by Ezili Dantò
The United States seems to have only one policy towards Haiti: force and exploitation. U.S. overseers market the captive republic as a low-wage paradise for foreign businesses. “The Obama Administration’s application of disaster capitalism and the shock doctrine is like pouring gasoline onto a fire already set by past US missteps in Haiti” over the past two hundred years.
Foreign Investment in Haiti Means Death and Repression, Part II: The Constant US Bait and Switch
by Ezili Dantò
“The US project kicked Haiti farmers off their lands and gifted it to foreigners for factories and private businesses in the looming presence of UN guns.”
In 1971 the Haitian minimum wage was about $1.30 USD per day. It was raised to about $2.60 or 70 gourds in 2003. In 2004 it was cut back in half to $1.60 or 36 gourds by the US coup d’etat folks.
Since the 1970s Haiti assembly plan workers, mostly all women, have battled to raise the minimum wage to a living wage and for humane working conditions. (Workers interviewed in the older Bitter Cane documentary as well as those interviewed around 1996 in the Mickey Mouse goes to Haiti documentary talk about how they suffered abuse for protesting the indecent wage. Even then, Haiti workers were pushing for 63 US cents an hour wage or approximately US $5.00 per day for a minimum wage.)
In 2009, though the Haiti parliament voted to raise the assembly plant minimum wage to 200 gourdes or the equivalent of US $5.00 a day (about 63 U.S. cents an hour.), UN Envoy Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton at the Obama State Department forced Haiti officials to rescind the vote.
Today's Haiti minimum wage for assembly plant workers is approximately US $3.00 per day/38 U.S. cents an hour or 125 gourdes per day. Because of inflation, the $3.00 per day wage is not much higher than what the minimum wage had been 35 to 40 years earlier. That’s nothing less than genocidal.
It’s even more crushing and unimaginable when you factor not only the depreciation of the Haitian gourd over the last few decades but that local agriculture was decimated by systemic US and neoliberal economic attack on Haiti peasants. And practically all of Haiti’s food is now imported from the US and world food prices are much higher.
“Because of inflation, the $3.00 per day wage is not much higher than what the minimum wage had been 35 to 40 years earlier.”
Moreover, the minimum wage is really less than 38 cents an hour for $3 for an 8-hour day because the Haitian women work not 8 hours per day but more like 12 hours per day. They are given a daily quota to fulfill and can't leave until that quota is met and it takes more than 8-hours for that to happen.
"Then, when the Haitians were once again pauperized, the experts and their elite allies introduced the nearest thing to slavery known to this century – free zones, where Haitians labored for the price of less than one Jamaican patty a day. The women were injected with drugs which stopped their monthly periods so they wouldn't need time off to have babies. They were prohibited from joining unions. Hold on tight to your screams!" wrote John Maxwell in The Audacity of Hopelessness, April 05, 2009. That same week, Salon published a devastating report on these barbaric industrial practices, in “Obama's offered HOPE is sweatshop slavery.”
It was bad enough to live on 70gourds or $1.60 per day when the American dollar equaled 5 Haitian gourds and most Haitians could still live off the land, with fruit trees, and because Haiti was still self-sufficient in food sovereignty, in rice. Imagine how much deeper the deprivation and poverty is today to earn $3 per day when the exchange rate is approximately 40 Haitian gourds to one US dollar.(Recommended HLLN Links on : US “Free Trade” Fraud Promotes Famine in Haiti; Mickey Mouse Goes to Haiti Part 1 and Part 2, 1996 documentary from the National Labor Committee; Obama’s offered HOPE is sweatshop slavery.)
For those who don’t know, when the 1970s and 80s food-for-work programs were replaced with seasonable cash-for-work job programs to maintain infrastructure for the foreigners, the USAID/Care/Catholic Relief Services programs, et al, would hand out these jobs just when the peasants should be planting and tending to their fields, causing them to miss another harvest. This, another way to wipe out local Haiti agriculture, was routinely implemented by the Western mindsets known to exterminate entire civilizations in the Western Hemisphere under the guise of “bringing civilization.” (See also, Bill Clinton’s Heavy Hand on Haiti’s Vulnerable Agricultural Economy: The American Rice Scandal.)
