Editorial: Unions in Haiti are fighting to save the country and need international support
National uprisings against poverty, inequality and austerity have flared across Latin America and the world in recent months, taking by surprise governments insulated from the institutionalized misery they preside over. Their outcome is undecided: in Chile, millions of people continue to take to the streets, unwilling to renounce their struggle against an entire social order in return for minor concessions. But in the impoverished nation of Haiti, a determined popular mobilization has continued for over a year, refusing to bow to violence and hunger even as the situation becomes increasingly desperate.
In October last year, a mass movement emerged demanding the government be held to account for the disappearance of billions of dollars of state funds. The US-backed government of Jovenel Moïse, “elected” in a 2016 farce marked by fraud and a voter turnout of less than 20%, has responded only with relentless violence. Moïse and his family and cronies are directly implicated in massive corruption and the organization of paramilitary violence, generally ascribed to “gangs” but organized in the presidential palace. The people’s already scanty purchasing power has declined by half under his rule.
While Moïse refuses to step down; the entire state apparatus has evaporated; only organized violence and racketeering remain. Haiti has no functioning hospitals, schools, courts, or parliament, no fuel and no foreign exchange to pay for the food imports on which it depends. Haiti’s capacity to feed itself was destroyed in the failed attempt to make the country a giant export processing zone when neo-liberalism was forcibly grafted onto entrenched networks of corruption. Foreign-owned businesses are shutting and fleeing. Hunger, disease and death stalk the country. Yet resistance continues.
Opposition to foreign intervention is seared deep into the national consciousness, a product of the rebellion against French colonialism, the US invasion and occupation of 1915 (which introduced conscripted labour) and the 1991 coup which overthrew Haiti’s first democratically elected president, Jean Bertrand Aristide. The country has still to recover from the 2010 earthquake which killed some 220,000 people and displaced over a million. United Nations peacekeepers brought cholera and target practice on the urban poor for the Brazil-based peacekeeping force; NGOs brought sex trafficking.
Political parties, which traditionally have functioned as patronage networks backed by foreign powers, have zero credibility in Haiti today. The political meltdown is as complete as the social collapse, which the expression ‘humanitarian crisis’ barely captures.
On October 10, a broad coalition of some 150 non-party civil society organizations issued a platform of measures to meet the crisis through a Passage (Passerelle) of democratic transition. Among the signatories are 51 trade union organizations, including the national centers affiliated to the ITUC, the leading employer organizations, peasant associations and youth, student, religious and civil rights organizations. The Passage demands, among other measures, the immediate depart of the president and the non-functioning parliament, revision of the electoral system, and measures to ensure civil society oversight of eventual elections as well as emergency action to deal with the social and economic collapse.
The situation is volatile, and politics in Haiti is fraught with manipulation. The country needs massive support, but not the ‘assistance’ of past years. The people of Haiti know very well what they don’t want. Union participation in and support for the Passerelle indicates a path for international solidarity. The IUF affirms its full solidarity with our affiliate SYTBRANA and with the many unions in Haiti and their civil society allies seeking an internal solution to the crisis, and urges the international trade union movement to support our sisters and brothers fighting through their unions to stave off collapse and rebuild their country on new foundations.