In my last article, I concluded by noting the U.S.-sponsored coup against left-populist President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and the beginning of the country’s occupation by MINUSTAH, the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti. Well-meaning but naive liberals and leftists often believe that the United Nations is an inherently progressive force on the global stage; that as a “community of nations” it is less susceptible to the profit-seeking adventures and cynical power plays of the U.S. government. Hence, for instance, continual calls from sincere activists in the anti-war movement to limit American military operations abroad to those that enjoy UN backing and the anti-war movement’s political disarmament in cases like Libya where the imperial adventure is under a “multi-lateral” banner.
In Haiti, the UN Stabilization Mission was (and remains) essentially a fig leaf for the goal of advancing American economic interests. Former U.S. Ambassador Janet Sanderson described1 MINUSTAH in 2008 as “an indispensable tool in realizing core USG policy interests in Haiti,” citing the country’s “security vulnerabilities and fundamental institutional weaknesses” as reasons for its existence (she doesn’t mention her government’s role in shaping those same vulnerabilities and weaknesses.)
The earthquake of 2010 hit on the occupation’s sixth year. If ever there was a time for MINUSTAH to flex its humanitarian muscles and show the Haitian people what international cooperation could accomplish, this would have been it. The situation was dire. A magnitude 7.0 earthquake would be a serious situation anywhere, but it was absolutely devastating in a poverty-stricken country filled with ill-prepared infrastructure. The earthquake’s arrival and immediate aftermath killed 230,000 people, injured 300,000 more and left one and a half million homeless.
Instead, MINUSTAH proved itself only as a hostile and alien force over the country. Its troops reintroduced cholera – in a country that had formerly eradicated the disease inside its borders – through contaminating water, leading to over six thousand deaths and 440,000 infections. A U.S. court ruled last year that the UN would not be held liable for the resulting loss of life. Its tragically misnamed peacekeepers repressed the street protests that followed, just as they acted as a repressive force in the recent protests against Michel Martelly’s government.
On the economic front, the US-MINUSTAH justification for its existence is feeble. A black hole of corruption2, both legal and illegal, has seen billions of dollars in foreign aid and charitable contributions either go unaccounted for or funneled into the coffers of multinational corporations. When Haitian legislators moved to raise the minimum wage from 31 cents an hour to 61 – still inhumanly low – the Obama Administration leaned on the government to block it at the behest of Hanes and Levi-Strauss, two companies among many that rely on slave wages for production3.
Slave wages plus enough political stability to suit business purposes – that’s the end goal of imperialism in Haiti, but it is an elusive one. Whenever more than three-fourths of the population lives in poverty (and half in extreme poverty – less than $1 a day), social decay will be a permanent feature… or worse, from a ruling-class perspective, the threat of popular revolt. Already the discontent with the status quo is there; ex-president Rêne Preval himself conceded that “if the Haitian people were asked if they wanted the UN forces to leave, they would say yes.”
Splits and Struggle
It’s in this context that the class struggle in Haiti takes place – through, on the one side, rolling battles over wages and conditions, and on the other side through a political struggle with the U.N.-backed government of Michel Martelly, under whose reign corruption is institutionalized and democratic rights trampled.
On February 2-3, transport workers in Port-au-Prince flexed their muscles in a fuel strike, calling for the government to lower the cost of gasoline in light of its unaffordability and the global fall in costs. The next week, a two-day general strike brought the economy to a standstill, aiming for a further reduction in the fuel price beyond the essentially token amount agreed after the drivers’ strike and, of course, the resignation of Martelly’s government. Disputes between unions and employers in the country’s many sweatshops are also ongoing. At this point, any localized dispute threatens to gravitate toward a generalized opposition to the existing order.
Not all oppositions are equal. The “official” opposition is the Movement of the Democratic Patriotic Opposition (MOPOD), an umbrella of various bourgeois parties and currents. It has little to offer the Haitian masses except statements of moral indignation and cosmetic changes upon getting into power. Martelly refuses to call immediate elections that are years overdue. He now rules by decree with one third of the Senate empty, all Chamber of Deputies (lower house) seats vacant and municipal offices whose elections have been postponed since 2011.
