Monday, April 4, 2011

WNU #1074: Sweatshop Zone Will Displace Haitian Farmers

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1074, April 3, 2011

1. Haiti: New Sweatshop Zone Will Displace Farmers
2. Mexico: Unions Protest “Labor Reform” Proposal
3. Honduras: US Blames Protesters as Repression Mounts
4. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Venezuela, El Salvador, Honduras, 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: New Sweatshop Zone Will Displace Farmers
Sae-A Trading Co. Ltd, South Korea’s leading apparel manufacturer, is pushing ahead with plans to open a large garment assembly plant next March near the coastal village of Caracol in Haiti’s Northeast department. The firm, which supplies garments to such major US retailers as Target, Wal-Mart, Kohl’s and GAP, claims the factory will create 20,000 jobs paying at least four times the average Haitian’s share of the annual gross domestic product (GDP)--which would work out to a wage of about $8 a day for the factory workers. The operation is to include the country’s first facility for producing textiles, a knit and dyeing mill which will use some 6,000 tons of ground water a day.

Sae-A will be the main tenant in the Northern Industrial Park, a new 617-acre “free trade zone” (FTZ, a complex of assembly plants). The park may also house two other apparel companies and a furniture manufacturer, according to Mark D’Sa, a Miami-based GAP executive who has been “on loan” with the State Department to work on Haiti trade policy.

In what US officials call an “unprecedented collaboration,” the US is providing the Northern Industrial Park project with $124 million for constructing 5,000 houses, a 25-megawatt electricity grid, and a waste and water treatment plant, while the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB, or BID in French and Spanish) is putting in more than $100 million for buildings and roads. Sae-A’s investment is $78 million, bringing the cost of the FTZ to more than $300 million. The administration of Haitian president René Préval is donating the land, which the government says is state property, and has committed to compensating the farmers currently using it—illegally, according to the government. [The sources didn’t specify whether the Haitian government would also grant the manufacturers the duty and tariff exemptions that usually benefit assembly plants producing for export.]

The Caracol industrial park is one of two complexes covered by an agreement the Haitian and US governments signed last September. The other factory complex is to be built near a displaced persons camp in Corail-Cesselesse, north of Port-au-Prince [see Update #1052]. The Northern Industrial Park is the second FTZ in the Northeast department: the first was built at Ouanaminthe, near the Dominican border, under the second administration of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide (1991-1996, 2001-2004).

The US government has been a major force in pushing for the industrial parks. The US Agency for International Development (USAID) calls them “smart economic investments” that will “allow the Haitian people to help themselves.” According to the Miami Herald, US secretary of state Hillary Clinton personally brought the issue up during a visit to South Korea; Sae-A had been apparently been hesitant about the deal, fearing political instability in Haiti. “So much is at stake” in the project, the Herald reported, “that some Haiti observers mused that it was perhaps one of the reasons for the United States’ heavy involvement in the Nov. 28 presidential election debacle.” (MH 3/29/11; USAID Frontlines February/March 2011)

Another project that USAID says allows “Haitian people to help themselves” is the agency’s agricultural program, WINNER (Watershed Initiative for National Natural Environmental Resources), which in 2010 “helped more than 10,500 small- and medium-sized farmers grow corn, sorghum, beans, potatoes and other vegetables…. Overall, the campaign increased production by 75%.” (USAID Frontlines February/March 2011)

A Mar. 30 report by a group of Haitian media organizations, Haiti Grassroots Watch (Ayiti Kale Je, “Haiti Keep Your Eyes Open” in Creole), gave a very different view of the WINNER program.

Following the January 2010 earthquake in southern Haiti, WINNER and other organizations began distributing donated foreign seeds to Haitian farmers on the assumption that there would be a shortage. But the report found that there was “no seed emergency” in Haiti and that the donated seeds undercut local seed producers and distributors. WINNER was in charge of distributing hybrid seeds donated by the Monsanto Company, a giant US-based biotechnology multinational [see Update #1036]. The Haitian journalists found evidence that “[a]t least some of the peasant farmer groups receiving Monsanto and other hybrid maize and other cereal seeds have little understanding of the implications of getting ‘hooked’ on hybrid seeds” and “also don’t appear to understand the health and environmental risks involved with the fungicide- and herbicide-coated hybrids” and might be using the seeds without the recommended masks and gloves. In one case, the farmers were “planning to grind up the toxic seed to use as chicken feed.”

USAID refused to be interviewed by the Haitian reporters and told farmers’ groups not to talk to them. (Haiti Grassroots Watch 3/30/11)

*2. Mexico: Unions Protest “Labor Reform” Proposal
Thousands of workers, many of them affiliated with the National Workers Union (UNT), Mexico’s largest independent labor federation, marched from the Zócalo plaza in Mexico City to the Chamber of Deputies on the afternoon of Mar. 31 to protest a proposed reform of the labor code. Union leaders said the legislation “intends to finish off collective contracts and make the workers modern slaves.” Martín Esparza, general secretary of the Mexican Electrical Workers Union (SME), called on workers to stay alert, because the politicians plan “to sacrifice us during Holy Week”—a reference to the possibility that Congress will try to pass the law the week of Apr. 18, when many people are taking Easter vacation. The head of the telephone workers’ union, Francisco Hernández Juárez, called for a nationwide mobilization on Apr. 7 to step up the pressure on the legislators. (El Sol de México (Mexico) 4/1/11)

Legislators from the centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) proposed the reform on Mar. 10. The center-right National Action Party (PAN), which has been pushing for changes to the labor code for years, is backing the PRI proposal. Together the two parties have enough votes in Congress to pass the legislation, and President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa, a member of the PAN, would presumably endorse it.

