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28470: Sprague: LABOR NOTES (article)

From: J. Sprague  (jebspague@mac.com)

Failed Solidarity: The ICFTU, AFL-CIO, ILO, and ORIT in Haiti

by Jeb Sprague.  July 2006

LABOR NOTES    http://labornotes.org/archives/2006/06/articles/f.shtml
June 2006
On February 16, 2004 a group of foreign trade union officials arrived
in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, amongst them ORIT General Secretary Victor
Baez, ICFTU Assistant General Secretary Mamounata Cissé and union
leaders from France, Canada, Guyana and the Global Union Federation.
The purpose of the delegation was to assist eleven trade unionists of
the Coordination Syndicale Haïtienne (CSH), accused by Haitian
authorities as working to bring down the government.  The labor
delegation drew international coverage as Katia Gil, General
Coordinator of Programs with ORIT explains, ?We went to visit them in
jail.  We went with many newspapers and press, local and
international agencies.?1  Just thirteen days after their arrival on
February 29, 2004, Haiti?s popularly elected Lavalas government was
overthrown and its President Jean-Bertrand Aristide after being sent
on a plane to Africa, declared he had been kidnapped by U.S. Marines.
An interim government made up of elites drawn from the political
opposition to the Aristide government was quickly put into place,
supported by the United States, France, and Canada.

?Following the coup, more than 12,000 public sector employees, who
had been hired under the Aristide government, were immediately fired
without compensation?, writes Isabel Macdonald, a Canadian journalist
conducting interviews with laid off workers in Haiti.2  The
Associated Press on May 12, 2004 reported that Telecommunications
D?Haiti (TELECO), the 90% government owned public telephone company,
had announced plans to lay off 2,000 workers, half of its workforce.

In May of 2004 an investigative report from a labor-religious
delegation sent to Haiti, initiated by the San Francisco Labor
Council, spoke of a witch-hunt against supporters of the former
government and of receiving reports from the ?FTPH (Federation of
Public Transport Workers of Haiti), of criminal attacks on over 100
of the buses that they had purchased for use in the bus cooperative
operated by the union.?3  Sasha Kramer, a PhD student from California
traveling in Haiti took photos of the demolished public buses.  With
death threats and arbitrary placements on police ?wanted? lists,
public sector employees and trade unionists, such as teachers, port
workers, and bus drivers across Haiti were targeted. With an untold
number of dead victims and political prisoners from the coup and the
consequent twenty-six months of an unelected interim government,
numerous human rights organizations decried state sponsored violence
and persecution (March 2004- May 2006).

During the weeks prior to the 2004 coup a ?general strike? was called
by businesses and organizations associated with the opposition to the
government, in which banks, gas stations, supermarkets, and specialty
shops kept their doors closed, while the marketplaces of the poor
remained open.4  In a recent interview Duclos Benissoit, a founder of
the Haiti Transportation Federation currently living in exile in New
York, discussed his experience during the 2004 coup.  ?The people who
stick their necks out, vocal resisters were targeted first.  I was
one of those people. I was opposed to any kind of ?strike? called by
the bosses. Unless called by labor, I told consumers to ignore the
other ?strikes.? (Big business and national forces) didn't like this.?5

The ICFTU delegation in February 2004, just prior to Aristide?s
ouster, as Katia Gil explains, ?visited many people but only those
involved with the opposition to the government of course.? The
International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), claiming a
membership of 157 million workers in 148 countries and territories,
plays a leading role in investigating and drawing attention to labor
abuse around the globe; but for the two years following the coup
d?etat, the ICFTU did not make a single public statement or
condemnation in regards to the massive labor persecution.  The
Organización Regional Interamericana de Trabajadores (ORIT) as the
Latin American regional affiliate of the ICFTU , currently
headquartered in Brazil, also remained silent.

