Military Dictatorship Allows U.S. Firms to Pay 14¢ an Hour to Workers in Haiti


Military Dictatorship Allows U.S. Firms to Pay 14¢ an Hour to Workers in Haiti

By Brian McNeill

Baseball holds a sacred place in the minds of many Americans.

For them, it is the epitome of what is best about the country.

In baseball, people find a competitiveness that is thrilling, but refined and disciplined.

They find tradition, ritual and family values.

They are refreshed by a perennial parade of young, healthy players, as season follows season, and heroes rise and fade.

Baseball is where people in the United States find common ground to bond with one another, to spread a common language and to enjoy each other's company.

When the home run ball sails into the outer bleachers, the grumpiest and most despondent among us can feel for a minute the same awe and thrill that they did when they were seven.

Rawlings Sporting Goods has an exclusive contract for all the baseballs used by the American and National Leagues in the United States.

The company pays its 1,000 female workers at its Port-au-Prince factory in Haiti $2.70 a day to produce 30 to 40 baseballs each.

Although it is difficult for Americans, most of whom are caught in their own financial crisis, to be interested in or care about workers in other countries, we are moving into an era when Americans ignore the realities of workers in other countries at their own risk.

The baseballs used by the major leagues are an example of just how closely connected we are. Many of those baseballs are made in Haiti because Rawlings can make them there much, much cheaper than they could in the United States.

What is true of baseballs is true of almost every other commodity that is produced in this country.

What is true of Rawlings is true of every manufacturer in this country.

They are all thinking of moving ## if they have not already moved ## their factories into low-wage countries where a day's wage would not even buy a ticket to a major-league baseball game. Those workers who are now dreaming of their youths at baseball games may soon be dreaming of their youths standing in the unemployment line, or while waiting for a bag of groceries at the local food shelf.

Americans tend to romanticize baseball, which is harmless.

They also tend to ignore history and economics, which is dangerous.

We can learn a good deal from the recent history of Haiti.

The United States prides itself on being a defender of democracy around the world.

The story of its relations with Haiti show it to be actually more interested in guaranteeing the safety of capitalist investments and corporate profits.

The United States Marines occupied and governed Haiti from 1915 to 1934. During their occupation they crushed an anti-imperialist liberation movement led by Charlemagne Peralte.

From 1957 to 1971, Haiti was governed by Francois Duvalier.

The United States supported him for many years of his dictatorial reign.

He ruled through the terror of his paramilitary force, the Tonton Macoutes, trained by former Nazi SS officers.

In 1971, Duvalier's son, "Baby Doc" Duvalier, was elected by a vote of 2,391,916 to 1. In 1974, President Nixon began sending financial aid to Baby Doc, despite his carrying on his father's tradition of robbing and terrorizing the country.

Like his father, Baby Doc violently suppressed all political dissent and ruled as a dictator.

Unlike Castro, the Duvaliers were tolerated and supported by the United States because they were capitalists and allowed their nation to be thoroughly exploited by capitalist enterprises.

Throughout the tenure of the Duvaliers, Haiti remained one of the 25 poorest nations in the world and the poorest in the Western hemisphere.

In 1984, 1% of the population owned 60% of the land. Ninety percent of Haitians earned less than $120 a year.

In 1986, Jean Claude ## Baby Doc ## Duvalier fled into a luxurious exile in France.

A succession of military governments followed until the election of December 16, 1990, when Jean-Bertrand Aristide was elected.

A former priest who once called capitalism a mortal sin, his election was greeted with wild acclaim by the masses of impoverished Haitians.

As an advocate for the workers, Aristide proposed an increase in the minimum wage from 33¢ an hour to 50¢.

The United States Agency for Industrial Development (USAID), operating with the blessing of the State Department, swiftly allocated $26 million to an "ad hoc committee of business organizations." This committee, under the control of USAID, was formed to keep "Haitian production competitive in world markets," which in government doublespeak for keeping the minimum wage of 33¢.

Aristide was overthrown by the military on September 30, 1991. To keep up its image as the defender of democracy, the United States, along with the Organization of American States, imposed an embargo on Haiti.

By February 1992, U.S. corporations with investments in Haiti had persuaded President Bush to partially lift the embargo.

Under Clinton as well as Bush, U.S. companies assembling goods in Haiti are exempt from the embargo and are allowed to continue imports into the United States.

In 1992, $67 million in apparel produced in Haiti was shipped to the U.S. This closing is sold at Sears, J.C. Penney and WalMart, among others.

Since the 1991 coup, 3,000 people have been killed, thousands detained and tens of thousands have fled the country.

Haitian workers assembling goods for export to the U.S. are now paid an average of 14¢ per hour, less than half the legal minimum.

In a recent article in the Atlantic Monthly, Lawrence E. Harrison, who works for USAID and for two years was its program director in Haiti in the 1970s, writes:

"I believe that culture is the only possible explanation for Haiti's unending tragedy: the values and attitudes of the average Haitian are profoundly influenced by traditional African culture, particularly the voodoo religion, and by slavery under the French, which lasted from the second half of the seventeenth century through much of the eighteenth."

Mr. Harrison's comment, and his entire article, are stunning examples of the ideological blindness of which the political left is always accused.

Not only is it blatantly racist to claim that Haiti is poor because of the influence of "traditional African culture," it is criminally hypocritical for a representative of USAID to blame Haitian culture for the poverty that very agency works to perpetuate by financing a campaign to oppose an increase in the minimum wage. That a mainstream journal like the Atlantic would print this kind of drivel proves the assertion that the major media in this country are simply mouthpieces of their capitalist owners.

With the help of the United Nations and the Organization of American States, President Aristide is negotiating his return to Haiti within the next few months.

Many in the wealthy elite in that country, along with many in the military, are determined to keep him from office, or to cut his tenure short.

He will very likely be the next head of state to be murdered for opposing capitalist oppression.

Whether or not that tragedy unfolds, the oppression that is grinding Haiti into the dust is angling for bigger game in the Untied States.

The corporate elite knows that it cannot drive the wages of U.S. workers down to 14¢ an hour anytime in the near future.

But it has been and will continue to move them in that direction for the same reason it wanted to prevent Haitian wages rising from 33¢ to 50¢ an hour.

We have all heard the mantra: Americans must work for less, or be laid off from their jobs, to keep American production competitive in world markets.

The passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement and GATT would be huge steps toward reducing our wages and our standard of living.

They will, of course, do nothing to limit the profits of the corporations and the wealthy individuals who own their stocks.

It is time for workers in the United States to recognize that they have more in common with the workers of Haiti than they do with the people who tell them what to do at work. The owners of industry look at all of us as commodities which market forces compel them to buy as cheaply as possible in order to make their enterprises profitable.

If we do not organize ourselves to resist their exploitation, either we or our children ## possibly both ## will taste the bitter fruit of a poverty unimaginable to us now.

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