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POLITICAL BULLETIN Vol. II, Nº. 2

The “HOPE” Act

June 2007

On all radio stations, in all the newspapers, on all TV channels, and in the context of the “development” that the imperialists, the bourgeoisie and their reactionary state have in store for the Haitian workers, the latest word is “HOPE” (Haitian Hemispheric Opportunity through Partnership Encouragement) Act of 2006, which we hear mentioned all the time. 

On 16 December 2006, U.S. Congress finally voted into law the “HOPE” Act, designed to regulate some of the commercial exchange between Haiti and the United States . This law opens the doors for the two countries to be able to realize “free” commercial exchange without any import tariffs or duties, or any obstacle to the free circulation of goods. The goods that the Act refers to are mainly textile products from the maquiladoras (Note: a maquiladora is a factory/assembly plant that imports materials and equipment on a duty-free and tariff-free basis for assembly or manufacturing and then re-exports the assembled product, usually back to the originating country). Prime Minister Jacques Alexis has recently completed a trip to Washington to work out the details of the implementation of the new law.

What most people don’t know about, are the various compromises and concessions made by the Haitian government. First, the government gave up all rights of control over North American products imported into the country, that is, what they are and which ones will be allowed in or not. Nor can the government place any demand on multinational capital, such as control over the prices of goods being sold in the country. Therefore, the Minister of Commerce and Industry has no control over any prices. Finally, the government agreed to actively pursue the privatization of public services.

“HOPE”: A BACKGROUND HISTORY

Since the 70’s, under Jean-Claude Duvalier’s dictatorship, the duvalierist bureaucratic bourgeoisie already harbored the intention of selling Haitian cheap labor within the context of an agreement for the opening of the first Free Trade Zone (FTZ) in Haiti. That was in 1972. We must remember that the Duvaliers already were selling Haitian workers to Dominican capitalists to be mercilessly exploited as braceros on the sugar cane fields. But, in order to establish the free trade zones as the new type of “development”, in the context of the competition with other dependent countries of the region, it was necessary to “liberate” the Haitian labor force even more. On the one hand, they exterminated the native black pigs (this occurred under Jean-Claude Duvalier), a vital source of livelihood for the small peasants, then they destroy the sugar cane culture (under the CNG – National Governing Council), they even succeeded in eradicating the rice production (since the Bazin government), while the rest of the agricultural production was steadily deteriorating, causing a real migratory hemorrhage and a systematic pauperization that created a vast pool of available cheap labor. On the other hand, the existing corruption and the dictatorial presidency-for-life acted as obstacles to the free circulation of capital. Once this situation was overcome, they tried to implement a new law, the HERO (Haitian Economic Recovery Opportunity) Act. It failed. However, the political situation evolved. There was a proliferation of banks in the country working to facilitate capital concentration and circulation. Faced with the total incompetence of the ruling classes, and of the reactionary state in particular, the imperialists opted for direct intervention. Today, with the occupation, the situation is much more under their control and the conditions have maximized for the total plunder of the land, henceforth, the “HOPE” Law.

As we can see, “HOPE” is a result, a culmination. It is the historical result of the destruction of the country since Duvalier, through the various governments that succeeded it, until Aristide who was the one who ratified the process of national disintegration when he signed the Monterrey accord in favor of the establishment of eighteen FTZs, and discreetly inaugurated the construction of the first one in 2002. “HOPE” is also the result of the impoverishment and constant devalorization of the labor power, not only thru the starvation wages, not only thru the permanent repression to stop the workers from organizing to defend their interests, including wage increases, but also by allowing the generalization of misery that comes with the general increase in prices, while the government does nothing, and the “gourde” (Haiti’s monetary unit) keeps devaluating to such a point that wages paid in dollars are worth less and less gourdes. This sinister situation went thru different stages until the imperialists, the bourgeoisie, and their reactionary state realized that they could advance in their plans thru the implementation of a law that would allow them to realize enormous benefits thru the exploitation of that cheap labor, in the context of what is cynically called “comparative advantages”.

INTERNATIONAL CONTEXT OF THE ADOPTION OF “HOPE”: RELATIONS WITH THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC

The first element we must take into account is that “HOPE” comes with a series of other laws. In particular, one that links the Dominican Republic with five other Central American countries (Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, Panamá and El Salvador), the CAFTA-DR (Central America-Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement) where similar conditions are being developed for the unbridled exploitation of the workers in these countries, without any benefits for their economy in general, except a few crumbs for the bourgeoisie of the maquiladora industry, to encourage them not to invest in any other economic activities and to confine themselves solely to the maquiladoras.  

