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7913: This Week in Haiti 19:9 5/16/2001 (fwd)
"This Week in Haiti" is the English section of HAITI PROGRES
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"Le journal qui offre une alternative"
* THIS WEEK IN HAITI *
May 16 - 22, 2001
Vol. 19, No. 9
WORKERS FIGHT FOR RIGHTS ON ORANGE PLANTATION
Peasants Take Back Land
Haitian Guacimal S.A. is an orange-extract company based in the
town of St. Raphaël, 38 kilometers south of Cap Haïtien. The
company is partly owned by Rémy Cointreau, the French company
which uses the orange extract to produce a fruity liqueur by the
same name. Over the past few months, workers at Guacimal have
been fighting for better wages and conditions. The following is
an update on the situation at Guacimal as reported by the Haitian
workers' movement Batay Ouvriyè (Workers' Struggle) in their
April 2001 bulletin. The update was translated from French and
edited by Charles Arthur of the Haiti Support Group, a solidarity
organization based in England.
- - - - - - - -
At the beginning of October 2000, workers employed by the Haitian
Guacimal company to harvest and cut oranges used in the
manufacture of the famous Cointreau liqueur, registered as a
union with the Haitian Ministry of Social Affairs. [The Social
Affairs Ministry is charged with dealing with labor issues and
regulating labor laws].
The Union of Guacimal-St. Raphaël Workers sent a list of its
grievances and requests for improvements in wages and working
conditions to the Guacimal management, but it was returned
without even an acknowledgment of delivery. The management stuck
to its position of disputing the legitimacy of the union on the
grounds that some members of the union's executive committee were
not registered with the company.
In mid-November, the problem with the membership of the union's
executive committee was resolved by the union, yet the management
still refused to meet and negotiate. Furthermore, the Ministry of
Social Affairs and Labor still refused to recognize the union.
[According to Batay Ouvriyè, the then Social Affairs Minister
Mathilde Flambert is a close associate of the wife of the
Guacimal owner, Nonce Zéphir.]
At the end of November, the Union of Guacimal-St. Raphaël Workers
notified the Guacimal S.A. management of their intention to hold
a work stoppage. In mid-December, the union went on strike.
The Ministry of Social Affairs, to whom notice to go on strike
had been communicated, responded with a letter that:
1) was addressed to the "so-called union"; 2) requested the union
to enter into a process of negotiation/conciliation; and 3)
pointed out that 1995 decree had fixed the daily minimum wage at
36 gourdes [little more than one US dollar!].
The union retorted with an immediate response to these points,
1) the negligence and incompetence of the State was at fault
because the union had registered itself with the Ministry in
early October [and reconstituted its executive committee in
November] and had thus complied with Article 232 of the Labor
Code [the obligation to register with the Ministry within six
months]. Furthermore, as the law "encourages" the formation of
trade unions, by addressing their legal association as a
"so-called union," the Ministry only betrayed its obvious bias;
2) the intention to begin a process of negotiation/conciliation
was precisely the reason for the strike, and it was the
management that opposed the process; 3) according to the Labor
Code, the minimum wage is supposed to be linked to the cost of
At this time, the plantation overseer, Jean-Marie St. Fleur,
began to increase his travels back and forth between Cap-Haïtien
and St. Raphaël, causing rumors to circulate among the
plantation/factory guards that the oranges would be harvested
come what may, and that an attack on the union members was being
At the end of December, when a guard climbed an orange tree to
harvest the fruit, the union members shouted out their
disapproval. Coming down from the tree, the guard drew his
machete and attacked the group of union members, wounding the
union Secretary, Sintès Estimé. [A legal proceeding is currently
underway against those involved in this act, as well as the
overseer St. Fleur, who is regarded as the intellectual author of
the attack because, only that morning, he had declared that the
guards should do the orange harvesting "at any cost."
Furthermore, "on November 21, 2000, the overseer Jean-Marie St.
Fleur had brought together eight guards (watchmen) at the
plantation and ordered them to beat and mistreat the union
members if they continued to persist with their demands. This
suggested imminent danger to the physical integrity of the
unionized workers." (extracted from the legal suit)].
