By Christopher McManus
On January 7th, President Rene Preval of Haiti put the final touches on the privatization of Haiti’s public telephone company, TELECO. Five days later the horrific earthquake leveled Haiti, killing over 200.000 people. The selling off of assets, the International Monetary Fund’s austerity measures, were under full swing under the Preval administration in order to pay off debt owed by Haiti to the international financiers.
One of Preval’s acts as President after the first American backed coup against Aristide in 1994 was to privatize the public cement company, Cimint d’Haiti. Today the massive amount of cement need to rebuild the country has to be either bought from foreign companies, or from a company partially owned by the Minister of Tourism, Patrick Delatour. According to USA Today, “Haiti’s top reconstruction planning official owns part of the countries largest concrete company, which stands to reap major gains from the coming wave of international rebuilding aid.”
Delatour likens his position to that of Dick Cheney’s. That is his own way of explaining that he has no conflict of interest. Cheney had retained his stock options in Halliburton when he became Vice President in 2001 as he steered billions in no bid contracts to both his former company and its subsidiary, Kellogg, Brown and Root. Mr. Delatour seems to feel this absolves him of any possible wrongdoing on his part, as Mr. Cheney seemed to be above reproach.
In an interview with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now, journalist Avi Lewis, economist Camille Chambers and Haitian presidential advisor Patrick Elie explain the politics of rebuilding. Avi Lewis said, ”The state in Haiti used to include major public companies-rice, flour, electricity, telephones. Today after decades of privatization and pressure from the US and international financiers, control of these businesses moved offshore.” There is no actual production of cement in Haiti. There is only a packaging plant for imported cement. Haiti’s cement industry is the story of failure that will weigh heavily on the process of reconstruction.
In October of 1997, Preval sold Haiti’s public flour mill to Continental Grain, whose board of directors includes Henry Kissinger. Former Secretary of State Kissinger’s crimes are too numerous to mention here but he could be considered the world’s worst war criminal. Continental bought the mill in conjunction with Seaboard Flour, owned by the secretive Bresky family of Boston, whose business history rivals Kissinger’s in sheer amorality. Harry Bresky has been sued repeatedly for staling from his companies. After being unable to hire Americans at low wages for his plants, he imported Mexicans and Guatemalans to his plant in Albert Lea, Minnesota, but he neglected to give them anywhere to live, creating a massive homeless problem and a burden on local welfare programs. He has been guilty of horrendous environmental crimes such as dumping raw sewage from his corporate hog slaughtering plant. The Bresky family is worth over 500 million dollars and owns companies all over Latin America and Africa. The Seaboard- Continental flour plant collapsed in the earthquake.
These three formerly public companies could have provided much needed employment in a hopelessly unemployed country. The cement company alone could have provided not just employment, but literally the building blocks for a new city. There is no reason for a lack of a cement company in Haiti, a country that is built on an island primarily of limestone. The offshoring of these companies is a crime against the people of Haiti. Aristide was vehemently against privatizing these companies, believing that the people were to decide how to dispose of their own shared public companies. Because he stood up for the people of Haiti,it was he that was disposed of not once, but twice, in American backed coups. The flour and rice companies could have fed a starving nation. A vibrant telecommunication company could have helped rebuild the country.
The people of Haiti want Aristide back. But in the words of Condoleeza Rice, “Aristide will never set foot in the Western Hemisphere again.”