July 3, 2011
WikiLeaks Haiti Cables Reveal: U.S. Suppression of Min. Wage, Election Doubts and Elite’s Private Army

On June 24 Democracy Now!’s Amy Goodman interviewed the authors of a report summarizing previously secret diplomatic conversations and interventions into Haiti by the U.S., E.U. and UN over the seven years from April 2003 – February 2010. 

“Drawing on almost 2,000 classified U.S. diplomatic cables on Haiti released by WikiLeaks, a partnership between The Nation magazine and the Haitian weekly, Haïti Liberté, exposes new details on how Fruit of the Loom, Hanes and Levi’s worked with the United States to block an increase in the minimum wage in the hemisphere’s poorest nation, how business owners and members of the country’s elite used Haiti’s police force as their own private army after the 2004 U.S.-backed coup that ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and how the United States, the European Union and the United Nations supported Haiti’s recent presidential and parliamentary elections, despite concerns over the exclusion of Haiti’s largest opposition party, Lavalas, the party of Aristide. We speak with the reports’ authors, longtime Haiti correspondent Dan Coughlin and Haïti Liberté editor, Kim Ives….”

These cables reveal that Haitian activists sought an increase in the Haitian minimum wage from $1.75 PER DAY to $5.00 PER DAY, but high-level negotiations (between assembly industry owners in Haiti and U.S. officials) reduced the wage increase to $3.00 PER DAY.  From a prior report on June 1 in The Nation:

“The factory owners told the Haitian Parliament that they were willing to give workers a 9-cents-per-hour pay increase to 31 cents per hour to make T-shirts, bras and underwear for US clothing giants like Dockers and Nautica.

But the factory owners refused to pay 62 cents per hour, or $5 per day, as a measure unanimously passed by the Haitian Parliament in June 2009 would have mandated. And they had the vigorous backing of the US Agency for International Development and the US Embassy when they took that stand…” 

(After pressure from the U.S. Embassy) two months later Préval negotiated a deal with Parliament to create a two-tiered minimum wage increase—one for the textile industry at about $3 per day and one for all other industrial and commercial sectors at about $5 per day.

Still the US Embassy wasn’t pleased. A deputy chief of mission, David E. Lindwall, said the $5 per day minimum “did not take economic reality into account” but was a populist measure aimed at appealing to “the unemployed and underpaid masses.”

For more from this report on the minimum wage click here.

These revelations underscore why we should be concerned about plans to create an industrial zone in the North of Haiti near Cap Haitian.  Sweat shops will not lift Haiti from grueling poverty.  For a full transcript of the disturbing Democracy Now! interview, replete with links to written reports, click here .

Thanks to the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti for circulating the Democracy Now! transcript.  For an excellent news round-up on human rights issues in Haiti compiled by IJDH, a 2011 grantee of the Haiti Fund at the Boston Foundation, click see http://www.ijdh.org and click “Hot Topics.”