Haitians Struggle against Continued Occupation amidst Earthquake’s Devastation
By Anne Jaclard.
July 28 marked the 95th anniversary of the start of the first U.S. occupation of Haiti (1915-34). The date was commemorated by demonstrations in New York City and Latin America as well as in Haiti, where hundreds turned out in spite of the unmitigated hardship resulting from the Jan. 12 earthquake and the danger caused by military occupation. A full analysis of Haiti’s history since 1915 by the Batay Ouvriye Solidarity Network was the subject of a discussion three days later, and it is reproduced below.
(Photo: Demonstration against the occupation in Haiti, October 1st, 2010.)
In New York, we demonstrated across the street from the United Nations against the current U.S./U.N. occupation of Haiti. MINUSTAH (United Nations Mission for the Stabilization of Haiti) has occupied the country since 2004, and two U.S. military task forces are also there.
Six months after the earthquake that leveled the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince, more than 1 ½ million Haitians are still homeless. Only a portion have tents, which provide little protection against tropical storms in the hurricane season already underway. Almost no temporary shelters have been built. Millions of people worldwide gave generously in response to appeals for aid. Yet residents of some 1,200 camps of earthquake survivors say that almost nothing of the promised billions in emergency aid is reaching them. MINUSTAH forces are not distributing aid but instead repressing protest demonstrations.
In Port-au-Prince, Batay Ouvriye, a grassroots organization of workers and peasants, demonstrated in front of the Haitian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Here is part of their account:
“With some 100 people, we functioned in 3 teams: one, in front of the ministry with our signs and demands, another with banners, which stopped the traffic and took over the main road, with agitation. And the last that was distributing our leaflets and posters and spreading our demands. At the last moment, we burned a Brazilian flag which was intertwined with an American one [Brazilian troops make up MINUSTAH].
“The worst occurred almost at the very moment we had ended; an armed civilian clearly recognized as being linked to the government fired gunshots directly from his car, wounding one of these demonstrators, in front of the police, who did not even attempt to arrest him. Just as we have been denouncing for a long time, the Papa/Baby Doc period is resurging! It’s up to us to know what we have to do.
“… a march more specifically organized by Batay Ouvriye was held in Cap-Haitian too. With roughly 150 participants, the march paraded around the whole city with the same message, banners, leaflets and posters. Both in Port-au-Prince and Cap-Haitian, as well as in other areas of the country, the distribution of these materials continued the rest of this week. THE STRUGGLE IS JUST BEGINNING!”
Back in New York, on July 31, the Batay Ouvriye Solidarity Network held a meeting that centered on the following analysis of Haiti from the first U.S. occupation to the present:
BO Solidarity Network, July 31 2010
For more than 30 years, since the end of the 70′s, each year, without fail, progressives in NY have gathered to mark July 28, 1915, the anniversary of the first US occupation of Haiti, a 19 year occupation that produced more than 15,000 victims, an occupation that radically changed Haiti.
In progressive circles, July 28 is an important date. At first, progressives used this date because the denunciation of the US occupation of Haiti served as a demarcation with reactionary opportunists, even if those who claimed to be opposed to Duvalier. Anti-imperialist positions served as a rallying point for all those who truly wished to support popular struggles, the struggles of the working class, the poor peasantry, the sub-proletariat and the poor petty bourgeois in Haiti.
Anti-imperialist positions were a delineating marker between people’s camp and the camp of the people’s enemies, the camp of the reactionary dominant classes serving the interests of imperialism. The enemies of the people’s camp are the bourgeois class, the big landowners, and the imperialists. Fractions of the bourgeoisie such as the comprador bourgeoisie, involved in import export trade or in assembly sweatshops and the bureaucratic bourgeoisie, which uses its hold on state power and corruption to fund itself, make up the enemies of the people’s camp. Big landowners, involved in feudal domination of small sharecroppers, as part of the system of rural domination, also make up the camp of the people’s enemies.
From the first time that the Batay Ouvriye political tendency marked the July 28 anniversary, we already warned that American imperialism was preparing for another military intervention in Haiti. We already were denouncing how each year the collaboration of the anti-national ruling lackey classes was deepening and consolidating imperialist domination and penetration in Haiti. Unfortunately, our previsions have come true, this current July 28th, we must make clear is the anniversary of the first of 4 imperialist occupations. Those who bear the mark of the blows remember.
THE FIRST OCCUPATION
The first occupation, from 1915 to 1934, lasted 19 years of oppression and repression by the Yankee imperialists. American marines massacred over 15,000 patriots, such as the massacre of peasants in Marchaterre, December 6, 1929, or the assassination of Charlemagne Péralte and Benoit Battraville, both leaders of the Caco insurrection.
