(HaÃ¯ti Progres)Both before and after the Feb. 29, 2004 coup d’Ã‰tat in Haiti, Washington infiltrated “democracy promotion” programs (also known as “democracy enhancement”) into almost every sector of Haitian civil society: political parties, media, human rights groups, student groups, vote monitoring organizations, business associations, and labor organizations.
Recently declassified National Endowment for Democracy (NED) documents reveal that a “leftist” workers’ organization, Batay Ouvriye (BO), which promoted and called for the overthrow of the constitutionally elected government of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was the targeted beneficiary of a US $99,965 NED grant routed through the AFL-CIO’s American Center for International Solidarity (ACILS). Listed in NED’s “Summary of Projects Approved in FY 2005″ for Haiti, the grant states, “ACILS will work with the May 1st Union Federation- Batay Ouvriye [ESPM-BO] to train workers to organize and educate fellow workers.”
The NED, which is funded through the U.S. State Department, provided the grant to ACILS, also known as the Solidarity Center. The grant money is then to be used by the Solidarity Center to fund and aid Batay Ouvriye’s labor organizing activities for 2005-2006.
Statements made by both Batay Ouvriye and Solidarity Center officials suggest that there is further funding of the former by the latter. In a recent telephone interview with Canadian freelance journalist Anthony Fenton, a Batay Ouvriye leader Paul PhilomÃ© admitted that his organization had received US $20,000 from the Solidarity Center. A Solidarity Center official also recently said at a Dec. 22 public meeting in San Francisco that ACILS provided approximately US $13,000 to the Batay Ouvriye this past year. This funding appears to be in addition to the NED grant, since Solidarity Center officials have stated that the NED grant will not be spent until 2006.
Batay Ouvriye has been waging a successful campaign to gain high-level support from labor federations like the AFL-CIO, which shuns trade unionists who supported Haiti’s constitutional democracy and are today arrested, persecuted, and harassed. The NED grant explains that NGOs and trade unions from the U.S. and Canada will meet with Batay Ouvriye to discuss working conditions in Haiti.
The Solidarity Center-administered NED support for Batay Ouvriye fits neatly into the U.S. State Department’s “democracy promotion” strategy of undermining and destabilizing Haitian self-determination. Instead of supporting unions which did not call for the overthrow of the elected government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the AFL-CIO, along with mainstream international labor centers, such as the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) and its Latin American regional affiliate the OrganizaciÃ³n Regional Interamericana de Trabajadores (ORIT), has sought to strengthen marginal groups like Batay Ouvriye and the Coordination Syndicale HaVtienne (CSH), which taxed the Aristide government as “anti-worker” and “criminal.”
Workers affiliated with public sector unions, often seen as supporters of the elected government, have been fired and persecuted by the thousands. In a recent radio interview, Isabel Macdonald, a Canadian journalist conducting interviews in Port-au-Prince, explained that between 2,000 and 3,000 unionized workers of the state phone company TELECO have been laid off since the 2004 coup, with many of those fired placed arbitrarily on the Haitian National Police’s “Wanted” lists (Listen to the Interview with Isabel Macdonald at www.wakeupwithcoop.org).
When questioned why the AFL-CIO was not supporting or funding unions whose membership supported the overthrown government, a high level Solidarity Center official, in June 2005, referred to pro-Lavalas trade unionists as “revolutionary ideologues.”
Batay Ouvriye, like other organizations heavily dependent on foreign “democracy promotion” funding, has failed to stand up and organize against the massacres being carried out by the Haitian National Police and the United Nations MINUSTAH force. The Pacifica Radio network’s Flashpoints News correspondent Kevin Pina writes: “Is it not patently obvious that, for Batay [Ouvriye] and their supporters, the killing, jailing, and forced exile of thousands since Feb. 29, 2004 are not acknowledged nor condemned by them? Can their politics be so sectarian and insular as to pretend none of this ever happened?… Members of Batay [Ouvriye] are not under fire in their communities nor the objects of this campaign of repression for the simple reason that they are not seen as a threat by the US-installed government.”
Pina goes on to write: “We can get trapped into a false dialogue with pretty words like bourgeois, proletariat and vanguard, but it will never excuse their silence in the wake of this human tragedy.”
