Date: Tue, 13 May 97 11:02:56 CDT
From: Haiti Progres <>
Subject: This Week in Haiti 15:5 4/23/97
Article: 10832

Contestation and protests mounting

Haiti Progres,This Week in Haiti, Vol.15 no.5, 23–29 April 1997

(HIB) PORT-AU-PRINCE, Apr. 18—The elections come and gone and the Fugees fanfare over, across the country, protests and strikes are on the rise.

The most serious protests took place in GONAIVES. On Apr. 8, workers walked off the job at City Hall and at the cemetery, taking the keys with them. They have not been paid for eight months, and criticized the government for spending thousands on carnival, but not paying salaries. An assistant mayor told reporters that he is out of money and blamed the Ministry of the Interior, which oversees mayors' offices.

On Apr. 10 and 11, people from the marginalized Gonaives section of JUBELE took to the streets against the high cost of living and to demand the government resign. Then, on Apr. 14 and 15, over 100 protesters erected flaming barricades, blocking Route 1, and stormed the Direction Generale des Impots (DGI), the tax office, as well as Customs, throwing rocks. Many schools and businesses did not open. Some cars trying to pass the barricades were attacked. On both days, police intervened violently, blasting their sirens, dismantling the barricades, shooting in the air, hitting people with clubs and spraying crowds with teargas. People threw rocks at the officers, injuring one.

In nearby BOIS MARCHAND, people have resorted to eating dogs to get the government's attention. A man told reporters: We cannot take it any more. We are tired of misery and hunger.

Artibonite Delegate Geralda Elysee said the demands are just but asked for patience. She also asked parliament to approve a US$50 million loan from the Inter-American Development Bank which has money for jobs programs.

In nearby L'ESTERE, also on Apr. 14, people protested to demand lower prices on staples, blocking the highway for several hours with barricades.

In ST. MICHEL DE L'ATTALAYE, people have been protesting the high cost of living and against the 250-gourde fee DGI is demanding from all homeowners, whether the home is a one-room hut or a big house. They have kept the DGI office closed for three weeks.

The situation is a result of taxes and prices that are going up, Dep. Verdieu Meltidor (PPL) explained to Haiti Info this week. The population has revolted... Everywhere I visited in the commune, everyone is angry... All these things are putting into question the very legitimacy of this government.

A strike of CITY EMPLOYEES IN JEREMIE entered its second week on Apr. 15. Workers, responsible for cleaning the streets, say they have not received their paychecks in four months and will remain on strike, no matter how high the piles of garbage grow, until they are paid.

On Apr. 7 in the North, PROTESTERS ARMED WITH PICKS AND ROCKS blocked the road between Cap-Haitien and the LABADIE resort area, visited by several thousand tourists on Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines boats each week, to protest electoral fraud and, not for the first time, the fact that they see no benefits from the visits which Haitian officials say earn the government up to US$30,000 per week. (The cruise line pays US$6.00 a head). The visits were cancelled for two weeks. The line has promised to hire more local workers.

On Apr. 7, FORMER WORKERS OF TWO STATE ENTERPRISES slated to be privatized, Cementerie and Minoterie d'Haiti, blocked Route 1 to demand they be reopened and that they be paid back salaries and severance. Employees from another institution on the auction block, AUTORITE PORTUAIRE NATIONALE (APN), on Apr. 10 announced they oppose privatization, and said that if they are laid off, they want ten years' salaries. They also criticized the fact that workers were not invited to the Consultative Group meeting in Petion-ville earlier this month.

APN is not a burden to the state. No! Today the APN earns a profit! So, if they privatize APN, it is not because APN is not profitable, said an APN worker.

On Apr. 14 and 15, about 20 ex-employees of OFFICE NATIONALE D'ASSURANCES VIELLESSE (ONA) demonstrated and lit tires on fire to protest the fact that they were recently fired, and to demand the director's resignation.

Workers from the PUBLIC HEALTH FACILITIES IN THE WEST DEPARTMENT are threatening to walk off the job if the government does not pay nine employees who either have not been paid for months or who get only 535 gourdes a month (US$32, about US$1.60/ day).

I have been here for 20 years! a woman yelled to the Minister of Health while he was visiting one center recently. And only 535 gourdes?!

Other state employees are also protesting. Workers at a Port-au- Prince office of the MINISTRY OF SOCIAL AFFAIRS have been on strike for two weeks, demanding better working conditions. The Jacmel office also went on strike, for 48 hours, to demand a 300% raise from their current monthly salary of 1,500 gourdes (about US$89.00).

Victims of an Apr. 8 fire in the capital's neighborhood of TOKYO demonstrated today to demand the government keep its promise to help them. Rather than a government envoy, police arrived and violently broke up the protest by hitting people and firing their guns.

On Apr. 15, leaders of FIVE UNIONS OF TAXI AND BUS DRIVERS condemned the government for not respecting an accord it signed last fall after a city-wide strike. [See Haiti Info v.5 #1] The drivers demanded the price of gas be lowered, that a number of ministers be replaced, and said that if they do not get a response, they will call for a strike.

What this government is doing is going around signing accords. They signed one with professors. They sign all day long. If you go to the palace, they will sign one with you... But never, never do they respect it. And we are going to fight to make them respect it! said driver Naly Beauharnais.

On Apr. 16, EMPLOYEES FROM THE DELMAS CITY HALL protested in front of the Ministry of the Interior to demand ten months' back salaries, tying up traffic for two hours. The protest was led by Assistant Mayor Ernst Erilus.

Finally, ASSOCIATIONS REPRESENTING TEACHERS held one strike and are threatening other actions because the government is not respecting an accord it signed after strikes this winter. [See Haiti Info v.5 #6] Union Nationale des Normaliens d'Haiti (UNNOH) held a two-day warning strike on Apr. 10 and 11, only weakly respected, and is calling for another in May. Other teachers unions are also protesting the lack of progress, and in LES CAYES this week, lycee teachers struck three days to de-mand raises and respect for the accord.

Also, yesterday and today, students of the ECOLE NORMALE SUPERIEURE closed down the faculty to protest a professor's actions. They also said they support the teachers' unions protests.