Group of 184 is dominated by private sector business associations. Haiti’s civil society: So much more than the 184 – Haiti Support Group press release, 6 July 2004
The Haiti Support Group (HSG)- a solidarity organisation based in the UK that has sought to accompany progressive organisations from Haiti’s civil society over the last decade – is dismayed about the lack of consultation with these organisations in the current discussions of strategies for short and medium term economic recovery and democratisation.
It is only through the involvement of community groups and grassroots organisations in the national and regional decision-making processes that a genuinely democratic system in Haiti can be realised. Only a genuine, participatory democracy can bring about the changes to the policies and structures that currently undermine the rights and potential of Haiti’s poor majority.
In this context, the HSG is particularly concerned that the very limited amount of consultation with Haitian civil society organisations is being monopolised by the Group of 184 coalition.
We are concerned for two main reasons:
- The Group of 184, while including some representatives of various sectors of civil society, is in fact dominated by one specific sector with very particular interests – private sector business associations;
- A vast array of other civil society organisations are being ignored, their important views are not being sought, and their experience and expertise are not being utilised.
1) The Group of 184 is an extension of the Groupe d’Initiative de la Société Civile (GISC, Civil Society Initiative Group), a coalition that formed in 1999 and played a prominent role in the failed attempts to resolve the political crisis that paralysed the country from May 2000. The GISC was wholly unrepresentative of the Haitian majority, and was predominantly a collection of business and religious elite organisations.*
In December 2002, what was the GISC widened its membership to include some peasant organisations, student groups and non-governmental organisations, and became the Group of 184 (according to its leaders, the Group of 184 takes its name from the “184 representatives of organisations from 13 sectors of Haitian civil society” that signed its first communiqué.)
However, despite its pretensions to represent a variety of social sectors, the words and the actions of the Group of 184 suggest that it remains under the control and direction of its initial instigators and original driving force – the private sector. It is led by André Apaid jnr., an industrialist from a family business empire with interests in the assembly industry and the import/export business. Other prominent leaders, who speak to the media and represent the coalition at meetings in Haiti and abroad, are Charles Henri Baker, vice-president of the Haitian Industrialists’ Association, Maurice Lafortune, former head of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Hans Tippenhauer, from the Group Croissance economic consulting firm, Pierre-Robert Auguste, head of the Artibonite Entrepeneurs’ Association, Fritz de Catalogne, head of the Insurance Association of Haiti, and Lionel Etienne, head of the Franco-Haitian Chamber of Commerce.
2) Despite being little more than a vehicle for a narrow, elite sector, the Group of 184 has successfully portrayed itself – particularly to foreign journalists and donor countries – as THE representative organisation of Haitian civil society as a whole. While not disputing the value of the input that Haiti’s private sector could have, the HSG is most concerned that the Group of 184’s success in self-promotion -which is in itself a reflection of the resources at its disposal – means that many other vibrant and inclusive organisations from Haiti’s civil society are being ignored.
It must be made clear that there are many, many representative, competent and dynamic civil society organisations that are not part of the Group of 184. The interim government of Haiti, the European Commission and other international donors which profess to value genuine civil society consultation and civil society participation in development, must make a serious effort to reach out to them.
There follows a sample of some organisations that the HSG believes would have much to contribute to a wider consultative process:
- Tèt Kole Ti Peyizan is a national peasant movement active since the late 1980s.
- RECOCARNO (Réseau des Coopératives Caféières de la Région Nord) is a group of coffee farmers’ co-operatives with 4,000 members active in the north of the country.
- Fonkoze is a micro-credit bank with over 1,600 member organisations.
- RERKA (Rezo Radyo Kominotè Ayisyen) is nation-wide community radio network.
- Groupe d’Appui aux Rapatriés et Réfugiés (GARR) is a non-governmental organisation working on migration issues.
- SOFA (Solidarite Fanm Ayisyen) is an association of urban and rural women.
- Chandèl is an urban literacy organisation.
- APROSIFA (Association pour la Promotion de la Santé Intégrale de la Famille) is a non-governmental organisation active in the fields of healthcare provision and social action programmes since 1996.
- Association des Journalistes Haïtiens (AJH) is a national journalists’ rights group.
There are also a number of platforms that bring scores of smaller organisations together under one umbrella. For example: · PAPDA (Platfòm k ap Plede pou yon Devlopman Altènatif) is a coalition of over a dozen non-governmental organisations, workers’ and women’s groups.
- Regwoupman Democratik Popilè is a coalition of 30 grassroots organisations.
- Inter-Syndical Premier Mai – Batay Ouvriye is a federation of 15 unions and workers’ organisations.
- POHDH (Plate-forme des organisations haïtiennes des Droits Humains) is a coalition of 10 human rights organisations.
- Plate-forme Nationale de Sécurité Alimentaire is a coalition of 18 non-governmental organisations working in the fields of social and economic development.
* Membership of the Civil Society Initiative Group:
- Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Haiti (CCIH),
- Franco-Haitian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CFHCI),
- Center for Free Enterprise and Democracy (CLED),
- Protestant Federation of Haiti (FPH),
- New Foundation of Haiti (FNH),
- National Haitian Foundation for Private Education (FONHEP),
- Committee for Patriotic Initiatives (CIP),
- National Association of Distributors and Importers of Petroleum Products (ANADIPP),
- Democratic Initiatives (ID),
- Insurance Association of Haiti (AAH),
- National Haitian Teachers’ Confederation (CNEH),
- Haitian Tourist and Hoteliers’ Association (ATH),
- Friends of Nature Federation (FAN),
- Chamber of Commerce and Industry of the Lower Artibonite,
- Chamber of Commerce and Industry of the Southeast,
- General Independent Organisations of Workers of Haiti (OGITH),
- Artibonite Entrepreneurs’ Association (AEA).