Wednesday, January 04, 2006

MINUSTAH, Gildan Activewear, the group of 184 and other crime lords.

Chabert has an excellent post on Emanuel 'Dread' Wilmé, the Lavalas supporter in Cité Soleil who, along with dozens of bystanders, including children, was gunned down by MINUSTAH (UN) forces. In the words of Marguerite Laurent:

Like all the others falling in Cite Soleil, Bel Air and throughout Haiti, like Charlemagne Peralte, Marie-Jeanne, Claire Heureuse, and Jean-Jacques Dessalines, Haiti’s true freedom fighters shall be remembered and sung about long after this latest Coup D’etat’s killers have passed into history. (via)

But there are other interests at work in Cité Soleil. Thomas Robenson 'Labanyè', whose death this past year was celebrated by Cite Soleil residents, ran the death squads in Cité Soleil and was allied with the police and the Group of 184. Labanyè is dead, but the well-funded, well-armed allies of Labanyè live on. Of course, in the corporate media, the battles between people struggling against the occupation of their country, and their murder at the hands of death squads, is presented as gang warfare:

This racialized, overdetermined media image of the black gang itself, rather than any actually existing black people, stands as sentry and border alongside police forces.

But the story is not as simple as the corporate media would present. Labanyè was allied with, and funded by, Andrè Apaid, the sweatshop owner and long-time subcontractor for Gildan Activewear, who is one of the leaders of the group of 184:

By the end of 2002, it was clear that, despite the efforts of the U.S. and the opposition, they remained a small electoral force in the politics of Haiti. Most of their leaders had been marginalized within Haiti by the positions they were taking politically. In addition, their association with some of the worst elements of the former coup regime, who were now demanding the return of the army, further diminished their standing in the eyes of the Haitian people.

The IRI [International Republican Institute], realizing that their former strategy was not working decided to create a new opposition. They arranged a secret meeting, which became public in the Haitian press, in the Dominican Republic with assembly industry owner Andy Apaid, other business leaders, student activists, the Democratic Convergence, and other elements of the former regime, including those who were calling for the return of the army. Andy Apaid is a millionaire Lebanese American businessman in Haiti who bitterly opposed Aristide in his desire to increase the minimum wage and who was involved in a fraud on the Haitian telephone company through the “grey market” in international telephone transmission. He was ultimately fined 2,000,000 gourdes for the fraud.

So Apaid, who vied to be president, who is spokesperson for the group of elite Haitians and Duvalierists working with, and installed into power by, the US-funded coup is a patron in his own right:

"Numerous witnesses stated the Boston gang leader, Thomas Robinson, alias “Labanyè,” receives financial, firearms, and political support from wealthy business­man and politico, Andy Apaid and businessman Regi­nald Boulos. Cité Soleil witnesses and police officers reported that Apaid’s support of Labanyè keeps the police from arresting him.

Apaid, the leader of the Group of 184, a business-backed organization established to oppose President Aristide, told investigators that he has directed the Haitian Police not to arrest Labanyè but to “work with him.”

It turns out that Labanyè's allies may have been responsible for the killing of MINUSTAH soldiers in order to cancel the elections:

“Des partisans d'un ancien chef de gang, Thomas Robenson dit Labanyè assassiné l'année dernière, seraient derrière les attaques meurtrières perpétrées contre des soldats de la MINUSTAH, a indiqué jeudi à l'AHP des sources étrangères à Port-au-prince.
Labanyè qui a contrôlé deux des 34 quartiers de Cité Soleil, était le rival d'un autre chef de bande, Dread Wilmé, réputé proche de lavalas, tué, lui-même, en juillet dernier, lors d'une opération de la MINUSTAH qui aurait également coûté la vie à plusieurs autres habitants.

Les dernières attaques contre les casques bleus auraient pour objectif de porter la MINUSTAH à lancer une attaque musclée contre le bidonville de Cité Soleil considéré comme le quartier de tous les risques.”


and

"De nombreux observateurs ont fait savoir ces derniers jours que si des bandits issus de quartiers populaires sont impliqués dans ces actes de violence, il y a sans doute des mains politiques très habiles qui les alimentent pour tenter de persuader que les élections ne sont pas possibles maintenant en Haïti.

C'est dans ce même contexte que des partisans d'un ancien chef de gang anti-Ariside, (feu Robenson Thomas) dit labanyè, ont été accusés d'implication dans les attaques contre des casques bleus pour cherrcher à provoquer une intervention de la MINUSTAH dans le bidonville de Cite Soleil.

