Peasant Farmers Protest: Free Trade Isn’t Free for Haitian Women and Haitian Women in Solidarity Statement

Foreword:  An empire falls, an empires rises

Napoleon lost the wealth-producing French colony of Santa Domingue to the Haitian Revolution. Seeking funding for wars in Europe, he sold off another part of the French empire – a large swath of North American (Indigenous) land. President Thomas Jefferson, a slave plantation owner himself, “bought” it in the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 to expand the U.S.

Map of Haiti

Peasant Farmers Protest: Free Trade Isn’t Free for Haitian Women

By Sabine Lamour and Mamyrah Dougé-Prosper  WAMM Newsletter  Vol. 39  No. 2  Spring 2021

Note: Haitians speak of themselves as “peasants”: descendants of enslaved and marroon (escaped) Africans who fought back against the plantation system by organizing themselves into collectives.

March 29, 2021 marked the International Day of Solidarity with Haiti when friends and allies around the world were called to stand with Haiti against U.S. interference, multinational corporate exploitation, and savage capitalism.

Feminist organic farming versus Coca-Cola

On February 22, 2021, Solidarite Fanm Ayisyèn – Haitian Women in Solidarity (SOFA), issued a statement denouncing the presidential decree rendering over 21,250 acres of protected agricultural lands in the north of the country into a free trade zone. Note that a free trade zone is tax exempt for 15 years.

SOFA controlled 32 acres in the Savane Diane region in the north of Haiti, on which the feminist collective runs an agricultural school and organic farm for local consumption. Accordingly, the collective protested the establishment of a plantation to produce a single crop, stevia, for export to be transformed into a sweetener for Coca-Cola soft drinks.[1]

SOFA took the opportunity to call out Haitian President Jovenel Moise not only for exceeding his term in office, which ended on February 7, 2021, but also for gifting inhabited and food-producing lands to multinational corporations. In fact, Moise provided $18 million in state subsidies to the local industrialist André Apaid to start the stevia plantation.

Appropriately, the feminists denounced the industrial capitalist for employing, local young men, who were armed, to forcibly remove them from the farm. And finally, SOFA pointed out the
complicity of the “international community” in supporting these land grabs.

A framework for exploitation in a landmark year

SOFA’s denunciation of Apaid is historical. It is after all the latter’s Groupe des 184 that led the second ouster of popular President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004 – three years into his five-year term. Ironically, the year marking the bicentennial of the 1804 Haitian Revolution which established independence from enslavement by colonial powers, saw contemporary actors set up a framework of exploitation by foreign powers working with local elites:

+ Groupe des 184, a number of whose leaders are involved in the import/export business and owners of assembly plants, was organized with help from the United States.[2]

+ United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), which occupied the country from 2004 until 2017, was lobbied for by Apaid.  Since 2004, when MINUSTAH landed in Haiti, SOFA and other feminist and human rights organizations documented and decried its violations: murders in impoverished neighborhoods, collective rapes of women and children, and the spread of cholera.

+ the Core Group composed of representatives of the U.S., Canada, France, Brazil, Spain, Germany, the European Union, the Organization of American States, and the United Nations. It was formed to fund Haitian civil society to intervene in national politics including announcing elections, and to direct development plans for the country including suppressing minimum wages.

The earthquake, embezzlement, a sweatshop and a banana plantation

SOFA’s confrontation with Moise is rooted in the organization’s critique of his predecessor President Joseph Michel Martelly, founder of the Parti Haitien Tèt Kale (PHTK), who ascended to power after the 2010 earthquake when the U.S. embassy essentially declared him the victor. With the assistance of the Clintons, Martelly’s government transferred reconstruction funds (humanitarian donations and loans) to subsidize the establishment of a free trade zone on agricultural lands in the North of the country. The Caracol Industrial Park, with a sweatshop that produces clothes for Walmart, Gap, Zara and other companies, while polluting water sources, was built here.

Martelly also delayed parliamentary elections to rule by decree. He verbally attacked militant women who questioned his authority and rewarded state officials accused of sexual assault. And he allowed for the embezzlement of more than $2 billion of Venezuela’s PetroCaribe funds earmarked for infrastructure and social programs like housing. Martelly gifted Moise some of these funds to set up his own free trade zone Agritrans, a banana plantation.

“Next after God” Moise and state terrorism

The Haitian people continually rejected Martelly. And their protests swelled after Moise stole the 2015 elections with more than 44 percent of the ballots cast for him by deceased voters. An interim government took over to placate the Haitian people for 2016 and to organize new sham elections). Moise was eventually inaugurated in 2017, and as soon as he took over, reinstated the Haitian Armed Forces and further militarized the police to repress demonstrators.

