FEBRUARY 28 – Over the last three weeks, murderous right-wing rebels have launched an armed coup d’état against the Haitian government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide. There should be no mistaking who these sinister “insurgents” are: their leaders are the former heads of death squads, police and army units who slaughtered thousands when they were last in power. The coup plotters are allied with a so-called “democratic” opposition coalition, which has been covertly financed by the Bush regime via the International Republican Institute. As the rebel military force seizes town after town with a relatively small contingent, there has been little resistance and in some cases support from the impoverished population, ground down by years of penury. This is the result of anti-worker economic austerity and privatization policies carried out by Aristide on orders from the International Monetary Fund. Yet as military forces draw near to the capital of Port-au-Prince, residents of the sprawling slums and pro-Aristide “popular organizations” have thrown up barricades as a measure of self-defense. They know well that a victory by the rebels would lead to a bloodbath among the poor and working people.
While the United States has pretended to be neutral in this showdown, and Aristide himself was installed by U.S. warships ordered in by Democratic president Bill Clinton, this takeover attempt has clearly been cooked up in Washington. Recently there have been calls, particularly from liberal Democrats, for new U.S. intervention in Haiti to back up the elected Aristide government. But as the Pentagon moves to send in an expeditionary force, it is clear that its aim would be to remove the Haitian president. Moreover, the French government has set aside its tactical differences with the U.S. over the invasion of Iraq and joined its imperialist rivals in seeking to push out Aristide. Along with the Canadian second-rate imperialists, Haiti’s former colonial masters propose to organize a “multinational peacekeeping force” in tandem with U.S. Marines which would impose a new occupation of Haiti, perhaps under the cover of the United Nations. Working people, minorities, students and all opponents of imperialism – particularly in the United States, France and Canada – should mobilize to oppose this imperialist intervention, whatever its purported aims, including workers action where possible to block supplies to the invaders. Drive the imperialists out of Iraq, Afghanistan and Haiti!
At the same time, Haitian working people should give no political support to the Aristide regime. The former Catholic parish priest and proponent of Liberation Theology has long been an instrument of imperialist domination. After being elected with an overwhelming majority in 1990 elections, he was forced out by some of the same forces who are now mounting a comeback. He spent several years in exile in Washington, where he became the darling of black Democratic Congressmen and was braintrusted by the Clinton administration. He was reinstalled by the U.S. in 1994, flying back together with Secretary of State Warren Christopher while Navy cruisers made a show of muscle in the Port-au-Prince harbor. Once in office, he followed the dictates of Washington and Wall Street and privatized a series of industries, leading to layoffs of several thousand workers. Due to IMF-dictated austerity policies, mass misery deepened with unemployment estimated at upwards of 70 percent. Now Aristide is harvesting the bitter fruits of being an imperialist minion, to be discarded when no longer useful, as with the former CIA man Manuel Noriega in Panama in 1990.
The imperialist press, dutifully following the scripts handed them by the White House in Washington and the Elysée Palace in Paris, almost unanimously portrays the Aristide regime as a dictatorship of criminal thugs (while remaining tight-lipped about the murderous thugs now mounting a coup in the name of “democracy”). In reality, the rapid advance of the rebels is due to the fact that Aristide dissolved the army and has no more than 5,000 lightly armed police (who have been most of the 80 killed so far in the rightist revolt). But the virtual destruction of the Haitian economy has meant that, aside from drug trafficking, the only source of wealth is the government itself with its meager tax receipts and dwindling international aid. The result has been a sordid battle for control of the machinery of government by rival bands, the pro-Aristide militias dubbed chimères and the remnants of the tontons macoutes of the former dictatorship of François (“Papa Doc”) and Jean-Claude (“Baby Doc”) Duvalier which ruled the country from 1950 to 1986 with Washington’s blessings (and money). In recent months, the situation in Haiti increasingly resembled Jamaica in the 1970s, when Michael Manley’s PNP (Progressive National Party) faced off with Edward Seaga’s JLP (Jamaica Labour Party), often leading to shootouts between housing projects controlled by rival political gangs. In the extreme, this situation could lead to a total breakdown of the state as occurred in Somalia in the early 1990s.