CSH, the ?ICFTU/ORIT?s fraternal organization in Haiti? according to
Victor Baez6, was a member of the Group of 184, supporting the
installation of the interim government.  CSH Secretary-general Fritz
Charles, whose organization was made up primarily of anti-Lavalas
unions and labor organizations, such as the Duvalier sanctioned and
formerly U.S. government funded Fédération des Ouvriers Syndiqués
(FOS), explained, ?We adhere to the Group of 184 because it is a
broad organization of the civil society which preaches a social pact
where we want to play our part, where we want to also support the
claims present in our trade-union agenda, ratified by our general
assembly.?7 The Group of 184 a Haitian organization of NGOs, business
elites, and foreign financed human rights groups was the principal
civil society organization that agitated for the downfall of the
elected government and was headed up by one of Haiti?s most notorious
sweatshop owners, Andre Apaid, Jr.8

?Democracy Promotion? program monies through United States, Canadian,
and European Union aid agencies were channeled nearly exclusively to
groups and organizations that were critical of the elected government
of Haiti.  In some cases, this took the form of actively building the
political opposition, such as many of those within the Group of 184
? in others, it was simply supporting and funding sectors and leaders
who were sharp critics of the Haitian government.  Fabiola Cordove, a
program officer at the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) in
Washington D.C., which funds numerous opposition affiliated groups,
pointed out, ?Aristide really had 70% of the popular support and then
the 120 other parties had the thirty per cent split in one hundred
and twenty different ways, which is basically impossible to compete

While foreign governments and financial institutions heavily favored
the elite opposition, the local and foreign media did as well.
Similar to the media manipulation during the 2002 attempted coup in
Venezuela, the Haitian media, owned overwhelming by opposition-
affiliated elites, refused to air pro-government demonstrations.
Instead they devoted large blocks of air time to coverage of the much
smaller opposition marches, which one observer noted were led down
the streets by ?fancy BMW motorcycles and huge, square Mercedes Benz

Haiti?s government by early 2004 had been weakened and it?s
impoverished masses of supporters, as well as its opposition, felt
increasingly under attack.  In the months and weeks before the large
ICFTU led labor delegation arrived, chaos reigned as rebels, from the
disbanded military, based in the Dominican Republic had begun an
invasion of Haiti, equipped with new SUVs and, reportedly,
airplanes.  For years the same rebels had been running violent raids,
into Haiti killing police, government officials, and civilians alike
? sparking violence and reprisals. Even months before the
inauguration of Aristide in February 2001, Port-au-Prince had been
shaken by mysterious bombings.  OAS officials admit they never worked
to investigate the rebels or pressure the Dominican Republic to root
them out.  With the economic strangulation of a Bush and Clinton
Administration backed government aid embargo taking effect in
2000/2001 and with a small poorly armed police force, the
difficulties of the Haitian government intensified.  The CSH, like
many other opposition groups affiliated with the Group of 184, had
something the Haitian government did not have ? foreign aid.

Fritz Charles explains that the CSH received assistance, support, and
computers from ORIT and the International Labor Organization (ILO),
which, though viewed as a labor organization, is in fact a tri-
partite body of the UN which groups together trade union bodies,
employer organizations, and governments.11  Katia Gil of ORIT
clarifies that ?Since 2000, we have had support from International
Solidarity funds from the ICFTU to help in a trade union education
program, organizing workers in Haiti?we helped to build the CSH, and
we provided part of the support for the CSH infrastructure, in order
to create a place where the Haitian workers [the CSH] could plan and
manage their own process.?12 The ICFTU continues to provide an
undisclosed amount of funding for CSH programs.

Charles also refers to the ILO?s financing of six seminars for the
CSH conducted by André Lafontant Joseph (Secretary-general of the
private school teachers Union, the CNEH).13  André Lafontant Joseph,
was the author of a major research report funded by the ILO on the
Haitian labor movement14 and his union the Confédération Nationale
des Educateurs d'Haiti (CNEH) took a leading role, following the
coup, in working to undermine the public school teacher?s in the
north of Haiti.15  According to André Lafontant Jospeh?s ILO funded
study, ?ORIT? amongst others ?encourage[d] more than about fifteen
organizations to constitute the Trade-union Coordination Syndicale
Haïtienne (CSH).?16

According to Ana Jiménez, of the ILO?s San Jose office, the ILO has
provided ?technical cooperation?.a program that has the objective of
fortifying the Haitian union movement, in particular the Coordination
Syndicale Haïtienne (CSH). This program is assumed within the
ordinary budget of the Office?which does not surpass US $70.000.?17
The ILO currently has two other projects in Haiti, a project in
Gonaives worth US $413,00 (partially financed by the United Nations
Development Program) and a Canadian government financed project
working in the field of child labor with US$ 382,374.18 The AFL-CIO
works closely with the ILO, as Harry G Kamberis, Senior advisor of
the AFL-CIO?s Solidarity Center explains, ?Through our
representatives at the ILO we supported what the ILO tried to do as

