Haiti: Lula visits, protests banned

Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva made a brief official visit to Haiti on May 28. During the few hours before he headed off for a tour of Central America, Lula had a private conversation with Haitian president Rene Garcia Preval, took part in a signing ceremony for six agreements (including accords on agriculture, education and women’s rights), and visited the headquarters of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), a 9,000-member military force headed by Brazil.

“We have told President Lula to send more police instead of military,” Preval said as the two leaders made statements at the National Palace after their meeting. Lula too played down the military occupation, expressing his “certainty that social, institutional and economic recovery is the only way to avoid new crises in Haiti.” Lula was accompanied by representatives of various Brazilian corporations, including the Odebrecht construction company, the Andrade Gutierrez S.A. industrial group and the Camargo Correa holding company. An unnamed Brazilian company has already received $80 million from the European Development Bank for the first phase of the rebuilding of Haiti’s highways.

The police refused to give the labor organizing group Batay Ouvriye (“Workers’ Struggle”) a permit to hold a protest at the gates of the National Palace during Lula’s visit. The police also turned down the group’s counter-offer for protests in the nearby Champs de Mars plaza, at the Foreign Ministry or at the Brazilian embassy. Batay Ouvriye says MINUSTAH’s real purpose is to guarantee a “project of exploitation” planned by “the imperialists along with the [local] bourgeoisie.” (AlterPresse, May 28; Haiti Support Group News Briefs, May 28 from Reuters; CampaƱa Continental Contra el ALCA, May 30 from Servicio Informativa “alai-amlatina”; Batay Ouvriye press release, May 27, English by e-mail, Creole from AlterPresse, May 28)

On May 28 a group of 73 Brazilian social organizationsā€”including Jubilee South, the Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST), the Brazilian section of Via Campesina (Campesino Way), unions and student and church groups–issued a “manifesto against the military occupation of Haiti by MINUSTAH.” “The unassisted and oppressed people of Haiti don’t need troops or soldiers, military intervention or policing,” the manifesto said, “but to be unburdened from an illegal and illegitimate external indebtedness maintained only for the benefit of the system of international financial speculation.” (AlterPresse, May 29)

Various groups called for a “continental day of action” against the occupation throughout South America on June 1, the fourth anniversary of the day that MINUSTAH troops officially started taking over from the Canadian, French and US troops that occupied Haiti after the removal of former president Jean Bertrand Aristide on Feb. 29, 2004. (Adital, May 30)

On May 27, one day before Lula’s visit, Save the Children UK issued a report concluding that “children living in conflict-affected countries fear to report sexual exploitation and abuse by [United Nations] peacekeeping troops and humanitarian aid workers.” The report details the abuse of children as young as six by United Nations troops and international aid workers in Ivory Coast, Southern Sudan and Haiti. The abuse includes “trading food for sex, rape, child prostitution, pornography, indecent sexual assault and trafficking of children for sex.” (Save the Children UK report and press release, May 27; CaribWorldNews.Com, New York, May 27)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, June 1

See our last posts on Haiti and Brazil.