This week’s Haïti Liberté/Nation partnership show how the U.S. embassy collaborated with factory owners to prevent an increase in minimum wage in Haiti, and how the U.S. meddled in Haitian elections. WikiLeaks partner in The Bahamas, the Nassau Guardian produced articles on topics including the PetroCaribe oil purchasing agreement with Venezuela and U.S. concerns over Chinese migration.
This week’s Haïti Liberté/Nation partnership produced articles on two topics: (1) how the U.S. embassy collaborated with factory owners to prevent an increase in minimum wage in Haiti and (2) international donors’ forceful push for Haiti’s last Presidential and Parliamentary elections despite the exclusion of Haiti’s most popular political party. Haiti is the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, and an estimated 3.3 million people, or one third of its population, are living in hunger or fear of starvation.
Battle for the minimum wage: The articles Let Them Live on $3 a Day and Washington Backed Famous Brand-Name Contractors in Fight Against Haiti’s Minimum Wage Increase (also in French) by Dan Coughlin and Kim Ives appeared in The Nation and in Haïti Liberté on June 8.
The article details how the U.S. embassy closely monitored negotiations regarding the minimum wage between February 2008 and October 2009. In June 2009, the Haitian Parliament unanimously passed a mandate to increase the minimum wage to 62 cents per hour, or $5 per day. But factory owners – contracted to work for Fruit of the Loom, Hanes, and Levi’s – were only willing to increase workers’ wages by 9 cents per hour, which would give clothing workers 31 cents per hour. To resolve the dispute, the U.S. embassy urged President Préval to intervene. Préval negotiated with Parliament to propose a two-tiered minimum wage increase; it was proposed that the textile industry raise the wage to $3 per day with all other industrial and commercial sectors raising the wage to $5 per day. The U.S. embassy was against this proposal as well.
The U.S. embassy documented factory owners’ numerous meetings with President Préval, members of Parliament, and members of political parties. But they also had full knowledge of the popularity of the measure to increase wages, monitoring “pro–minimum wage demonstrations and openly worr[ying] about the political impact of the minimum wage battle.”
Following the publication of Let them Live on $3 a Day, Levi Strauss & Co. wrote a letter to the editor denying that it advocated against increasing minimum wage or that it asked anyone to do so on its behalf. The editors published a response on June 10, clarifying and reaffirming the original article statements:
Levi Strauss claims that The Nation reported that the company “asked” its supplier to lobby against the minimum wage increase. Again, that is not what we said. And what we did say was accurate: the company’s contractor was part of a industry group that lobbied to kill the minimum wage law, which was hugely popular among the desperately poor Haitian people, who cannot feed their families on less than $12.50 a day.
Subversion of Haitian elections: The article WikiLeaks Haiti: Cable Depicts Fraudulent Haiti Election in The Nation and US, EU Backed Haitian Election, Deeming “Too Much Invested” to Pull Out in Haïti Liberté by Dan Coughlin and Kim Ives, was released June 8.
A meeting of international election donors in December 2009 concluded that “the international community has too much invested in Haiti’s democracy to walk away from the upcoming elections” despite noted problems. In particular, the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) banned Fanmi Lavalas – the political party of former President Aristide, and hugely popular throughout the country – from participating in elections.
The elections took place on November 28, 2010, with run-offs on March 20, 2011. But there was less than 23 percent voter turnout in either round, considerably less than previous elections, which had participation of up to 78 percent when Fanmi Lavalas was allowed to participate (according to the Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance). In addition, the run-off election was illegal since the CEP never ratified the first-round with an appropriate number of votes. The cables report that U.S. “Ambassador Merten urged a minimal donor reaction to the [Fanmi Lavalas]‘s exclusion” so that elections would not be delayed. As a result, Haiti’s elections ended with a run-off between two neo-Duvalierist candidates, Michel Martelly and Mirlande Manigat, both with political agendas directly opposing Fanmi Lavalas. The vast majority of the Haitian population would support neither candidate, as is evident from voter turnout. U.S. and European insistence that the elections be held in the midst of the January 2010 earthquake crisis show that transparent democratic processes are far from being prioritized.