From the beginning, the invasion met with popular resistance. Even though just a handful of soldiers, such as Pierre Sully, Edouard François and Joseph Pierre, opposed the landing of the marines, quite soon thereafter, the Caco rebellion took up armed struggle against the Yankees. Even though they lacked weapons (only one out of five had a rifle), the Cacos lead a valiant struggle against the Yankees. More than 11,000 were killed in the Caco rebellion. The lack of a clear political line and treason were the main cause of their eventual failure. Jean Baptiste Conzé, a bourgeois from Grande Rivierre, collaborated with Captain Hanneken to assassinate Péralte, November first 1919. Another traitor led Captain Perkins to assassinate Benoit Battraville on May 19, 1920. After the death of Péralte and Battraville, the Caco rebellion was suppressed.
The first Yankee occupation had carte blanche to establish its domination. The Americans imposed a convention in 1915 and had a new constitution voted in 1918 that gave them all the legal means they needed to run Haiti. Under the occupation, the imperialists expropriated tens of thousands of small peasants. They appropriated more than 266,000 acres of land to establish banana, rubber, sugar, sisal, and mahogany plantations. They reestablished a system of forced labor to build roads for the occupying army. They seized the assets of the National Bank, and they devalued Haitian currency, but mainly, it was their takeover of customs that enabled them to control government finances.
The imperialists set up a Gendarmerie where the Haitian soldiers were under the direct command of American officers. In 1926, there were about a thousand US soldiers in Haiti, mainly in Port-au-Prince and in Cap Haitien. The Gendarmerie was about three thousand strong and it was this Gendarmerie that was the main instrument of US occupation. It was this same Gendarmerie that was left behind after the withdrawal of US troops on August first, 1934. This Gendarmerie eventually became the Haitian Army and it continued to oppress the Haitian masses throughout its existence.
U.S. MARINES LEFT A SYSTEM OF DOMINATION
Therefore, even if the US Marines withdrew in 1934, they left behind a system of domination that continued on and maintained US imperialist neo-colonial domination and reinforced it over the years.
That is why Haiti had a series of dictators succeeding each other until 1957, when Duvalier took over. The 29 year Duvalier dictatorship, even though it was beholden to US imperialism and it served its interests, brought about some structural changes in Haiti. Not only was it more murderous than any other preceding dictatorship, it also enabled the emergence of a bureaucratic bourgeoisie as the uncontested hegemonic fraction in the Haitian power bloc, the ruling class alliance.
The bureaucratic bourgeoisie is a fraction of the bourgeois class that uses its hold on state power to enrich itself through institutionalized corruption and the appropriation of state assets. Sate owned enterprises functioned as privately owned Duvalier family businesses. Moreover, the bureaucratic bourgeoisie used its state power to establish monopolies in various other ventures, eliminating its competition. A Duvalier minister, Cambronne, for example set up business ventures to supply blood and cadavers to US companies. The “hereditary republic,”an oxymoron, set up when Jean Claude succeeded his father as President for Life, is a revealing symptom of the hegemonic nature of this bureaucratic bourgeoisie.
This hegemony led to significant changes in Haiti. Economic degradation accelerated along with the emigration of petty bourgeois intellectuals, and the political changes that should have accompanied changes on the international scene, like the end of the Cold War and the emergence of the neo-liberal doctrine, the Washington Consensus, these changes were partially blocked because of the inflexibility of this dictatorship. This led to the structural crisis behind the February 7, 1986 flight of Jean-Claude Duvalier aboard US military cargo planes. The ensuing power vacuum and crisis of the Haitian State has continued to this day, with a crisis of representation and a crisis of legitimacy that neither the Haitian ruling classes nor US imperialism has been able to resolve.
There a several contradictions involved behind this crisis that has confounded the ruling classes and the imperialists. There are many contradictions within the dominant classes to establish a new hegemonic fraction in the power block: the dissolution of the VSN, the tonton makouts, the dissolution of the Leopard special forces, the dissolution of the Haitian Army, the establishment of new repressive forces, the police, CIMO, the Presidential Guard, the MINUA, the MINUSTAH, elections, coup d’états, the Group 184, the GNB, the invasion led by Guy Philippe… all these represent struggles within the ruling classes to establish a new hegemonic fraction.
EXTREME MISERY AND INEQUALITY PERSIST
On one hand, there is a situation of extreme misery and extreme inequality, 70% unemployment, hunger and starvation, which necessitates a high level of repression to maintain the domination of these vampire-like exploiting classes. And the bourgeois faction that is most able to enact this repression is the bureaucratic bourgeoisie, because it enables dictatorship.
