by Kim Ives (Haiti Liberte)
Sen. Moïse Jean-Charles held several meetings with disgruntled Haitian immigrants in Sao Paolo this week as part of a six-day visit to Brazil. On May 21, he will address both houses of the Parliament, and on May 22, the Sao Paolo City Council will recognize him as an honorary citizen of that city, the Western Hemisphere’s largest.
Sen. Jean-Charles’ current visit to Brazil, like his two previous ones in 2013, is part of a campaign to push for the withdrawal of the 9,000-soldier UN Mission to Stabilize Haiti (MINUSTAH), which will mark its 10th anniversary on Jun. 1. Some 2,200 Brazilian troops make up MINUSTAH’s largest contingent, and Brazilian generals command the force.
Joining the senator on his visit to Brazil is Oxygène David, a leader of the new party Dessalines Coordination (KOD), which is one of eight groups in the Haitian Coordination for the Withdrawal of UN Troops from Haiti. The Haitian Coordination, whose April declaration Sen. Jean-Charles also signed, is planning events to denounce MINUSTAH’s 10th anniversary in Haiti. There will also be demonstrations against MINUSTAH in nations around the world including Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Peru, Guadeloupe, St. Lucia, Trinidad-Tobago, Uruguay, and the United States.
A Haitian Senate resolution, drafted by Sen. Jean-Charles one year ago and passed unanimously, called for all UN troops to be out of Haiti by May 28, 2014. UN authorities have pointedly ignored the resolution and have fixed no deadline for their open-ended military occupation to leave Haiti.
Every Monday morning, KOD holds a demonstration of about 50 people in front of the UN base at the Port-au-Prince airport calling for MINUSTAH to pack up and go. UN troops and Haitian police have been increasingly disturbed by and aggressive against the weekly action, threatening demonstrators with tear-gas and arrest.
On May 18, Sen. Jean-Charles met with Haitians at the Church of the Immigrants in downtown Sao Paolo, about a block from a city-run emergency housing center which currently holds over 100 Haitian immigrants. On May 19, Sen. Jean-Charles, along with Oxygène David and a journalist from Haïti Liberté, returned to the “Auberge Emergenciel,” and later to a squatter-run commercial building, to hear the grievances of Haitian expatriates.
“I make only 1000 reals (US$450) per month in a terribly hard job cleaning chemicals from barrels,” said a 27-year-old Haitian man at the housing center who would identify himself only as Hector. “We are given dangerous work and don’t make enough to send home money or even to live. We are virtually slaves here!”
The Haitians at the center, managed by the mayor’s office, sleep in a giant fluorescent-lit hall on metal bunk beds and use communal bathrooms. The yard has lots of laundry hanging in it.
There are an estimated 50,000 Haitians now living in Brazil, but only 20,000 are legal and have work papers. Almost all have come to Brazil over the past decade that Brazilian troops have been in Haiti. As in many countries, the Haitian immigrants work in menial jobs as construction workers, maids, or janitors, although many are trained as nurses, doctors, accountants, or engineers.
“In talking with people, we’ve identified three main problems,” Sen. Jean-Charles said speaking later on May 19 at the Movement for Housing for All (MMPT), which has occupied a vacant commercial building in downtown Sao Paolo to provide shelter for homeless people, including dozens of Haitians. “There is the problem of sanitation, of education, and of salaries. Add to those, there may have been some human rights violations, for which Haitians need a lawyer. We are going to raise all these issues when we meet with local authorities to see what kind of relief our Haitian brothers and sisters can receive.”
Meanwhile, Oxygène David pointed out to the Haitians that ending the UN occupation of Haiti is in their interests. “Every year, Brazil spends millions of reals to support soldiers who are repressing and killing our brothers and sisters in Haiti,” he said to Haitians at the housing center. “That money could be going to hospitals, schools, agriculture, and better jobs and housing for immigrants like you here in Brazil. So you have a double interest in seeing Brazilian soldiers leave Haiti. One, to end the repression of your fellow Haitians. Two, to allow more money to be available for jobs and services here.”
The Brazilian committee sponsoring Sen. Jean-Charles’s trip to Brazil, “To Defend Haiti is to Defend Ourselves,” organized the meetings with Haitian immigrants as well as the trip to Brasilia to address both the Brazilian Senate and House of Deputies on May 21. Sen. Jean-Charles is also speaking to many radio and television stations in both Sao Paolo and Brasilia.
On May 22, Sao Paolo’s City Council will name Sen. Jean-Charles as a “Citizen of Sao Paolo.” The ceremony, which will be open to the public, was initiated by Councilwoman Juliana Cardoso of the ruling Workers Party (PT) and State Deputy Adriano Diogo, also of the PT. “It is a very great honor in Brazil to receive this recognition,” said Barbara Corrales, the coordinator of the “To Defend Haiti is to Defend Ourselves” committee.
Last December, Sen. Jean-Charles visited Brasil to attend the PT’s National Congress, in which he succeeded in convincing delegates to pass a resolution calling for the withdrawal of Brazilian troops from Haiti. In May 2013, the senator also visited several Brazilian cities to push for troop withdrawal.
On Jun. 10, Sen. Jean-Charles will meet for the second time with Uruguayan President José Mujica in Montevideo. “I will ask him to respect the promise that he made to me during our meeting last November,” Sen. Jean-Charles told Haïti Liberté. “He said he was going to withdraw Uruguayan troops from Haiti. I want to find out how that is progressing.”
Uruguay has historically had about 1,100 troops in MINUSTAH, the second largest contingent after Brazil.