Le premier tour des présidentielles et législatives fixé par arrêté présidentiel au 8 janvier 2006, a été reporté sine die par le regime interimaire après 4 précédent reports."


and

"Labanyè qui a contrôlé deux des 34 quartiers de Cité Soleil, était le rival d'un autre chef de bande, Dread Wilmé, réputé proche de lavalas, tué, lui-même, en juillet dernier, lors d'une opération de la MINUSTAH qui aurait également coûté la vie à plusieurs autres habitants.

Les dernières attaques contre les casques bleus auraient pour objectif de porter la MINUSTAH à lancer une attaque musclée contre le bidonville de Cité Soleil considéré comme le quartier de tous les risques.

Un policier canadien et un soldat jordanien ont été tués dans cette région au cours de ces deux dernières semaines."

So the US funds and trains paramilitaries in Dominican Republic, works with the sweatshop owners to bring greater instability back to Haiti, then pro-occupation death squads kill some of the foreign occupation forces, including Canadian Mark Bourque?

Let's be clear. The present evidence, according to Agence Haïtienne de Presse, is that the killing of Mark Bourque (along with countless and in the Canadian press unnamed Haitians--please see here for more on the these murders) was done at the hands of a death squad funded by a sweatshop owner who was the spokesperson for the group that Canadian soldiers put in power illegally, who subcontracts for a Canadian corporation, and in whose interests Canada has been acting.

Chickens coming home to roost indeed:

"As of March 2nd, 2004 Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) states, “some Canadian companies are looking to shift garment production to Haiti.” DFAIT provides research and Haitian contacts through a variety of sub-agencies to Canadian companies that want to exploit low Haitian wages.

Montreal based Gildan Activewear is already subcontracting work to Haitian owned sweatshops, and they have opened a new factory in Port au Prince which employs 400 to 500 people. Gildan, one of the largest T shirt makers in the world, claimed recently to CBC radio to pay its workers a premium on the minimum Haitian wage. However unionized workers at Gildan’s Montreal factory earn more than 10 times the Haitian wage, and unorganized Haitian workers employed by Gildan recently told the CBC that their wages are not enough to live on. With recent increases in the cost of fuel in Haiti – the IMF demanded it be deregulated and the price has soared – Haitian workers have once again been demanding their minimum wage of 36 Gourdes per day be increased to keep up with inflation.

But what’s bad for Haitian workers - low wages and appalling conditions - are good business for the T shirt trade. At the time of writing, a blank Gildan T sells on Ebay for about $1.25. It’s a volume business, our appetite for T shirts. Gildan’s sales have nearly doubled, from $344 million in 1999 to $630 million in 2003. In the same period Gildan stock soared on the Toronto Stock Exchange from $5 to $44 per share. According to UNITE, Gildan has received over $3 million dollars of federal subsidies while it contemplated moving production offshore.

In 2002 Gildan donated $2000.00 to Paul Martin, campaigning then for the leadership of the Federal Liberal Party.

In February 2003, Gildan won an award for “social responsibility” given by the Association of Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, (CME) and the government’s Canadian International Development Agency, (CIDA) which subsidizes Canadian companies to invest overseas. CIDA has been heavily criticized for lending to Liberal Party allies to subsidize projects of dubious social development value."

Elections or no, everything has gone according to plan for the real crime lords:

"Following the landslide victory of Aristide and his Famni Lavalas party in the 2000 elections, Canada (along with the U.S. and the E.U. at the behest of France) declared the elections flawed on the basis of a technicality and cut off $500 millions dollars in aid to the government while redirecting funding to anti-Aristide NGOs.

At the same time, gangs of former soldiers and death squad members (who were found to be
financed and organized by the CIA during the 1991-1994 military regime) were launching frequent attacks and even coup attempts from their base in the Dominican Republic.

Then, in January 2003,
Canada hosted the "Ottawa Initiative", a gathering of all the "major players" in Haiti, which did not include representatives from the democratically elected government, and reached a consensus that "Aristide must go".

As political tensions between the foreign-funded opposition and Lavalas supporters flared in early 2004, former police chief
Guy Philippe led an invasion by the paramilitary forces (likely armed by the US) from the Dominican Republic, misleadingly called a "rebellion" or even a "popular uprising" in the Canadian media. The paramilitaries quickly overran key cities and surrounded Port-au-Prince before the Marines and JTF2 completed the coup d'état/kidnapping."

and

"On July 14th, “North America’s largest t-shirt maker” Gildan Activewear announced that they will be closing their El Progresso assembly plant in Honduras, when the lease expires on September 30th. 1800 workers will be laid off, in addition to the approximately 100 workers who were fired for attempting to unionize in 2002-03 (1). Several organizations are shocked by Gildan’s decision to shutdown and relocate - like a “godsend” - to Haiti and Nicaragua, especially since reports are about to be released by the Fair Labor Association (FLA) and the Workers Rights Consortium (WRC) that detail the findings of their extensive audits into factory conditions, wage and worker- related issues.

