Multinational Monitor

JUN 2002
VOL 23 No. 6


An Epidemic of Neglect: Neglected Diseases and the Health Burden in Poor Countries
by Rachel Cohen

Victory and Betrayal: The Third World Takes on Rich Countries in the Struggle for Access to Medicines
by Asia Russell

Commentary: Patents Pools and the AIDS Crisis
by James Love

The Evergreen Patent System: Pharmaceutical Company Tactics to Extend Patent Protection
by Robert Weissman


Essential Drugs and Health for All: Healthy Innovations from Bangladesh
an interview with
Zafrullah Chowdhury



Behind the Lines

Stripping Away Big Pharma’s Fig Leaf

The Front
Haiti’s Not-So-Free Zones

The Lawrence Summers Memorial Award

Names In the News


The Front

Haiti's Not-So-Free Zones

At the beginning of April, Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and his Dominican counterpart, Hypolito Mejia, met near the border town of Ouanaminthe in northeast Haiti to inaugurate the construction of a new industrial free zone. The first two of a projected 26 factories to be built on the site are expected to begin operating early next year.

Funding for the joint venture will come in the form of a $7 million investment by Grupo M, a Dominican apparel company based in the city of Santiago. Grupo M, which already has 24 factories and 13,000 employees in the Dominican Republic, will use the plants in the new Haitian zone to fulfill labor-intensive contracts such as the assembly of t-shirts and pants for export. The company already counts among its list of clients such famous brand names as Gap, Tommy Hilfiger, Banana Republic and Abercrombie & Fitch.

Grupo M President Fernando Capellan told the Dominican press that groups of 140 Haitians will be trained in sewing operations every two months, and the first two factories would employ some 1,500 Haitians within three years.

In his speech at the inaugural ceremony, President Mejia said the free zone was "the first child of a marriage without divorce" between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Relations between the neighbors have long been strained, and a particular source of tension has been the treatment of the tens of thousands of Haitians who cross the border each year to find work on Dominican sugar cane plantations and construction sites. These migrant workers have few, if any rights, and are poorly paid. The Dominican army periodically sweeps through areas of the country, rounding up Haitian-looking (i.e. black-skinned) men and, if they have no residency papers, immediately deporting them to Haiti at the nearest border crossing.

Mejia stressed that the best way to stop Haitians from crossing the border in search of a living in the Dominican Republic was to help create jobs in Haiti. He said a further 8,000 workers will be employed in other clothing manufacturing plants to be established later in the same park,

The Haitian government too has portrayed the new free zone as an initiative that can boost its faltering economy. Poverty and unemployment in Haiti deepened during three years of international sanctions imposed while a military regime held power from 1991 to 1994, and most international development aid has been suspended since Aristide's Lavalas Family Party took power in May 2000.

However, a number of Haitian nongovernmental organizations and peasant groups have voiced strong opposition to the Ouanaminthe industrial zone, and to plans to establish a dozen other free zones along the 300-kilometer long border.

Of particular concern is the way that the plans for the Ouanaminthe industrial park have proceeded under a veil of secrecy. Dorsainville Alpha of the Peasant Movement to Develop Ouanaminthe complains that the surveying of land to be used for the zone had not only caused damage to peasants' crops, but that "no explanation has been provided by the authorities. Not a squeak from the mayor, deputies or senators."

Peasant farmers are concerned that the industrial park is being built on 50 to 80 hectares of some of the best agricultural land in the region. Agronomist Gaston Etienne told the Haitian AlterPresse news agency, "One hectare of land on this fertile plain, planted with rice, and properly irrigated, would yield around 10,000 gourdes [US$357] per month, whereas if a peasant works in the free zone factory he will earn a monthly wage of just 800 gourdes [US$28]."

One peasant farmer added, "When the time comes for the assembly factories to relocate to healthier climes, what are we going to grow on all that concrete?"

Haitian authorities blocked a demonstration of local opposition at the time of the inauguration ceremony. Peasant groups linked to the Solidarité Frontaliére (Border Solidarity) network say that banners and placards in Creole and Spanish that they had prepared for the event were seized by authorities representing the northeast departmental delegation.

Agronomists, human rights groups and political activists planned another demonstration in Ouanaminthe on May Day, but this too was derailed when government officials announced that at the same time and same place they would distribute free tools to peasant farmers.

Two coalitions of Haitian organizations, the Platform to Advocate for Alternative Development (PAPDA) and the Refugees and Repatriated Support Group (GARR), have demanded that the government reveal the wage rates and work conditions in the factories, what rights unions will have, which country's labor laws will be followed, and how a population influx to the area will be handled. But progressive organizations fear that the plan will go ahead regardless.

Huguette Charles of Solidarité Frontaliére say peasants will not passively accept the free zones. "The authorities have promised to compensate us for the land, but what use is the money really? We know that the minimum daily wage in Haiti is just 36 gourdes [US$1.30] and that doesn't cover our daily needs. Even if the free zone generates 10,000 jobs, it's not enough. All we want is our land, and if we have to spill blood to keep it, then so be it."

-- Charles Arthur
Author of
Haiti in Focus


The June 2002 Lawrence Summers Memorial Award* goes to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

With New York City facing mounting waste disposal problems in the wake of the closure of its massive Fresh Kills landfill, Mayor Bloomberg has promoted garbage incinerators as a solution.

In March, with environmentalists heavily criticizing Bloomberg's incineration plans, the mayor dismissed the critics, saying that with technological improvements, there was "no pollution" with incineration.

Later, asked if he would agree to site an incinerator in his neighborhood, Bloomberg offered a somewhat different perspective:

"If you were to put an incinerator on Park Avenue, you would drive away the revenue base that supports this city," he said.

"The fact of the matter is that where you tend to site things -- unfortunately -- it tends to be in areas that are also in proximity to people who are just starting their ways up the economic ladder," he added.

By May, however, Bloomberg was backing away from his incinerator plans, though he continued to insist the burn technology was safe.

"The technology is there," he said on his weekly radio program, "but the politics are such that it would be phenomenally difficult to site incinerators in the New York City area, and other places don't want to have it either."

Source: David Seifman, "Mike Pushes Incinerators -- But Not in His Back Yard," New York Post, March 26, 2002; Diane Cardwell, "Mayor Drops Incinerator Plan," New York Times, May 18, 2002.

Thanks to Neil Tangri for directing our attention to this story.

*In a 1991 internal memorandum, then-World Bank economist Lawrence Summers argued for the transfer of waste and dirty industries from industrialized to developing countries. "Just between you and me, shouldn't the World Bank be encouraging more migration of the dirty industries to the LDCs (lesser developed countries)?" wrote Summers, who went on to serve as Treasury Secretary during the Clinton administration. "I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that. ... I've always thought that underpopulated countries in Africa are vastly under polluted; their air quality is vastly inefficiently low [sic] compared to Los Angeles or Mexico City." Summers later said the memo was meant to be ironic.




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