Kevin Skerrett, a researcher at the Canadian Union of Public
Employees (CUPE) who previously visited Haiti as a Canadian labor
delegate argues, ?There is not much evidence to suggest that the CSH
actually operates as a trade union at all.  I have not seen any
reports that they have engaged in any collective bargaining, or even
have democratic meetings of affiliated unions during which policy
positions are democratically decided.  A number of the trade
unionists that I spoke with in Haiti and in the post-coup exile-
diaspora have suggested that the CSH was only formed in the late 90s,
and with significant involvement of US and foreign agencies.  While
it continued to operate as a sort of ?advocacy? group for Haitian
workers, it is not clear that they became anything more than a small
number of people that were part of the political opposition to the
Preval and then Aristide governments.?20 Suffice to say; led by Fritz
Charles, the CSH became the main platform for organizing labor
leaders towards the platform of the Group of 184.

Meanwhile, in Canada, while the Canadian Labor Congress (CLC)
denounced Canada?s role in legitimizing the 2004 coup d?etat of the
democratically elected government,21 it failed to investigate the
massive layoffs and persecution of public sector workers in Haiti.
An April 2004 statement from the CLC committed itself to ?monitoring?
the human rights and workers rights situation in the coming months in
Haiti, something which never occurred.22

 From Brussels the ICFTU played a leading role in the year?s leading
up to the coup, circulating reports, heavily influenced by Haitian
opposition elites, within the European labor movement ? and to some
extent the North American labor movement, that while informing the
public of some real ongoing labor disputes, also forwarded unfounded
allegations.  For example, attributing to the Aristide government the
killings of two labor advocates that took place in the rural area of
Guacimal in 2002, near the northeastern town of St. Raphael, which
were in fact (according to a newspaper whose reporter lost an eye in
the assault) murders carried out by employees of a local landowner,
not ?government partisans? as one Aristide critic recently claimed.
23  Showing the echo effect of such allegations, an employee of the
AFL-CIO?s Solidarity Center recently made the unsubstantiated claim
that ?Aristide flew over Guacimal in a helicopter, shooting at

While labor conditions remained extremely poor and corruption
persisted, as foreign backed destabilization plunged Haiti?s economy,
the Aristide government took steps towards aiding labor.  The minimum
wage was increased from 36 Gourdes to 70 Gourdes a day in early 2003,
the right to organize in the free trade zone was successfully
negotiated, a provision of the labor code that sanctioned child
domestic service was repealed, and legislation prohibiting human
trafficking was passed.  A 20-person police unit was set up to
monitor cases of suspected human trafficking along the border, while
steps were taken to promote access to education, offering a 70%
subsidy to cover education supplies and calling on families who
employ children to release them during school hours.  The second
Aristide administration (2000-2004) also refused to privatize public
sector industries, requested by the IMF.  Following the coup d?etat
many of the labor reforms were suspended, with numerous employers
reverting to the old minimum wage.

The ILO, ICFTU and ORIT were not the only labor organizations to
support the opposition to the Aristide government and ignore the
persecution of public sector workers following it?s overthrow.  On
March 1, 2004 the AFL-CIO released its sole statement in regards to
the overthrow of democracy in Haiti, stating that the ?current crisis
in Haiti represents a failure of U.S. foreign policy.?25  Only weeks
later, the AFL-CIO and its offshoot the Solidarity Center (American
Center for International Labor Solidarity) began talks with the Batay
Ouvriye (BO), an anti-Lavalas worker?s organization that had agitated
for the Aristide government to ?leave the country.?26

By mid-2005 the Solidarity Center had won two grants for its program
with the BO.