Despite this the MOPD – at the insistence of the U.S. Ambassador – accepted the formation of Martelly’s Provisional Electoral Council, recently formed as a sop to quell the growing mass discontent (an ineffective and unconstitutional sop is still a sop.) Executive control over the electoral process means more undemocratic maneuvers and exclusions, as was the case in 2010 when Fanmi Lavalas was barred from running.
Clearly the official opposition has no teeth, but Lavalas has not been able – or rather, willing – to provide a revolutionary leadership either. It’s still a hugely popular party and would likely win a free and fair elections; its activists have been at the forefront of the anti-government protests. But in spite of being shunned by the capitalist parties, the Lavalas leadership positions itself as the establishment’s left-wing outlier. Its leadership is now composed of bona fide members of the bourgeoisie and former right-wing politicians / coup supporters. The party’s left wing was dealt a blow in 2013 when charismatic and outspoken anti-imperialist legislators, Deputy Arnel Bélizaire and Senator Moïse Jean-Charles, were expelled. Former President Aristide remains completely silent and has in fact withdrawn from politics altogether – with his neutrality giving de facto support to the Right, whether that is his intention or not. Lavalas’s rightward drift is shown, among other things, by their wavering on the demand for Martelly’s resignation (party spokespeople sometimes claim this is not a prerequisite for free elections) and fudging the question of the occupation. FL leader Doctor Maryse Narcisse, the expected nominee for this year’s presidential elections, brags to the media that her party is now one of “moderate opposition.”
Running into a wall with Lavalas, a combative minority has looked elsewhere to find an organizational expression. Former Senator Jean-Charles founded a new organization, the Platform of Dessalines’ Children (PPD), referencing the national hero and leader of the 1791 revolution Jean-Jacques Dessalines. Information about PPD is scarce, but more significant in my view is the KOD – Kodinasyon Desalines or Dessalines Coordination. The KOD was formed in 2013 when multiple popular organizations broke away from Lavalas after its purge of the two leftist parliamentarians and its inclusion of old coup supporters. Rejecting the “dialogue” process between Martelly, the U.S., and the MOPOD as well as FL’s craven attempts to be accepted as a “respectable” partner, KOD leader Oxygène David had this to say at its founding conference:
“For some time, militants from several popular organizations, who have been meeting to analyze the political situation, foresaw this terrible development that has led us into this dangerous crossroads. For months now, we have been observing this convergence of traitors taking shape. We have to prepare ourselves for struggle. We have to establish a true fighting organization through which we can struggle, a true popular party, not only to take part in elections, but to fight for the interests of the Haitian people with discipline and principles.
The Dessalines Coordination (KOD) is a progressive Dessalinien organization for the national liberation of the Haitian people. KOD declares that the Macouto-bourgeois dialogue being held at the El Rancho Hotel will not do anything for the nation. It is simply a new maneuver by the government of President Martelly and Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe, along with several opportunist mercenary political parties beholden to the imperialists in complicity with the Catholic Church, to throw sand in the people’s eyes and sink the masses even deeper into exploitation and poverty.
KOD has come to speak to you, Haitian people, above all our brothers and sisters who are life-long unemployed; workers who are struggling for 500 gourdes [$11.35 per day minimum wage]; peasants who get no fertilizer nor financial assistance from the government, but instead are robbed by officials; our students who are suffering around the country who can’t find any support; and teachers’ unions which are on strike today. KOD salutes all of you, KOD understands your battles, KOD supports your demands, but we have to all stand up together to solve the nation’s problems.”4
Since its launch, KOD has concentrated its agitation around two key slogans: immediate withdrawal of MINUSTAH, immediate ejection of the Martelly government from power, and installation of a Provisional Government to coordinate free elections. Essentially the Dessalines Coordination is the most politically advanced formation in the country, despite its quasi-Maoist line that a post-Martelly provisional authority would be drawn from “all sectors of society.” Here is a relatively strong political force that self-identifies as a workers’ and peasants’ party, one that recognizes the interwoven threads between the state and the “macouto-bourgeois.”5 Another high-profile split from Fanmi Lavalas could see KOD strengthened further. Alternatively, when the presidential elections finally do occur (and if FL isn’t excluded again) then Dr. Narcisse’s pathological centrism should provoke further dissent in the ranks that lead to a steady trickle of drop-outs – although this kind of “split” is more likely to result in dissent petering out than channeling in a constructive direction.
