Hopeful recruits to a future Armed Forces of Haiti (F'ADH). Photo: Haiti Grassroots Watch

By Roger Annis
A Dec 28, 2011 report in the Montreal daily La Presse says Canada’s right wing Minister of Foreign Affairs, John Baird, and his government are “not at all happy” with the pace and scope of earthquake recovery in Haiti. Baird cites a litany of issues that he thinks are not being adequately addressed by the Haitian government, including uncertainty over land ownership titles, health care, education and ‘security.’

The La Presse article is reprinted in Le Nouvelliste, Haiti’s semi-daily newspaper.

Baird says that the excessively long time it took to form a government after the election of Michel Martelly to the presidency (in March of last year) did not help the situation. “He (Martelly) came into power with all kinds of enthusiasm, ready to tackle the problems, and then there was four months without a government. We are pleased that his government was finally approved by (the Parliament) and we can now get to work with it.”

Baird also says that Canada has a ‘difference of opinion’ concerning President Martelly’s project to relaunch a Haitian army. The news article did not specify the exact nature of the disagreement. Past statements by Canadian officials have disagreed with the timing, not the substance, of Martelly’s plan.

The Haitian army was abolished by then-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1995 due to its long and bloody history as a human rights violating agency whose sole function was to maintain the status quo for Haiti’s economic and political elite and international investors.

Canada, the U.S. and Europe financed the election that brought Martelly to power in March 2011. The electoral exercise faced stiff opposition in Haiti and internationally because of its exclusionary nature and because of poor access to voter registration and voting stations. Political parties were excluded from the election, including the Fanmi Lavalas founded by Aristide in the mid-1990s. Less than 25% of Haitians took part in the vote.

It’s an easy exercise for Martelly’s international backers to feign disagreement or dissatisfaction with one or another of his policies, all the while maintaining their core support. Baird told the La Presse reporter that the course Haiti is now embarked upon is a “ten year job.”

Baird said, “Two months ago, I wasn’t seeing any light at the end of the tunnel. In fact, I wasn’t seeing the tunnel. Now we are starting to see progress.”

If the President is concerned about foreign criticism of his army plan, it’s not showing. At the celebration in the city of Gonaives on January 1 marking Haiti’s 1804 Independence Day, Martelly said it’s full steam ahead for the relaunch project (see report below).


On Independence Day, Martelly Commits to Relaunch of Haitian Army

Speaking in Gonaives on January 1, 2012 at a ceremony commemorating Haiti’s Day of Independence in 1804, President Michel Martelly said the relaunch of a Haitian army is at the center of his plans for the post-earthquake situation in the country.

“This will be an army that will bring the relief to be expected any time there is a natural catastrophe, an army that will work to assure the territorial integrity in a continent where threats to national security, such as drug trafficking and terrorism, are ever-present.”

In his speech, the President stated that a panel he formed in November to study the army issue has recommended that he proceed. The panel was created after Martelly seemingly bowed to pressure, including from Canada and the U.S., to slow down the project.
Read the text of the speech by Martelly here in English as posted by the website Haiti Libre (in French here).


Developments in the case of the SOTA unionists fired in Haiti

The following report is published in the web bulletin of the Centre international de solidarité ouvrière (CISO), Jan 1, 2012. Translation by Roger Annis.
(Original article in French here)

On November 10, 2011, CISO organized a seminar (in Montreal) on the conditions in the free trade factory zones in Haiti. During the course of the seminar, Yannick Étienne, coordinator of Batay Ouvriye, alerted us to the firing of six of the seven executive committee members of the newly formed union, Syndicat des Ouvriers du Textile et de l’Habillement (SOTA–Union of Textile and Clothing Workers).

CISO then coordinated a solidarity action with Batay Ouvriye. Firstly, taking advantage of the presence of Mme Étienne au Québec, we alerted the Quebec media. We also asked our members and allies to write to the President of Haiti and to the the directors of Gildan Activewear. Four of the fired workers were employed by a sub-contractor of Gildan, a Canadian multinational whose head office is located in Montreal. Many union and political rights organizations responded to the appeal as well as other people indignant at this injustice.

Publication of a report by Better Work
Following a complaint lodged by Batay Ouvriye, Better Work, the partnership program between the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the the International Finance Corporation (IFC), proceeded to carry out an inquiry.* It published its report on November 24, 2011. The report of this inquiry (15 pages, in French) revealed that the firing of the executive committee members of SOTA was motivated by their trade union activity. The firings aimed to disrupt the development of this association of workers, less than two weeks after its foundiing. It its report, Better Work particularly noted that the freedom of association of workers must be guaranteed in factory enterprises and it recommended the reintegration of the fired unionists.

Gains won
“Things are moving a little! And it is very encouraging!” writes Yannick Étienne in an e-mail dated December 12. Two of the unionists have been reintegrated. Meetings with the factory owners should take place soon to negotiate the reintegration of three others.

The struggle is difficult. CISO has promised to Batay Ouvriye and to the fired unionists to maintain our vigilance and solidarity. We will continue to inform our members and allies of the evolution of the process of reintegration process of each fired unionist. If necessary, we will undertake further actions.

(An article on this story was published in the Montreal daily The Gazette, Nov 15, 2011.)

Roger Annis

Roger Annis

Roger Annis is a coordinator of the Canada Haiti Action Network (CHAN) and its Vancouver affiliate, Haiti Solidarity BC. He has visited Haiti in August 2007 and June 2011. He is a frequent writer and...