Ninety-five out of 117 armed gangs control the capitol of Haiti kidnapping, murdering, and raping the people. The link between the state and the gangs was clearly authenticated by the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti (BINUH) in an investigative report[3] on the 2018 collective rape of 11 women and the massacre of 71 residents in La Saline, an impoverished neighborhood in Port-au-Prince known for its resistance to organized abandonment by the state (failure to provide infrastructure).

SOFA and other Haitian human rights activists asserted that these acts of terror were committed to deter the people from demanding accounts on the PetroCaribe funds. Moise also delayed parliamentary elections, preventing the necessary quorum for the legislative branch to check and balance him. Since January 2020, President Moise rules alone by decree. In fact, that year, he declared himself the most important being on the island after God! And, under the watchful and approving eye of the Core Group, the now de facto president, Moise, organizes for a new constitution that would allow him to run in the next presidential elections, a strategic interdiction of the one placed in the Constitution of 1987 to prevent dictatorship.

The resistance of women in solidarity

February 22, 2021 marked the 35th anniversary of Solidarite Fanm Ayisyè [Haitian Women in Solidarity (SOFA)], founded in 1986 by women who had organized in Haiti in solidarity with diasporic feminists in the United States and Canada against the 29-year dictatorship of the Duvalier regime. Feminist organizations ensured the participation of women in the drafting of the Constitution of 1987, a document that symbolizes the Haitian people’s aspirations to collective self-determination and a turn to an inclusive vision of the nation. And, in the three-year transition to prepare for the first free elections since 1957, SOFA launched a campaign of conscientization[4] about violence against women.

The struggle of women, they said, is the struggle of the people. When the U.S. supported the first coup d’état against President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1991, and, in the place of his government, installed a military/paramilitary dictatorship, SOFA and other feminists relied on their international allies to bring to light the collective murders and rapes of people who had dared to dream of democracy and better living conditions. It is this international solidarity that facilitated Haiti’s return to constitutional order in 1994.

War against the Haitian people continues

However, the actions and inactions of the current PHTK government constitute a continued war against the Haitian people by all possible means:

+ Kidnappings, racketeering, massacres, murders, rapes, and collective rapes, all under the watchful eyes of the police.

+ Violent land grabs from farmers into the hands of Haitian industrialists who use the land for production of exports to be consumed abroad, and for their own private accumulation of capital.

These acts of terror attempt to break the resolve of the people who protest the corrupt government of Moise. They also attempt to damage human relations in society and demobilize organizations of people fighting for the collective good.

Stand with Haitians for self determination!

Today, the Haitian people call on their friends, and allies to stand with them. SOFA’s statement of protestation, which follows, exposes how interwoven the dictatorship of Haiti is with U.S. imperialism and savage capitalism.

Mamyrah Dougé-Prosper is an Assistant Professor of Global and International Studies at the University of California, Irvine. She is also the International Coordinator of the Pan-African Solidarity Network with Community Movement Builders. Sabine Lamour is a sociologist trained in France and Haiti currently researching the role of the Evangelical Church in politics. She is a feminist activist, independent consultant, national coordinator of Solidarite Fanm Ayisyèn (SOFA), and instructor at l’Université d’État d’Haïti (UEH). 

Endnotes:

[1] Stevia has become popular as a lo-calorie, natural sweetner substitute for sugar in processed foods, but is frequently used in combination with chemical ingredients.

[2] “Group 184, a ruling class front”, Haiti Support Group  https://haitisupportgroup.org/group-ruling-class-front

[3] The United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti: https://www.ohchr.org/en/countries/lacregion/pages/htindex.aspx

[4] The concept of Latin American popular education originally developed by Brazilian Paulo Freire to raise awareness of oppression in the minds and actions of the oppressed.


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Statement of Solidarite Fanm Ayisyèn [Haitian Women in Solidarity (SOFA)] Excerpts.

In their own words.

Solidarite Fanm Ayisyèn [Haitian Women in Solidarity (SOFA)] rejects the presidential decree of February 8, 2021 which makes Savane Diane a Free Trade Zone.

Let It Be Known For Truth and for History:

Women farmers, members of SOFA, have 13 hectares [approximately 32 acres] of land granted in 2017 by the Haitian State through the Ministry of Agriculture (MARNDR) and the National Vocational Training Institute (INARA). These 13 hectares, intended for organic farming, had been made available to our organization to reinforce the farm of SOFA’s Délicia Jean School of Organic Agriculture in Saint-Michel de L’Attalaye.

