In late September 2005, the General Secretary of the Confédération des travailleurs haitiens (CTH – one of Haiti’s biggest unions), Paul ‘Loulou’Chéry, visited Ottawa and Montréal. Chéry was on a speaking tour organized to allow Canadian and Québecois trade unionists direct access to a trade union voice from Haiti.
Kevin Skerrett, a trade union researcher active with the Canada Haiti Action Network, interviewed Loulou on September 26. The interview focused particular attention on the perspective of Haiti’s labour movement on the February 29, 2004 coup d’état that overthrew Haiti’s elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, along with thousands of other elected officials. The following is a translation and transcript of that interview.
Kevin Skerrett: First of all, can you introduce yourself a bit, and give us a sense of the current situation in Haiti?
Loulou Chéry: Yes, my name is Paul ‘Loulou’Chéry, and I am the General Secretary of the Confédération des Travailleurs Haitiens, the CTH. I follow the current situation very closely, obviously, especially the situation of the labour movement, and the population in general. After the coup of 29 February, 2004, the general situation has deteriorated a great deal. It is a crisis without precedent, our population has not known a situation this grave since the founding of the country. There is the appearance of life, but in reality, there is no life.
The majority of the population has been plunged into misery, and exclusion. At the level of the workers, there is hopelessness, as there are practically no jobs. There are, maybe, 15% of the population who are truly employed. Even those who work, do not have the ‘luxury’of being unionized. There are some exceptions to this. For example, we have the APN, the National Port Authority, and there is a union there, a strong union, affiliated to the CTH. At the post office, there is a union which is linked to the Québec Federation of Labour, which also has a good working relationship with the CTH. There is also Teleco (the publicly-owned national telephone company), where there is a union which is independent, but which also has a relationship with the FTQ (Québec Federation of Labour).
As for the other state enterprises, there are not really any unionized workforces, and in the private sector, there is practically no unionization. There are only unions in certain professions, such as teachers, artisans, informal sector, transport, and here they are independent unions.
Currently, as you know, we are facing elections, in order to elect a president, a president who will succeed President Boniface [Alexandre], the current de facto president, who replaced President Aristide after the coup. At this point, the de facto government is conducting a witch-hunt. They are creating a situation of terror, a situation of fear, of systematic repression. This repression has resulted in the killing of thousands of people since the execution of the coup. Despite this, they are now organizing elections.
What is the reaction of the population to this planning of elections? The people are not ready for elections, this is clear. They are organizing them anyway, because the three countries (Canada, US, France) have to prove that they were right to remove President Aristide through the coup. They have to prove to everyone that this was the only solution, and so they are proceeding with the elections even though any future ‘elected’president will be what we call a ‘puppet’president ‘ meaning, a president who has no power. No real power. The real decisions will be taken by Washington, by Ottawa, etc.
And, I think, right after February 7 2006, the protests will start the very next day. These elections are already contested. And this will create a paralysis.
KS: So this new president is not going to have any legitimacy in the minds of the population?
LS: No. It’s impossible, because it will not be the will of the population that will be expressed in these elections; it’s the will of small groups who will ‘select’someone to be the president.
KS: On the coup d’état itself, the Government of Canada has claimed that President Aristide had lost support among the population of Haiti’¦
LS: This is false. It’s totally false. Whatever they say, it’s false. Certain small groups were manipulated by certain political leaders of the political opposition. And, the Group 184, which is led by the bosses, did influence a student group, which unfortunately today regrets what happened, and they now understand that the situation is totally different from what they had claimed at the time.
KS: Were there not trade unions that signed-on to the Group 184 (a ‘civil society’political opposition group)?
LS: There were no unions; there were certain trade unionists.
KS: What’s the difference?
LS: The union is the structure that brings together the collectivity of the membership. But, there were certain influential individuals who went around the union structure, and affiliated themselves to the Group 184 as individuals. Doing so meant going completely outside the norms, the principles, the democracy of the union. This is to say, it did not reflect the labour movement or any of the unions as a whole. This was a small group of what we call, in general, we refer to these individuals as dissidents, dissidents who use the name of the movement, who leave the movement and use the name of the movement to involve themselves in politics.
