Haiti: protesters demand decent jobs and housing

Chanting “This has to change,” some 200 Haitians marked World Day for Decent Work on Oct. 7 with a march to the National Industrial Parks Company (Sonapi), where most of Port-au-Prince’s low-wage assembly plants are located. Some of the marchers had their faces covered to keep from being identified; managers at three Sonapi plants fired a total of six officers of the newly formed Textile and Garment Workers Union (SOTA) in the last week of September. Police agents from the Departmental Unit for the Maintenance of Order (UDMO) were stationed at the industrial park to keep the marchers from accessing the plants.

The jobs at these factories, which stitch garments for export, are basically temporary and don’t offer decent pay or benefits, according to Yanick Etienne of the leftist group Batay Ouvriye (“Workers’ Struggle”). Évèle Fanfan, one of the march’s organizers, said that jobs should be a real factor in social mobility. “If a worker is employed in an assembly plant, his or her children shouldn’t have to work there in the future,” Fanfan said. (AlterPresse, Haiti, Oct. 7)

Four days earlier, on Oct. 3, the Collective of Organizations for the Defense of the Right to Housing held a rally outside the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor (MAST) to demand a government housing program to replace the tens of thousands of homes destroyed in a devastating earthquake in January 2010. Among the protesters were representatives of various camps where thousands of the homeless have been living since the quake, and delegates from the Grito de los Excluidos (“Cry of the Excluded”), an organization that sponsors mobilizations in Latin America and the Caribbean each year on Oct. 12. The delegates were from various Caribbean countries, including Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico; there were also participants from Chile, France and the US. (Radio MĂ©tropole, Haiti, Oct. 6)

On Oct. 4 the Senate voted 17 to three, with nine abstentions, to confirm President Michel Martelly’s choice of Garry Conille as prime minister; the Chamber of Deputies had already approved the nomination on Sept. 16 [see Update #1099]. In an interview with the Reuters wire service after the Senate vote, the new prime minister appeared to have the same concerns as the organizers of the Oct. 3 and Oct. 7 protests. His top priority was “jobs, jobs, jobs,” Conille said, along with getting the rebuilding process in motion. “The Haitian people have been incredibly patient,” he told Reuters. “I think we need to move faster. We need to change lives faster…. We still have about 600,000 people living under tents, we still have tons and tons of debris to be collected.”

But grassroots organizations remained skeptical about Conille, who has served as chief of staff for former US president Bill Clinton (1993-2001), the UN’s special envoy to Haiti. Conille will “defend Clinton’s interests,” not Haiti’s, Philefrant SaintnarĂ©, a spokesperson for the Papaye Peasant Movement (MPP), told the online Haitian news service AlterPresse. “Haiti is in a phase of recolonization,” SaintnarĂ© said; with Conille in office, the imperialist forces will be able to fulfill their dream “of monopolizing the peasants’ lands in order to set up free-trade zones [tax-exempt industrial parks] and to produce biofuels.” (Reuters, Oct. 5, via AlterNet; AlterPresse, Oct. 6)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Oct. 9.

See our last post on Haiti.