The Fight Against Privatization
On the eve of turning the government over to his successor, President Jean-Bertrand Aristide took some important decisions for his country and for his own life.
Haiti-Latin America Encounter
During the last years of President Jean Bertrand Aristide's government, some of Haiti's pending problems began to show up, problems with which Aristide's successor, René Préval, is now dealing.
The National Truth and Justice Commission turned its final report in to President Aristide on February 15, in line with the regulations established. "A reflection of the aspiration to dignity and freedom that Haiti is forging and will continue to forge, this report is a cry, not of hate but of suffering and indignation; it is a vibrant call, not for vengeance but for a justice demanded today just as it was trampled in the past," declared commission head Francois Boucard as he presented the text to Aristide.
The commission, charged with presenting a report dealing with the period beginning with the military coup headed by Raúl Cedras (September 29, 1991 October 15, 1994), based its study on an analysis of 5,450 testimonies of 8,652 victims who suffered a total of some 20,000 violations of their human rights. The commission emphasized that the report represents just a small sample of the human rights violations committed during the military regime.
Truth and JusticeThe Final Report has eight chapters and two appendices. The first chapter is a quick overview of Haitian history. The following two chapters interpret the commission's mandate and explain the methodology used. The fourth offers a chronological analysis underscoring the relation between the intensity of the human rights violations and some concrete events such as the negotiations with the military.
Chapter 5 provides examples of the cases according to the categories of violations studied: the right to life, liberty and physical integrity; property rights; freedom of expression, association and assembly; and crimes against humanity. Appended are a number of special studies, including sexual violations against women; results of the anthropological medical legal work; repression of journalists and control over the media; and, as an example of the massacres committed during the period following the coup, a description and analysis of the Raboteau massacre. Chapters 6 and 7 offer an analysis of the model, systematic practices and structures taken on by the repression.
The last chapter presents the Commission's recommendations:
* Organize a committee that will assure follow up to the recommendations as well as publish and disseminate the Report.
* Create a special commission to compensate the victims.
* Implement a series of measures against rape and other forms of violence against women.
* Immediately begin legal proceedings against the alleged authors of the human rights violations to thus end impunity.
* Implement concrete measures to reform the judicial system, existing legislation and the police force.
The Truth and Justice Commission was made up of a team of both Haitian and foreign experts with assistance from a number of international institutions: The OAS/UN International Civilian Mission; the United Nations Development Program; the United Nations Human Rights Program; the Interamerican Human Rights Commission; the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the International Center for the Rights of Persons and Democratic Development.
Confiscated DocumentsIn September and October 1994, some 150,000 pages of documents and diverse other materials photos, video cassettes, etc. of Haitian armed forces officers and the paramilitary terrorist group FRAPH were confiscated by the US military and moved to the United States, where they ended up in US government hands. These documents are essential to the legal investigations and processing of the crimes committed by military members and are also vital for the work of the Truth and Justice Commission. The US government has not responded to the Haitian government's requests for the return of this material for over a year.
On January 29, President Aristide sent the following message to US ambassador in Haiti William Lacy Swing to reiterate his government's position regarding this still unresolved issue: "These materials are the property of the Haitian government and were taken out of Haiti without either the consent or knowledge of the Haitian government. We have requested their return, and hope that they will be returned to us in the shortest time possible, in the same condition as when they were taken. We want no doubts to remain about this and I repeat what I have said on numerous occasions, both in private and to the press. Since the documents belong to the Haitian government, there is nothing to negotiate with respect to their return. My Prime Minister and Minister of Justice have shared that position with you on a number of occasions. The materials are the property of the Haitian government and we await their return to Haiti."
The following day, January 30, the US government sent some 500 lbs. of materials confiscated from the FRAPH. But there was no sensitive information in any of it. The Haitian government informed the US Embassy that all of the documents should be returned and refused to take possession of what had been returned until such time as all materials were back in its hands.
Both US and Haitian journalists and politicians have concluded that the US is holding back on returning this material because it contains information that would link US institutions to the military coup and the paramilitary forces. Despite the many cables from the US Embassy in Haiti to the Departments of State and Defense describing the FRAPH as a bloodthirsty organization linked to the military, a number of US institutions benignly referred to the FRAPH as "a legitimate political party opposed to Aristide" after constitutional order was restored in the country. It is also know that FRAPH leader Emmanuel Constant received a salary from the CIA.
