who was abducted in 2007 after announcing his bid for Senate office, is still missing.
Lavalas was banned from last week’s Haitian Senate elections by the government’s Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) because of a technical problem with the list of candidates they submitted. A judge who ruled that the CEP’s decision was illegal was promptly stripped of his post by the Haitian government. Here is Haitian journalist E. Pierre Louis talking to the radio program Haiti: The Struggle Continues about Lavalas’ response – he’s translated by the host.
Like the rebel force of slaves that defeated Napoleon’s armies and founded Haiti, however, Lavalas and its agenda of social uplift have not been easily marginalized. The organization called for a boycott of the Senate elections from which it was banned, and Haitians duly heeded the call – voter turnout on April 19th was estimated at less than ten percent.
Popular Haitian demands include revitalization of local peasant economies, debt cancelation, temporary protected status for immigrants in the United States, and the return of Aristide. The Obama administration has already pledged $20 million to pay off part of Haiti’s illegitimate debt to the World Bank. That’s a start.
The notion that poor Haitians should become a cheap labor force for American corporations, on the other hand, is more of the same. The mentality that the “international community” knows what is best for Haiti’s poor has been discredited by decades of worsening poverty. Strong support from the Obama administration for democracy in Haiti, including the participation of Lavalas, would represent change Haitians can believe in and so desperately need.