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Jan. 9, 2006

On Sprague’s Alleged “Smoking Gun”

As some may know, our Batay Ouvriye workers’ movement has recently been under the attacks of a questionable political current based in the United States. This current has published several articles, individually intervened on the internet, hosted presentations and debates, and held various other activities questioning our sources of funding.

According to the latest article published by Sprague “Batay Ouvriye’s Smoking Gun” (Haiti-Progrès, Jan. 4 - 10, 2006):

“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… has sought to strengthen marginal groups like Batay Ouvriye…”.

Here, at long last, we have reached the bottom of this current’s reasoning. According to it, these funds, regularly funneled to Haiti through the NED-ACILS relationship ($250,000 in 1997, for example - whose utilization, as all others, except perhaps for those of 2005, thanks to the ‘researcher’ -, we are completely ignorant of) should have been allocated elsewhere.

But where?

For us, of Batay Ouvriye, who have never, ever, compromised our line of complete working class independence by entering into cross-class coalitions such as the 184 group, the claim is revealing because actually: every single major Haitian union federation, regardless of their internal divisions, EXCEPT US, participated in this reactionary alliance’s notorious Dec. 26, 2002 statement in favor of “collective measures to redress the national boat” which initiated the movement to overthrow Aristide’s regime.

Here is the full list of 184-affiliated Haitian unions (although many may actually be NGO’s):

Acronym Full Name in French or Creole English Translation

  • CATH Centrale Autonome des Travailleurs Haïtiens Autonomous Central of Haitian Workers
  • CFOH Confédération des Forces Ouvrières Haïtiennes Confederation of Haitian Working Forces
  • CGT Centrale Générale des Travailleurs Workers General Central
  • CISN Confédération Indépendante des Syndicats Nationaux Independent Confederation of National Unions
  • COH Congrès des Ouvriers d’Haïti Haitian Workers Congress
  • CONITH Confédération Indépendante des Travailleurs Haïtiens Independent Confederation of Haitian Workers
  • CSH Coordination Syndicale Haïtienne Haitian Union Coordination
  • CTH Confédération des Travailleurs Haïtiens Confederation of Haitian Workers
  • FETRAGA Fédération des Travailleurs de la Grand’Anse Grand’Anse Workers Federation
  • FETRAGOM Fédération des Travailleurs Agricoles de Gros-Morne Federation of Agricultural Workers of Gros-Morne
  • FETRASMA Fédération des Travailleurs Agricoles de Saint-Michel de l’Atalaye Federation of Agricultural Workers of Saint-Michel de l’Atalaye
  • FNTS Fédération Nationale des Travailleurs Syndiqués National Federation of Unionized Workers
  • FOS Fédération des Ouvriers Syndiqués Federation of Unionized Workers
  • FTN Fédération des Travailleurs du Nord Federation of Northern Workers
  • KOMOKA Kombit Motosiklis ak Kondiktè d’Ayiti Haiti Assembly of Motorcyclists and Drivers
  • KOTA Konfederasyon Ouvrye Travayè Ayisyen Haitian Workers Confederation
  • MNTH Mouvement National des Travailleurs Haïtiens National Movement of Haitian Workers
  • MOPPA Mouvman Peyizan Patriyot Ayisyen Haitian Patriotic Peasants Movement
  • MOVICIH Mouvement Inter-Syndical Indépendante d’Haïti Haitian Independent Inter-Union Movement
  • MTCH Mouvement des Travailleurs du Cap-Haïtien Cap-Haïtien Workers Movement
  • OGETNO Organisation Générale des Travailleurs du Nord-Ouest General Workers Organization of the Northwest
  • OGITH Organisation Générale Indépendante des Travailleurs Haïtiens Independent Organization of Haitian Workers
  • OTRA Organisation des Travailleurs pour l’Avancement de l’Anse-à-Foleur Workers Organization for the Advancement of l’Anse-à-Foleur
  • RENAFAM Réseau National des Femmes National Women's Network
  • SCCF Syndicat des Chauffeurs Coopérants Fédérés Federated Cooperative Drivers Union
  • SCCF Syndicat des Chauffeurs et Coopérants et Fédérés Union of Cooperative and Federated Drivers
  • SCPTEP Syndicat des Chauffeurs et Propriétaires de Transport d’Eau Potable Union of Owners and Drivers of Drinking Water Transport
  • SOST SOS Transport
  • UTDL Union des Travailleurs du District de Limbé Workers Union of Limbé District

All the more grotesque is that the Haiti Progrès’ propelled or favored CGT union federation also participated in this tragic farce. The also favorably presented CTH is Christian-Democrat and deeply involved in food distribution..

