No to the Imperialist Occupation – U.S./U.N. Forces Out!
What are these U.N. (left, blue helmets) and U.S. (right, in truck) troops doing in Cité Soleil, the largest
slum area in Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince? “Keeping the peace” and distributing humanitarian aid?
Photo: Sophia Paris/Haïti Liberté
The Haitian earthquake of January 12 and the harrowing scenes of death and destruction led to an outpouring of sympathy and solidarity the world over for the people of this devastated land. A star-studded telethon, Hope for Haiti Now, raised $57 million in the United States. The ten biggest French “non-governmental organizations” gathered €64 million. Residents of Gaza, martyred by an Israeli invasion a year ago and still under siege by the Zionist army, identified with the Haitians’ anguish and scraped together donations. Professional rescue teams grabbed their equipment and scrambled to find flights to the hard-hit Caribbean island nation. Hundreds of medical professionals rounded up tons of medicines and equipment and took off for Port-au-Prince. Aid organizations booked space on charter planes for field hospitals, medical supplies, food and water. Governments tried to outdo each other with relief missions.
The administration of Barack Obama saw this as a golden opportunity to repair the U.S.’ image, badly tarnished by the ongoing imperialist war and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. The Democrats in power in Washington would pose as leaders of a people-friendly empire, motivated by compassion, in contrast to the Darth Vader-like Republican administration of George Bush II. But behind all the talk of “helping” Haiti, what they actually did is no different from what the Yankee imperialists always do. The U.S. dispatched paratroops to occupy the Haitian capital, backed up by a nuclear aircraft carrier battle group in the Windward Strait between Haiti and Cuba. Their mission: “secure” the country against unrest, and make sure no rickety boats filled with Haitian refugees set sail for Florida. Any actual aid dispensed would be purely incidental, to provide a “humanitarian” cover for a military mission.
Longer term, the U.S. wants to tighten imperialist control of the strategically located country, occupied since 2004 at Washington’s behest by a United Nations Mission for the Stabilization of Haiti (MINUSTAH) force. We noted in a January 20 statement that “Washington is gearing up to declare Haiti a ‘failed state,’ like Somalia, and to call for some sort of international protectorate, perhaps under United Nations auspices.” This plan is now taking concrete shape. At a March 31 “International Donors Conference for a New Future for Haiti” at U.N. headquarters, the donors, principally the United States, formally put Haiti in receivership. A Haiti Interim Reconstruction Committee (HIRC) was set up with two co-chairmen: the Haitian prime minister and the real power, “an eminent foreign figure involved in the reconstruction effort.” Who that eminent foreign figure is was never in doubt. This HIRC will be in charge of rebuilding the country, displacing the Haitian government. And former U.S. president William Jefferson Clinton will be the neocolonial gouverneur of Haiti on behalf of Washington and Wall Street.
U.S. Blocks Aid to Haiti
The day after the quake hit, early on January 13, a U.S. military force moved in to assert its control in Haiti, taking over air traffic control at the Port-au-Prince airport and from that position actively blocking aid from reaching the Haitian people. Although the Pentagon later claimed this was at the request of the Haitian government of President René Préval, in reality the U.S. simply seized the airfield – a “memorandum of understanding” formalizing this was not signed until several days later. For 72 hours, the U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) and U.S. Federal Aviation Administration closed the airport to all but U.S. military flights while American troops poured in. Even after reopening the airport, for the first week very few humanitarian relief and rescue flights were permitted. With tens of thousands of Haitians trapped in the rubble, this criminal U.S. blockade of aid likely cost thousands of lives.1
This led to angry denunciations from Europe to Latin America. When a French military plane carrying a field hospital was told it couldn’t land, the French minister in charge of humanitarian relief, Alain Joyandet, demanded the U.N. investigate, saying: “This is about helping Haiti, not occupying Haiti.” Médecins sans Frontières (MSF – Doctors Without Borders) said that five of its flights carrying 85 tons of medical supplies including an inflatable hospital facility, were diverted, and declared: “Priority must be given immediately to planes carrying life-saving equipment and medical personnel.” French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner commented acerbically that the airport had become “an annex of Washington.” Even Brazil, which commands the MINUSTAH occupation force, complained bitterly that its flights were being turned away. Argentine, Spanish and Peruvian planes with vital supplies were also turned back.