The first grant for US $350,000 was awarded to the Solidarity Center
in May of 2005 through the U.S. State Department?s ?Democracy Rights
and Labor Department?, while the second grant for US $99,965 came in
September of 2005 from the NED, also receiving its funding from the
U.S. State Department.27  Teresa Casertano, regional director of the
Americas for the Solidarity Center, managed the grants.  She
explains, ?We provide a service that is an educational service, to
train them, to share with them our knowledge and skills on trade
union organizing?Organizing members, doing new member orientation,
collective bargaining, contract enforcement, shop stewards.?28

As part of the grant requirements, the Solidarity Center must submit
quarterly evaluation reports to its funding sources, the NED and U.S.
State Department.  Casertano explains, ?We wrote a proposal that was
submitted. A very standard format with objectives, activities and
evaluation procedures?So there was a grant agreement based on that,
the State Department dispersed funds for those activities described?
The specific grant has a quarterly reporting requirement?We then
write that up and we submit it as a quarterly report.?  In this
particular program with the Batay Ouvriye (BO), the U.S. State
Department asked to extend the program, as Casertano explains, ?They
did ask us to extend it from a year long to 18 months with the same
amount of funding and we agreed.?

Kamberis explains further the cooperation between the U.S. State
Department and the AFL-CIO?s Solidarity Center. ?The State Department
has annually a labor officer conference that we are invited to come
and speak at and also when they have labor officer training programs
they send the officers over to speak with us. We design our own
programs and run them.  But we do talk with the State Department. We
exchange information and we help them with information on their
annual labor and human rights reports.?

Kamberis argues that there is a difference today between the
activities of the Solidarity Center and its Cold War predecessors.
?Since the end of the cold war the global trade union movement has
become less ideological.  What you see in Haiti [the support for
opposition labor organizations] is just a coincidence...We are
supporting the efforts of workers to organize. For example with the
World-Bank, we worked to build labor rights conditionalities and
that?s what we have achieved in Haiti to help workers?I would say
that working with the Batay Ouvriye does advance U.S. Strategic
interests, because it helps to advance freedom of association in
Haiti and that is a U.S. government objective, to allow workers to
freely associate.?  In regards to the Solidarity Center?s
predecessor, AIFLD (American Institute for Free Labor Development),
and it?s support for unions run through Duvalier?s secret police in
the 1980?s Kamberis states, ?We had programs under the Duvalier
government that addressed the same thing: worker exploitation whether
they were or were not Anti or Pro-Duvalier. That was not for us the

As the United States, Canada, and France played integral roles in
overthrowing the Aristide government; those with close ties to Haiti
- CARICOM and the African Union - refused to recognize the interim
government put in its place.  Unions such as the Oilfield Workers?
Trade Union (OWTU) of Trinidad and Tobago and the Caribbean spoke out
against the coup.  On March 1, 2004, the day following the coup,
Errol McLeod, President of OWTU condemned the foreign role in
occupying Haiti, stating ?It was totally wrong for the US, France and
Canada to determine that President Aristide was ?unfit to govern?.?30

There are numerous trade unions and labor organizations that did not
join the political opposition movement, while none have received
support from any of these four bodies.  These organizations continue
to support political interventions through groups that espouse the
undemocratic removal of governments in selected countries (i.e.
Haiti, Venezuela), at the expense of workers and in collaboration
with the foreign policy of the Bush Administration.

The blind eye turned towards the major transgressions of the interim
government can be partially explained by the vested interests that
international labor organizations had in the participants of the coup
and pre-coup destabilization campaign.  Political parties of Western
Europe that have strong ties to their countries large and influential
trade unions such as Germany?s SPD (Social Democratic Party of
Germany) have consistently supported Haitian political parties
opposed to Lavalas such as the OPL (L?Organistation de Peuple en
Lutte), a backer of austerity measures forwarded by the IMF.31  While
the majority of Haitians speak kreyòl and live at abysmal subsistence
levels; the French-speaking opposition aligned elite, many with
European educations, were apt to form long term relations with
foreign institutions already predisposed against popular democracy ?
so called ?radical populism?.  The ICFTU released a statement on
November 23, 2000, over two months prior to Aristide?s inauguration,
titled ?Return To Dictatorship?? heavily reliant on OPL sources,
labeling Haiti?s largest political party Lavalas as ?much feared.?32
Another deeply partisan ICFTU Bulletin in May of 2001 cited OPL
leaders Sauveur Pierre Etienne, Gérard Pierre, and Paul Dennis, as
well as a Convergence leader Evans Paul, with no mention of their
heavy reliance on foreign government aid agencies.33 In comparison to
its overtly critical stance during the second Aristide Administration
(2001-2004), not a single ICFTU bulletin decried coup and post-coup
labor rights violations against public sector workers and trade
unionist supporters of the ousted government. Dominique Esser, a New
York based human rights advocate, argues that labor ?persecution is a
non-topic if it happens to elements of society that are not supported
by those wealthy parties that are strongly intertwined with
international union heavyweights.?34