There is, specifically, one aspect of this CAFTA-DR agreement that concerns us, in as much as the law indicates: anything that is produced in Haiti by Dominican capitalists and that can be exported to the United States will also benefit from this agreement. This explains their tremendous interests in investing in our country. This explains their interest in resolving the Haitian crisis, and their proposition that they themselves can take matters into their own hands and make the necessary rectifications to help move forward this “human conglomerate” (a human herd, that’s what they call the Haitian society). Therefore, and in support of their interests, not only are they paying four times less for labor than they would in their country, but in many cases the representatives of the Haitian bourgeoisie, along with their reactionary state, offer them a guarantee of better profits than in their own country! One particular case comes to mind: in Fort-Liberté a demand was brought before the tribunal (when the Dominican army intervened in the FTZ of Ouanaminthe to physically assault the Haitian workers and a pregnant woman was dragged thru the mud right in front of everybody!) and it was so clear that the judge had to grant the protesting workers’ demand for reparations and sanctions against the head security of the Grupo M, an ex-colonel of the Dominican army. However, the Justice Minister from Port-au-Prince , on orders from the Minister of Commerce and Industry, sent a letter of reprimand to the judge saying that if he went ahead with the verdict, “it would scare away the investors”!! As can be seen, “HOPE” came to reinforce the advantages that these investors are getting. This is occurring at a time when the overall penetration of Dominican capital is increasing more and more. In fact, they are engaged in a process of annexation of the Northeastern part of the country. And it is in the context of this penetration-annexation that “HOPE” will be implemented. 

The Dominican bourgeoisie had already manifested its interest in investing in our country, specially in the maquiladoras (assembly plants). This explains the presence, for example, of the Grupo M and three Wilbes plants operating in Haiti , while their board of directors are in Dominican Republic . Quite a few more want to establish themselves here also. At the time, they were trying to resolve the quota issue. But, for them, this is not enough. They need more. That’s why we say that the resurgence of “HOPE” is neither casual nor isolated.

“HOPE”: IN THE PRESS

Many articles have appeared in the written press, criticizing this plan. These analyses have pointed out that the government’s attitude is one of total surrender; also adding that it is not possible for a government to compromise the economy by making it so completely dependent on the maquiladoras industry and without, at the same time, offering any alternatives besides the FTZs. They have pointed out that, in general, such an economy cannot bring any positive contribution to national development, and even less so, to the integral development of the country, given the total absence of policies and measures to revitalize the national economy or to export prime material manufactured in the country. These FTZs will be nothing but enclaves. In fact, they are a real “sword of Damocles”, that is, an enormous threat to national development since the major part of the country’s economy will increasingly depend solely and totally on the multinationals.

“HOPE”: TOTAL EXPLOITATION AND MISERY

As mentioned earlier, the logic of the multinationals is the permanent quest for more advantageous conditions for themselves only. Therefore, they always move their operations somewhere else in accordance with the advantages given them (they even use this as a form of pressure); hence, the danger not only to the country’s economy (which is always under this kind of pressure/blackmail), but also to the workers’ livelihood because, as has happened in the past, the only place where the bourgeoisie is going to transfer this pressure is on the workers’ wages; specially in a country like ours, so bankrupt and with so incompetent a government, this is the only way to remain “competitive”. In their own words: “ Haiti ’s comparative advantage is its cheap labor, which cannot be competed with anywhere else!!” Therefore, as logic would indicate, for such “advantage” to always remain an “advantage”, strong repression must be exerted against the unions and a state of general misery maintained so that, on one hand, there always be workers in the FTZs willing to accept starvation wages and, on the other, in order to remain “competitive” (i.e., as low as possible), the price of the labor power remain cheaper and cheaper.  Thus, in the logic of capitalist competitiveness, the poverty of the Haitian people is the bourgeoisie’s advantage, and this is THE MAIN PARAMETER FOR THE APPLICATION AND IMPLEMENTATION OF THE “HOPE” LAW.

