Date: Thu, 28 Dec 1995 11:41:59 CST
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From: NY Transfer News Collective <>
Subject: This Week in Haiti 13:40 12/27/95
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Selling privatization and continued occupation

This Week in Haiti, Haiti Progr├Ęs, Vol.13 no.40, 27 December–2 January 1996

Usually when one of the dozens of aid agencies prowling around Haiti signs a deal with the Haitian government, press releases descend like a tropical rainstorm. The announcements inevitably hail the generosity of the donor, the helplessness of the poor Haitians, and the wisdom of the government. (And, inevitably, the funds, if they actually go through, only grease the wheels of U.S. or European companies and international financial institutions.)

But one major contract was signed this month, and few heard about it. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), with the apparent involvement of the World Bank and the approval of the Haitian government, signed an $800,000 contract with a Canadian public relations firm to hype privatization. The money will be used to explain what privatization does, one USAID official told Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency, adding that the agreement for the campaign was signed earlier this month in Miami. It is to go ahead immediately, said the AID official.

A Canadian public relations firm, Gervais Gagnon Covington Associates, has reportedly won the contract to sell privatization although it's still not clear what kind of p.r. blitz will be mounted. In recent months, the Haitian government has wined and dined journalists and mounted its own advertising campaign which sought to portray the selling of state industries, not as venal privatization, but as noble democratization of supposed state monopolies. But with almost a million to spend, the Canadian firm can be expected to fashion some real extravaganzas and buy lots of space in and time on most of the Haitian media.

Still, the Lavalas government will have a problem. There remains intense and widespread opposition to the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) Structural Adjustment Program (SAP) which has been designed for Haiti, one of the most radical programs being implemented anywhere in the world. The SAP has already led to the complete elimination, in some cases, of export duties and the sharp reduction of most import tariffs. That means trouble for most of Haiti's population, which lives in the countryside. Foreign goods are already flooding into the country, threatening the ability of farmers to sell their produce. To be sure, peasants growing corn, Haiti's largest crop, with only a hoe and a machete cannot hope to compete with the massive combine harvesters of Bob Dole's Kansas.

The SAP also aims to slash Haiti's civil service and further reduce the role of the Haitian state, which has already practically abdicated all responsibility to provide the Haitian people any basic services like health-care or education. At the same time, the SAP aims to steal Haiti's nine most valuable state-owned industries, including the flour mill and cement factories, which have both received bids. The real prizes, though, are the telephone and electric companies. The telephone company generates huge profits and largely sustained President Aristide's government in exile for three years. With a planned expansion from the existing 66,000 lines to a reported 750,000 lines, the profits will be enormous, given all the international phone calls to and from the Haitian diaspora.

The electric company, EDH, also can generate substantial profits. But its main importance, from Washington's perspective, lies in powering Haiti's assembly industries. Presently, most factories have their own costly power generation systems. But if Haiti is to take advantage of its exceedingly low wages, other production costs also must be competitive so that investors can profit even more enormously. That necessitates a relatively low cost and reliable supply of electricity. Ironically, most of the Haitian and foreign capitalists who today would like to buy EDH each owe the company hundreds of thousands of dollars in electric bills dating back for years.

Until now, only part of Haiti's SAP has been implemented, much of it around import and export tariffs, customs reform, and interest rates. The in-coming government of President-elect Rene Preval apparently intends to do the dirty work of implementing the rest of the SAP. Preval and other Lavalas leaders have indicated during the campaign that they have no problem with the SAP in principle. For them, it is only a question of timing and tactics—how to soften up the Haitian people to get the measures passed through parliament and generally accepted. The $800,000 contract is clearly part of this process.

Preval this week was officially confirmed as the winner of Dec. 17 election. According to the less than credible Provisional Electoral Council (CEP), Preval garnered 87.9% of the nearly 931,000 valid votes cast in the election. The CEP says voter turn-out hit 27.94% of 3.7 million eligible voters. But if you take 931,000 out of 3.7 million, you get only 25% voting. Anyhow, the CEP also says that Leon Jeune was the closest candidate to Preval. He reportedly got 2.5% of votes, followed by KONAKOM leader Victor Benoit with 2.3%.

Immediately following the vote results, National Security Adviser Anthony Lake and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. John Shalikashvili flew to Haiti for a three-day visit. By rolling out two big guns for an extended stay in Haiti when the U.S. is waging a new war in Bosnia, Washington revealed that it is pushing hard for something from Port-au-Prince. Both U.S. officials met with Preval and Aristide separately on Dec. 26, and President Clinton also called the in-coming and out-going Haitian leaders.

What is so important? Among the probable items discussed were the new Haitian police force, privatization, but, above all, what U.S. troops would be staying and where. Secretary of State Warren Christopher announced this week that most U.S. troops would be leaving at the end of February. However, other U.S. officials say that U.S National Guardsmen would go to Haiti next year to perform engineering tasks such as road-building, according to a recent AP dispatch. Of course, many Americans think of National Guardsmen as light-duty weekend soldiers. In fact, the U.S. National (today decidedly international) Guardsmen are U.S. Special Forces, or Green Berets. In Haiti, these Special Forces have made it clear to reporters that they will be staying after February. These are the very forces most responsible, according to the more outspoken in their ranks, for helping FRAPH to flee (temporarily) from Haiti and to hide its members, documents, and weapons. Ironically, U.S. officials argue that the Special Forces provide Haiti with a calming influence; in fact, the Green Berets are laying the ground for even greater confrontations ahead between Duvalierist terrorists and the Haitian people.