Al Jazeera produced a short video, summarizing the past three articles on Haiti from The Nation and Haiti Liberte on the minimum wage, PetroCaribe, and fraudulent elections with images and commentary.
WikiLeaks partner The Nassau Guardian has been publishing articles on the cables since May. This week, they released articles discussing political divide concerning the PetroCaribe oil purchasing agreement with Venezuela, U.S. concerns over Chinese migration through the luxury Baha Mar resort project, and the influence religious leader Bishop Ellis had in The Bahamas political scene.
- Christie hit out at Miller – U.S. Cables reveal sharp Cabinet division over Petrocaribe in 2005 (7 June 2011)
A PetroCaribe agreement with Venezuela was signed in 2005 by Trade and Industry Minister Leslie Miller in The Bahamas. A U.S. embassy official “told Miller that investment required stability, transparency, and predictability and that all of these were in short supply in Chavez’s Venezuela.” But Miller seemed enthusiastic about the agreement. However, the cables note that The Bahamas Prime Minister Perry Christie, as well as local oil companies, did not approve.
Eventually, when the Free National Movement (FNM) party came to office in 2007, they “made it clear that The Bahamas government was not interested in the oil alliance with Venezuela.” The U.S. embassy approved of the shift, declaring, “The Bahamas has a wholly privatized oil distribution system that is incompatible with Petrocaribe.”
- U.S. fears Baha Mar Chinese migration (10 June 2011)
The U.S. has paid close attention to the Baha Mar project to build $2.6 billion resort on Cable Beach in Nassau. The development, which includes four hotels, a golf course, retail space, a convention center, and an enormous casino (see: Baha Mar, Bahamas Resort Complex, Backed By Chinese Government by Juan McCartney), is being financed by Export-Import Bank of China. Most of the 8,150 foreign workers who will work on the project will be Chinese. U.S. officials met with Baha Mar to express their concerns about Chinese immigrants coming to The Bahamas to immigrate illegally to the United States. Baha Mar planned on establishing a laborer camp of 4,000 Chinese workers on Cable Beach:
…a February 2009 cable, also labeled secret, indicated that Bahamian officials were so concerned about the laborer issue that they approached the Americans for help…”They requested U.S. assistance with obtaining background checks and mused that it would be preferable if the Chinese workers were first routed through the U.K. or U.S. so that they would be properly vetted.”
- Politics, diplomacy and the church (6 June 2011)
One of the cables, which was classified by then Deputy Chief of Mission Robert Witajewksi, said, “Ellis openly uses his pulpit in one of Nassau’s largest and fastest growing churches to advance the PLP’s political agenda, and by allying himself so closely with Christie, has surpassed many of his more established (and perhaps more respectable) religious brethren in influence.”
The Nassau Guardian’s interviewed Bishop Ellis, who flatly denied almost all of the elaborate claims made by the cables, including claims about his discussions with Prime Minister Christie, his judgement of Christie’s religiousness, and his taste in jewelry.
- U.S. oil interests in Libya: The Washington Post article titled Conflict in Libya: U.S. oil companies sit on sidelines as Gaddafi maintains hold released 10 June details Colonel Gaddafi’s deteriorating relationship with the United States over several years, as revealed by State Department cables as far back as 2004.
By November 2007, a State Department cable noted “growing evidence of Libyan resource nationalism.” It noted that in his 2006 speech marking the founding of his regime, Gaddafi said: “Oil companies are controlled by foreigners who have made millions from them. Now, Libyans must take their place to profit from this money.” His son made similar remarks in 2007.
“Those who dominate Libya’s political and economic leadership are pursuing increasingly nationalistic policies in the energy sector that could jeopardize efficient exploitation of Libya’s extensive oil and gas reserves,” the cable concluded.