The most prominent international labor organizations active in Haiti,
the ICFTU, AFL-CIO, ILO, and ORIT, working to support and strengthen
labor unions that agitated for the ousting of Haiti?s democratically
elected government, have simultaneously refused to condemn the
massive layoffs and persecution of public sector workers and trade
unionists committed by its illegally-imposed successor.  In regards
to the Solidarity Center?s aloofness towards labor persecution
resulting from the coup, Casertano states, ?We make public
statements. We make plenty of statements.?  In reference to post-coup
labor persecution Katia Gil of ORIT explains, ?We have not looked
into that.?

Jeb Sprague is a graduate student, freelance journalist, and a
correspondent for Pacifica Radio?s Flashpoints. This article is in
part based off a talk he gave at the 32nd Annual Conference of the
South-West Labor Studies Association.  Visit his at http://

1 Telephone Interview on March 6, 2006.

2 http://www.haitiaction.net/News/HIP/12_17_5/12_17_5.html Also
listen to an interview with Isabel McDonald at http://

3 http://dominionpaper.ca/weblog/2004/05/

4 Kevin Pina, ?Haiti?s Large Businesses Shutter Doors as the Poor
Markets Remain Open? http://www.hatford-hwp.com/archives/43a/626.html

5 Journeying in the struggle together: An interview with Haitian
labor leader Benissoit Duclos http://www.sfbayview.com/030106/

6 http://cioslorit.org/detalle.php?item=948&leng=es

7 Translated from the CSH: Reporte De Actvidades Por La CSH: Haiti
(2002-2003).  January 10, 2003. http://cioslorit.org/detalle.php?
item=616&leng=es The ILO recorded the unions that were members within
the CSH in early 2004. The ILO?s Provisional Record, Ninety-second
Session, Geneva, 2004 states ?CSH groups together the following
workers? organizations: Fédération des ouvriers syndiqués (FOS),
Confédération nationale des éducateurs haïtiens (CNEH), Confédération
des ouvriers et des travailleurs haïtiens (KOTA), Corps national des
enseignants haïtiens (CONEH), Syndicat national des travailleurs de
la presse (SNTPH), Confédération indépendante des syndicats nationaux
(CISN), Réseau national des femmes (RENAFANM), Rassemblement des
petits planteurs (RASPA), Confédération générale des travailleurs
(CGT), Groupe d?initiative des enseignants de lycée (GIEL), Mouvement
des paysans haïtiens (MOPA), Centrale autonome des travailleurs
haïtiens (CATH), Syndicat des chauffeurs coopérants fédérés (SCCF).

8 Choosudovsky?s article ?The Destabilization of Haiti? explains that
Andy Apaid Jr., ?owns Alpha Industries, one of Haiti's largest cheap
labor export assembly lines established during the Duvalier era. His
sweatshop factories produce textile products and assemble electronic
products for a number of US firms including Sperry/Unisys, IBM,
Remington and Honeywell. Apaid is the largest industrial employer in
Haiti with a workforce of some 4000 workers. Wages paid in Andy
Apaid's factories are as low as 68 cents a day. (Miami Times, 26 Feb
2004). The current minimum wage is of the order of $1.50 a day.?

9 Anthony Fenton, Declassified Documents: National Endowment for
Democracy FY2005, Narco News, http://narcosphere.narconews.com/story/

10 Corbett List Entry 27934. See http://www.webster.edu/~corbetre/

11 http://www.ilo.org/public/english/standards/norm/sources/mne.htm

12 March 17, 2006 E-mail

13 http://cioslorit.org/detalle.php?item=616&leng=es

14 ?Le Mouvement Sydnical Haïtien: De ses origines aux débuts du
21ème siècle? André Lafontant Joseph (Premiere edition 2003)

15 ?Proposal: Community Based Human Rights Advocacy in Haiti? http://

16 ?Le Mouvement Sydnical Haïtien: De ses origines aux débuts du
21ème siècle? André Lafontant Joseph (Premiere edition 2003), Pg. 53.
http://www.oit.or.cr/mdtsanjo/actrav/pdf/haiti/haiti.pdf ?53 La
première est à l?actif de l?ORIT, de la Fondation Friedrich Ebert et
le Centre Pétion Bolivar qui à la faveur d?un processus de dialogue
et de réalisation d?activités conjointes, ont pu encourager plus
d?une quinzaine d?organisations à constituer la Coordination
Syndicale Haïtienne.?