Many of the complaints about brutal repression by the populist Aristide government come from the popular-front opposition which groups social-democratic leftists such as Gérard Pierre-Charles (former head of the Haitian Communist Party, now leader of the Democratic Convergence) and trade unionists together with bosses such as Andy Apaid (the U.S.-born sweatshop boss who heads the “Group of 184”). This unholy alliance mirrors the pro-imperialist opposition to the populist government of Venezuelan strong man Hugo Chávez, and indeed they have used many of the same tactics (including a failed “general strike,” in reality a lockout, called by the Chamber of Commerce with the cooperation of pro-capitalist union misleaders). While masquerading as “civil society,” the political opposition is in fact a vehicle for the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois elite, most of them mulatto, congregated in the hilly suburb of Pétionville, who see themselves as taking back power from Aristide’s base of impoverished black slumdwellers of Cité Soleil. The rival demonstrations give the appearance of a clash between the “haves” and the “have nots.”
Meanwhile, the rebel military leaders are certified mass murderers. Top leaders include Jean Tatoune of the death squad euphemistically known as the Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti (FRAPH); Louis Jodel Chamblain, who led paramilitary death squads that killed hundreds during the Raul Cedras regime of 1991-94; and Guy Philippe, the former police chief of Cap-Haitien and son of a coffee plantation owner, who “trained at a military academy in Ecuador after Mr Aristide disbanded the army, where he received instruction from French troops and the US secret service” (London Guardian, 27 February).
Notorious mass murderer Louis Jodel Chamblain (left) conferring with Guy Philippe, trained by U.S. secret service. The FRAPH is back as U.S. imposes “death squad democracy.” (Photo: Haïti-Progrès)
In the U.S., various fake leftists give political support to Aristide and his Lavalas (avalanche, in Creole) political party as the victims of imperialist intrigue. Indeed, many of these groups, such as the Workers World Party and Socialist Workers Party, have been allied with Aristide’s man in New York, Ben Dupuy, the former editor of Haïti-Progrès who is now head of the pro-Aristide PPN (National People’s Party). But Aristide is no anti-imperialist. Rather, he was the Democrats’ man in Port-au-Prince, who has been strongly supported by black Democratic Congressmen such as Charles Rangel in New York, Maxine Waters in Los Angeles and Barbara Lee in Oakland. Now the Republicans want to bring back their men, so suddenly the former Haitian army and police forces reappear from their exile over the border in the Dominican Republic. The working people and poor, in Haiti and elsewhere, should not politically support either side in the competition between a threadbare imperialist-installed populist regime and a squalid imperialist-backed unpopular-front opposition. Aristide’s chimères, recruited from the lumpenproletariat of the unemployed, would attack proletarian revolutionaries as quickly as they beat up students and “civil society” marchers.
But faced with the threat of the return of the death squads and the military/police mass murderers, Haitian workers and peasants should seek to organize their own class organs of self-defense, which would make a temporary military bloc with the pro-Aristide “popular organizations” to halt the forward march of the ultra-rightist reaction. In Russia in August 1917, the weak bourgeois government headed by Aleksandr Kerensky came under attack by the former tsarist general Kornilov who marched on Petrograd with his army. The Bolsheviks gave no political support to Kerensky, whose provisional government had jailed Trotsky and forced Lenin into hiding. But they understood that a victory of Kornilov would mean the annihilation of the revolutionary workers in the capital and defeat of the revolution. Consequently, the workers militias and Bolshevik-led soldiers blocked militarily with Kerensky’s forces while continuing to oppose him politically in the soviets. This enabled the revolutionaries to mobilize the mass of the working people in struggle against the looming counterrevolution, opening the way to the victory of the October Revolution a couple of months later.