“The women were injected with drugs which stopped their monthly periods so they wouldn't need time off to have babies.”
Caracol was the site where, during the first US occupation of Haiti (1914-1934) the US Marines ran the Chabert Post prison labor camp, infamous for its brutal treatment of dissenting Haitian peasants.
Revered Haiti hero, Charlemagne Péralte was initially buried on the property in an unmarked grave before getting a state monument further up North in Cap Haitian. It's one of the places where forced Black labor made fortunes for Spain, France and then US plantations owners, permanently deforesting Haiti. It wasn't fully reclaimed by Haitians until the overthrow of dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier in 1986.
Laurent Dubois, author of Haiti: The Aftershocks of History, told reporters for the New York Times: “The way I see it, in a deep, long, historical way, Haiti was founded by ex-slaves who overthrew a plantation system and people keep trying to get them to return to some form of plantation. There have been cycles of this type of project, where the idea is that foreign investment will modernize the country. But things have gotten progressively worse for Haitians.” (see Earthquake Relief Where Haiti Wasn’t Broken, July 5, 2012.)
An export-based economy for Haiti is a tired US policy
An export-base economy for Haiti didn't work 40-years ago and the devastation it left is still being absorbed by Haitians with famine, containment-in-poverty and the presence of UN troops today. This new endeavor has already brought suffering to Haitians: the US project kicked Haiti farmers off their lands and gifted it to foreigners for factories and private businesses in the looming presence of UN guns.
The US has the information to stop this project now and prevent Haitians from further great sufferings to come tomorrow – not wait until perhaps hundreds of thousands more Haitians are dead, traumatized or fleeing Haiti on the open seas.
Forty years ago, in the 1970s, under Baby Doc’s Martelly-type “open for business” regime, Catholic Relief Services and Care were running the “food for work” programs in Haiti that helped destroy Haiti indigenous jobs, rendered the peasants homeless, and brought dependency.
Such US policies disempower the Haiti masses and that disempowerment also disempowers the US masses and is neither good governance nor ethical. It pits wage earners worldwide against one another for the benefit of the corporatocracy. The irony is that US workers are undercut by the low Haiti wages. But it is US taxpayer and donation monies that are used to suppress the Haiti laborers, keeping them with no voice to fight. (See 1969/71 Re-opening Haiti to US and foreign investment – Bitter Cane 4/7)
Building Infrastructure to Serve the Interests of Foreign Capital – a Historical Perspective
If past atrocities are not to be repeated, we should recall how at the height of the assembly plant era 35, 40 years ago, subsidized imported food was given in exchange for Haitian labor to build infrastructure for US factory owners and the bauxite miners.
Haitian labor was used to build infrastructure for foreigners. Not infrastructure to service Haitians and the foreign resident worker, but privatized infrastructure to service foreign capital's interests in maximizing profit at all costs. (See Ezili Dantò on The Slavery in Haiti the Media Won’t Expose and Expose the Lies.)
The US disinterest for labor and environmental concerns and privatized use of donation dollars at Caracol industrial part is a repeat of history and, as Professor Dubois says, it's "tired." The consequences are predictable.
“US taxpayer and donation monies that are used to suppress the Haiti laborers, keeping them with no voice to fight.“
The Obama Administration’s application of disaster capitalism and the shock doctrine is like pouring gasoline onto a fire already set by past US missteps in Haiti. There's no sane reason for the US to be unleashing the South Korean Sae-A factory on vulnerable Haiti's back despite Sae-A's despotic reputation for using bribes, rape, death threats and imprisonment to prevent and break up unions.