Haiti’s problems can’t be solved within its own borders alone. Even if the occupation was withdrawn and the state helmed by Martelly was replaced by a provisional government – or, better, by the state power of the working class – these steps would not liberate Haiti. The economic form of imperialist domination – ie, Haiti’s position as a poor, underdeveloped source of super-exploited labor within the global division of labor – would remain. Haitian capitalism has not responded kindly to past efforts to make it more humane, and it goes without saying that building socialism in one third of the island of Hispaniola is a fantasy.
This is not to say that the Haitian masses shouldn’t fight. Quite the contrary. In addition to the economic and political struggle at home, a thoroughly internationalist orientation is needed. To an extent this is already the case. The far-left usual suspects are mostly absent from Haiti, with the exception of a small Trotskyist group aligned to the French Lutte Ouvrière.6 But Fanmi Lavalas has a presence in U.S. Haitian immigrant communities, and the militant class-struggle union Batay Ouvriye (Worker Struggle) has links to the international solidarity movement in general.
Naturally, the revolutionary left in the U.S., France and Canada is involved in (and often the lynchpin of) Haiti solidarity campaigns, mainly around anti-occupation agitation, wage issues and debt amnesty / reparations. On top of this, Latin American revolutionaries have an unexpected task: agitation against their own governments’ complicity and involvement in the occupation. Bolivia’s Evo Morales, Uruguay’s Pepe Mujica and Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff – all leading “broad-left” governments – all participate in MINUSTAH. Brazil and Uruguay provide the largest and second largest contingents of occupation troops, respectively.
Fernando Moyano had this to say about the situation:
“On the one hand, in common with other leftist Latin American governments participating in MINUSTAH, the government in Uruguay has not broken with imperialism. It and other soft-left governments in Latin America today, including Brazil and Argentina, are still beholden to capitalism. One expression of this is their participation in the occupation of Haiti.
Even Bolivia and Ecuador have participated in MINUSTAH, although with smaller forces compared to others. Ecuador has recently withdrawn from the force, but its military base in Haiti was transferred to the authoritarian government of Haitian President Michel Martelly, and in 2013, Ecuador provided training to some 40 Haitian paramilitaries, whom Haitians fear will form the nucleus of a revived Haitian army. The reviled, human rights-violating former army was disbanded in 1995 by the pacifist president of the day, Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Uruguay have played major roles in MINUSTAH. Chile joined with the United States, Canada and France in landing troops in March 2004 to consolidate the violent overthrow of Aristide, then serving his second, elected term as president. Brazil uses these missions to train its troops in military control of its civilian population. For several years, the Brazilian army has militarily occupied the favelas (poor districts) of Rio de Janeiro. The World Cup tournament of 2014 prompted the extension of that occupation to other cities in Brazil.”7
State repression wielded in capital’s interests abroad will inevitably be directed to serve capital’s interests at home: it is, as Malcolm X would say, chickens coming home to roost. The working class in the Americas has a concrete material interest in helping the Haitian working class liberate itself. We need to develop but ultimately go beyond campaigns of international solidarity organized around purely defensive slogans. In the era of decaying capitalism there can be no “national road” to socialism and freedom for the vast majority, in Haiti or elsewhere.
A united front of revolutionary socialists in Latin and North America could bring Haiti solidarity work to a higher level, both in aid for Haitian immigrants and in building anti-occupation sentiment in the occupying powers. But it could also do much more than that, if armed with a hemispheric, rather than national, vision of a new society.
5. A portmanteau of bourgeois and the “Tonton Macoutes” described in my previous article. The term refers to the fusion of Haitian capital and big landlords, who sponsored the Macoute death squads.
6. American readers may be more familiar with Lutte Ouvrière’s U.S. affiliate, The Spark.