On the other hand, the hegemony of the bureaucratic bourgeoisie impedes the neoliberal agenda, the privatization of state enterprises and the use of elections to hide domination and exploitation, and the use of economic structure to facilitate imperialist penetration. The best candidate representing those interests is the comprador bourgeoisie, the import-export and sweatshop fraction of the bourgeoisie, since it is already a lackey and an associate of imperialist penetration.
Since 1986, there has been a struggle between the bureaucratic and the comprador fractions of the bourgeoisie to seize the hegemony of the power block. Populist opportunist petty bourgeois politicians have intervened in this power struggle, lending themselves as legitimate and representative candidates in elections, while, once in office, they have quickly teamed up with the “gran manjè” [big eaters] and attempted to constitute themselves as the new bureaucratic bourgeoisie. This was the case with Lavalas, and is the case today with Inite, Préval’s party, posing as agents of “continuity” for the imperialist agenda. Over the years, this struggle has led to electoral massacres, September 1987, rigged elections, Mannigat, the 2000 elections, elections with extremely low voter turnout like Préval 1, Aristide 2, other elections with heavy voter turnout that led to the election of populist candidates, Aristide 1 and Préval 2, until the vast majority of the popular realized that they have nothing to gain through elections. Wyclef Jean’s candidacy is the latest effort at populist mobilization and it remains to be seen whether or not it can actually mobilize people to go to the polls.
The second occupation was September 19, 1994, when 24,000 US marines brought back a declawed Aristide to the presidency, after Raoul Cédras, Michel François, Toto Constant, Jodel Chamblain, along with FRAPH, and the “attachés,” under the direction of the US embassy, had completed the massacre of over 5,000 victims of the September 31 1991 coup d’état, after the dismantling and massacre of popular organizations, after a 3 year embargo had further impoverished Haiti. This opened a new chapter in Haiti’s history.
ARISTIDE DID NOT CHANGE CONDITIONS
This is a period that began with Aristide’s Lavalas administration setting a historical precedent paving the way for imperialist “Humanitarian Intervention” into sovereign countries not at war, though the manipulation of the UN Security Council. This precedent has since been used elsewhere and was even condemned by Nelson Mandela who, at the time of the infamous Governor’s Island accords, stated, “the struggle for democracy should not compromise national sovereignty.”
The second occupation led to the systematic weakening of the Haitian State. After the coup, after the dissolution of the repressive forces under US/UN MINUA occupation and tutelage, after the emptying of state coffers, the implementation of neoliberal structural adjustment policies such as privatization of state owned enterprises and the reduction of state services, the reduction of the state budget, the inherited “odious” foreign debt and growing debt toward imperialist financial institutions, where 60% of the State budget originates from foreign funding sources, all these factors have achieved their goal of reducing the Haitian State to a puppet state, an instrument of corruption at the hands of a few “gran manjè” fighting amongst themselves over the remains of rotting garbage. This is a state that has been sidelined while the major funding has been channeled through NGO’s that have taken on the de facto role of managing the country. The economic degradation of Haiti has accelerated because of the sell-out neo-liberal policies. Miami rice, all kinds of “pèpè” (cheap, second hand or damaged foreign imports) have destroyed national production, while drugs, contraband, remittances from the Diaspora, NGO’s and funding from international imperialist financial institutions have become the base of the Haitian economy.
February 29, 2004, the third occupation stated when once again, US military personnel accompanied Aristide into exile aboard a US military cargo plane. This time because of the war in Iraq, US imperialists maneuvered to establish a proxy occupation force through the use of other countries’ UN forces in the MINUSTAH. Right away, a new economic plan was proposed for Haiti, the ICF (Interim Cooperation Framework). The only problem was that it was the same old plan all over again, the same sweatshop plan, with the same lies and promises of billions of dollars in aid.
RESPONSE TO THE JAN. 12 EARTHQUAKE
The day after the January 12, 2010 catastrophic earthquake that killed over 300,000 people and left over a million and a half homeless, the fourth occupation began. The US took over the airport and they deployed about 20,0000 troops in and around Haiti aboard aircraft carriers. This massive deployment was responsible for blocking most of the urgently needed aid that had started pouring in from all over the world and would remain stuck in the airport. Thousands of victims in need of medical care, food and water were left unattended, while on American TV, Obama, as the new kinder, gentler face of US imperialism, was telling the world how the US was saving Haiti.
Do we need soldiers with tanks and machine guns to distribute medical aid, food and water? Obviously, the US military deployment was seeking to achieve its own objectives. Obviously, US imperialism was using the Haitian tragedy to attempt to re-establish itself as the only power capable of responding to such tragedies, trying to restore its tarnished image and taking control of the situation to ensure its interests prevail in all eventualities.