We so far refused to attain this level of argumentation in order to avoid falling into the Sprague-Haiti Progres current’s favorite practice of finger-pointing. Singly confronted with this harrowing and unending defamation, however, we simply must put forward what to us has always appeared evident: Batay Ouvriye has obtained, and will continue to obtain support for the manifest reason of its being the only present active union movement in the field. Period.

Bottom Line

For us, these are sums recuperated. We don’t care how many figures are involved (agreeing, finally, in this with Kim Ives in his note to Mitchel Cohen on the Haiti Corbett list: “The point here is NOT the amount of money given”), how much may come to exist and/or how long they may last. We are determined to continue receiving all funds available for working class organization. In fact, the present debate has reinforced us in this resolve. One of our spokespersons, Paul, recently discussed the issue with the American “free-lance journalist” Anthony Fenton ***. To Fenton’s surprise, Paul openly stated that yes, firmly armed with our line of working class independence, we are prepared to accept any amount, even if it were a million dollars (!) coming from wherever it may come. (The million dollar figure was “erroneously” given to Fenton by the NED, it seems, instead of the $100,000 “targeted beneficiary” sum).This stand has been unanimously approved at every level of our organization.

Batay Ouvriye has never, nor intends to appeal to the NED, the US State Department or USAID and has NO relation with any of these bodies. In this sense, Sprague’s illustrated comment that our organization is “funded by the U.S. Department of State, USAID, and the Solidarity Center” is purposely misleading and deeply dishonest. It’s unfortunate (but telling) that we haven’t had access to any of these NED “recently declassified” documents, which we haven’t able to find on the internet either. So we aren’t even notified. But as we said in our statement on solidarity, where supporters obtain their funds is their problem, not ours. In our line of working class independence, we deal directly with those we are directly in contact with, such as the Solidarity Center whose line and practices we have unequivocally confronted in all situations.

And just as Mario of the Batay Ouvriye Solidarity Network pointed out, it’s up to providers to decide when and if they’re fed up with us. They aren’t obtaining any information from us, nor collaboration. We continue our practices in unswerving conformity with our line, nationally and internationally. We certainly won’t alter an inch from this line (and duty) due to the pressure of North-American petty bourgeois knee-jerk reactions either.


We, at Batay Ouvriye, resent being put on the line for accounts that our challengers don’t publicly divulge themselves - what sort of arrogance does this reflect, especially in terms of inversing North-South relations?!! But in the end, if this may help to settle the qualms of upset supporters, and also perhaps (though we doubt it) quiet the dogs barking up the wrong tree, we comply. First: it appears Haiti’s Batay Ouvriye union may be a “targeted beneficiary” for $100,000 this year, through the Solidarity Center which solicited the NED. In this bulk amount, $20,000 (of which $13,000 remain to be disbursed - there is no $13,000 or $20,000 “further funding”) have been allotted for a Ouanaminthe Workers’ Center. Presently in discussion is a possible additional $50,000 we’ve been offered for a potential free trade zone practice in Port-au-Prince; this amount has not yet been signed and we haven’t received a cent of it. The Ouanaminthe funds being strictly destined to this locality and the procedures bureaucratic, we hope such central funds may at least help cover Port-au-Prince long outstanding debts and phone bills (our phone line being presently cut off) while also providing for meeting spaces, perhaps a fax, the internet only occasionally paid and so on… but especially worker militant stipends. The free trade zone practice is not one of Ouanaminthe but rather one of national dimension, demanding much coordination and travel. Workers living on a day-to-day basis have to leave money at home for their families to subsist.

Since this is the first time we’re in such a position, to claim we’re “heavily dependent on “foreign ‘democracy promotion’” is just ludicrous. And the affirmation that we we’ve been recently linked, because of this, on the reactionary “Haiti Democracy Project” website, is a patent lie that can be proved a simple link click - the site merely references an article on this debate on Indymedia, amongst numerous others articles they chose to blog that week such as Corporate Watch’s Lucy Komisar article on the Aristide Telecom lawsuits!

On being deaf, dumb and blind to obvious internal contradictions

Perhaps the obtuseness evident here reflects the noticeable incapacity of some North-American progressive organizations, as yet, to live up to their immense challenge, that of nationally and internationally proposing genuine alternatives to the Republican / Democrat false dichotomy, the AFL-CIO / Change to Win impasse and others... Such Manichaeism, insensible to manifest contradictions in historical and political development, appears to be part and parcel of other strategic and tactical limitations. The frequently dismally low level of this debate on the San Francisco Bay Area Indymedia internet commentary section, for example, reveals a high degree of team back-patting and regurgitation conducive to a rather gloomy outlook on the “left”’s advancement in North America. It’s clearly much less difficult to scapegoat others than to lucidly examine and address the visibly progressing contradictions of limited social movements that even we may have participated in.

