Tuesday, September 28, 2010

WNU #1050: US Pushes Sweatshops for “Unrealistic” Haitians

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1050, September 26, 2010

1. Haiti: US Pushes Sweatshops for “Unrealistic” Quake Victims
2. Haiti: 5 Camp Residents Killed in Storm
3. Colombia: Peace Community Faces New Threats
4. Cuba: Government Describes Private Sector Expansion
5. Links to alternative sources on: Chile, Paraguay, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, Cuba, Haiti, UN

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 weeklynewsupdate@gmail.com . It is archived at http://weeklynewsupdate.blogspot.com/

*1. Haiti: US Pushes Sweatshops for “Unrealistic” Quake Victims
US secretary of state Hillary Clinton, French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner and Haitian prime minister Jean-Max Bellerive met in New York on Sept. 20 to discuss international efforts to help Haiti recover from the Jan. 12 earthquake that devastated much of the capital and nearby areas. About 1.3 million Haitians continue to live outdoors, mostly in some 1,300 improvised encampments, more than eight months after the quake and almost six months after international donors pledged $9.9 billion in aid [see Update #1028].

Bellerive noted that "impatience is increasing” in Haiti, but Clinton downplayed the complaints. “Those who expect progress immediately are unrealistic and doing a disservice to the many people who are working so hard,” she said. Kouchner agreed. “Some find that it's going slowly, very slowly, the reconstruction of Haiti,” he said. “And some are surprised that with so much money raised there is no really visible progress. It's because they have no idea of the immensity of the disaster. There's a lot of money, many things have been done, but that cannot be immediately visible.”

The main business of the meeting, which took place as world leaders gathered in New York for the opening of the current session of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly, was the signing of two memoranda of understanding, one for setting up an industrial zone expected to provide jobs for 10,000 Haitians, and one for financing the reconstruction of Port-au-Prince’s general hospital, the Hospital of the State University of Haiti (HUEH).

Bellerive and Hillary Clinton also signed an agreement with Woong-Ki Kim, chair of Seoul-based Sae-A Trading Co. Ltd., to build garment assembly plants in Haiti, either near the northern city of Cap-Haïtien or in an undeveloped area north of Port-au-Prince—presumably at the government-organized camp for displaced persons at Corail-Cesselesse [see Update #1040]. "These are not just any jobs,” Clinton said about the employment the agreement is supposed to provide. “These are good jobs with fair pay that adhere to international labor standards." The agreement shows that "Haiti is open for business again," she added.

In addition, Clinton, Kouchner and Bellerive participated in a meeting of the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (CIRH). The group, set up to monitor recovery efforts, is co-chaired by Bellerive and Clinton’s husband, former US president (1993-2001) and current UN envoy Bill Clinton. (Agence France Presse 9/20/10 via Haiti Support Group; Associated Press 9/20/10 via Haiti Support Group)

The apparel jobs Hillary Clinton discussed would be in the tax-exempt assembly plants--known as maquiladoras in Latin America--where workers stitch together garments for export. Eddy Labossière, president of the Haitian Association of Economists (AEH), said on Sept. 23 that the assembly plant jobs, which are subject to a special lower minimum wage of about $3 a day, won’t be able to guarantee Haiti’s development. Labossière also expressed regret that plans for the reconstruction of the capital’s downtown area include a $295,000 contract, signed a few days earlier, with a British group, the Prince Charles Foundation, rather than with a Haitian firm. (Agence Haïtienne de Presse (Haiti) 9/23/10)

Some 150-200 Haitian Americans and other activists demonstrated in New York on Sept. 25 to protest the slow pace of recovery. Chanting “Where’s the money?” and “Aid the people now” in Creole and English, the protesters marched from the Haitian consulate in the Midtown area to Dag Hammarskjold Plaza near the UN headquarters by the East River. The action was organized by the Haiti Solidarity Network of the North East (HSNNE) and endorsed by a number of organizations. (Pavement Pieces blog 9/25/10; Weekly News Update eyewitness report)

*2. Haiti: 5 Camp Residents Killed in Storm
Nadia Lochard, coordinator of Haiti’s Civil Protection agency, confirmed on Sept. 25 that five people had died and 57 were injured the day before when a violent storm hit Port-au-Prince and areas to the south, including Petit Goâve and Îles Cayimites. Lochard said most of the injuries and damage took place in the camps where some 1.3 million local residents have been living since they were displaced by a magnitude 7.0 earthquake on Jan. 12.

