Podcast: Protests over wages in Haiti ignored in questioning of new U.N. envoy Clinton

clintonI would have finished and posted this last night if I hadn’t felt rather sick. I recorded most of this podcast yesterday; it runs under 5 minutes long.

Apparently Clinton invited a bunch of liberal bloggers to his New York office yesterday to talk about politics, Haiti, and his foundation’s work. Wish I could have been there. One blogger asked about Dr. Paul Farmer, who incidentally I refer to below. AP photo above.

MP3. Full transcript below.

This is a Mediahacker.org podcast published on June 17, 2009.

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton spoke at length yesterday Monday about Haiti for the first time since his appointment as U.N. special envoy to Haiti last month. At a press conference in New York with Haitian foreign minister Alrich Nicolas and UN Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon, Clinton said he was committed to Haiti’s future.

“We will continue to elevate awareness of both the pain but the promise of Haiti and that there are real, genuine economic opportunities there – particularly as we deal with the government’s priorities in rebuilding the infrastructure and re-constructing the agricultural capacity of the country. I’ll say again: in all the years I’ve been going there, this is the best chance the Haitians have ever had to escape the darker parts of their past and to claim the promise of the future.”

Clinton repeated that statement several times throughout the press conference. But it is difficult to reconcile his optimism with recent events in Haiti. As a new storm season begins, much of the Haitian countryside has not recovered from the devastation wrought by last year’s hurricanes. The first round of elections for the Haitian Senate were boycotted by the vast majority of Haitians, with greater turnout in the upcoming second round unlikely as long as the popular Lavalas party remains excluded from the ballot.

For the past two weeks the Haitian capitol Port-Au-Prince has been rocked by angry protests of university students. They are demanding that Haitian President Rene Preval ratify an increase in the minimum wage to 200 gourdes. The measure was approved by the Haitian parliament, but Preval has delayed signing it into law while negotiating with business leaders.

The students say an increase in the minimum wage is 5 years overdue. The Haitian national police and so-called U.N. “peacekeeping” force MINUSTAH have responded fiercely to demonstrations outside the university. This is Yves Pierre-Louis being translated by Roger Leduc on the June 11 broadcast of WBAI’s Haiti: The Struggle Continues.

“Yesterday on June 10 the occupiers used MINUSTAH soldiers who attacked the faculties of technology, faculty of medicine, the school and they used tear gas at a very accelerated pace. Things really turned for the worse when one student died, Emmanuel Francois, on top of one other who was hurt by rubber bullet earlier in the week. So students and other manifestants burned vehicles and windshields were broken. Even the sick, people ailing inside the state general hospital, had to evacuate because they could not resist the tear gas that MINUSTAH was throwing at not only the faculties, but also inside the general hospital.”

Former President Clinton praised the MINUSTAH force at the press conference. He also said he wants to attract foreign investment to Haiti, particularly in the manufacturing sector. During his visit to Haiti in March, Clinton toured a textile factory accused of forcing sweatshop conditions on its workers. In the early 1990s the Clinton government helped pressure then-Haitian President Aristide into shrinking a proposed minimum wage hike.

No reporter at Monday’s press conference asked Clinton about the minimum wage or the political turmoil in Haiti. Associated Press reporter Elizabeth Lederer had the first question.

Mr. President, you’ve outlined a very long and ambitious plan and the first thing I thought was, ‘This sounds more like a full time job than a part-time dollar a year job.’ When are you planning to go to Haiti and how concerned are you that the current financial crisis and the fallout from it are going to have a really detrimental impact on getting the donors to pay up and really in trying to bring up the economy?”

Lederer’s AP article is a virtual transcription of Clinton’s remarks. Journalists asked about impact of the economy on international donors to Haiti multiple times over. At one point Clinton chuckled at Haitian concerns about the country’s sovereignty in his opening remarks.

“I saw some reports in the Haitian press speculating that this dollar a year job I took was somehow an imperialist plot to take over Haiti [laughter]. All I want to do is help the Haitians take over their own destiny.”

Clinton said one of his deputies as envoy to Haiti would be Eric Schwartz, who during the Clinton administration defended the prolonged detention of 300 HIV-positive Haitian political refugees at Guantanamo Bay. The refugees were eventually freed by court order after a long legal battle waged by Yale law students.

This has been a Mediahacker.org podcast. I’m Ansel Herz.

For more on the Clinton’s administration Haiti policies, see Dr. Paul Farmer’s book “The Uses of Haiti.” For instance, the introduction to that book cites a 1993 report by the Council on Hemisphere Affairs that said the administration’s pressure on President Aristide to negotiate with the military leaders who violently overthrew him in 1990 amounted to a “soft coup.”

Stay tuned for an announcement concerning myself and Haiti soon.

4 thoughts on “Podcast: Protests over wages in Haiti ignored in questioning of new U.N. envoy Clinton”

  1. “All I want to do is help the Haitians take over their own destiny,” Clinton says, so I figure he’ll be scratching his head trying to figure out why nobody in Haiti believes a word he says and only a few, those who will toast him with champagne, even pretend to. He says he wants to help in “re-constructing the agricultural capacity of the country,” an especially galling statement since our own country is more responsible than any other for destroying Haiti’s agricultural system in recent years by flooding their markets with highly subsidized U.S. food products. He wants to help the Haitians “escape the darker parts of their past” but avoids any hint that our own government, like that of France, is unpardonably complicit in creating that dark past.

    Clinton will help the Haitians to the same degree that those other UN representatives, the MINUSTAH troops, have brought them peace.

    Good job, Ansel. Thanks.

  2. There is really only one comment to be made: The United States government has twice in the past 20 years overthrown the legitimately (and overwhelmingly) elected government of Haiti. How does it happen that this “inconvenient truth” is kept from the American public? And on what basis do Haiti’s zanmi intenasyonal (international friends) speak of Haiti as a failed State when they have done their best to thwart Haitian development and democracy?

    Are they hungry in Haiti? “Let them sew baseballs.”

  3. Thanks to David for sending in a translation of this article:

    Haiti : Un mort par balle lors de troubles à Port-au-Prince

    One person shot to death during disturbances in Port-au-Prince

    Port-au-Prince, June 18 — One person has been shot to death during disturbances that broke out in the capital during the morning of June 18.

    The incident occurred after funeral services in the Cathedral of Port-au-Prince for Father Gérard Jean Juste, a figure well known in the Catholic Church and in social and political circles.

    The crowd that had attended the religious services, which consisted mostly of supporters of the Lavalas movement, was swept by a wave of panic as they were leaving.

    Brazilian soldiers belonging to the United Nations Mission for the Stabilization of Haiti (MINUSTAH), who were standing guard, began firing shots into the air. Conflicting accounts of the motives for their acts have been offered.

    The crowd became enraged when they discovered the body of an unidentified young man lying in a pool of his own blood. A violent demonstration followed. The windshields of a number of cars were smashed as the demonstrators carried the young man’s body to the presidential palace.

    A tense calm returned to downtown by early afternoon, although tires continued to burn not far from the presidential palace.

    This violent morning in the center of the capital follows several violent incidents in the past few weeks involving student mobilizations favoring a law to set the minimum wage at 200 gourdes.

    President René Préval officially opposed passage of the law, proposing instead a minimum wage of 125 gourdes.

    The students have announced they will continue their agitation to force the president to accept a minimum wage of 200 gourdes.

    This social unrest makes quesionable the holding of the second round of partial senatorial elections on June 21 to fill 12 of the 30 seats.

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