From 2017 to 2020, SOFA had trained more than 240 women farmers in organic farming, including innovative techniques allowing them to obtain a better yield for food crops in the Artibonite region.

By suspending the protocol and denying us the usufruct [appropriate use] of the land, the minister pawned the spring campaign of the Delicia Jean Feminist Farm School that empowered young women in the area to fight against food insecurity. Our work had already yielded a harvest of 350 pecks (approximately 1,000 pounds) of pigeon peas in the first year alone, to be redistributed for use as seeds to SOFA members throughout the town of Saint-Michel de l’Attalaye and to other farmers who had participated in the production, and 200 pecks (approximately 600 pounds) of peanuts, in addition to a large amount of okra seeds.

Due to the agricultural importance of Savane Diane [a large fertile plain] in 2018, the Ministry of Agriculture ranked it among the five priority areas guaranteeing the food self-sufficiency of Haiti. However, to our astonishment on February 8, 2021, the former president, who won the elections on the basis of the speech that he was going to feed the entire population, together with the former Minister of Agriculture, who is paid by the population to define strategies in order to achieve this objective, instead announced a decision to create a free trade zone for an export crop.

SOFA wants to draw attention to this measure, which hinders the country’s future possibility of providing food for its citizens. The overall goal of free trade zones is to produce for the outside world. Added to this, these types of businesses don’t pay taxes to customs and the DGI (the nation’s tax collection agency) for 15 years, creating a major shortfall for an impoverished country. The purpose of the specific concession addressed here is to make room for the production of stevia to make a sweetener for use in Coca-Cola. SOFA wonders if Mr. Apaid [Andrew Apaid, a Haitian industrial capitalist who is taking the land for the production of stevia] should always position himself as the gravedigger of the Republic so as to benefit from the vulnerabilities of the collective population of Haitians in each major crisis.

The largest hilltop lake in the country sits in the middle of Savane Diane and covers 14 hectares [approximately 34 acres], the equivalent of 14 soccer fields. These lakes produce fish for local residents for food and trade. The lake also is used for irrigation of the land and to provide livestock with water.

The introduction of the stevia factory in anticipation of supplying Coca Cola, comes without any social compensation for Haitians. In other words, this system reinforces food insecurity in Haiti and the impoverishment of the country, including the outrageous feminization of poverty.

In sum, declaring Savane Diane a free trade zone will:

  • destroy the region’s biodiversity by switching from pluri-culture to monoculture
  • force the abandonment of organic farming in favor of intensive industrial farming likely to poison the environment, the land, livestock, and water table
  • replace one of the largest plains that supply food to Haiti with the production of exports
  • condemn the country to import more processed products that will harm the health of the Haitian people, especially the sexual and reproductive health of women
  • increase the cost of food which will increase maternal and child malnutrition because we will need more dollars to import products
  • force citizens of the Central Plateau, the North, and Artibonite regions to leave the countryside to go work in the sugar cane fields of the Dominican Republic or to become boat people and expose their lives to the risks associated with poor sea travel conditions – or seek a pittance working in the stevia industry

Lè nen pran kou, je kouri dlo. (When the nose is struck, tears flow from the eyes.)

When local agricultural production of the Central Plateau, the North, and Artibonite regions disappear and is replaced by stevia, many more Haitians will experience the pangs of misery from induced poverty, and the entire population will pay the consequences, including women from the most impoverished sections of society. The activities implemented by SOFA through its farm school that aimed at strengthening agriculture in Saint-Michel can no longer be continued. Thus, the weakening of Haitian civil society by the State, with the help of the international and the local elites, will be more visible.

On February 7, 2020, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) classified Haiti as a country of urgent food insecurity. Haiti then counted 3.7 million food insecure people. The FAO predicted that if no action was taken by March 2020, that number would rise to over 4.1 million. A year later, on February 8, 2021, as the situation worsens, the current state authorities of the country, accompanied by industrialists, appear to want to drive the population into hunger and misery.

All Haitian people must say no to the decree of former President Moïse, adopted after the end of his term and aimed at expelling farming families from the land that they cultivate for the benefit of a whole population. This decree only sows desolation and disarray in the country. We, the members of SOFA, firmly believe that all people must say no to this ferocious and arbitrary measure.

The struggle of women is the struggle of the Haitian people!

Sabine LAMOUR
Coordonnatrice générale SOFA

Featured Photo: Haitian women gardners picking Asian spinach. Photo: LSU AgCenter


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