The strike continued despite pressure exerted by the local
representative of the Ministry of Social Affairs, and the
recently elected Lavalas Family mayor of St. Raphaël, Bernes
In February, the orange trees were at the point where harvesting
could no longer be delayed, and the company management grew more
impatient. The overseer, St. Fleur, let it be known that a
negotiation meeting between the management and the union in
Cap-Haïtien was envisaged. The union, as a precaution, wrote to
the management seeking confirmation. Nothing happened.
Then, in a gross act of interference, the Lavalas mayor, Sévère,
announced that he was "exasperated by the Guacimal workers'
individual complaints at his house," and ordered the resumption
of the harvest during the last week of February - the tenth week
of the strike.
For his part, St. Fleur, announced that no union member would be
allowed to take part. The announcement stirred such a spirited
response from the workers that he was obliged to modify his
position: at the most, the executive committee of the union and
ten additional workers would be allowed to take part, but, in
reprisal for the strike, all other union members were to be
excluded. Despite everything, the union continued to resist this
offensive until the end of the harvest, in March.
At the beginning of March, when a delegation of the British labor
movement organization, War on Want, and the British GMB trade
union arrived to meet with the union, the mayor intervened to
show he was violently opposed to any meeting with the unionized
workers. The visiting delegation and workers were obliged to find
another place to hold their meeting.
At the end of March, the harvest season had come to an end with a
continuing anti-union atmosphere, without any negotiations, much
less any improvement in the working conditions. To make matters
worse, the Gaucimal management is now victimizing union members
by refusing to allocate parcels of plantation land for them to
farm during the summer "off season."
[In response, the planters' association, including some union
members, occupied the Gaucimal plantation on April 27. The
following is an "Urgent Action" call issued May 15 by the Haiti
Support Group, which details this latest development.]
The Haiti Support Group expresses its concern at reports of
anti-union measures at the Guacimal/Rémy Cointreau orange
plantation at St. Raphaël in northern Haiti.
According to Batay Ouvriyè, the plantation overseer, Jean-Marie
St. Fleur, is discriminating against members of the union, the
Syndicat des Ouvriers de Guacimal-St. Raphaël, in the allocation
of land plots for the use of plantation workers and other local
Each year, during the "off season" - approximately April to
August -- laid-off plantation workers and other local people are
allowed to grow millet and corn on small plots of plantation land
between the orange trees. Under the share-cropping system, half
of any produce grown on the land is handed over to the landowners
or managers. At the close of the harvest season last month,
Jean-Marie St. Fleur ordered the plantation watchmen to
discriminate against union members when the land parcels were
When the discrimination against union members became apparent,
the union allied itself with a recently formed planters'
association composed of local farmers who also work the
plantation land in the "off season." Together the two groups
protested against the situation. However, the plantation
supervisors not only ignored the protests, but on 20 April,
Martial Compère, a plantation watchman, severely beat a child for
having picked a couple of oranges. The child's face was swollen
and black and blue.
In response, the planters' association, which includes several
union members, occupied the Guacimal plantation on 27 April,
demanding that the watchmen and overseer back off. They have
declared they will no longer share half of their harvest with the
plantation supervisors as had been the custom in the past, nor
will they take orders from the present overseer or watchmen. They
have declared that, though they had no intention of cutting down
the orange trees, the management of Guacimal S.A. would be wise
to come to negotiate an agreement with them.
Here is an excerpt of their declaration:
"For over 38 years, the populations of Guacimal, Kaybedjin,
Boukewon and other localities have been undergoing hardship
because they were the victims of the expropriation of their lands
which are now a sour orange plantation. This expropriation has
obliged our children to withdraw from school; they are dying of
malnutrition and lack of medical services, and suffer much
because this area is arid.
