On June 12 Haitian president René Préval finally responded to a bill Parliament has passed to raise the minimum wage from 70 gourdes ($1.74) a day to 200 gourdes ($4.97). The pay hike, the first since 2003, cleared the Senate on May 5. In an official letter to the presidents of the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies, Préval repeated claims of Haitian business associations that the wage increase would jeopardize the subcontracting sector, the free trade zone (FTZ) factories that assemble goods largely for export. He proposed an increase to 125 gourdes for that sector, and called on Parliament to be open to negotiations on the measure. (Haiti Press Network, June 17; Radio Métropole, Haiti, June 18)
Students from the State University of Haiti (UEH) continued the militant protests in Port-au-Prince that they began on June 3 to demand that Préval make the full wage increase official by promulgating it in the government gazette, Le Moniteur. Early on the morning of June 17, students used burning tires to create barricades near the Medical School and other parts of the university. As on previous occasions, Haitian police and police agents from the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) used tear gas in an attempt to disperse the protesters. The students seized a MINUSTAH police car and set it on fire; the agents fled the vehicle. Protesters also burned a bus and smashed windshields with rocks. UEH protests began earlier in the year over curriculum changes, but the demands now include the minimum wage increase and the removal of MINUSTAH, a Brazilian-led 8,000-member military and police operation that has been in Haiti since June 2004. (Radio Métropole, June 17, 18; AlterPresse, Haiti, June 17)
Anger at MINUSTAH intensified on June 18 when supporters of the Lavalas Family (FL) party of former president Jean Bertrand Aristide (1991-1996 and 2001-2004) accused Brazilian soldiers of the shooting death of an unidentified young man outside the Port-au-Prince cathedral. Lavalas supporters had attended a funeral service there for Father Gérard Jean-Juste, a well-known Catholic priest and Aristide sympathizer. According to witnesses, the MINUSTAH soldiers had been firing in the air, although it is not clear why. An angry demonstration followed in which protesters smashed windshields; the action ended with protesters carrying the young man’s body to the National Palace, the president’s official residence. (AlterPresse, June 18)
Jean-Juste, who died in Florida on May 27 after a long illness, had run a popular food distribution service at his church in Port-au-Prince and was a founder of the Haitian Refugee Center in Miami. He was imprisoned in July 2005 by the interim government that was put in place after Aristide was forced from office in February 2004; Jean-Juste was released in January 2006 to undergo treatment for leukemia and pneumonia in the US.
At least one person died in clashes during a runoff for a third of the Senate seats on June 21. The victim—identified as Jean Pierre Wilfrid, a supporter of the social democratic Fusion party—was reportedly killed in an altercation with supporters of the Lespwa (“Hope”) party of President Préval. (AlterPresse, June 21)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, June 21
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