One again, almost right away, US imperialists proposed a new plan to rebuild Haiti, the ICRH (Interim Commission for the Reconstruction of Haiti), which came about as the result of the March 31, 2010 meetings in New York at the UN. The only problem is that once again, it’s the same old plan that has led to disastrous results over more than thirty years. The ICRH plans can be summarized as assembly sweatshops for industrial development, mango cola, Monsanto GMO seeds, chemical fertilizers and insecticides for agricultural development, water privatization and private beach clubs for tourists, to restart the tourist industry. Is there any logic behind this plan?
SWEATSHOPS ARE NO SOLUTION
How can assembly sweatshops constitute a base for a country’s industrial development while the country’s national production is being laid to waste by unrestricted cheap foreign imports? Assembly sweatshops are a disaster in waiting because this is an industry known for its volatility; it is constantly relocating where it can access cheaper, unrestricted labor. Because of this, assembly sweatshops condemn workers forever to the enslavement of starvation wages. Furthermore, assembly industries do not contribute anything to the country’s economy: everything is imported and exported, the profits are repatriated, all the equipment comes in duty-free, no taxes are assessed. The Haitian factory managers are rewarded with crumbs while most of the loot is reaped by multinational companies like Hanes, Nautica, Levi’s, Disney and the like… Even when specific laws are enacted to promote assembly sweatshops, like the HOPE legislation, it’s obvious that the political instability and lack of infrastructure of Haiti will prevent a significant development of sweatshop industries. Even at its peak, when under Jean-Claude Duvalier there were 200,000 sweatshop workers employed, that was precisely when there were the biggest waves of Haitians attempting to flee Haiti because the economic situation was so desperate. Assembly sweatshops do not promote economic development, they only breed misery.
EARTHQUAKE UNMASKED REAL RELATIONS
The January 12 earthquake has unmasked the masquerade of puppets on the political scene in Haiti. It has completely unmasked the absolute incompetence of the Préval government. Its has clearly demonstrated the success of years of policies to weaken the Haitian state, turning it into a beggar state, a state under receivership, an infirmed state where a bunch of career opportunists look for jobs in order to become “gran manjè.”
The January 12 earthquake has also unmasked the incompetence of the MINUSTAH forces, which were completely useless from a security or assistance standpoint. Their incompetence only served to justify the US invasion.
The January 12 earthquake also unmasked the incompetence and inability of US imperialism. Just like we saw the aid blocked in the airport, we can also see the failure of the reconstruction plan. After six months, not even 2% of the rubble has been cleared; it will take over 25 years at this rate just to clear the rubble. Hundreds of thousands are still stuck in refugee tents under the rain and the hot sun, while the tens are rotting, with no end in sight to their predicament. NGOs have taken over the country, each with their own agenda, their own set of all wheel drive vehicles, their own well salaried foreign employees, while the people only receive crumbs.
Now they have come up with a new plan. They must hold elections to ensure the legitimacy and continuity of the imperialist occupation and reconstruction. Who believes in these sham elections? What legitimacy or representation do they provide? How are they going to resolve the state crisis?
Obviously, they have no answer. The imperialists, the international community, the NGOs, the reactionary lackey ruling classes, they all have no solution for this structural crisis. That is why we agree with BO’s declaration that only the popular masses, with the leadership of the working class, can provide a viable alternative, a radical change in country’s situation.
One of our first objectives must be to oust the MINUSTAH. “Si pat gen sitirè, pa ta gen vole.” That’s a Creole saying meaning that there would not be thieves without those who enable their thievery. This goes both ways in the relationship between the Haitian ruling classes and the MINUSTAH forces. These occupation forces are there to ensure continued imperialist and reactionary ruling class domination. We support the call for the ouster of all MINUSTAH forces and the repeal of their mandate, October 15, 2010. We think it’s important for all progressive forces to join in this struggle.
January 12 has brought to the forefront the biggest fault line in Haiti. That is the fault line that separates the exploited popular masses from the classes that dominate and exploit them. The failure of all the imperialist and ruling class agendas has put the popular masses in front of the need for them to take over the future of the country. We agree with BO’s calls for popular uprising all over, the uprising of workers against bourgeois exploitation, the uprising of poor peasants against feudal exploitation, the uprising of the sub-proletariat in demand for decent jobs and living conditions, the uprising of students in demand for a real education for all that can provide for a better future in Haiti, the uprising of all the popular masses to demand the end of foreign imperialist domination.
As soon as this project is on the table, all mystifications and pretenses are cleared away. There only remain two camps: the people’s camp and the camp of the ruling exploiting classes aligned with imperialism.
Down with exploitation! Down with imperialist domination! Long live the people’s camp! Only one solution! Revolution!
Long live the autonomous struggle of the popular masses with the leadership of the working class!