Monday, June 15, 2009

WNU #993: Haitian Students Protest for Minimum Wage

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #993, June 14, 2009

1. Haiti: Students Protest for Minimum Wage
2. Dominican Republic: Campesinos Protest Cement Factory
3. Peru: Radio Silenced, Legislators Suspended
4. In Other News: Brazil, Cuba, Nicaragua
5. Links to alternative sources on: Peru, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Cuba, Haiti

ISSN#: 1084‑922X. Weekly News Update on the Americas covers news from Latin America and the Caribbean, compiled and written from a progressive perspective. It has been published weekly by the Nicaragua Solidarity Network of Greater New York since 1990. For a subscription, write to . It is archived at

*1. Haiti: Students Protest for Minimum Wage
On June 3 students from the State University of Haiti (UEH) began a series of militant demonstrations to protest the failure of President René Préval to promulgate a measure raising the minimum wage from 70 gourdes ($1.74) a day to 200 gourdes ($4.97)--the first increase since 2003. Although Parliament finished the process of approving the measure on May 4, it will not become law until it is approved by the president and published in the official gazette, Le Moniteur [see Update #989]. Students from various UEH faculties have been protesting over academic issues at different times since February [see Update #983].

From June 3 through June 5 hundreds of students blocked streets in downtown Port-au-Prince, hurled rocks and set vehicles on fire. The protesters targeted the area near the National Palace, the president’s official residence, along with the offices of the Foundation for Knowledge and Liberty (FOKAL), an educational group linked to US financier George Soros which Prime Minister Michele Pierre-Louis headed before she was named prime minister in 2008 [see Update #954]. Rock-throwing students shut the foundation down in incidents on June 3 and June 4.

According to witnesses, Haitian police agents and elements from the Brazilian-led United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) repressed the demonstrations brutally, indiscriminately launching tear gas grenades and firing warning shots in the air. Ludger Laguerre, a student in the UEH Department of Social Work, was hit in the head by a police bullet on June 4; he was taken to the UEH hospital, but his injuries were not considered dangerous. On June 5 the police hit a 10-year-old boy in his right shoulder as they fired warning shots, and Radio Métropole reported that a man was shot in the leg when an off-duty police agent fired at a crowd after being pelted with stones.

Tear gas filled the downtown area during the protests. Three students from a primary school were hospitalized after breathing the fumes on June 4, and two women fainted. Security forces reportedly fired tear gas into the UEH hospital when some of Laguerre’s friends went there to inquire about his condition. According to one witness, the hospital wards were filled with the fumes and parents were forced to run out of the building carrying sick and injured children. The National Human Rights Defense Network (RNDDH) described this as a “barbaric intervention by the forces of order.” (Alterpresse 6/4/09, 6/5/09, __; Haiti Support Group (HSG) News Briefs 6/4/09 from AP, 6/6/09 from AP; HSG press release 6/9/09; Radio France Internationale (RFI) 6/10/09)

On June 5 several media employees were injured by people that Haiti’s Alterpresse news website described as “demonstrators appearing to be students.” An employee of the Télé Haïti TV station required eight stitches on his head after his vehicle was hit by a stream of rocks. A photojournalist from the daily Le Nouvelliste was struck in the arm by a rock. (Alterpresse 6/5/09)

On June 8 the government released eight of 24 people arrested during the protest on June 4, but this did little to placate the demonstrators, who smashed windshields outside the Port-au-Prince civil tribunal building. According to the UEH’s attorney, Aviol Fleurant, the remaining 16 prisoners included three high school students, two mechanics who had been in their garage at the time of the protest, and three passersby. (Alterpresse 6/9/09; Agence Haïtienne de Presse 6/8/09)

