Haiti: activists protest UN troops, low wages

The Collective for the Compensation of Cholera Victims (Comodevic) and Moun Viktim Kolera (“People Who Are Cholera Victims,” Movik) sponsored a march in Port-au-Prince on May 31 to mark nine years since the arrival of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH). Marching from the Fort National neighborhood to the Justice Ministry and the Ministry of Public Health and Population (MSPP), the protesters demanded that the international military and police force leave Haiti and called on the government to join legal actions seeking compensation from the United Nations (UN) for people affected by cholera. At least 8,096 people have died in a cholera epidemic that was set off in October 2010 by poor sanitation at a MINUSTAH base in the Central Plateau where Nepalese soldiers carrying the disease were stationed.

“MINUSTAH should compensate me,” said a man from Carrefour, a town southwest of Port-au-Prince. “The government should join with me to get justice for my 17-year-old son killed last year by MINUSTAH’s cholera.” UN officials have refused to accept responsibility for the disease, and Haitian president Michel Martelly (“Sweet Micky”) has denied knowing about legal actions that have been started against the UN. The marchers were also protesting the sexual abuses and the killing of civilians attributed to the UN troops over the past nine years. (AlterPresse, Haiti, May 31)

On June 1, the actual anniversary of the UN troops’ arrival, Haitian activists continued the protest by holding an outdoor exhibit in Port-au-Prince with photos showing crimes allegedly committed by MINUSTAH troops. There were also June 1 protests in Buenos Aires, Argentina; Santiago, Chile; and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Most of MINUSTAH’s soldiers and police agents have been sent by Latin American countries, including Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay—many of them countries with left or center-left governments. “Haiti must cease to be the laboratory for neoliberal economic and ‘security’ policies,” a number of Latin American and Haiti organizations wrote in a statement calling for the demonstrations. “Haiti does not need military troops, or MINUSTAH, or any other country. Haiti needs recognition and its dignity, its potential and its right to self-determination.” (HispanTV, June 1; El Ciudadano, Chile, June 2)

In other news, on May 27 spokespeople for four unions held a press conference in Port-au-Prince to protest a recent government statement on the minimum wage for assembly plant workers. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor (MAST) put out a press release on May 6 setting the minimum wage at 200 gourdes (about $4.80) a day for the sector. In their own press release, the unions quoted a 2009 law establishing that as of Oct. 1, 2012, “the price per unit of production (notably the piece, the dozen, the gross, the meter) should be set in such a way as to allow the worker to receive at least three hundred (300) gourdes [about $7.08] for his or her day’s work of (8) eight hours”. “Work yes, slavery no!” the union press release concluded. “We want a decent wage so that all workers can live like people.”

Former MAST head Josefa Gauthier had confirmed the 300 gourde figure in official statements on Aug. 28 and Sept. 13 in 2012, the unionists said. A report released this April by Better Work Haiti, a partnership of the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC), confirmed that the minimum for piece-rate workers was 300 gourdes; the group found that none of the 23 assembly plants surveyed were in compliance with the legal minimum wage. The press conference was sponsored by the Collective of Textile Union Organizations (KOSIT), which is made up of the National Confederation of Haitian Workers (CNOHA), the Confederation of Haitian Workers’ Forces (CFOH), the Autonomous Confederation of Haitian Workers (CATH) and the May 1 Union Group-Batay Ouvriye (ESPM-BO, “Workers’ Struggle”). (Haiti Press Network, May 27; KOSIT press release 5/27/13)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, June 2.