When we reflect upon all this, we can draw the necessary lessons from the experience of the establishment of the maquiladora industry in our country. The implementation of “HOPE” will have a similar effect. First, it will provoke a mass exodus to the FTZs where the new plants will be installed. And these new factories will do nothing to decrease the general state of poverty in those regions. They will serve as the basis for the formation of new “shantytowns” with all its consequences (including, the possibility of a resurgence of populism, violence and insecurity). Furthermore, this will also provoke another catastrophe: most of the migrants will come from the countryside, which means a further degradation of agricultural production and an increase in dependency. Already, there exists massive migration to the Dominican Republic . The damage to our economy will be even worse because the exodus will continue unabated.

A quick look at this so-called “comparative advantage” and its attendant starvation wages will suffice to convince anyone that what’s really taking place is nothing but pure and ruthless exploitation. In order to maintain and increase their profits, the factory owners have to keep the wages at the lowest possible level. From what the workers produce, only a tiny part will revert back to them, while more and more surplus value will be squeezed out of them. All this is done, in order to maintain competitiveness so characteristic of the capitalist system where the big capitalists/imperialists always get the upper hand.

“HOPE” WILL BE APPLIED IN A CONTEXT OF TOTAL IMPUNITY AND ILLEGALITY ON THE PART OF THE BOURGEOISIE AND ITS STATE

“HOPE” is integrated in the context of the total impunity granted to the country’s big bourgeoisie. Recently, whether in the Brasserie La Couronne, or in the Brasserie Larco, whether in the Northern branch of the  Brasserie Nationale, or in Wilbes, every time the workers succeeded in setting up a union, the directors of these plants either fired the most militant workers or fired all the workers who joined the union, as happened at the Northern branch of Brasserie Nationale. Leaving the workers without any recourse and with no compensation, even though inspectors from the Ministry of Social Affairs clearly recognized the arbitrary and illegal nature of these dismissals. It is within this context of the bourgeoisie’s total impunity that the implementation of “HOPE” will take place.

Added to this, the illegal character of the state’s behavior. Article 137 of the Labor Code recommends an adjustment to the minimum salary every time the cost of living index registers an increase of more than 10%. This article from a repressive Code dating back to the Duvalier period - which Code has not been touched since, even though the succeeding “democratic” administrations have changed many laws – was designed as an attempt to circumscribe any salary adjustment since at that time inflation was not increasing by more than 10% (i.e., if the increase was 7, 8 or even 9%, there was no salary adjustment). Today, despite the fact that prices keep rising and the annual inflation rate increase has reached the 20, 30, 50 or even 100% mark, the state still has not implemented the provisions of that article of the Code. Even though minimum salary has been increased to 70 gourdes, such a measure DID NOT raise it to the level where it should be, if we compare it with the then minimum salary (under Duvalier) of 15 gourdes ($US 3 dollars) later raised to 28 gourdes ($US 4 dollars). Today, the minimum salary is equivalent to $US 1.75 dollar. That is, “HOPE” is being implemented in a context of permanent illegality and non application, by the state, of the law relating to salary adjustments.

“HOPE”: MILITARY OCCUPATION

“HOPE” will be implemented in the context of an ongoing military occupation. It is very important that we understand this context: in order for the Act to be implemented, given the tension and the constant possibility of a social explosion, due to the suffocating conditions of misery which the population lives in, and the incapacity of the ruling classes and their reactionary state to confront such a situation on their own, the military occupation is seen as their only support. It is all this that they are trying to hide under the demagogy of “creating jobs and development”. There can be no “HOPE” without repressive forces both outside and inside the factories; hence, the need for a repressive apparatus ready to intervene at a moment’s notice.

Poverty and exploitation are fertile ground for RESISTANCE, to which the ruling classes respond with REPRESSION. Today, the Haitian police does not have the operational capability to cover the national territory in its entirety, not even the capital city, Port-au-Prince . Hence, the necessity not only to maintain the already operating foreign forces with their tanks and heavy weaponry, but to increase their number and deployment capacity in terms of personnel and equipment should the need arise. In addition, there is the need for a certain level of political administration in order to lead this process and to take decisions and carry out policies and measures acceptable by the “international community”. There again, the total incompetence of the state, with its attendant credibility crisis on the international level, calls for a greater involvement of the foreign forces in the political process and an increasing assumption of the role of a state within a state. “HOPE” brings along the continuation and reinforcement of the country’s military occupation.