On 11 June, blogger Glen Greenwald wrote a followup article, In a pure coincidence, Gaddafi impeded U.S. oil interests before the war, connecting the Washington Post’s observations to the recent U.S. military actions in Libya. President Obama has claimed that the military presence was to create a no-fly zone over Benghazi. However, Greenwald argues,
We’re in Libya to forcibly remove Gaddafi from power and replace him with a regime that we like better, i.e., one that is more accommodating to the interests of the West. That’s not even a debatable proposition at this point.
Greenwald emphasized that the most important information in The Washington Post article was obtained through WikiLeaks, and that the reasons for U.S. military presence in Libya are now glaringly obvious, as supported by information in the cables.
- Guantánamo Children: Earlier this month, Almerindo E. Ojeda of The Guantánamo Testimonials Project released Guantanamo’s Children: The Wikileaked Testimonies at the Center for the Study of Human Rights in the Americas. The report stated,
…military documents in the public domain now acknowledge that fifteen children were imprisoned, at some time or another, at Guantánamo. This is three more than the twelve the State Department acknowledged to the public after our earlier report on the subject, and seven more than the eight the State Department reported to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.
The report also suggests that six other prisoners may have been juveniles, though their real birth year is unknown.
On 10 June, Ojeda posted a blog at Amnesty International reiterating the need for transparent inquiry into the abuses that have occured at Guantánamo in light of the new information on juveniles in Guantánamo.
Such an inquiry is the essential first step of a four-part process involving truth, accountability, reform, and reconciliation. Truth is the foundation of all else. Without it, accountability is abusive, reform is blind, and reconciliation is hollow.
Andy Worthington, who has written extensively about Guantánamo prisoners posted WikiLeaks and the 22 Children of Guantánamo on 11 June. Worthington’s research into juvenile prisoners has been based on each prisoner’s time of capture, rather than, as the aforementioned Guantánamo Testimonials report used, their date of imprisonment. Using time of capture as a measurement, Worthington confirms with the report that there were 22 to 28 juveniles held at the prison.
- Legal proceedings following 80′s El Salvador political killings: A lawsuit was filed in Spain in 2008 against former El Salvador President Cristiani and others for the murder of six jesuit priests and a housemaid and her daughter 20 years earlier. Una misión a España para sacar a Cristiani del caso Jesuitas cites cables showing that US officials expressed concerns in Madrid over what it would be negative consequences of the case on efforts at reconstruction in the country. Spanish officials are shown to take a similar position. In an interview quoted in the article, an insider states that Cristiani’s name was removed from the case following a series of meetings between high-ranking officials.The article Gobierno de Saca amenazó con retirarse de la Convención Americana de Derechos Humanos cites cables showing El Salvador officials actively trying to stop a legal case relating to the murder of Archbishop Oscar Amulfo Romero. In 2007 the El Salvador government threatened to leave the Convention of Human Right Organization of American States and also made efforts to shore up support from the Vatican on the issue.
- “En Nicaragua, si no te mata el dengue, te matará un terremoto”
La Nacion reports that a US diplomat worked for several years with Americans wishing to be compensated for losses in relation to land appropriations in the country under the Sandanista government. In a report back to Washington, the diplomat describes the prospects for real estate investments in the country.
- Special Report – After Japan, where’s the next nuclear weak link? by Nick Carey, Margarita Antidze and John Ruwitch (9 June 2011, Reuters)
Some recently released cables show that government officials in Vietnam, India, and Azerbaijan have expressed worries over the safety of nuclear plants in their countries. Although IAEA evaluations strive to promote safe nuclear technology around the world, the article claims, “the IAEA’s main drawback is it is not a regulator and can only provide advice and guidance to aspiring nuclear powers, not halt projects or enforce sanctions. Its apparent impotence at Fukushima underlined the weakness.”