Monday, April 28, 2008

4/27 - 4/28

Yesterday we took the day off and went to the beach with Paul and Jeanette.  On the way we drove briefly through Cite Soleil, the Port Au Prince slum from which Aristide drew significant support.  We witnessed shanty towns with corrugated metal roofs slapped up on top of garbage dumps along toxic streams.  On the outskirts was the Duvalier prison, Dimanche, which was destroyed after the dictators' fall.  From the slum we saw the apartments Aristide began to build for the poor, some were completed but the project was never finished due to the 2004 coup.  Proceeding toward the beach we crossed PAP's largest market, which is being replaced by permanent structures funded by Venezuela, an example of real international solidarity. Contrast this to the UN which is basically an occupying power driving through PAP in armored personal carriers brandishing guns.  

We witnessed other dramatic contrasts, on one side sat the slums, while on the other the National Theater and embassies, including the old US embassy, replaced just last week by a fortress near the airport.  Thus the architecture tends to confirm the statistic that 85% of Haiti's wealth controlled by 6% of the population (ironically the richest billionaire in Latin America is Haitian, and Haiti has the most billionaires in the Caribbean).  Leaving the market area we saw a few of the remaining Creole pigs drinking and eating in the sewer.  Creole pigs were forcibly eradicated in 1982 and replaced by pigs imported from Iowa, dubbed by peasants "prince a quatre pieds" (four footed princess) as they required a higher standard of living than most Haitians, needing clean drinking water unavailable to 80% of the population, vaccinations, special imported feed provided by US agribusiness, and special roofed pigpens.  

The beach was lovely, though catered mostly to upper class Haitian youth, costing more than most Haitians live on in a day.  It was quite a contrast being the only white people on the beach.  The water was lovely, warm, and refreshing.

Today we visited PAP's docks, where the CTH has a presence with the Syndicat de Employes de Lautorite Portuiare Nationale (SEAPN- National Dock Workers' Port Authority Union).  We had a meeting with the union's  president and 7 committee members.  We learned that the docks have 1800 employees, 1275 are union members, 1300 of which are about to be laid-off.  According to those we interviewed the SEAPN is "apolitical," doing social instead of ideological work.  

The union's main focus is working with the employees, making sure they keep their jobs and that their rights are defended.  They stressed they have a "new union philosophy," to work in collaboration with the Port's director to obtain a better severance package for the workers.  Their focus is to "modernize through diplomacy to present the problems of workers to management."  Unfortunately, there is now a crisis between the union management and the government; the State has decided to lay off 1300 workers and the union, not opposing the layoffs, is focusing on obtaining a 2 year severance package with 6 months health care beyond that.  They also talked about professional training to manage the money they receive and initiate "income generating activities through new economic initiatives" (through the informal sector?).  

This reveals a tension between the CTH and the SEAPN as the CTH remains opposed to this kind of privatization and is trying to organize national and international opposition to the move, which is one example of how badly they require our solidarity.  There is no opposition to the layoffs in the Haitian government in fact the port director and "civil servant", Jean Evans Charles, a hatchet man, after 2 hours of pontificating stated "we are capitalists, we have to make money in a competitive system, and the best way to do this is to privatize."  What will the layoffs be based on -- seniority, age, family? -- we did not get a clear picture.

When asked about the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights (guaranteed to all people, the right to work, education, food, clothing, shelter, and to live a life of quality in a democracy), Charles repeated the Reaganite doctrine of trickle down economics.  Interestingly, no one from the SEAPN was listening to his spiel, instead they talked on their cell phones, engaged in non-verbal communication with us, and one even fell asleep.  

As we left the port some Haitians shouted at us "CIA, CIA fuck off," alluding to US cooperation with the port's privatization.  We proceeded to the Parquet, a local courthouse, where hospital workers who had not been paid for 7 months were standing in solidarity with the president of their union who had been arrested after an altercation between some union workers and the hospital's director. The union president, Levy Mileot, was not even present at the incident.  In a crowd surveyed by plainclothesmen who carried M16s and shotguns we learned that on March 15 a 35% increase in hospital worker pay had been approved but has yet to be implemented.  

We interviewed several members of the hospital workers union who denounced not only corruption in the health care industry, but also launched into attacks on bureaucracy, clientelism, systemic violence and corruption, and anti-unionism.  By 4:30 the judge had not shown up for the hearing.  Shortly thereafter Mileot was whisked away amid the outcry of the 30 or so there in solidarity.    

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