Five Thousand DeadThe House Committee on Foreign Relations met to discuss the subject of Haiti on January 4 and again on January 31 of this year, as Aristide's term came to an end. The central focus was the FBI's 10 month investigation during 1995 into the murder of Haitian lawyer Mireille Durocher Bertin and pilot Eugene Baillergeau.
US Attorney General Janet Reno offered the FBI's assistance to President Aristide following these two assassinations and Aristide accepted, reiterating time and again that the FBI's attention should not concentrate solely on the two deaths, but also on other high profile political crimes that had taken place over the last three years. "The assistance offered by the FBI should extend to the victims of all violent crimes in Haiti," wrote Aristide to the US Ambassador. "After the coup in 1991, Haiti lost 5,000 citizens. As President of each and every Haitian citizen, I cannot grant more value to one life than to any other." The FBI, however, refused to collaborate in any other investigation.
In this letter, Aristide also declared that "the FBI's role in Haiti is to offer assistance to the Haitian government under the auspices of the Haitian Ministry of Justice. I must emphasize once again that the FBI should work with our Minister of Justice and should not attempt to go over his head." Nonetheless, the FBI repeatedly refused to inform the Ministry of Justice about the progress of the investigation, which ended up with a number of gaps, leaving questions pending as to the procedures used by the US organization.
Negotiating with the IMFAt the end of January, the Haitian government once again began negotiations with international financial institutions regarding structural adjustment and continued international financial assistance to Haiti. Representatives from the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the Interamerican Development Bank traveled to Haiti to discuss the structural adjustment program for the next three years, a program upon which over $100 million earmarked for balance of payments depends. This discussion had been interrupted in October 1995 after the Haitian government rejected the terms that the financial institutions were trying to impose, particularly regarding privatization.
Women's groups, peasant associations, unions, religious groups, development organizations and academic experts have all spoken out against implementing economic changes that are not first debated in an open and democratic way. To a certain degree, the situation created by these demands forced the resignation of Prime Minister Smarck Michel. It was at that time that USAID suspended the last disbursement of $4.6 million in balance of payments assistance, pressuring for more rapid progress in the privatization of state enterprises as well as for the reduction of the state budget.
The sectors of civil society opposed to the privatization process began to debate their own proposals aimed at promoting long term economic and social development in Haiti. The Platform for the Defense of a Development Alternative (PAPDA), a coalition of nongovernmental organizations and grassroots groups, worked with representatives of state employee unions and other grassroots organizations. They came up with concrete proposals that would protect the interests of the majority of Haitians, and included suggestions for restructuring state enterprises that would avoid auctioning them off.
The Platform and the telecommunications workers union jointly organized a press conference in which they laid out their concerns and presented the alternatives. One of their concerns is that the Haitian government and people have a lot to lose if the very profitable national telecommunications industry (TELECO) is sold to private investors. Over the last 10 years, TELECO's income has made up about 3% of the GDP; its 1995 income was some $71 million. Private consulting studies indicate that expanding phone service could generate some $150 million and that the investments needed for such expansion could be financed by TELECO's existing income.
Both the Platform and the union representatives pointed out that it would be difficult, if not impossible, for the Haitian government to replace this important source of investment. This in turn would greatly increase Haiti's dependence on international loans and would make it much more difficult to finance national development and social necessities such as education and health care. The TELECO workers and consumers also presented their concerns about cases of internal sabotage and corruption, provoked, they alleged, with the intent to increase the influence of the foreign telecommunications companies.
Privatizing ElectricityThe state electricity utility (EdH) is at this time neither profitable nor capable of satisfying the country's electricity demand. Nonetheless, EdH workers feel that the bulk of the problems stem from the fact that only half of the electricity produced is actually billed and only 25% of that is paid for. They point out that much of the unpaid electricity is provided to companies and residences, and is not due just to illegal hook ups in the poor neighborhoods. EdH workers and development organization representatives believe it is essential to install meters, enforce timely payment of electricity bills and implement administrative changes, regardless of who owns the electricity utility. They hold that most of the capital required for these and other key investments already exists inside the country, including credit from the Central Bank as well as funds from the IDB and the European Union.
