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Date: Tue, 5 Sep 1995 16:12:01 GMT
Reply-To: Haitian Information Bureau <hib@igc.apc.org>
Sender: Activists Mailing List <ACTIV-L@MIZZOU1.missouri.edu>
From: Haitian Information Bureau <hib@igc.apc.org>
Subject: Haiti Info v.3 #23 UNIVERSITY BOILING
To: Multiple recipients of list ACTIV-L <ACTIV-L@MIZZOU1.missouri.edu>

University at boiling point; protests part of growing social movement

Haiti Info, Vol. 3 #23, 2 September 1995

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Sept. 1 - In the morosity and indifference of the post-electoral climate, a sudden outcry emerged from the public Universite d'Etat d'Haiti (UEH) against a symposium called and organized by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport on higher education.

An ad hoc committee, the Initiative Group for the Re-launching of Mobilization at UEH, bringing together professors and students, took the lead and gave the signal for mobilization in a six-page document: The Struggle Against the Beginning of the Funeral for Higher Education. Dozens of professors also signed a three-page paper: In Defense of Public Service in Higher Education.

Over the past two weeks, a wide mobilization has been activated taking different forms: meetings, debates, posters, press conferences, graffiti, and so on, climaxing in a demonstration on Monday which led to the postponement of the symposium and the resignation of the Provisional Rectorate Council (PRC).

The Origins of the Dispute

The UEH has been blocked and in a state of crisis for some time. In an effort to move things forward, the PRC (Roger Gaillard, Michel Hector and Marie-Carmel Austin) organized a Pedagogical Day on July 21, attended by professors, students and administration. The result was an ad hoc committee charged with mobilizing all sectors of the university to consider a series of proposals for reforms that the mixed student-professor councils of all 11 faculties would review, amend and adopt. Then, the UEH would prepare the actual laws for the reforms.

At the same time as this process was going on, however, the ministry by-passed the committee and organized a four-day symposium to deliberate the future of higher education, including a review of three drafts of laws regulating the university and the sector.

A Matter of Principle

The symposium was rejected for a number of fundamental questions of principle. First of all, the ministry short-circuited a participatory, ongoing process when it single-handedly launched the symposium in an authoritarian manner without consulting the different sectors of the university community, who only learned about it in the press, two weeks before its opening. Secondly, the ministry does not have the right to take such steps, since the university is autonomous as guaranteed by Art. 208 of the Constitution.

Thirdly, not only did the ministry step on the prerogatives of the UEH, but it went further by inviting representatives of private sector higher education to participate in a matter which does not concern them. The move violates Art. 211 of the Constitution which says the exact opposite: that UEH should oversee the private institutions.

Fourth, the three proposed laws make repeated references to a 1960 law Fran ois Duvalier used as a legal cover to macoutize the university (it decreed, for instance, that youth pledge allegiance to the state to be admitted), and to kill, torture and persecute hundreds of students. By referring to the infamous law, which was tacitly abrogated by the 1987 Constitution, the new laws' authors implicitly do not recognize an entire series of activities and progress made at the university since 1986.

For those reasons, the Indicative Group, four student organizations (KLE, KILE, JEK, FENEH), a high school teachers' union, a group of 30 professors who signed a petition, and 9 of 11 faculties rejected the symposium.

Successful Mobilization

The Initiative Group, students and professors appeared on numerous media and held many meetings to educate the public on the danger of the symposium and laws.

At an Aug. 24 press conference, the Group explained that they saw the ministry's moves as part of the overall privatization plans and the neoliberal vision that countries like Haiti need only produce technicians to run factories and agro-industries. It also accused the rectorate of treason and said the symposium was aimed at destroying all the gains made by students since 1986.

Without going into a detailed criticism of the laws, they noted that one discusses the possibility of the state subsidizing private sector higher education up to 25 percent, while at the same time making students pay 20 percent of the costs of their faculty. A medical student would pay about US$300 [the average Haitian income is US$248], agronomy, US$500, and liberal arts, almost US$200, even though the Constitution says: Higher education is free.

(Simultaneously, the government just recognized one of the biggest private universities [Quisqueya] as useful to the public, which means the state could be obligated to finance it. Also, the Catholic church hierarchy just launched what they say will be one of the biggest private universities in the Caribbean, Universite de Notre Dame, which has US$17 million of foreign financing.)