It should also be added here that “HOPE” will be implemented on the basis of lies and treachery. Lies to a population who deposited their trust in the recently and popularly elected leaders. A population who is suffocating and suffering under the weight of an intolerable level of poverty and finds itself forced to accept whatever meager relief is being offered in order to survive, and not die of hunger, even though it may be far from satisfying its needs (the maquiladoras have been “creating jobs” for quite some time). But we’re also looking at a population who is getting tired and fed up with such conditions, and does not want to continue to live in the misery, desolation and despair imposed upon them by the imperialists, the bourgeoisie and their reactionary state, and will sooner or later rise up in revolt. This is the background to the ever-worsening structural crisis that prompted the presence of the foreign occupation forces. The ruling classes therefore desperately need this repressive army (Brazilians, Argentines, Chileans, etc.) to come to their rescue, doing here what they’ve been doing in their respective countries: carry out repression against the workers and the popular masses. In order to “maintain peace”! The peace of the graveyard!

ANOTHER LESSON TO LEARN FROM “HOPE”

“HOPE” is a technical arrangement among bourgeois capitalists. It is a mechanism designed to facilitate commercial exchange between American capitalists and their agents here, that is, their Haitian intermediaries. The Act classifies different types of merchandise in accordance with their respective advantages, fixes the tariffs, establishes norms and regulations for the US Customs agencies as regards the class of merchandise, how and when to approve them (note here that we’re talking about US customs control…). Above all, the Act clearly exposes the servile and mercenary nature of the country’s bourgeoisie and its servants in the government. “HOPE” exposes the anti-national character of the Haitian ruling classes.

In the context of the struggle against the unbridled implementation of the Free Trade Agreement of Central America and Dominican Republic (CAFTA-DR) by the bourgeoisie of the different countries of Central America, the union confederations of these countries have coordinated their actions and succeeded in forcing the inclusion of some considerations, albeit of a general character, regarding the workers’ rights in the factories. In the Ouanaminthe FTZ, the workers have succeeded, with their struggle, in forcing the bosses of the Grupo M to accept the principle of collective bargaining, to such a point that even the World Bank had to attach a series of regulations and conditions to its loans to the capitalists of the FTZs, regarding the respect for the rights of the workers, including the right to organize and the right to collective bargaining.

Certainly, “HOPE” mentions the rights of workers and the clearly established international laws. But, we must be clear on this: there has been absolutely no mechanism put in place to insure that these rights and these labor protection laws are respected or applied. The Labor Code is the only enforcement mechanism that exists at the national level. However, in practice, the Code is used to handcuff the workers. Even though it leaves the ground free for the bourgeoisie to act at will, they still want more, at the expense of the workers. Add to this, the pro-bourgeois so-called Social Affairs Department, and the bourgeois-controlled Justice Department, and there you have it: Workers’ Rights? Fuggetaboutit! The most that could be expected is an occasional adjustment, an occasional totally inadequate wage increase. These general references of “HOPE” to the workers’ rights have no substance whatsoever, even though they will be used in our struggles, with the support of international solidarity.

Let us remember that the Haitian bourgeoisie, currently acting as the intermediate agent in the implementation of “HOPE”, has the sadly infamous reputation of being the worse bourgeoisie in the world, in the very words of the American capitalists who call these corrupt lackeys “the most repugnant elite in the world” (“MRE”). To such bourgeoisie, workers’ rights are something they couldn’t care less about! Their very existence, as a class, is based on trampling under foot the workers’ rights. That’s why it’s no surprise that they accept such a vague and general mention of these rights: it’s a convenient façade that will simply help them fool the people, knowing very well that they have no intentions whatsoever of making good on it. In fact, we would be surprised of the contrary, since, as mentioned earlier, it’s only on the basis of an extreme exploitation of the workers that the bourgeoisie will be able to realize its so-called “comparative advantage”, as was done during the first phase of the maquiladora industry. The heights attained by the Haitian ruling classes’ antinational nature have been revealed for all to see. But, this we already knew.