"We lost these lands in terrible conditions: they told us the
company would give us many advantages, but it never has. These
lands, however, used to feed us, for we planted sugarcane, sweet
potato, yucca, and so on. Now we cannot even set foot on the
lands, for if we do they slap us around... Furthermore, when we
consider that the laborers, who have been harvesting these
oranges for so many years in terrible conditions, set up a union
to claim their rights, the watchmen and overseer joined with the
mayor and the then Minister of Social Affairs, Mrs. Mathilde
Flambert, to thwart their efforts. As a result, the management,
Nonce and Daniel Zéphir, have consistently refused to meet with
"And finally, considering that when these lands were taken from
us, this was done fraudulently because we were told we would work
the fields in good conditions, that the company would make roads,
health centers, schools, irrigation, etc.... none of which
materialized. The least they could have done was to irrigate the
orange tree plantation, but no, even this wasn't done. A few of
us used to work on the plantation, but we've been laid off for
participating in the union.... So we declare: THAT'S ENOUGH! Our
lands will not become a stick to beat us. We've created our
organization that links with various other organizations, amongst
them the union, in order to work the lands anew. At the same
time, we are asking Guacimal to meet quickly with the union to
negotiate salaries and work conditions. If they choose not to do
so, we'll take other, more drastic solutions.
"Though we have not yet taken over these fields, the situation is
that we are tilling the land while we wait for negotiations with
the union to take place. In the meantime, Guacimal S.A. can
forget about having an overseer or watchmen here - we refuse to
work with those individuals now. If the management chooses to
meet with us, we'll then inform them of whom we will work with as
overseer in our region, which means a person of the area - we
won't accept people coming from elsewhere to come order us around
here in Guacimal!
"This letter, addressed to the various state representatives,
informs of our intent. We've reached this decision in accordance
with the 1987 Constitution, according to Article 293, paragraph
36-1. For the Planters' Association: Ronalt Tezine, secretary."
The legal provision referred to authorizes farmers to resume
control of lands in such circumstances in which, ten years after
having reached an agreement, the terms of this agreement still
have not been carried out.
The Haiti Support Group urges those who share our concern for
workers' rights, and for internationally recognized human rights,
to write to Rémy Cointreau expressing the urgent need for the
Guacimal management to negotiate a settlement with the Syndicat
des Ouvriers de Guacimal St. Raphaël and the planters'
Please write or email to:
Dominique Hériard Dubreuil
152, avenue des Champs-Élysées,
75008 Paris FRANCE
or to :
Rémy Cointreau Amerique
1350 Avenue of the Americas, 7th Floor
New York, NY 10019
Phone : (212) 399 4200
Fax : (212) 399 6909
See the Haiti Support Group web site:
by Emmanuel Gracia Louis*
By politicizing their aid, North American and European
"benefactors" have seriously hurt Haiti's economy. They have
contributed to the country's exceptionally high inflation rate
and the plunge in real wages and salaries. The gourde has greatly
depreciated, putting many imports out of people's reach. As
international lenders and donors maintain their choke-hold,
economic activity declines, unemployment increases, and prices
The result is severe economic hardship, which encourages illegal
Meanwhile, the Haitian government has done little to discourage
economic crime. For example, it has taken no action to prosecute
Commerce Minister Stanley Théard, who was indicted but never
tried for corruption in 1986 and apparently became rich by
stealing from the Haitian treasury.
In looking back, it can be seen that inflation has been growing
ever since the 1991-1994 coup d'état and ensuing embargo. Haiti
has an ever increasing need for imports since national production
Today we see that any nation which stands up to the hegemonic
superpower's imperialism is assailed with sanctions. Washington
devises economic strategies to try to limit the social and
economic development of poor countries which don't adopt the form
of government of which it approves (Cuba is a good example).
Haiti has, of course, traditionally received lots of aid for
development projects. Now, such aid is blockaded.
In short, Haiti is being killed by masked interests, which are,
simply put, Washington's dictates. The Haitian people want to
assert their sovereign right to solve their own problems.
Blocking aid is not the correct way to resolve the conflict
between political rivals, who are both proving their political
We see that the constitutional government is increasingly bowing
to capitalist globalization and veering toward "implentism." It
is "implementing" what foreign powers tell it to do, rather than
pursuing clearly defined nationalist goals.
Ironically, the "acceptance" of the Haitian government at the
Summit in Quebec only seems to have further polarized the
political situation, exacerbating the rivalry between the Lavalas
Family and the Democratic Convergence, thereby further blocking
the flow of aid.
* The author is a medical student in Port-au-Prince
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