Workers feel that electricity is essential for any development strategy and that electricity services in the rural areas play a key role in the development of agricultural processing industries, leading to employment in those areas. They are also of the opinion that putting EdH in the hands of a private monopoly would impose disproportionately high prices in the absence of any regulatory mechanisms.
The workers also insist that the issue of electrical service should form part of a an overall energy policy that, among other things, could reduce the consumption of coal, currently responsible for 60% of the deforestation that has so devastated Haiti. They doubt that a private company would have any interest in considering these realities when drawing up their investment and pricing strategy.
Privatizing CementThe Platform has presented similar concerns regarding the proposal to privatize the cement factory, which, according to a World Bank study, is capable of producing 200,000 tons of cement annually at competitive prices, with a minimal initial investment. The plant has been closed since 1993 and the IMF, World Bank and USAID insist that it will be opened only after privatization. Given the demand for inexpensive nationally produced cement, both cement factory employees and international experts are worried that national development in Haiti would be greatly affected if an unregulated private company were to gain control of the whole market. In fact, since the cement factory was closed, all cement used in the country is imported and prices are thus quite high.
Democratization or Imposition?The broad opposition to privatization also highlighted an essential factor that must be considered before any privatization measures are enacted. The agreements Haiti made with the international financial institutions explicitly say that the public enterprises should be "democratized" and that privatization should not continue to concentrate wealth and power in the hands of the same small group that has traditionally held monopolies in the country.
In the meetings with donor institutions held in Paris in August 1994 and January 1995, the Haitian government and international financial institutions agreed to carefully analyze all options available. They also said that a broad national debate should accompany any privatization proposal. Among the possible options, the Platform is considering plans under which properties would pass to worker ownership as a way to guarantee authentic democratization of property in Haiti.
Many aspects of privatization have yet to be debated. For example, one condition demanded by the IMF in granting its loans is that no Central Bank credit be extended to para state companies. "This condition continues to accentuate the deterioration that the public companies suffered under the military regime, increasing the perception among people that the government is unable to manage companies, and assuring as well that they will be sold at a price below their real value," declared Platform executive secretary Camille Chalmers.
The public debate around privatization is just beginning, and it is an unequal debate. USAID is financing a "consciousness raising" campaign supporting privatization. Run by the Canadian firm Gervais Gagnon Covington Associates at a cost of some $900,000, the campaign includes radio and television spots, billboards, conferences and training courses. It is specifically targeted to the Haitian Parliament, unionists and regional government officials.
The Haitian government has demanded that AID present both sides of the reality. "Given AID's clear pressure in favor of privatization, how can this be a balanced information campaign?" one Haitian citizen asked. "Must we simply swallow their point of view?" The topic remains open.
Hands Across The CaribbeanIn one of President Aristide's last official acts before leaving office, he reopened diplomatic relations with Cuba, broken by dictator Francois Duvalier in 1962. Haiti is the Caribbean nation geographically closest to Cuba. In a bilateral communiqué, the two countries promised to "make efforts to stimulate commercial, cultural, scientific, technical and athletic exchanges." The definitive signing of relations with Cuba was the first act of the Préval government, and took place in Aristide's office. "This is something that our countries deserve," Aristide said, "and is the greatest gift we can give them."
As this was taking place, a joint exhibition of Dominican and Haitian paintings was underway in Haiti, sponsored by the European Union. The exhibition, which moved several days later to the Dominican Republic, was extremely rich in magical religious, indigenous, folkloric, historical and lyrical expressions of primitivist art and served to open the door to incoming President René Préval's historic visit to the Dominican Republic after more than 50 years of rivalries and bloodshed.
Aristide's WeddingBefore leaving office, Jean Bertrand Aristide took another important step: He got married. A Salesian priest expelled from his religious order and forced by the Haitian bishops to renounce the priesthood, Aristide married Mildred Trouillot on January 20 in a simple ceremony in the garden of her home. Trouillot is a Haitian American who played an important role in the struggle for a return to constitutional order in Haiti. "When you look at this ring, think of me and remember that you are a defender of this people," Aristide said to Mildred as they exchanged rings. "When you look at this ring," she responded, "remember that it is better to fail on the side of the people than to be successful without them. Remember as well that, with the people, there is no failure."