Haitian Labor Group Confronts US Lavalas Backers
NEW YORK, Nov. 11 2005
LONG-STANDING DIFFERENCES IN the Haitian left began to emerge as an issue
among US progressives this fall as the well-known Haitian labor organizing group
Batay Ouvriye ("Workers' Struggle") responded to what it called a "slander"
from US supporters of the Lavalas movement of deposed Haitian president
During an "International Tribunal on Haiti" in Washington, DC on the weekend
of Sept. 23, a panelist charged that Batay Ouvriye had been funded by the US
Agency for International Development (USAID) as part of a program for "creating
a leftist opposition" in Haiti in the months leading up to Aristide's
overthrow in February 2004. The money came through the AFL-CIO's Solidarity
Center and was part of a $3 million package for subverting the Haitian government,
according to Jeb Sprague, an independent journalist and a graduate student at
California State University at Long Beach. Batay Ouvriye was "working with
co-conspirators overthrowing a democratically elected government," Sprague said.
The tribunal was organized by several large left and solidarity groups,
including International ANSWER, the International Action Center and the Latin
America Solidarity Coalition. Sprague's presentation was aired in New York on
Sept. 28 on WBAI-FM's popular morning program, "Wakeup Call."
Batay Ouvriye responded on Oct 1 [see below]. The group ridiculed the idea
that it had been paid to be part of "an unholy alliance fabricated by the State
Department." In fact, the statement said, Batay Ouvriye has a long, very
public record of opposition to "the Lavalas leaders, who we certainly exposed to
be reactionaries, swindlers, complete frauds, anti-popular and fundamentally
anti-worker." Sprague--who claimed to have conducted 30 interviews in his
research--"never once contacted our organization for information," Batay Ouvriye
Batay Ouvriye has worked with a number of international solidarity groups
over the years, including the National Labor Committee and the Campaign for
Labor Rights. Among its best-known campaigns were unionization drives at Grand
Marnier and Cointreau plantations in northern Haitian and the recent
unionization of a Dominican-owned factory in a "free trade zone" by the Dominican border in
Ouanaminthe. During the Ouanaminthe struggle Batay Ouvriye received $3,500
from the AFL-CIO Solidarity Center, in response to public appeals for funds to
help fired workers. This was apparently the funding Sprague was referring to.
Stressing that it focuses on grassroots struggles "against the bourgeoisie
concretely in the factories, sweatshops, plantations," Batay Ouvriye asked why
the International Tribunal had chosen to target it rather than a number of much
less militant Haitian unions that "closely resemble...the pro-imperialist and
pro-bourgeois Confederation of Venezuelan Labor (CTV)," a major force in the
2002 US-backed effort to overthrow Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez.
Batay Ouvriye noted that two of its supporters were killed in northern Haiti
in May 2002 by goons led by a local Lavalas mayor. Aristide's government
responded to the anti-union violence by arresting several Batay Ouvriye
organizers and two journalists; some were held in the National Penitentiary until
December 2002, when they were released following an international campaign to
press the Lavalas government for their release.
The controversy between Batay Ouvriye and US supporters of Lavalas comes at a
time when many US progressives are beginning to question the picture of the
Haitian situation presented here by both mainstream and alternative media,
including the well-known national radio and television program "Democracy Now!"
The image of Lavalas as a unified militant force on the left has been shaken
recently by disarray within the movement over elections scheduled to be held
in December by a US-backed interim government. A number of "grassroots leaders"
in Port-au-Prince neighborhoods are supporting the presidential candidacy of
former president Rene Preval, a personal friend of Aristide's. Many former
Lavalas office-holders, meanwhile, are backing former World Bank official Marc
Bazin, a cabinet minister in the government of deposed dictator Jean-Claude
Duvalier ("Baby Doc") and a longtime proponent of US-backed neoliberal economic
programs for Haiti. Meanwhile groups around the New York-based weekly Haiti
Progres are calling for a boycott of the elections. All factions are claiming
support of the Lavalas base.
A Batay Ouvriye organizer, Yanick Etienne, will be in New York the week of
Nov. 21. She will be speaking at a public forum, sponsored by the Grassroots
Haiti Solidarity Committee, on Friday, Nov. 25, at 6 pm, at the Church of the
Evangel at 1950 Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn. Etienne will be available for
interviews during the week. Grassroots Haiti*, a New York-based group of
long-time Haitian and North American activists, is also organizing a delegation of
activists and independent journalists to visit Haiti in February to solidify
contacts with Batay Ouvriye and other grassroots organizations.
David Wilson - Nicaragua Solidarity Network and the Grassroots Haiti
Forwarded as a service of the Haiti Support Group - solidarity with the
Haitian people's struggle for human rights, participatory democracy and
equitable development - since 1992.
Web site: www.haitisupport.gn.apc.org