Haiti: US pushes sweatshops for “unrealistic” quake victims

US secretary of state Hillary Clinton, French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner and Haitian prime minister Jean-Max Bellerive met in New York on Sept. 20 to discuss international efforts to help Haiti recover from the Jan. 12 earthquake that devastated much of the capital and nearby areas. About 1.3 million Haitians continue to live outdoors, mostly in some 1,300 improvised encampments, more than eight months after the quake and almost six months after international donors pledged $9.9 billion in aid.

Bellerive noted that “impatience is increasing” in Haiti, but Clinton downplayed the complaints. “Those who expect progress immediately are unrealistic and doing a disservice to the many people who are working so hard,” she said. Kouchner agreed. “Some find that it’s going slowly, very slowly, the reconstruction of Haiti,” he said. “And some are surprised that with so much money raised there is no really visible progress. It’s because they have no idea of the immensity of the disaster. There’s a lot of money, many things have been done, but that cannot be immediately visible.”

The main business of the meeting, which took place as world leaders gathered in New York for the opening of the current session of the UN General Assembly, was the signing of two memoranda of understanding, one for setting up an industrial zone expected to provide jobs for 10,000 Haitians, and one for financing the reconstruction of Port-au-Prince’s general hospital, the Hospital of the State University of Haiti (HUEH).

Bellerive and Hillary Clinton also signed an agreement with Woong-Ki Kim, chair of Seoul-based Sae-A Trading Co. Ltd., to build garment assembly plants in Haiti, either near the northern city of Cap-HaĆÆtien or in an undeveloped area north of Port-au-Princeā€”presumably at the government-organized camp for displaced persons at Corail-Cesselesse [see Update #1040]. “These are not just any jobs,” Clinton said about the employment the agreement is supposed to provide. “These are good jobs with fair pay that adhere to international labor standards.” The agreement shows that “Haiti is open for business again,” she added.

In addition, Clinton, Kouchner and Bellerive participated in a meeting of the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (CIRH). The group, set up to monitor recovery efforts, is co-chaired by Bellerive and Clinton’s husband, former US president (1993-2001) and current UN envoy Bill Clinton. (Agence France Presse, Sept. 20, via Haiti Support Group; Associated Press, Sept. 20, via Haiti Support Group)

The apparel jobs Hillary Clinton discussed would be in the tax-exempt assembly plantsā€”known as maquiladoras in Latin Americaā€”where workers stitch together garments for export. Eddy LabossiĆØre, president of the Haitian Association of Economists (AEH), said on Sept. 23 that the assembly plant jobs, which are subject to a special lower minimum wage of about $3 a day, won’t be able to guarantee Haiti’s development. LabossiĆØre also expressed regret that plans for the reconstruction of the capital’s downtown area include a $295,000 contract, signed a few days earlier, with a British group, the Prince Charles Foundation, rather than with a Haitian firm. (Agence HaĆÆtienne de Presse, Haiti, Sept. 23)

Some 150-200 Haitian Americans and other activists demonstrated in New York on Sept. 25 to protest the slow pace of recovery. Chanting “Where’s the money?” and “Aid the people now” in Creole and English, the protesters marched from the Haitian consulate in the Midtown area to Dag Hammarskjold Plaza near the UN headquarters by the East River. The action was organized by the Haiti Solidarity Network of the North East (HSNNE) and endorsed by a number of organizations. (Pavement Pieces blog, Sept. 25; Weekly News Update eyewitness report)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Sept. 26.

See our last post on Haiti.