Defending Aristide

The messiah Aristide’s defense consequently ends up as this supposed left’s last holding rampart concerning Haitian progressive politics. “Throngs” demonstrated for Aristide - but it is indifferent to our detractors whether these individuals were workers, masses, demonstrating in their own interests or recruited lumpen proletarians, often defending quite opposite interests. In fact, the very debate appears dull for them.

Although we’ve already said we’re determined not to be prey to the provocateurs’ lure and remain resolute in avoiding sterile debates where we repeat key positions that seem to fall on deaf ears, we repeat nevertheless that: for us, the issue of clearly recognizing populist opportunists sectors reconstructing the bureaucratic bourgeoisie as a reactionary fraction of the Haitian bourgeoisie is crucial. As we already showed, the “legitimately elected” President argument doesn’t hold with respect to the preservation of workers’ interests (as we said: what of Bush? What of Chirac?). Helping the workers and masses to quite distinctly draw the line between their real interests and those of all new bourgeois fractions which may be just as negative as the ‘traditional bourgeoisie’ with regard to their medium- and long-term interests, is vital to avoid repeating errors of the past. That the Lavalas current, alongside the bourgeois “opposition”, repeatedly called for Haiti’s occupation, that it favored the concentration of capital and the application of neo-liberal policies such as the free trade zones, that it repressed workers’ mobilizations… are all extremely important points we need to scrutinize in the interest of the workers. And our general stand on this debate guides us, as a line, in permanently exposing all the ruling classes’ various forms and disguises, in complete working class independence.

We should note that, throughout this dialogue, we haven’t received the slightest response on these reiterated points. Which proves, for us, the fact that these attacks aren’t in view of any real progressive critique and/or advancement but, rather, alternate current “bashing”. So we’re prepared to battle, just as we’ve been doing since many years, against the ruling classes.

In fact, several Haitian progressives are beginning to sincerely question the deep-lying interests of American progressives in defending such frankly exposed “Lavalas family” politics. Certainly, being mistaken by the mainstream media is understandable. But to remain entrenched in such fallacy is beyond us, leading to the question of whether the problem might not rather be related to class nature and composition.

On the presentation of facts

Several progressives have indicated reserve with respect to Batay Ouvriye’s gradual presentation of the facts and stands we’ve taken in the finances debate. Given the importance we have always given their support and the negative effects we realize this situation may have created, we considered it important for us to clarify. But we also want to point out two things that may help to explain how this situation came about. First, that this debate has gradually grown into a full-blown discussion of numerous issues, that is being followed by a good number of sincerely concerned progressives. We learned this. At first, we had no knowledge of who was participating and/or following it and in what objective. Secondly, related to this, is the fact that the debate evolved by parts. When it started out, it concerned the question of whether we had obtained funds from the AFL-CIO to participate in the Aristide regime’s “destabilization”. We demonstrated quite clearly that we hadn’t received any funds from the Solidarity Center before Aristide’s departure in February 2004 and that only several months later did this organization offer $3,500 to the Free Trade Zone striking SOCOWA workers in response to a public appeal. The debate then came to concern whether a genuine workers’ movement could accept any funds from the American government or the AFL-CIO’s Solidarity Center. We again responded to this with our “Clarification” document, establishing clearly what we exactly understand to be relations of solidarity and working class independence (“On Solidarity”) and addressing numerous other points as well. At present, since the Dec. 22nd debate in San Francisco, we are solicited to open the books and state precisely what our solidarity funding is, has been and may be. Once again, we’ve fully complied, in the interest of unity and solidarity, and with respect for the struggles of the workers and popular masses in Haiti and internationally.


*** Fenton revealed himself to be quite the unethical reporter, for we clearly asked him before the interview (we have the conversation taped) whether it would concern Sprague, Haiti Progres or any part of the whole financing question, since we were preparing our full statements on these questions and had already decided not to engage in bits of conversation with members of this league evidently distorting our views. He assured us that no, the content of the interview would concern the "current state of the unions..., developments within the assembly sector...., views on the role of the elite sector in shaping policy... views on the slated elections.." (etc... formulated in his previous email to us) but would have nothing to do with the debate at hand. But he then went ahead and communicated information we nevertheless agreed to discuss with him after the interview to Sprague who used it exactly in the way Fenton had agreed it wouldn’t be used! This is certainly a dishonesty as well as a dissimulation. (In passing, the other American “free-lance reporter” Kevin Pina, reporting to WBAI, had an equally unethical behavior, falsely reporting that Batay Ouvriye organized with Guy Philippe, an ex-military right wing political candidate, a recent demonstration during Dominican President Fernandez’s visit to Haiti - please see our rebuttal.)