Pierre Labossiere of the Haiti Action Committee sees the U.S. government grants to Batay Ouvriye as a “pay-off for their voicing no opposition to the 2004 coup.”
Channeling “democracy promotion” funds through labor unions is just one of the ways that the U.S. government has sought to subvert popular democracy in Haiti. “Democracy promotion” has facilitated, what William Robinson, the author of Promoting Polyarchy: Globalization, US intervention, and Hegemony, calls a “consensual mechanism of transnational social control,” by which a small minority elite can manipulate civil society and government. Through co-opting labor unions, human rights groups and political organizations, “democracy promotion” casts a wide net of social and political influence.
Recently the Washington, D.C.-based think-tank, the Haiti Democracy Project, financed in large part by members of Group 184 and board-membered by ex-State Department officials, put up a link on its website to Batay Ouvriye’s “grassroots” support group.
Batay Ouvriye and its supporters have continually denied that the organization has received large-scale funding from the U.S. government via the Solidarity Center. Prior to the opening session of the International Tribunal on Haiti on Sep. 23, 2005 in Washington, DC (see HaVti ProgrPs, Vol. 23, No. 37, 11/23/2005), Batay Ouvriye’s relationship with the Solidarity Center was not public knowledge. Since then, the organization has only admitted that it received from the Solidarity Center US $3,500. Batay Ouvriye and its supporters have sought to minimize the importance of the grant, saying it was a small sum of money. That argument will not be possible following these latest revelations.
Here is a summary of some of the defenses that Batay Ouvriye and its supporters have offered to revelations about its State Department funding:
On December 9, 2005, Mario Pierre, a representative of the Batay Ouvriye in New York City, claimed his organization received only “$3,500 from the Solidarity Center,” while charging that those individuals and organizations criticizing his organization for accepting U.S. State Department funding were “doing the work of the CIA.”
On November 25, 2005, Charles Arthur, the head organizer of the Haiti Support Group in England, wrote, “I think that the fact that Batay Ouvriye received US$3,500 from the Solidarity Center to help the 350 workers.should not distract anyone from appreciating the organization’s fantastic work.”
On November 28, 2005, Batay Ouvriye supporter Daniel Simidor wrote: “All [this author] can ‘prove’ is that the workers’ organization accepted a $3,500 contribution to their strike fund from the AFL-CIO Solidarity Center in Haiti. Sprague’s contention that Batay Ouvriye accepted ‘monetary aid and oversight’ from the US government is based not on facts.”
On November 29, 2005, Batay Ouvriye supporter Mitchell Cohen of the Brooklyn Greens wrote: “Organizations and individuals who are spreading this lie need to retract it immediately and apologize for their reckless, sectarian behavior. If it turns out that you actually document that a particular group, in this case Batay Ouvriye, has received funds from the CIA or State Department, then I’ll listen..Wow, what a smoking gun! (I say sarcastically).”
In late November, 2005, a supporter of Batay Ouvriye, Cort Greene, posted on the internet: “Just from looking at documents provided by J. Sprague and others, I have not seen any proof that Batay Ouvriye is a creation or in the service of U.S. imperialism.”
On December 14, 2005, Yanick Etienne, a Batay Ouvriye leader, speaking at a New York City gathering, in regards to the criticism leveled against her organization, failed to mention the NED’s $100,000 grant via the AFL-CIO’s Solidarity Center.
In December 2005, the Solidarity Center updated its website on Haiti (see http://www.solidaritycenter.org/content.asp?contentid=531). “With funds provided by the AFL-CIO, the Solidarity Center immediately forwarded $3,500 to Ouanaminthe, where ESPM-BO and the [subsidiary union] SOKOWA Executive Board distributed these funds,” the site reports, but once again it does not reveal the much larger funding of Batay Ouvriye.
The Solidarity Center continues to refuse to open its books to show its full funding relationship with Batay Ouvriye. In September 2005, Samantha Tate, a Senior Program Officer for the Americas at the Solidarity Center, contacted my academic department chair at California State University of Long Beach, attempting to isolate and discredit this research.