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About 75 people, including members of CUPE 4600 (Carleton University TAs and contract instructors), heard from a Haitian labour leader in Ottawa June 1. Paul “Loulou” Chéry spoke about the worsening social and economic crisis in Haiti and the responses from workers and the labour movement. 

His union, the Confédérations des travailleurs Haitiens (CTH), is one of Haiti’s largest union federations, representing 12 sectors including health care workers, port workers, small assembly, agriculture, cooperatives, and artisans.

He described the challenge of trying to rebuild a labour movement within an economy that has 70 per cent unemployment.  He also spoke of the current difficult context which has Haiti enduring a heavy United Nations military occupation established following the overthrow of former president Jean Bertrand Aristide in 2004. 

That event not only began a wave of serious human rights violations and violence, but also undercut previous efforts at building up Haiti’s economy and infrastructure, he said. Under such circumstances, and in spite of billions of dollars in promised aid, Haiti’s population continues to suffer under the austerity imposed by price inflation and a lack of government supports. The UN mission and the promised aid programs have delivered little substantial help to the people, he said.

The current government of Rene Garcia Préval is under severe pressures from the foreign powers that finance most of the budget, he said. Préval’s policies have been yet another version of the “neo-liberal plan” for Haiti, focused mainly on pursuing the privatization of state enterprises, including the national port authority that employs hundreds of members of the CTH.  The state electricity and phone companies are also being set up for privatization. 

Chéry was in Canada to attend the Canadian Labour Congress convention in Toronto May 26-30. Joining him at the Ottawa discussion was Professor Peter Hallward, author of the new book “Damming the Flood: Haiti, Aristide, and the Politics of Containment”.

Hallward provided a scholarly backdrop for the social crisis that Chéry described, paying special attention to the policies of the United States and Canadian governments geared to subverting the Haitian government when it was led by Aristide. 

While these policies were rationalized by claims that Aristide had been responsible for human rights violations and had not respected democratic norms, he said, such claims were false. 

The author also spoke in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver where he also met with CUPE activists. The Canada-Haiti Action Network and the website rabble.ca co-sponsored the tour.