Urgent—action required to stop violent attacks on unionists in Haiti

Report by Haiti Support Group, 2 June 2002

Haiti: At least two trade union members killed, others seriously wounded, three in prison, union leader’s home burnt down.

An injury to one is an injury to all!


Today, 1st June 2002, the Haiti Support Group received the following message from Batay Ouvriye, the workers’ organisation in Haiti:

The house of the Guacimal Union’s General Secretary, Mr. Sintes Estime, has been burnt to the ground. The entire family has been forced into hiding. Other dwellings belonging to other member of the union are threatened of the same fate.

The above incident comes five days after an armed gang, acting under the orders of a local landowner, and in collusion with elected Lavalas Family Party officials, brutally attacked a group of organised workers and peasants near the town of Saint Raphael in northern Haiti.

According to the information that we have received, on 27 May, a group of local people organised as the St. Raphael Guacimal Workers Union and the St Raphael Planters’ Association, accompanied by a solidarity delegation from the Cap-Haitien-based union federation, the Intersyndicale Premier Mai - Batay Ouvriye, assembled in St. Raphael. Their aim was to allocate parcels of land at the Guacimal company orange plantation for use by local peasant farmers during the current growing season. This division of the unused land between the orange trees has been an established practice for many, many years. (Note: Guacimal SA is a Haitian company specialising in the production of orange extract for export. Until the beginning of this year one of its main clients, and a significant share-holder, was the French drinks giant, Remy Cointreau.)

The assembled group of organised workers and peasants proceeded to the Guacimal plantation where, according to the reports that we have read, they were met by a group representing a local landowner called Lavaud who is close to the Guacimal company management. Prominent among the leadership of this group were two Lavalas Family officials from the local council. Without any provocation at all, this group, some armed with machetes and clubs, others with guns, attacked the organised workers and peasants. Shots were fired, stones and other missiles were thrown in defence. Many people were seriously injured as the assailants dispersed the assembled group.

Most seriously, we are informed of the following outrage: According to information received from our colleagues, Batay Ouvriye, some time after the above incident two elderly members of the organisation who had come from the nearby village of St. Michel de l’Attalaye to show their solidarity but who had not taken part in the fighting, were discovered hiding in a house some distance from the plantation. We are informed that members of the attacking group took these two people out of the house, tied them up and dragged them to the plantation. There they were mutilated and cut up with knives. Finally, they were beheaded and their bodies were thrown in a hole.

We further understand that on 29 May a helicopter carrying a unit of the national crowd control police was dispatched from the capital Port-au-Prince to St. Raphael, and took seven people detained in the St. Raphael jail back to Port-au-Prince. We understand that the seven detainees include three members of Batay Ouvriye and two journalists who were covering the events. All seven are apparently now detained in the National Penitentiary in Port-au-Prince. As far as we know, they have not been charged with any offence. If that was not bad enough, we understand that the two journalists, Darwin St. Julien of the Haïti Progrès newspaper and Allan Deshommes of Radio Atlantique, are being denied the urgent medical attention that they require for the injuries they received during the 27 May incident. St. Julien may lose an eye, and Deshommes’ condition may be life threatening. We understand that the two were originally detained by the St. Raphael police on the basis of the public declaration made in advance of Monday’s incidents by the Lavalas Family mayor of St. Raphael’ in which he claimed to know that the journalists were terrorists.

The St. Raphael Guacimal Workers Union, which is legally registered with the country’s Ministry of Social and Labour Affairs, has been involved in a long and bitter dispute with the Guacimal management for over eighteen months. The union was formed to negotiate improved wages and working conditions for the 300 or so workers who harvest oranges. (Until the beginning of this year, the extract from these oragnes was sold to Remy Cointreau for use in the production of the luxury liqueur, Cointreau.) However the Guacimal management has consistently refused to recognise the existence of the union, and has frequently resorted to violence to try and break it.

In January 2002, Remy Cointreau suddenly announced it had sold its shares in Guacimal and ended its contract with the company. This decision appears to have served as a ‘green light’ for the Guacimal company acting with the support of the local Lavalas Family Party officials and the local large landowner to completely eradicate the union by the use of extreme violence.

Having enjoyed the fruits of the workers’ labour for many years, now Remy Cointreau not only wants to wash its hands of any responsibility for them, but has effectively abandoned them to the murderous actions of its former business partner, Guacimal SA.


Write letters of protest to President Jean-Bertrand Aristide email: MKarshan@aol.com and palaisnational_jp@yahoo.com

Demand that the violence against the union members and their supporters is stopped immediately, that the arrested unionists are released, that an immediate investigation into the incidents is carried out by an independent body, and that the government commits itself to freedom of assembly in line with Haiti’s Constitution and the international agreements to which it is party.

Please cc these email letters to:

and to the appropriate person in your union.

Thank you