Trade union struggles and celebrations

Today, myself and another member of the delegation attended an anniversary celebration of the Confederation des travailleurs haitiens (CTH), held at their headquarters in downtown Port au Prince.

The celebration was a lively and festive event, starting at 10 am and lasting well into the afternoon. I’m guessing that 200 people attended in total, men and women both, and many young people. There were lots of speeches given, some tracing the history that the union has lived since its founding in 1959, others focused on the present challenges facing working people in Haiti.

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Protesters condemn kidnapping in Port au Prince

by Roger Annis

Today, more than one hundred angry people took to streets of central Port au Prince to condemn the kidnapping of Lovinsky Pierre Antoine. He is a longtime political rights fighter and leader of the September 30 Foundation, a group founded in 2004 by Lovinsky. Its principle activity has been to fight for the rights of people illegally incarcerated in Haiti.

Lovinsky lived in exile from 2004 to 2006 following the coup d’etat and foreign intervention against the elected government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

The rally today was held in the grand plaza in front of Haiti’s presidential palace. It was organized by Lovinsky’s colleagues in the September 30 Foundation and by other human and social rights groups. More protest actions will take place in the coming days.

Protesters are demanding that the Haitian government and police use all necessary resources to secure Lovinsky’s release. They also condemn the conditions of lawlessness that have marked Haiti since the February 2004 coup d’etat and foreign intervention.

Large numbers of Brazilian soldiers were stationed in front of the presidential palace, across the street from the protest. Few Haitian National Police were visible.

Lovinsky’s case has been widely publicized on radio in Haiti. The print press has yet to cover the story.

Popular organizations

Today, we visited a neighbourhood in the upper Delmas Road section of Port au Prince, called Jacquet. It’s an area where residents have begun to take the organizing of their community into their own hands, led by young people who do not necessarily come out of the Lavalas political parties of ousted President Aristide and the current President Preval.

The young people recently took the initiative to organize a primary school to serve young people in the neighbourhood. The school operates on next to no budget and salaries, and classroom content favors inclusive teaching methods with a strong component of Haitian history.

The community has also taken the lead in organizing weekly clean-ups of garbage and litter. There are still some wrinkles to work out, as the city has not always come through in a timely way with pick up of the resulting pile of trash.

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Trade unions in Haiti

Two months ago, public and commercial transport drivers in Port au Prince went on strike for two days. Much of the city’s commercial and public services were shut down. The strike was a reminder to all that workers and peasants in this country are determined to struggle for better living standards and for a better society. They are also prepared to pressure the elected government harder to make this happen.

The strike shut down most commerce and public services in the city. The issue was the rising price of gasoline. Transport drivers were getting hit with rising gasoline prices. Transport companies as well as drivers, many of whom work on contract to private vehicle owners, tried to raise the price of their services, but the population balked at paying higher fees. Drivers and owner-operators were caught between rising prices, government refusal to stabilize or lower prices, and the people’s refusal to pay higher prices.

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A day in historic Cap Haitien

Cap Haitien is Haiti’s second largest city. It lies on the northern coastline and mountains rise sharply not even a kilometre inland in the city center. To the south and east, a large flat agricultural plain stretches all the way to the border with the Dominican Republic, about 60 km away.

We arrived after a difficult 11-hour drive that covered perhaps 200 km. We experienced a 45 minute delay when rain made the downhill mountain road we were on too slippery and dangerous. The brief but intense rain flooded rivers and streams in our path. We had to ford three rushing rivers. Here was a blunt illustration of the consequences of the deforestation of much of Haiti.

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Four days on Haiti’s north coast

Hello reader,

We arrived in this city, Haiti’s second largest, at 2 am last night after a long drive of nine hours from a small town at Haiti’s northwest corner. Since leaving Port au Prince five days ago, we have visited three cities and towns, driving a total distance of some 450 km. It has been a grueling trip because the roads in Haiti are exceptionally bad. For all intents and purposes, routes north of Port au Prince are impassable to cars. The secondary routes that we have driven are barely navigable in the large 4 X 4 vehicule our delegation has rented. The state of the roads and the absence of any visible evidence of a crash program to repair them is a shocking commentary on the failure of three and a half years of foreign occupation in Haiti. I will have much more to say on this in the coming days.

During the past four days, we have learned a great deal about the social conditions throughout Haiti and the political views and expectations of the Haitian people. If I have not written to this blog site during this time, it’s because we have had little internet access. As well, any time spent writing would have taken away from the precious little time we have to meet and talk to Haiti’s people. So please bear with me and tune into this blog site over the next 24 to 48 hours. I return to Port au Prince tomorrow and will spend a lot of time writing up all I have learned during this first week in Haiti.

My best wishes to you all,