The stipulations in the laws, in the ongoing context of privatization, show clearly that an ultimate objective is to open up space for the private sector and move in a direction which would end in privatization of higher education, even if UEH were allowed to remain open for a minority.

After the mobilization and the Monday demonstration, where a group of students burned a copy of the laws, Minister Emmanuel Buteau was obliged to step back. In a press conference, he recognized that the university is autonomous and that he did not have the right to take the initiatives he did, and justified his move by claiming that the university direction - the deans, members of the management councils and the PRC - did not prepare a law as it was supposed to. The rectorate, caught playing a double game of supporting the ad hoc committee effort and also participating and promoting the symposium, resigned.

Many Other Mobilizations

The university crisis is taking place as different sectors mount campaigns against the impending privatization of state enterprises and state workers throughout the country begin voice their demands. A new radio show, Worker's Hour, was full of contesting voices last week. Recent editions of bulletins and newsletters have headlines like IMF [International Monetary Fund] - Three damned letters and IMF and World Bank Operate a Masked Dictatorship.

A letter from the flour mill workers union last week denounced the planned sale of their company, saying with a little investment it would be on its feet again, and added: The process is too fast, there has been no true evaluation of the mill, and that, this 'democratization'... will bring nothing to the country, particularly the employees and workers, 'the eternal victims.'

An Aug. 29 press release signed by six popular organizations, including Konbit Komilfo, condemned privatization, called for reform of the state and said: it's true the state businesses are sick... but to privatize ... with a private sector that did the coup d'etat rather than pay taxes is unacceptable.

Historian Paul Laraque wrote (in Haiti-en-Marche) For the Resistance against Dependence where he said privatization is part of the establishing of new structures to modernize the apparatus of the neocolonial, imperialist state and assure also the multinational economic occupation of the state whose goal is to render the rich more rich, at the individual and nation level.

In the meantime, underpaid workers at state banks (scheduled to be privatized) in three cities held work stoppages to demand better salaries; workers at the government tax office have demonstrated for raises, and workers at the state hospitals in St. Marc and Gonaives have now been on strike for a week because they have not received raises promised in March. Workers from a former state sugar mill in Cap-Haitien demonstrated four times recently to demand jobs and back salaries.

Government Moves Forward Anyway

Parallel to the mobilizations, the government has continued forward with its plans, introducing on Aug 22 the office which will oversee privatizations, the Unite de Democratisation des Entreprises Publiques (UDEP), complete with a package of brochures with drawings and catchy phrases that explain how state businesses need GREENBACKS to develop. Little drawings show a thumb (the state enterprise) crushing someone and a businessman stealing money. Another chart assures people the buyers will have a social conscience.

Haiti is now ready to join into the competition on the world market! says one flyer.

This week, President Jean-Bertrand Aristide appealed once again to the international private sector to get on board when he hosted the Business Development Council, a U.S./Haitian business group set up under U.S. government stewardship.

But the protests and contestations have brought instability to the government. Yesterday Minister of Finance Marie Michele Rey threatened to resign because she is being attacked as the one behind the privatization. She said people call her a wheeler- dealer and a bourgeois who took a state job to sell off the state to the bourgeoisie. Near tears, she told the press that the policy is not hers, but the government's, showing them the infamous Paris Plan, and reminded them how she was persecuted during the coup because she defended democracy.

Aristide Defends Privatization

The reactions to privatization forced Aristide to get more involved. On Aug. 24 (before Rey's blow-up), he read a long press statement where he said the bywords transparence, participation, justice are still applicable, that his government does not lie or engage in demagogy. He explained that the state does not have enough money to make a series of businesses work, and therefore has to sell them.

Aristide is aware of massive popular protests in other countries, and said he wanted to assure what happened in Costa Rica does not happen in Haiti... To govern is to preview what will happen... When there is good participation, good dialogue, good conditions, you avoid this impending misfortune.

It was the first time in recent months that Aristide has openly assumed the policy of privatization, even if he is still trying to confuse people by using the demagogy of democratization. Since the contestation is growing, he cannot stay behind the curtain, leaving all the responsibility to his collaborators. He has to come out of the shadows and expose himself to calm the crowd. That makes things clearer for everyone.