17 Transcript of ILO E-mails in possession of author.

18 Ibid.

19 Kamberis Interview/ February 2006. Kamberis headed the AFL-CIO's
Solidarity Center from 1997 to 2004, when he moved to Senior Advisor
status.  Barbara Shailor replaced Kamberis in 2004 as head of the
Solidarity Center.  For a recent analysis of the AFL-CIO?s foreign
policy, see Kim Scipes, ?Labor Imperialism Redux? The AFL-CIO?s
Foreign Policy Since 1995,? Monthly Review, May 2005: 23-36, and on-
line at http://www.monthlyreview.org/0505scipes.htm

20 Discussion conducted in February of 2006.

21 See the CLC?s Executive Vice President Marie Clarke Walker speech

22 http://canadianlabour.ca/index.php/Haiti/CLC_Statement_on_Hai

23 ?Time to Support Haiti?, April 25, 2006 http://
www.henryjacksonsociety.org.uk/ Also see Haiti Progres, June 6, 2002
http://www.haitiprogres.com/2002/sm020605/eng06-05.html which
explains that ?the landowner's thugs killed with machetes and buried
an elderly peasant couple who had been with BO's St. Michel delegation.?

24 Notes on this conversation with the Solidarity Center?s In-Country
Haiti Organizer in possession of author (December, 2005. San
Francisco).  Also see http://www.quixote.org/hr/news/haitireport/

25 http://www.aflcio.org/aboutus/thisistheaflcio/ecouncil/

26 See my previous article ?Batay Ouvriye?s Smoking Gun? on Znet
http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?ItemID=9505 and
?Supporting a Leftist Opposition to Lavalas? on MRZine http://

27 This is acknowledged by Henry Kamberis, Teresa Casertano, and
Barbara Shailor at the AFL-CIO?s Solidarity Center in a telephone
interview conducted with this author in February of 2006.  Transcript
in possession of author.  Also see NED grants for FY 2005 at http://
inthenameofdemocracy.org/en/node/8.  For an in-depth analysis of the
relationship of the Solidarity Center with the NED, see Kim Scipes,
"An Unholy Alliance:  The AFL-CIO and the National Endowment for
Democracy (NED) in Venezuela," ZNet, July 10, 2005

28 Telephone interview conducted in February of 2006.

29 Ibid. The estimates on the total amount of state sanctioned
killings under the Duvalier Regimes (1957-1986) that I have found
range from 30,000 to 60,000.  For another account of how AFL-CIO
foreign policy leaders work with the Bush Administration, see Kim
Scipes, "AFL-CIO Foreign Policy Leaders Help Develop Bush's Foreign
Policy, Target Foreign Unions for Political Control," Labor Notes,
March 2005, http://www.labornotes.org/archives/2005/03/articles/
e.html. Also see Tim Shorrock, "Labor's Cold War," The Nation, May
19, 2003, http://www.thenation.com/doc.mhtml?i=20030519&s=shorrock

30 ?No to U.S. Intervention in Haiti?, Oilfield Workers' Trade Union
(OWTU), March 1, 2004 http://www.owtu.org/owtu%20&%20haiti.htm

31 Haiti News ( haiti-news@listhost.uchicago.edu ) May 13, 2006. In
February 2001 as Aristide was being inaugurated after his second
democratic election, the OPL hosted a ?counter-inauguration? in front
of a handful of opposition officials in which Gerard Gourgue, a 75-
year-old lawyer, was dubbed ?provisional president?. Gourgue called
for the return of the disbanded military.

32 ?Haiti: A Return to Dictatorship?? http://www.icftu.org/

33 ?Haiti: From Bad to Worse? http://www.icftu.org/

34 Haiti News ( haiti-news@listhost.uchicago.edu ) May 13, 2006
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