Haiti: Paychecks for death squad killers

The U.S.-backed Haitian government has begun to hand out paychecks to former members of Haiti’s brutal military who helped overthrow democratically elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

David Bazile, secretary for public security, announced that the government will give the ex-soldiers 10 years’ back pay at a cost of $29 million, upholding their claim that Aristide illegally disbanded the army in 1994.

Haiti’s military overthrew Aristide in 1991, soon after he was elected to office, and a military junta governed the country until 1994. The junta was implicated in widespread human rights abuses, including the use of torture and murder.

When Aristide was restored to power with the help of U.S. troops in 1994, one of his first acts was to disband the armed forces and replace them with a lightly armed police force. He was ousted in another coup last February.

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) and 13 other congresspeople sent a letter to President Bush, urging him to denounce the payments. “These former soldiers are thugs and killers who refuse to lay down their weapons and who currently illegally control several Haitian towns … who attacked police stations, freed criminals from prisons and assisted in the coup d’état that overthrew President Aristide last February … [T]hey have murdered untold numbers of [Aristide’s] Lavalas Party supporters, terrorized the Haitian population,” the U.S. lawmakers said.

Bangladesh: Protest fatal factory fire

The International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers’ Federation called on the government of Bangladesh to take immediate action in the wake of the tragic Jan. 6 fire in which 23 workers died at the Sun Knitting and Processing Factory in Narayanganj. Dozens more were reported injured in the blaze, which took firefighters four hours to extinguish.

Lax safety standards and poor wiring cause several fatal factory fires every year in Bangladesh.

The ITGLWF called on the government of Prime Minister Khaleda Zia to investigate the fire, pay exemplary compensation to survivors and the families of the dead, immediately improve health and safety in the industry, and take legal action against those found responsible for criminal negligence in allowing such unsafe conditions.

Mexico: 10 convicted in slayings

Ten suspected gang members were found guilty Jan. 6 in the killings of 12 women in Ciudad Juarez, where hundreds of women have been killed in the last 11 years.

The Associated Press reported that three men thought to be involved with the Los Toltecas criminal gang were sentenced to 40 years in prison and a fourth was sentenced to 113 years for premeditated homicide, aggravated rape and criminal association in connection with six of the murders.

Six members of the Los Rebeldes gang were sentenced to 24 to 40 years each for similar convictions in the killings of a separate group of six victims. Late last year another man was sentenced to 50 years in prison for the deaths of eight women.

The Mexican government says over 300 women have been killed in this border city since 1993, but human rights leaders say the number is much higher. Most of the cases remain unsolved.

Canada: Public child care coming

Late last year the federal, provincial and territorial ministers responsible for child care agreed to develop a public child care program for Canada. Now the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) is calling on Canadians to press for a program with four basic principles: a publicly funded, sustainable system with low parent fees, a Child Care Act that guarantees standards and key principles, public accountability, and money for children, not profits.

“Quebec has taken a giant step, establishing an affordable public system of quality care,” CUPE said in a statement last month. “It’s time for the rest of the country to follow their lead.” We need to speak out now for a high-quality, non-profit child care system with long-term public funding, a system that’s accessible and affordable to everyone, and that supports children’s development.”

Sierra Leone: General strike ends

Sierra Leone’s main trade unions staged a two-day general strike last week to demand higher pay and better living conditions, Reuters news agency reported. The strike, which followed three months of fruitless talks between labor leaders and the government, was called off Jan. 4 after the government agreed to some demands and said it would negotiate others.

Labor Congress President Mohamed Deen said the government agreed to set up a joint committee with union and employer representatives to set a “meaningful and realistic” minimum wage, and that another joint committee would review fuel and public transport costs.

The current minimum wage is $13 per month. A 50 kg (110 lb.) bag of rice, considered the bare minimum to feed a family for a month, now costs about $25.

World Notes are compiled by Marilyn Bechtel (mbechtel@pww.org).
Tim Pelzer contributed to this week’s notes.