KS: So, for you, for a Canadian NGO, such as Rights and Democracy, to suggest that the Group 184 was a ‘promising’civil society movement, what would be your reaction to this suggestion?
LS: Listen, this was a systematic campaign of dismantling and destabilization of the Lavalas government. It was a media campaign, orchestrated by certain media in Haiti, of which I could give you several names, that supported and paid a lot of money to spin lies and send lies outside of Haiti, to say that President Aristide had lost his popularity. On the ground, it’s completely different. I can give you an example. On the first of January 2004, there were about one million Haitians in the streets, supporting President Aristide. And again, on the 7th of February, there were more than one million Haitians out in the streets supporting President Aristide ‘ more than a million! Imagine! And never, ever, could the opposition put close to 100,000 people in the street. Never. It’s just like in Venezuela. Remember? There was a small group who wanted to overthrow President Chavez. Fortunately, they weren’t able to do this’¦
KS: They nearly did.
LS: Yes, nearly. But the population mobilized, and they blocked it. They stopped a coup very similar to what later unfolded in Haiti.
KS: And perhaps, without the intervention of the US military in Haiti, we might have seen the same mobilization, the same sort of thing could have happened in Haiti. A popular mobilization in defense of their elected government.
LS: Exactly. Because, the US trained a group of former military, former soldiers, former police officers ‘ now called ‘rebels’ who went into certain areas of the country, and started killing people, killing police officers. It became a ‘capture’of the population that they would use to justify their intervention. And, in doing so, they killed the dream of the people with this coup.
KS: We have heard a lot in the alternative press, since the coup, about the fact that there are still many people in Haiti who continue to demonstrate in the streets their support for President Aristide and the elected constitutional government. But in our Canadian newspapers, such as the Globe and Mail, and even in some of our ‘alternative media’, such as the NGO called Alternatives, we read about a supposed campaign of violence, a terror campaign, carried out by Lavalas called ‘Operation Baghdad’. I’d like to know your reaction to these stories.
LS: They use this phrase to demonize the movement, the people, and Lavalas supporters in particular, in order to stop this movement. There have been instances, at times, of infiltration by thugs, who infiltrate demonstrations in order to create panic and disorder. But in general, the demonstrations are quite peaceful. However, several times, I don’t have all the dates right here, but several times, it has been the police that opened fire on the crowd. And, this did provoke a hostile reaction from the crowd, some of whom went after the police, and things degenerated. They took from this, they labeled this ‘Operation Baghdad’. But there is no ‘Operation Baghdad’. It’s totally false.
KS: It doesn’t exist?
LS: It doesn’t exist! It’s to misinform people, to distract people away from the real problems, and the real causes of this violence.
KS: Last question. Our government, the Government of Canada, is claiming that they are delivering financial aid for the reconstruction of Haiti, the construction of highways, of schools, etc. What is your sense of the validity of these claims, and what is the perception of Canada among the population of Haiti?
LS: The people of Haiti view the United States, Canada, France, and even the United Nations, very badly. Very badly. Because, the population does not see among these countries any will to truly help the population. We don’t see it. There are promises, promises to donate and rebuild, and these promises today remain just that – promises. The suggestion that Canada has been building highways ‘ I have not seen a single kilometre of highway built by Canada. I am not everywhere, I live in Port-au-Prince, so it’s possible that I may have missed something ‘ but I doubt it. I think I would have heard about this.
KS: Loulou, thanks for your time.
LS: No problem.
On November 12, at 1:00pm, the Canada Haiti Action Network will kick off a ‘Pan-Canadian Week of Action’in solidarity with the people of Haiti with a mass demonstration on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. For more information, see: http://www.canadahaitiaction.ca
To join the email info-list of the Canada Haiti Action Network, email [email protected]
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