Then there is something else: the Haitian government hasn’t made the least effort to protect the Haitian workers and to define the mechanisms necessary to implement the generally-mentioned workers’ rights. “HOPE” doesn’t have any legal appendages regarding the issue of workers’ rights (this would scare away potential investors!). What’s worse, not even a mention is made of the Duvalier’s Labor Code, and this, after more than one year in existence.  They prefer to make demagogic gestures, in collusion with some fake unions whose corrupt “leaders” are in search of some government jobs. The Haitian state has never lifted a finger to protect, or demand respect for, the rights of Haitian migrant workers in Dominican Republic, as if this were not the responsibility of the Haitian government while they’re being victimized, even burned alive, without not even a cry of protest, let alone any action, from this shameless government. All this shows that what we have in front of us is an anti-people, anti-worker state and government.

BATAY OUVRIYE: OUR POSITION

Inevitably, as they’ve done before, during the first workers’ struggles in the Ouanaminthe FTZ, the reactionaries will cry: “ Batay Ouvriye is opposed to development!”, “ Batay Ouvriye is opposed to the creation of jobs!”, “They’re leading the country towards bankruptcy!”.... We have already exposed all these lies. As always, we start from the class interests of the workers, of the working class. These interests are what guided us in our successful struggle for the reintegration of the workers who were fired from their jobs in the FTZ (is this being opposed to the creation of jobs for the workers?). It is this same struggle for workers’ rights that forced the textile multinationals to reopen their closed factories in the FTZ (is this being opposed to the creation of jobs for the workers?). And it is this same struggle that has expanded these rights to other countries in the world where the World Bank gives out business loans to open factories (by forcing them to attach conditions that link these loans to social responsibility and sustained development).

We, members of BATAY OUVRIYE, defend the right to work for all workers. But, at the same time, we also resolutely defend ALL WORKERS RIGHTS IN ALL FACTORIES. All their rights, conquered and to be conquered, on the basis of the struggle of these workers themselves.

In the same way, we are also certain that only the interests of the workers correspond to the general interests of our nation. The interests of the antinational bourgeoisie have nothing in common with the general interests of our nation. Not even a minimum restructuration, not even a minimum improvement, except for their own class. Today, the general context of the implementation of “HOPE” will lead to the total destruction of our collective identity. It is precisely for this reason that we clearly denounce and reject the “HOPE” Act, along with all the politicians who try to mystify us in order to be able to implement it in the country. As we’ve said before: this Act will bring nothing but more misery and more exploitation. And its application requires the ruling classes’ continuation of the military occupation. In fact, this Act is part of a global project. We must view it in this context, not from an isolated point of view, even when we concentrate on it, in its own. We must confront it in a manner and practice that correspond to the capacity and interests of the working class. Let’s be clear: the maquiladora industry has brought us no progress, from the Duvalier era to the present time. Nothing will change with the implementation of “HOPE”.

In our struggles, in our practice, we are aware that the correlation of forces, both at the national and international level, is favorable to its imposition on the workers and on the country. However, as we have demonstrated in the Ouanaminthe FTZ, we will be present in the struggles to defend the interests of the working class, and thru them, the true interests of our country. THE STRUGGLE HAS JUST STARTED!

Today, Haiti finds itself at a perilous crossroad (in the full sense of the word) where the ruling classes want to transform the country into a huge coffin for the population, where the imperialists have already planned the “time necessary” to control the country, and are taking measures in that respect, as recently indicated by Colin Powell, then confirmed by Mulet. The workers, the small peasants, all working people and the popular masses in general are confronting these enemies on a daily basis, in their own existence, in their struggles against exploitation and domination, for their own demands. All progressive people must be conscious that before them, as well, is sure annihilation… if we do not wage a massive struggle against the blood-sucking plan of the maquiladora industry that pretends to make us believe that they are here to help Haiti when, in fact, what they bring to the people is permanent degradation, conflict, misery and death.

The plan of the bourgeoisie is to exploit us and extract the maximum profit from our sweat and blood, simply. But we know that we, the workers, when we organize and struggle, we will always win, at all cost. Victory belongs only to the workers who fight for their own interests. Victory belongs to the people in struggle.

LONG LIVE THE STRUGGLE OF THE MASSES, WITH THE WORKING MASSES AS THE ENGINE AND THE WORKING CLASS AS LEADER!

Batay Ouvriye , B.P. 13326, Delmas, Haïti, Delmas 16, No. 13 bis, Tél: (509) 222-6719. Email: batay@batayouvriye.org / Http://www.batayouvriye.org

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