Haiti doesn’t need any more pain
It's not surprising to veteran and bruised Haiti justice advocates that unregulated, unfettered capitalism creates and uses depravity to make a profit. We were awake and suffering in scorching neocolonial fires when Bill Clinton returned President Aristide in 1994 with 20,000 US troops to ramp up privatizing Haiti and re-imaging the bloody Duvalierists as civil society.
Foreign investment has always meant more Haitian refugees, indefinite detentions, deaths and suffering. Donation monies and US taxpayer “aid” monies are privatized in Haiti and used to make the rich richer. This is not new in Haiti. It’s the standard. (Watch in 2012- A Factory Grows in Haiti and in 1971 Bitter Cane Pt. 5/7. )
From 1971 on, beginning with the tenure of Baby Doc Duvalier, Haiti was “open for business.” How did that go for Haitian domestic development and human rights? It cost Haiti billions in lost trade, tax, custom duties and tariff revenues, more than 5,000 Haitian lives and over 70,000 Haiti refugees fled the tyranny of the first US-supported regime change, landing in Guantanamo Bay detention center to be further terrorized. 20,000 Haitians were slaughtered from 2004-2006 during the second US repression. More than 500,000 Haitians fled Haiti under the Duvalier dynasty supported and financed for the bulk of their reign by the US government.
The World Economy has Changed
"Sweatshop development" is an oxymoron and a hoax. Except for China, which has 1.3 billion people with no workers rights or semblance of a representative government, the Free Trade Zones (FTZs) are closing everywhere.
There won’t be the promised 20,000 jobs available for Haitians. The US has been holding that carrot out since 2004, as can be verified by checking the record. Back in 1987, when the Berlin Wall fell and the Asian marketplace opened up so that the 7 to 10 million Haitian labor market could not compete with 1.3 billion people, the assembly plants had no reason to stay in Haiti.
When they left, the infrastructure built (from back-breaking food-for work peasant labor) to service the assembly plant companies, the private ports (like the privatized Miragoane port servicing the bauxite mines of Reynolds Metals aluminum) were abandoned, left in gross disrepair or purposely destroyed to prevent the people’s movement and democratically elected government from success. Mostly, Haitian improvements are allowed to stand in Haiti only if they serve foreigners or their local subcontractors. This has been the case since neocolonialism began with the first foreign-supported Haiti coup d’etat in 1806 that killed Haiti’s founding father and put the assimilated sons of France in power. (Haiti: The soul of Africa, not for sale ; Obama’s offered HOPE is sweatshop slavery.)
“Haitian improvements are allowed to stand in Haiti only if they serve foreigners or their local subcontractors.”
The US legislative conditions imposed upon Haiti (HOPE ACT II) for hosting non-tax paying foreign companies such as the Caracol industrial park, which make duty free garments and goods for the export market, compels Haiti to agree not to invest in needed public services – clean water, sanitation, public roads, health care, et al – imposes controls and rules out Haiti government ownership of economic assets. (See, Statement of Haitian Activists on the HOPE legislation passed by Congress, December 16, 2006:Enriching the few at expense of the many is not "HOPE" but fueling more despair.)
Haiti is in dire need of public services, infrastructure, local manufacturing, and local food production, and for the government to invest in, and be accountable to its citizens, for these services.
Unless its designed and implemented with Haitian monies, by Haitians and for Haitians, no Haiti reconstruction shall provide sustainable jobs and infrastructure for the people.
Are the ridiculous Haitian collaborators abroad and in Haiti, along with the US drones implementing the despotic one-percenters' edicts, so brainwashed they believe whatever the ruling corporatocracy says? Can’t they see there’s nothing benevolent or bungling about US investment in Haiti, that it’s a total HOAX? Are they simply too comfortable in the good life to think independently, with no free will, no ability to unplug – just machines with one directive from the corporatocracy?
Ayisyen kote nou ye toutbon?
To read Part I of this article, click here.
Ezili Dantò is founder and president of the Haitian Lawyers Leadership Network. She can be contacted through her website, EziliDantò.com.