By June 9 students from other schools had joined the UEH protesters. Several thousand people marched through the Champ de Mars plaza, near the National Palace, and along Christophe Avenue, despite the efforts of the security forces to stop them. The protesters paralyzed the entire center of the city with flaming barricades and showers of rocks, and many businesses shut down. Again the police responded with tear gas. Local residents, medical personnel and school authorities expressed anger at the police. “To obey the political authorities, they’re even ready to poison the babies,” a nurse from the UEH hospital complained, referring to the tear gas. (AHP 6/9/09; Radio Métropole 6/10/09)

The protests are the latest in a series of embarrassments for the Préval government. The president has now promised to send Parliament a statement by June 17 explaining his position on the minimum wage increase. Four days later, on June 21, polls will open for runoff elections for a third of the Senate; the first round, on Apr. 19, was marked by violence and massive abstention [see Update #986].

Employers have been campaigning heavily against the wage increase, arguing that the current exceptionally low wages attract assembly plants to the country. The Haiti Industries Association (ADIH) claims half of the 25,000 workers in Haiti’s apparel industry would lose their jobs if the new minimum wage went into effect. Supporters of the wage increase counter this by pointing to the Compagnie de Developpement Industriel S.A. (Codevi) plant in the Haitian town of Ouanaminthe near the border with the Dominican Republic; the workers there get 350 gourdes a day, the result of a labor organizing drive in 2004-2005 [see Update #785]. Supporters insist that even with the increase Haitian workers would still be competitive with the 200,000 workers in similar industries in the Dominican Republic, where the assembly sector has a minimum wage of about $5.50 a day. (Alterpresse 6/9/09; RFI 6/10/09; Adital 6/12/09)

*2. Dominican Republic: Campesinos Protest Cement Factory
Youths and campesinos in a protest encampment at the edge of Los Haitises National Park in the eastern Dominican Republic reported on June 11 that they were being surrounded by military units and that they feared they might be attacked. This report followed a June 10 attack by National Police on the encampment, where dozens of protesters have been staying since May 16 in an effort to prevent the construction of a cement factory near the town of Gonzalo, in Sabana Grande de Boyá municipality, Monte Plata province. The agents removed a barricade the protesters had set up to block trucks going to the factory site. There was one unconfirmed report that the police fired shots during the June 10 incident and wounded several protesters.

In Santo Domingo on June 10 police agents blocked a march by dozens of representatives of campesino and environmental organizations as they tried to reach the National Palace to deliver a letter protesting the cement factory to President Leonel Fernández.

The protests began in response to a decision by Environmental Minister Jaime David Fernández Mirabal to grant a concession to Consorcio Minero Dominicano , SA--a mining company that also produces cooking oil and other commodities--to extract limestone from sedimentary rocks to manufacture cement at Gonzalo. Environmentalists, geologists and local residents say the factory would displace 500 peasant families and degrade the water from Los Haitises, the second largest source of natural water in the country, which benefits more than 1 million people. Student groups, leftists, the opposition Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD) and the environmental commission of the Catholic Church have all come out against the project. Activists in the US can protest by contacting the Dominican Embassy in Washington (telephone 202-332-6280, fax 202-265-8057, email (La Opinión (Los Angeles) 6/11/09 from El Diario-La Prensa correspondent; La Nación Dominicana 6/11/09; Socialist Worker (US) 5/28/09)

*3. Peru: Radio Silenced, Legislators Suspended
On June 8 Peru’s Transportation and Communication Ministry (MTC) cancelled the license of Radio La Voz de Bagua, a family-owned radio station with a signal of 100 watts in Utcubamba province in the Amazonas region in the north of the country. The MTC cited technical issues with the station’s equipment, but La Voz news director Carlos Flores Burgos dismissed this as “a lie.” The station is based in the area where dozens of people died on June 5 in a confrontation between police and indigenous protesters [see Update #992], and Flores said the station had made it possible for members of the public to report alleged abuses by security forces. After the June 5 killings, Interior Minister Mercedes Cabanillas accused the station of agitating the situation and called for sanctions against it, while Congress members Aurelio Pastor, Jorge Del Castillo and Mauricio Mulde, all from the Peruvian Aprista Party (PAP) of President Alan García, accused La Voz and Flores of supporting and inciting violence.

