Date: Mon, 13 May 1996 04:58:38 -0500
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>>> Item number 7702, dated 96/05/11 19:20:52—ALL
Date: Sat, 11 May 1996 19:20:52 CDT
Sender: Activists Mailing List <ACTIV-L@MIZZOU1.MISSOURI.EDU>
From: NY Transfer News Collective <>
Subject: This Week in Haiti 14:7 5/8/96

Against great odds, anti-privatization mobilization continues

Haiti Progres, Vol.14 no.7, 8–14 May 1996

In the capital and other towns throughout Haiti, May 1st, International Workers Day, brought important mobilizations against the Preval government's project to integrate Haiti into the neo-liberal framework being demanded by the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and Washington.

In the southwestern town of Petit Goave, hundreds of peasants and popular organization militants blocked National Route #2 to protest the government's privatization plans. A similar action was taking place in Mirebalais, where a demonstration led by the Union of Young Patriots (IJP) cut-off the road to the Central Plateau to protest privatization, the high cost of living, insecurity, and the disrepair of the road despite months of promises from authorities. Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, the Preval advisor who has been travelling all over Haiti to promote privatization, was blocked by the IJP's protest and had to make a difficult detour through Saut d'Eau.

The largest demonstration was in Port-au-Prince, where about 2000 marched from the Cathedral to the National Palace, while unionists from the state-owned electrical authority, EDH, and the telephone company, TELECO, circulated around town in several dozen trucks. Fire and arrest all the corrupt bureaucrats [gran manje] who continue to destroy the nation's economy, came the message of the protestors through lively chants and colorful placards and banners. Lower the salary of careerist functionaries, The bourgeoisie has to pay their taxes, Seize the businesses of bourgeois who don't want to pay what they owe to the state, and The IMF and World Bank have landed and say we owe them, but we didn't sign anything, and we won't pay!

Both supporters and opponents of the May 1st mobilization had expected an even larger turn-out, a fact which the government quickly tried to turn to its advantage. A half-hour after the demonstration, President Preval called a press conference to declare the May 1st demonstration a failure, while affirming that he was sensitive to popular and union apprehension. As nobility dictated, he made the obligatory call for dialogue with the demonstrators.

Preval's virtuous posturing masked the all-out campaign that his government, along with its allies in the press and church, had undertaken to block the demonstration in the capital. The demonstration was a success because we achieved our objective of challenging the government and its agents, explained Yves Sanon of the Collective For Mobilization Against the IMF and World Bank at a May 2 press conference held by groups who organized the march, [They] spread many rumors and reports that there would be shooting at the demonstration, so as to intimidate both the participants and organizers of the demonstration... The government did not want the demonstration to happen.

As a part of its scare tactics, the government made a massive show of force. Demonstrators were surrounded by hundreds of well- armed U.S.-trained police, who have already won, in less than a year, a reputation for being trigger-happy and brutal. Many cops sported riot helmets, riot shields, and truncheons. The display was unprecedented in Haiti, where, even under post-Duvalier dictators, protests were usually monitored with less soldiers and more distance and discretion. There were many people who came to participate in the demonstration who were frightened when they saw the massive presence of the police, with gas masks, club sheaths, clubs and guns in their hands, said Sanon. Those fearful people stood and watched rather than joining the demonstration.

Sanon also noted that many shots were fired in several popular neighborhoods the night before the march and that one major radio station reported at 7 a.m., three hours before the start of the march, that many people had been arrested at Delmas 33 and that there would be no demonstration.

However, the biggest obstacle which the popular organizations face is the neo-liberal propaganda machine, flag-shipped by the $800,000 pro-privatization publicity campaign launched by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) last October. Working with leaflets and bull-horns, popular organizations are trying to rebut the myths and false promises about privatization poured onto the Haitian people by seminars, radio and television programs, newspaper articles, advertisements, NGO gatherings, church masses, street posters, and speeches by experts, dignitaries, and government officials.

Money is being given for privatization so that priests will go in their churches and tell the people not to come to this demonstration, explained Theodore Lolo Beaubrun, the leader of the popular musical group Boukman Eksperyans. Propaganda is being made everywhere to privatize. They are spending millions of dollars. Where are we going to find millions of dollars to inform people? We can't inform them as well as we would like to.

The efforts to stop anti-privatization organizing may now be surpassing intimidation and bribery. On May 2, Lionel Erilus, an EDH union leader, was ambushed and critically wounded by gunfire. The attack came after many threats and is due to the union's opposition to privatization, according to Harry Clerveau, the EDH union president.

Meanwhile, the supposedly cash-strapped Preval government spent 500,000 gourdes to hold a May Day festivity in the southern city of Jacmel. Ten Haitian bands were contracted to animate the official affair, including the well-known putchist orchestra Sweet Mickey. Prime Minister Rony Smarth addressed the crowd along with Agriculture Minister Gerald Mathurin, who promised, like many of his predecessors in Haitian history, a real agrarian reform. Smarth drew attention to the government's new campaign to collect customs revenues, stop corruption, and close down private wharfs through which contraband has been flooding untaxed into the country. Several merchants have had their wares seized.

Preval has made several high-profile visits to the government's tax collection agency, DGI, and various customs offices to demonstrate his resolve in this campaign. Such moves are among the alternatives to which popular organizations have been pointing to raise revenues instead of selling off strategic state industries.

But popular organizations dismiss Preval's latest actions as show-boating and a smoke-screen for the government's on-going transactions to turn over Haiti's national assets to private capitalists, as demanded by the international banks. The government has to make a rupture, said Sanon at the end of the May 2 press conference. The government has to angrily break-off negotiations with the IMF, World Bank, and other lenders so that it can begin to apply a project that is in the interests of the people. The popular organizations who made the May 1st demonstration now vow to expand their contacts, increase their educational work, and continue their mobilization, promising more demonstrations and possibly a general strike in the weeks ahead.