PORT-AU-PRINCE, Jan. 20 ? A coalition of 184 groups representing Haiti’s private sector, labor unions and civil organizations called for a general strike for Friday, saying the government had ignored their concerns about political violence and a deteriorating economy.
Leaders of the coalition, however, said they were not using the strike as a means of forcing out President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, unlike the seven-week-old opposition strike in Venezuela aimed at pressing President Hugo Chavez to resign.
The coalition announced plans for Friday’s one-day strike at a news conference on Monday. Union leader Marie Denise St. Clair, reading from a statement at the news conference, said:
”As a result of choking off the right to free expression and plunging the country into a terrible climate of insecurity by the politicization of the police and use of armed gangs to attack citizens trying to exercise their legitimate constitutional rights, we are forced to conclude the government possesses no political good will.”
The group had given Aristide’s government a Jan. 15 deadline to address concerns they voiced in December ranging from the disarmament of gangs and freedom of expression to economic policy.
”In Venezuela, the private sector is demanding the departure of Chavez,” said Maurice Lafortune, president of the Haitian National Chamber of Commerce. ”In Haiti we are not yet demanding the departure of Aristide.”
Haiti has been hit by a series of strikes over the last two months as critics of the Aristide government have protested increases in the cost of living and what they charge is Aristide’s increasingly violent and corrupt rule. At least a dozen people have been killed.
Last week, bus and taxi drivers held a strike for a second time this month to protest spiraling fuel costs caused by an end to government subsidies. Haiti’s public school teachers walked out in a two-day work stoppage to demand higher wages.
Aristide, a former Roman Catholic priest serving his second term as president of the poor Caribbean country, has been locked in a political dispute over the results of May 2000 parliamentary elections, which opposition parties allege were calculated to favor Aristide’s Lavalas Family party.
Aristide has said he will hold new elections for the disputed seats in the first half of 2003, but opposition groups have questioned whether elections could be fair.
”The present conditions make it impossible to have free, transparent and credible elections,” said Rosny Desroches, a former education minister and head of the conservative Civil Society Initiative.
A Lavalas spokesman, however, focused on new elections.
”Everybody needs to be part of the solution to Haiti’s current problems,” said spokesman Jonas Petit. ”What they are demanding is exactly what we are trying to address. To improve things we must work together through elections, and we must respect the vote of the majority in those elections.”