The Press and Society Institute of Peru (IPYS), an organization of independent journalists, questioned the license cancellation and said it might be a “reprisal.” (Radio Programas del Perú (RPP) 6/12/09; Los Andes (Puno, Peru) 6/13/08; La República (Peru) 6/13/09)

On June 12 the Peruvian Congress, which is dominated by the PAP, voted a 120-day suspension for seven legislators from the opposition Peruvian Nationalist Party (PNP) of Ollanta Humala for having staged a protest in the legislature’s chamber in support of the Amazonian indigenous protesters. The suspended Congress members were María Sumire, Hilaria Supa, Nancy Obregón, Juana Huancahuari, Cayo Galindo, Yaneth Cajahuanca and Rafael Vásquez. The suspension was approved 58-18 with one abstention; voting with the PAP for the suspension was National Unity and the Alliance for the Future of former president Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000), convicted of human rights abuses on Apr. 7 and sentenced to 25 years in prison.

The protests in the Congress began on June 10 after the legislators voted to suspend indefinitely decrees on drilling, mining and land use that had sparked the indigenous protests. The PNP members called for the decrees to be repealed rather than suspended, and nine PNP legislators began a fast to protest the vote. A total of 22 Congress members from the PNP and left groups stayed in the chamber overnight and prevented Congress from holding a session the morning of June 11. The protesters finally left later to join a march in Lima, part of a day of nationwide strikes and mobilizations in support of the indigenous demands. (Correo (Lima) 6/12/09; La Raza (Chicago) 6/13/09 from EFE; La Jornada (Mexico) 6/12/09 from Reuters, AFP, DPA; AFP 6/12/09; NACLA 4/15/09)

*4. In Other News: Brazil, Cuba, Nicaragua
On June 3 the Brazilian Senate approved a bill regulating government transfers of land in the Amazon region. The bill—Conversion Bill 09 (PLV 09/2009, originally MP 458/09)—was passed by the Chamber of Deputies in May and awaits the signature of President Luis Inácio Lula da Silva. The Catholic Church’s Pastoral Commission on Land (CPT), Greenpeace, WWF-Brasil (the Brazilian affiliate of the World Wildlife Fund) and other groups say some articles in the measure will enable companies and individuals to keep lands they seized illegally. The law “especially benefits people who should be on trial for usurping areas covered by the agrarian reform,” according to Greenpeace. The groups are urging people to call on Lula (phone +61-3411.1200, +61-3411.1201 or email at to veto the articles. (Adital 6/12/09)… German author Günter Grass, Guatemalan activist Rigoberta Menchú and eight other Nobel Prize winners have joined supporters filing amicus curiae ("friend of the court") briefs with the US Supreme Court seeking to overturn the 2001 convictions of five Cuban men (known as the “Cuban Five”) charged with spying against the US [see Updates #824, 863). Eleven other groups, including legislators from the European Parliament, also have filed briefs, and a panel of the United Nations Human Rights Commission has condemned the original trial for the men; this was the first time the group ever condemned a US judicial proceeding. The Supreme Court may rule by the end of June on whether to hear the Cubans’ appeal. (Miami Herald 6/9/09)… The governments of many developed countries will in effect boycott a conference the United Nations is holding in New York June 24-26 to discuss the impact of the global financial crisis on developing countries. The developed countries object to efforts by the General Assembly president—Father Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann, who was foreign minister for Nicaragua’s leftist government in the 1980s—to have the conference discuss reforming such bodies as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). "You can't have a few calling the shots and others suffering the consequences of their decisions,” D’Escoto said to the British daily Financial Times about the major powers. “If they were more frank, they should say might is right." His one-year term ends in September. (FT 6/7/09)

Update June 15: Today the Supreme Court declined without comment to review the case of the “Cuban Five.” (Reuters 6/15/09)

*5. Links to alternative sources on: Peru, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Cuba, Haiti

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