Haiti: Madrid meeting rejects “humanitarian alibi”

On May 16 European and Latin American social movements meeting in Madrid adopted a statement denouncing the US and European response to a devastating Jan. 12 earthquake in Haiti as “the utilization of the humanitarian alibi with the sole goal of defending US geopolitical, economic and military interests, with the complicity of the European Union (EU).” The groups were meeting in the Fourth Assembly of Enlazando Alternativas (EA4, “Linking Alternatives”), held May 14-18 on the eve of a May 18 trade summit of EU and Latin American and Caribbean leaders in the Spanish capital. Haiti, which signed an economic partnership agreement with the EU in 2009, was expected to attend the summit.

The social movements’ statement called for respect for Haitian sovereignty; a three to five year moratorium on economic agreements signed by Haiti in the past; an end to the conditions traditionally imposed by the international financial institutions; an end to the use of military force as a response to the crisis; the “immediate, total, unconditional and real cancellation of the external debt”; and normalization of the status of all undocumented Haitian immigrants in the EU and the US.

The EA4 specifically condemned what it called plans to “transform Haiti into a single free trade zone, fully exploiting its inexpensive workforce and its natural resources.” Free trade zones (FTZs) are industrial parks for tax-exempt assembly plants that produce mainly for export, known in Spanish as maquiladoras. The labor organizing group Batay Ouvriye (“Workers’ Struggle”) has charged that there are plans to build FTZs at the relatively remote areas outside Port-au-Prince, like Corail–Cesselesse, where the government of Haitian president René Préval has been moving people left homeless by the earthquake. (AlterPresse, Haiti, May 17; EA4 statement via AlterPresse, May 17)

Protests against the Préval government continued on May 17 when thousands of people demonstrated at the National Palace in Port-au-Prince. One person received a bullet wound during the protest, which was sponsored by a number of political parties. Many of the parties have been enemies in the past, including the Organization of the People in Struggle (OPL) and the Lavalas Family (FL) party of former president Jean Bertrand Aristide (1991-1996 and 2001-2004). (Radio Métropole, Haiti, May 17, May 19)

The protests have also drawn in grassroots organizations not affiliated with the parties. One of these, the Popular Democratic Movement (MODEP), called on May 20 for the parties to be excluded from the mobilizations. “[T]here are 10,000 reasons to mobilize against the people in power,” the group said in a statement, but since Préval took office in 2006 these opposition parties “have never missed a chance to take their piece of the cake while the people died of hunger and the country’s sovereignty was mocked with the presence of the MINUSTAH”–the 9,000-member United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti that has occupied the country since 2004. (AlterPresse, May 20)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, May 23.

See our last posts on Haiti.