Friday, October 22, 2010

Controversy over Haitian teacher's union leader

Josué Mérilien lors de la conference de presse à l' ENS (Le Nouvelliste)
On October 15, Anthony O'Brien the Secretary of the PSC-CUNY International Committee sent out the following message asking US labor unions to support a tour of Josué Mérilien, a leader of the Haitian teacher's union the National Union of Haitians (UNNOH) :

Dear friends,
Please sign and circulate as widely as possible, especially to organization lists. The Haitian teachers & students under violent attack are drawing solidarity from teachers' and public employees' unions in France, Canada, the U.S., and beyond, but there is also special value in rank-and-file signatures en masse. There is some momentum behind this protest now! The Haitian teacher union leader Josué Mérilien has sent us warm thanks for this solidarity, and will be speaking at campuses in NYC and Boston the last week of October.


in the struggle

Anthony O'Brien
Secretary, PSC-CUNY International Committee
Since then, it has come to light that Merilien is not the supporter of the rights of education and students in Haiti he has made himself out to be. Dave Welsh, a member of the San Francisco Labor Council and the Haiti Action Committee sent the following response that explains:  

A Heads-up and a Word of Caution

Dear Friends in the New York and Boston areas,
I am writing about an email appeal that I received, which originated apparently with the international committee of the Professional Staff Congress-CUNY, a teacher's union at the City University of NY, in New York City, and is being forwarded around, seeking petition signatures and support for a teachers' union in Haiti and its leader, Josué Mérilien. According to the PSC email, Mérilien will come to the U.S. this month on a speaking tour. [The email is reproduced at the end of this letter.]
 Although we certainly oppose violence against teachers and students in Haiti - including in this particular case - things are not always entirely what they seem to be. Let me share with you some information made available from the files of the Haiti Action Committee.
The Haitian teachers' union leader who is getting mileage out of this, Josué Mérilien, was associated during 2003-04 with the Group 184, which orchestrated (along with their US, French and Canadian co-conspirators) the coup d'etat against the majority Lavalas political movement and President Aristide on Feb. 29, 2004. The Group 184 was led by sweatshop owners like Andy Apaid and other members of the Haitian elite, although they had some allies including Mérilien and a handful of other trade union leaders.  
Mérilien and the Group 184 were deeply involved in the destabilization campaign against the Lavalas government in 2003-04 which beat the drums for the removal of Aristide. They supported the 2004 coup that did remove Aristide from office. The coup also removed from office 5,000 pro-Lavalas officials at all levels of government in every part of the country -- as well as pro-Lavalas union leaders -- who were killed, exiled, jailed, disappeared, had their homes burned out and families terrorized, and hounded out of office by the US-supported coup regime and their death squads.  
Let us examine some of the history of Mérilien's role during the pre-coup period:  
*** As head of the Haitian National Teachers Union (UNNOH), Mérilien was an outspoken critic of President Aristide, in particular from 2003 up until the Feb. 29th 2004 coup d'etat -- frequently mobilizing teachers and students in street protests demanding Aristide's removal from office. Remember that Aristide had been elected President in 2000 with over 80 per cent of the vote in a heavy-turnout election. And Aristide's policies of raising the minimum wage, expanding schools, and in many ways mobilizing the people to rebuild Haitian society -- these policies had broad popular support.  
*** But Aristide's populist, egalitarian message incurred the wrath of the Bush Administration and its allies in the "international community" who immediately began a systematic campaign to destabilize and overthrow the Aristide government. They arranged to cut off all aid to the Haitian government. U.S. operatives arranged to organize and arm bands of paramilitary mercenaries to terrorize pro-Lavalas communities from bases in the Dominican Republic. The Group 184 business elite -- outraged by the hike in the minimum wage, the promise of land reform, and the threat that they might actually be forced to pay their business taxes -- organized all manner of economic and political sabotage, including use of agents provocateurs. And Josué Mérilien had a role to play in this many-pronged campaign to destabilize and overthrow the Lavalas government, and usher in a brutal death-squad regime.  
*** The strategy of the Group 184-led opposition was to cause chaos in Haiti and make the country ungovernable - including by launching a violent campaign to close down the schools, a campaign in which Josué Mérilien was intimately involved. Read this January 19, 2004 report by the Haitian Press Agency (AHP) -- five weeks before the coup -- under the headline: "Opposition Protest Closes Schools."  
"Supporters of the opposition coalition stoned the facilities of the College Saint-Francois d'Assise and the College Gerard Gourgue on 1/19 to prevent the schools from functioning," according to the AHP report. "Several students were struck by rocks thrown by demonstrators who said they wanted to utilize all available means to prevent students from attending school until the government is ousted.  
"The violence is part of a campaign against the schools that has been launched by senior leadership of the political coalition directed by [Groupe 184]business leader Andre Apaid, Jr. Evans Paul, Secretary General of the [opposition] Democratic Unity Convention, reaffirmed on 1/18 that the [opposition] political platform is determined to bring school activities, and even hospitals to a standstill across the country. The important thing, he said, is to oust President Aristide.  
"In this context, threats of arson attacks were made against several private and parochial schools that had been open to receive students," the AHP report continued. "The entrances to the College Marie-Anne of the Sisters of St. Anne as well as the entrances of two other schools were set on fire the morning of 1/19 in the Christ Roi area by supporters of the opposition. Two schools have been set on fire in Leogane.  
"Josué Mérilien, the Secretary General of the National Union of Haitian Teachers in Training, read a list of schools on 1/19 that must close their doors or else face reprisals. The schools are the College Canado-Haitian, the College Saint-Louis de Gonzague, the College Saint Francois d'Assise, the Lycee Francais and the Union School. (Agence Haitienne de Presse, or AHP, 19 January 2004, emphasis added.)  
*** On another occasion, on December 5, 2003, as part of the campaign to destabilize and overthrow the Lavalas government, Group 184 organized a student rally at the University demanding Aristide's ouster [although many of the demonstrators were reportedly paid to be there and quite a few were not even students]. The demonstration soon escalated into violence. An AHP reporter described the scene:

"The confrontation started when [Group 184 supporters] began to throw volleys of stones on OP members [members of pro-Aristide popular organizations] demand the resignation of governmental authorities....Violent blows with sticks and stones were exchanged....That's when an OP member named Harold was shot from the roof where the [Group 184 supporters] were. Shooting continued to try to stop the police from evacuating the wounded OP member....In this confusion, one student, Carlo Jean, was shot and wounded, according to a Justice of the Peace....Members of the G184 and the Haitian trade union who were inside the university office, notably Josué Mérilien and Montes Joseph, are accused of encouraging students to commit violent acts." (Agence Haitienne de Presse, quoted in Peter Hallward, Damming the Flood. Emphasis added.) The pro-Group 184 media seized on the December 5th incident to launch frenzied calls for Aristide's ouster. Once again, Josué Mérilien was acting, together with Group 184, to provoke and destabilize the democratically elected Aristide government.
Josué Mérilien, according to the PSC-CUNY email, will be on a campus speaking tour in New York and Boston the last week of October. Undoubtedly people are unfamiliar with the treacherous role he has played in the past.  
Thank you for taking this information into consideration.
 In solidarity,
Dave Welsh

Welsh's arguments are convincing and it will be interesting to see the response from progressive labor leaders and organizations as word gets out about Merilien's past role in threatening violent reprisals against schools in Haiti in early 2004.