According to news reports, the dead included a baby in the Caradeux camp in the northeastern Port-au-Prince suburb of Tabarre, a 93-year-old woman in Camp Acra the capital’s Delmas section and a food vendor at Poste Marchand in the downtown area. Some 20 of the injuries reportedly resulted from a tree falling on the camp at the Pétionville Club at Delmas 48 street. Lochard said about 2,000 tents were damaged. Local local media specified that 1,000 tents were destroyed at Camp Acra, 1,000 in the huge, impoverished Cité Soleil neighborhood, and 100 at the camp at the Champ de Mars near the Presidential Palace. Camp Charbon, in Carrefour, southwest of the capital, where 500 people were living, was completely destroyed, according to Haiti’s Radio Kiskeya. (AlterPresse (Haiti) 9/25/10; Radio Kiskeya 9/24/10)

In other news, an angry crowd killed police agent Guilloteau Hubert and burned down the police station at the town of Cayes-Jacmel the night of Sept. 23. Witnesses said the crowd reacted when the agent arrested and then tried to kill a young man, Johnny Joseph. Joseph was reportedly hospitalized with three bullet wounds. (Radio Métropole (Haiti) 9/24/10) [Cayes-Jacmel, near the city of Jacmel in the Southeast department, is in the zone that suffered heavy damage from the earthquake.]

*3. Colombia: Peace Community Faces New Threats
The Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, located in the northwestern Colombian department of Antioquia, wrote in communiqués dated Sept. 22 and 24 that rightwing paramilitaries were continuing to attack and threaten its members. The community, which for 13 years has rejected the presence of all weapons and armed groups in its territory, charged the authorities with “complacency” regarding the paramilitary activity [see Update #1017].

According to the communiqués, a paramilitary known as “Berardo Tuberquia” accosted a peace community member in Dabeiba municipality and asked about various other community members. He said he had a list with the names of San José de Apartadó leaders and members who were going to be killed. That afternoon, two paramilitaries on a motorcycle fired on peace community members José David Graciano and Alonso Valle Guerra as they were walking home after going to a court hearing to deny charges of belonging to a militia. Both escaped, but Valle Guerra was hit in the leg. The peace community reported the incidents to the government’s human rights protection agency, but the agency supported claims by the local military unit that everything was “peaceful” at San José de Apartadó. (Adital (Brazil) 9/24/10; San José de Apartadó communiqués 9/22/10, 9/24/10)

The new incidents occurred just as a book was coming out about the peace community, Fusil o Toga, Toga y Fusil (“Rifle or Robe, Rifle and Robe,” referring to the use of violence and the court system to repress the community). The author, human rights activist and Jesuit priest Javier Giraldo, said he’d written the work to fight against impunity by documenting abuses against the community, which has been attacked by the military, by rightwing paramilitaries and by leftist rebels. (El Tiempo (Colombia) 9/17/10) On Aug. 6 a judge in Medellín acquitted 10 soldiers of participating in a February 2005 in which eight San José de Apartadó residents, including three children, were killed with machetes. A captain had confessed to his role in the killings; several paramilitary members also confessed and said they had worked together with the military. (World War 4 Report 8/11/10)

*4. Cuba: Government Describes Private Sector Expansion
On Sept. 24 Granma, the official newspaper of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC), published an article describing policy changes intended to expand Cuba’s small private sector. The changes are part of a plan announced on Sept. 13 to lay off some half million public employees, about 10% of the total labor force, over the next six months; the government expects about 465,000 of the laid-off workers to move to the private sector or to form cooperatives, according to unofficial sources.

The plan is basically an expansion of the “self-employment” (TCP) policy instituted during the “special period” in the 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The government will now issue licenses for 178 job categories in the TCP--which includes small businesses in addition to actual self-employment. Most of these occupations were authorized in the 1990s, but some were closed off again in 2004, and there are currently just 143,000 licenses for TCP businesses, down from a high of 210,000 in 1995. Much of the work authorized under the new policy is currently done in the black market; the changes will bring these jobs into the tax and social security systems.

What is probably more important than the increased number of TCP occupations is the lifting of several restrictions on private activity. Some seem minor, such as raising the number of seats at family restaurants from 12 to 20, but others are substantive. A small business will no longer be limited to hiring workers who live with the owners or are family members, and businesses will be allowed to operate in more than one municipality. People will be able to rent out entire houses and apartments instead of just renting rooms in their own homes.

Granma described the new policy as “an attempt…to distance ourselves from those concepts that almost condemned self-employment to extinction and stigmatized those who decided to legally join that sector in the 1990s.”

Government economists are also looking at further changes to an economy that has been highly centralized on the Soviet model. Some of the new job categories, such as auto repair and some types of retail sales, will only be productive if there are wholesale markets, but the economic planners say it will take several years to institute these. (Granma Internacional (Cuba) 9/24/10, with English translation; La Jornada (Mexico) 9/25/10 from correspondent)

*5. Links to alternative sources on: Chile, Paraguay, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, Cuba, Haiti, UN

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