The WRC’s Scott Nova said “the evidence is overwhelming” regarding “serious violations”, part of a broader “systematic problem” in the realm of women’s and workers rights. Nova described how Gildan even conducted their own internal investigation concerning the violation of women’s rights reaching the “exact same” conclusion as the WRC. The WRC’s case, similar to the forthcoming FLA report, is “cut and dried”. Being an unaccountable corporation has its advantages, however, as Gildan has consistently denied any wrongdoing and appear to be operating with ‘corporate impunity’.

Although Gildan spokesperson Stephane Lemay has attempted to preemptively discredit the WRC audit, pointing out that Gildan refused the WRC access to the El Progresso plant, Nova counters that physical access to the plant “was not important” anyway, given that they conducted extensive interviews with “just under one hundred” expelled workers, as well as with Honduras government officials, off premises. In other words, the WRC didn’t need access to the plant to prove that Gildan was committing these crimes. The allegations that 1. Gildan illegally fired substantial numbers of workers for exercising their right to organize over a period of roughly two years, which “succeeded in preventing workers from forming a union” and 2. That Gildan violated Honduran law requiring workers to be paid for overtime, yielded conclusions that determined “substantial workers rights violations.”

According to Nova, there is “no debate over the facts”, and very similar conclusions were reached by the FLA, who, should Gildan refuse to honor the findings of their report or refuse to reverse the decision to cut and run from the El Progresso plant, will likely revoke Gildan’s membership. Lemay has stated that Gildan will adhere to the “corrective actions” recommended by the FLA, whom they are “bound contractually” to. The Maquila Solidarity Network’s Bob Jeffcot, and the WRC’s Nova, think it will be hard to enforce these corrective actions if Gildan cut and runs from its El Progresso plant. Says Jeffcot, “to close it down now is incredibly suspicious”, especially in light of the fact that approximately 100 workers are owed back pay “who deserve something irrespective of the decision to move.”

It is doubtful that Gildan will care whether or not they remain members of the FLA; they probably only joined to appease some shareholders, notably the Quebec Solidarity Fund. One week after Gildan joined the FLA, the Solidarity Fund announced that they will be pulling out their 11.1% share of Gildan, based on their own findings concerning the “cut and dried” facts of workers and women’s rights violations at El Progresso. (2) No longer having to concern themselves with ‘ethical considerations’ Gildan is proceeding into Haiti and the Dominican Republic (whose textile sector employs thousands of Haitian refugees, see below), where conduct is neither seriously monitored nor enforced, especially now that the legitimately elected government is gone.

Haitian labor unions have reported (3) that the 70 gourde minimum wage (paltry, but fought for and attained by the Lavalas government in 2003) is being rolled back (to its pre-2003 36 gourde level) now that a puppet/military regime is in place and are looking the other way while sweatshop owners exploit workers and expand operations in this more “favorable” environment. People like Andy Apaid, who is one of Gildan’s “local” subcontractors (4), according to former workers, never honored the minimum wage and would fire workers who dissented. In addition, feudal lords like Apaid would force workers to attend anti-Aristide “opposition” rallies under threat of termination or reprimand."

See also Lenin's post, Populism and Haiti.

4 Comments:

Blogger 'Thought & Humor' said...

There is a time for everything,
a season for every activity
under heaven. A time to be
born and a time to die. A
time to plant and a time to
harvest. A time to kill and
a time to heal. A time to
tear down and a time to
rebuild. A time to cry and
a time to laugh. A time to
grieve and a time to dance.
A time to scatter stones
and a time to gather stones.
A time to embrace and a
time to turn away. A time to
search and a time to lose.
A time to keep and a time to
throw away. A time to tear
and a time to mend. A time
to be quiet and a time to
speak up. A time to love
and a time to hate. A time
for war and a time for peace.

May 2006 be
your time to laugh,
embrace & receive
personal peace,
Dr. Howdy

5:38 PM  
Blogger Le Colonel Chabert said...

Great post.

(Some of your links though are not working...the few after the znet link have the znet url still there and the correct url on the tail).

7:22 PM  
Blogger hollowentry said...

Thanks Chabert. Your post on Dread Wilmé got me thinking...

9:11 PM  
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