Date: Sat, 25 Jan 97 09:39:46 CST
From: Workers World <>
Organization: WW Publishers
Subject: General strike shuts Haiti for a day
Article: 4499

General strike shuts Haiti for a day

By G. Dunkel, Workers World, 30 January 1997

A massive general strike shut down Haiti Jan. 16.

It was called to protest austerity measures imposed by the International Monetary Fund and World Bank on the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.

The strikers demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Rosny Smarth and the suspension of negotiations with an IMF/WB team currently in Haiti. They also called for an end to the United Nations peacekeeping occupation, government repression and attempts by the right-wing thugs known as Macoutes to re-establish a Duvalierist movement.

Port-au-Prince, Cap-Haitien and Gonayiv, the three largest cities of Haiti, were deserted. No traffic moved. Shops and schools were closed. Parents kept their children home. No buses or taxis were running. Not even the gaily painted minibuses known as tap-taps ran.

The official Haitian press agency and the Voice of America both said fear and intimidation kept people home. But Harry Numa, executive secretary of the National Peoples Assembly (APN), told Workers World, The masses have now realized they have to fight. The rich are getting richer, the poor poorer and prices are going higher. The whole country is on fire against this policy.


Four organizations signed the leaflet calling for the general strike. They were Komilfo--a popular organization centered in the rural areas of southern Haiti, APN, Committee for the Defense of the Entire Nation (Kodena), and the Mobilizing Collective Against the IMF and Neoliberalism, sometimes called the Anti-IMF Collective. About 160 organizations, large and small, local and national, supported the call.

In Cap-Haitien, protesters opened up a food warehouse and distributed its contents. When the cops killed a young man engaged in the protest, the crowd marched on the local precinct and ransacked it. The police fled.

Haitian police, backed by UN soldiers, offered rides to people to undercut the strike's impact. But demonstrators from Cit=82 Soleil, the poorest section of Port-au-Prince, set up barricades of burning tires on Route 1, the main highway into the city from the south, and threw rocks at the cops.

UN forces amount to around 1,600 soldiers, mainly from Canada. Some 300 to 500 U.S. soldiers are also in Haiti, supposedly to construct schools and build roads and bridges. According to Numa, the real purpose of the U.S. presence is to guarantee the ability of the Pentagon to intervene whenever it wants.

The Haitian army was disbanded by President Jean Bertrand Aristide when he returned to office after having earlier been overthrown in a military coup. Haiti now has only the National Police, a small organization that the bourgeoisie can't always rely on. For example, 28 cops fired for arresting Macoute thugs have announced a hunger strike, and a number of police resigned when called out against the general strike.


The U.S. and Haitian governments boast about the return of democracy to Haiti, but all the people see is increasing misery. Nine months after the last general election, which drew in a third of the electorate at best, life has gotten progressively worse.

A majority of Haitians don't get even the minimum amount of calories. They don't have access to safe drinking water. The death rate for children under five is 125 per 1,000, by far the worst in the hemisphere. A majority of adults can't read and the schools that U.S. troops are building are half empty because parents can't afford the fees.

The austerity/privatization plan of the IMF/WB would worsen the situation. It calls for laying off 7,000 out of 43,000 government workers. EDH, the electric company, and Teleco, the telephone company, are scheduled to be privatized and sold to the highest bidder.

While EDH has major problems, mainly because a lot of the electricity it produces is stolen, Teleco is highly profitable. It earned $71 million in 1994. If telephone service were improved this figure would double at least, according to the World Bank--the very institution demanding it be sold.

Teleco is a major force in the Haitian economy. Its foreign earnings over the last decade have amounted to 3 percent of Haiti's gross domestic product. Losing such a revenue stream would be a major blow to the government's budget. Many economists consider such a sale a major mistake.

The managers of these companies are doing everything possible to break the unions and make it appear that the only solution is privatization. The IMF has insisted that Haiti's central bank deny them credit. They hire Macoute thugs as supervisors, buy superfluous and expensive foreign equipment, and call in the cops to shoot at and arrest union militants on made-up charges.

The union at EDH says the government's policy is a continuation of the Duvaliers' and that the same methods that overthrew that brutal dictatorship have to be adopted now. Emmanuel Jean-Francois of the EDH, speaking at a press conference to demand the removal of President Rene Preval and Prime Minister Smarth, said, We need much effort to achieve a true people's power in Haiti.


Harry Numa of the APN told Workers World, The masses have begun to realize that the destruction of our economy is in its final phases. Haiti doesn't produce anything that the Haitian people consume, even food. Once our economy is destroyed, we will have no alternative except to do whatever the U.S. tells us. The consequences will be horrible.

Numa says the globalization of the world's economy under the dictates of the U.S. is being resisted in the Americas by two countries, Cuba and Haiti, in different ways and for different reasons. Political questions in Haiti are very well understood and the masses now realize that the U.S. is not there to help them.

Among what Haitians call popular organizations are some like the APN that have a national scope and take on a variety of issues. Others like the Anti-IMF Collective have a narrower focus but participate in mass actions. A number of communities have vigilance committees, says Numa, that deal with local problems like lawlessness, police attacks and disasters--as when the drainage ditches in Cit=82 Soleil caught fire. They will join broader actions like the general strike.

Reacting to the stubborn and militant mass resistance, some politicians have begun to express misgivings over the austerity/privatization plans of the administration. Ex- President Aristide announced Jan. 10 that he was forming a separate party called the Lavalas Family. A top aide to President Preval and three of his cabinet ministers filed the papers with the Justice Ministry to have the party recognized, according to the Associated Press.

If this happens, the Lavalas movement will be formally split, which will increase the difficulties of Preval, Smarth and company. How it will affect the mass struggle is not clear. Aristide still has tremendous prestige, according to Numa, but he is surrounded by aides connected to the bourgeoisie. He is focused on the elections in the year 2000, but events can't wait until he becomes president in 2001.

Really, though, U.S. Ambassador William Lacy Swing is president of Haiti. He wasn't elected but he decides and plays a major public role. Smarth and Preval are figureheads. The struggle will be long and difficult but a successful one-day general strike is a real victory for us.