The unions say the reform would, among other things, weaken collective bargaining by favoring individual contracts; reduce costs to the employer in cases of unfair dismissals by limiting the payment of lost wages to no more than 12 months; in effect abolish the concept of a minimum wage and allow for the employer to impose work conditions with no possibility for review; and allow the employer to adjust working hours, regardless of whether this is stipulated in a contract.

One especially contentious change concerns the regulation of subcontracting, outsourcing and temporary employment. Matteo Dean, a researcher at the Labor Research and Union Consulting Center (CILAS), says the reform’s goal is not to regulate subcontracting but to give it legal support, “to water down the responsibilities of the company benefiting from subcontracting and to make a joke of workers’ rights, since the basic guarantees to avoid abuse of these rights aren’t established clearly and concretely.” Dean stressed the importance of subcontracted workers’ rights at a time when it is estimated that 40% of all employees are working under some form of subcontracting, up from just 8% in 2004. (International Metalworkers' Federation (IMF) 3/21/11; La Jornada (Mexico) 4/2/11)

*3. Honduras: US Blames Protesters as Repression Mounts
Thousands of Hondurans demonstrated on Mar. 30 in a “National Civic Strike” called by teachers’ unions and the National Popular Resistance Front (FNRP), a coalition of unions and grassroots organizations. The action was called to support teachers striking to oppose an education reform plan that they say will lead to the privatization of schools. The protesters were also demanding the approval of a general minimum wage increase, a reduction of the price of fuel, and a Constituent Assembly to rewrite the country’s Constitution.

In Tegucigalpa, protesters occupied various points in the city, including the highways in front of headquarters of the militant Union of Workers of the Brewery Industry and the Like (STIBYS). “At 10:30 am hundreds of police agents and soldiers attacked us with tear gas bombs and vehicles with water cannons that were filled with a stinging liquid,” union vice president Porfirio Ponce said. “They started to beat people savagely and to chase them through the neighborhoods near our headquarters.”

At Planes, in the Aguán Valley region of the northern department of Colón, one person reportedly died in the repression, 12 were wounded and at least eight were arrested. The demonstration had started at 7 am with protesters blocking highways. Police and soldiers arrived minutes later, armed and protected by anti-riot shields.

Students at the Northern Regional University Center (CURN) in the Sula Valley were attacked with tear gas. In Nacaome in the southwestern department of Valle, police agents attacked groups of youths and arrested the local human rights prosecutor. Other arrests were recorded in Proterillos, with six detentions; Choloma, with about 11, Santa Cruz de Yojoa, with about 30. (Adital (Brazil) 3/31/11 from, Sireal, FNRP)

On Mar. 29, the day before the general strike, the US embassy’s human rights and labor attaché, Jeremy Spector, emailed Honduran human rights organizations that had written him about the detention of Miriam Miranda, director of the Honduran Black Fraternal Organization (OFRANEH) the day before. After explaining that Honduran officials said Miranda had been released, Spector added: “However, we cannot condone the frequent violence employed also by the demonstrators.” He accused the protesters of using “bottles, rocks, slings, clubs with nails at the end, and Molotov cocktails.” “Other reports of damage caused by the demonstrations are a cause of great concern for the embassy,” he went on. “That said, it seems that the majority of the injuries reported have affected security personnel.”

Spector asked for people “who have contacts with the teachers’ organization to encourage them to stop the violence and return to their classrooms.” (Vos el Soberano (Honduras) 4/2/11)

While the US human rights attaché seemed to blame protesting teachers for most of the violence, at the Honduran government’s cabinet meeting on Mar. 29 Justice and Human Rights Minister Ana Pineda criticized the police and military for the second week in a row [see Update #1073]. They were using tear gas “irrationally” and in violation of United Nations (UN) protocols, Pineda said. The ministers also listened to a letter from Ramón Custodio, the conservative official human rights commissioner, noting that the use of wooden clubs by the police violated the UN conventions on the use of force. (Honduras Culture and Politics blog 3/30/11)

*4. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Venezuela, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Cuba, Haiti

Wikileaks Cables of Interest on Latin America, March 21-25, 2011

Latin America: Growing Opposition to Military Intervention in Libya

Former Argentine general gets life in "Operation Condor" crimes

Brazil to provide Bolivia "drug war" aid, drones

Peru: Amazon peoples mobilize against illegal loggers

Venezuela’s Metropolitan Police of Caracas Disbanded

Venezuelan Workers March Again to Demand Socialism at the Workplace

Obama in Latin America: 'Common Prosperity,' But For Whom? (El Salvador)

Honduras: Probe Charges of Police Brutality

Honduras is Burning: Eye-Witness Report on Repression

Brutal Repression in Honduras Targets Teachers, Popular Resistance

Report from Land Occupations in Post-Coup Honduras

Towards the Reconstruction of the Country: The Constituent Assembly of Indigenous and Black People of Honduras

Honduras: Garífuna march on capital

Evictions of Native Families Add Fuel to Fire Over Land Access in Guatemala

Narcoviolence in Mexico: Eight Theses and Many Questions

Why Mexico’s War on Drugs is Unwinnable

Mexican Attorney General Resigns; Calderón Nominates Female Anti-Drug Official

Mexico: rights commission says 5,397 "disappeared" since 2006

Monsanto Uses Latest Food Crisis to Push Transgenic Corn in Mexico

Sacred Indigenous Site in Mexico Threatened by Canadian Mining Company

Indigenous Zapatista Supporters “Held Hostage” in Chiapas for Opposing Ecotourism Project

In memory: Radical civil rights lawyer Leonard Weinglass (Cuba)

Fraud Delays Haitian Election Results; Final Results Due In April

Haiti's Movement from Below Endures

Haiti – Seeding Reconstruction or Destruction?

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