In the Spanish Civil War of the late 1930s, Trotsky called on workers to fight militarily in coordination with the Republican Army and leftist militias against Franco’s army and the fascists, while continuing the political struggle for proletarian revolution against the Republican bourgeois government. However, in that instance, due to the treachery of the reformist workers leaders (Communist, Socialist and anarchist), the popular-front government smashed workers mobilizations, arrested and murdered left-wing militants, and thus paved the way for Franco’s victory and tens of thousands of executions. Whether fighting will reach the level of civil war in Haiti, or whether the largely unarmed masses have become so demoralized by the Aristide regime that they passively stand by, is unclear at this point. But even in extremely unfavorable conditions communists must tell the truth to the masses and point the way forward to intervene independently of the squabbling between bourgeois factions and wage a revolutionary class struggle. That includes raising demands for the formation of workers and peasants militias, for workers control of the remaining factories and enterprises (telephone company, transport), for expropriating the prosperous coffee estates and establishing collective farms which could overcome the ecological devastation and resuscitate agricultural production.
Above all, it is necessary to form a revolutionary workers party built on the Trotskyist program of permanent revolution, transforming the struggle for democratic demands into a fight for workers power, for a workers and peasants government that would undertake socialist tasks and extend the revolution internationally. Next door in the Dominican Republic, unions have called a general strike for mid-March against the pro-imperialist government of Hipólito Mejía, who has implemented the same anti-working-class policies as Aristide. This is the third Dominican “general strike” in three months. The last time, on January 29-30, the government arrested hundreds of unionists and leftists, while army troops just back from Iraq, where they served as neo-colonial auxiliaries in the U.S. occupation, shot down nine strikers in cold blood. These two-day “general strikes” are little more than symbolic protests, where what is needed is a massive working-class mobilization against the Mejía government and its imperialist backers. A combative Dominican workers movement could block the transfer of troops to the border areas and stop the supplies being funneled to the Haitian rightist rebels. It would also defend Haitian workers on the Dominican sugar cane plantations who have notoriously worked in conditions of near-slavery while being subjected to racist police and army repression.
But decisive steps in defending the Haitian poor and working masses must be taken in the United States itself. In New York City alone there a half million Haitian immigrants, overwhelmingly workers, who have occasionally shown their strength such as by marching through Wall Street. The NYC workers movement should join in opposing any U.S. intervention in Haiti, whatever the pretext and supposed purpose, while demanding that the U.S. open its borders to Haitian refugees (yesterday 531 Haitian “boat people” were unloaded by Coast Guard ships in Port-au-Prince where they face the looming terror of the approaching death squad army). It should demand independence for Puerto Rico, the U.S. prime military base in the Caribbean, and for French colonies; demand the return of the Guantánamo naval base to Cuba and the freeing of the hundreds of prisoners being held there; and defend Cuba against imperialist threats. Break with the imperialist war parties, the Democrats and Republicans and all capitalist parties, to build a revolutionary workers party, part of a reforged Fourth International that can sweep away imperialism through international socialist revolution.
In the Haitian Revolution of 1791-1804, a slave revolt led by Toussaint Louverture sent shock waves around the Caribbean, made the slavocracy in the American South shudder and affected the course of the French Revolution. The creation of the first black republic in the Americas was a major event in the age of bourgeois-democratic revolutions. Napoleon eventually murdered Toussaint while French troops vainly reoccupied the colony of Saint-Domingue. Even after Haitian independence, the black republic of former slaves was economically strangled, encircled and boycotted by the capitalist powers, submerging the country in poverty which leaves it still today the poorest country in the hemisphere. While U.S. spokesmen talk smugly of “failed states” in order to justify their new colonialist enterprise, the fact is that the Yankee imperialists have done their best to destroy Haiti. This will not be undone by a quixotic quest for reparations from the former colonial masters. But even in the present desperate conditions, the spark of a new rebellion unleashing a workers uprising across the island of Hispaniola could again set the Antilles aflame, laying the basis for a socialist federation of the Caribbean, and act as a revolutionary beacon for the world! n
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