On January 16, all air traffic was shut down for three hours while U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton staged a photo op visit. The next day Bill Clinton and daughter Chelsea made a show of unloading bottled water. Meanwhile, two Mexican Hercules aircraft carrying 45 rescuers (the famous Topos Mexicanos), several of them veterans of the 1985 Mexico City earthquake, were denied landing rights. An emergency aid mission from the Caribbean Community was refused permission to land. “We are all going crazy,” said a spokesman for the American Red Cross, whose flights were also blocked. “US Accused of Annexing Airport as Squabbling Hinders Aid Effort in Haiti,” reported the London Guardian (18 January). “America Imposes Its Leadership,” wrote the Paris Le Figaro (18 Janury). The London Telegraph (19 January) headlined: “US Accused of ‘Occupying’ Haiti as Troops Flood In.” While the “free but responsible” bourgeois press in the U.S. gushed about Washington’s “humanitarian” intervention, even the New York Times (17 January) reported:
“[S]ome aid officials were describing misplaced priorities, accusing United States officials of focusing their efforts on getting their people and troops installed and lifting their citizens out....
“The World Food Program finally was able to land flights of food, medicine and water on Saturday, after failing on Thursday and Friday, an official with the agency said. Those flights had been diverted so that the United States could land troops and equipment, and lift Americans and other foreigners to safety.
“‘There are 200 flights going in and out every day, which is an incredible amount for a country like Haiti,’ said Jarry Emmanuel, the air logistics officer for the agency’s Haiti effort. ‘But most of those flights are for the United States military’.”
Even after a few relief flights began arriving, U.S. military authorities refused to let aid leave the airport. The Telegraph reported:
“As the rest of the city struggles to catch a glimpse of either aid or its American deliverers, the answer is that both are here at the airport, the supplies stacking up next to the runway as they are disgorged from the vast bowels of C-17 transport planes.
“Pallets of tinned sardines from Venezuela, blue shirts from Bolivia, tents from Italy, grain, milk powder, tartan blankets and enough bottled water to float the US aircraft carrier lying offshore, all lie waiting for a truck to collect them.”
Behind many of the complaints of blockage of aid there were certainly imperialist rivalries, particularly between France, the former colonial master, and the United States, which going back to the 1823 Monroe Doctrine has proclaimed “America for the (North) Americans.” Today the U.S. considers itself the sole, and indeed “indispensable” superpower, with the right to dictate terms to its rivals and semi-colonial subjects. But sour grapes from Paris does not negate the well-documented fact of U.S. blockage of relief flights and aid shipments to Haiti.
In response, the Internationalist Group put out a statement, “Haiti: Workers Solidarity, Yes! Imperialist Occupation, No!” (20 January). We demanded, “Stop Blocking Aid to Haitian People – U.S./U.N. Forces Get Out!” While many reformist leftists – including the (social-democratic) International Socialist Organization, the (Stalinoid) Workers World Party and (Maoist) Revolutionary Communist Party – and liberals called on the U.S. to aid the Haitian people, we warned, “It is not only U.S. military forces who are involved in imposing imperialist tutelage. Financial ‘aid’ from the U.S./U.N./IMF, etc ... always comes with numerous strings attached.” We demanded that “the U.S. stop blocking the entry of Haitian refugees at the same time as we fight for full citizenship rights for all immigrants,” and called to “oppose all measures subjugating Haiti to imperialist economic domination.”
Imperialists Sideline Haitian Government
In the following days, calls in the bourgeois press for the U.S. and U.N. to formally take the reins from the Haitian government multiplied. An article in the Christian Science Monitor (27 January), titled “Envisioning a new Haiti,” reported:
“Robert Pastor, who was a senior adviser to the US mission to restore the democratically elected and overthrown Jean-Bertrand Aristide to presidential power in 1994, believes international donors should take advantage of this goodwill and ask Haitians – through a referendum – to allow their country to become a 10-year UN trusteeship or to approve some other form of strong international control....
“Dr. Pastor suggests that schools could swallow hard and drop Creole instruction in favor of French and English to better prepare Haitian students for the global economy.
“‘I spent my career advocating the democratic process and believe in it. But Haiti is an exception’.”
The next day at hearings of the U.S. Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Christopher Dodd (Dem., Conn.) asked: “Is it too wild a suggestion to be talking about at least temporarily some sort of receivership?” Sen. Bob Corker (Rep., Tenn.) chimed in: “I think something far more draconian than just us working behind the scenes to prod reforms and those kinds of things is going to be necessary” (New York Times, 31 January). Prior to the recent U.N. conference on Haiti, Dodd was again calling to “Place Haiti Under ‘Trusteeship’” (Miami Herald, 29 March).
These are no crackpots but influential shapers of the policies of U.S. imperialism. Dodd accepts that since Haiti is “an independent sovereign nation and a United Nations member,” it cannot be literally placed in trusteeship like Palestine and the former German colonies in Africa were under the League of Nations and then the U.N. Instead, a “form of trusteeship” could be used, he said, like in Bosnia and Kosovo (after U.S. and NATO forces occupied those Yugoslav republics). That is exactly what was put forward in the “Action Plan for National Recovery and Development of Haiti,” presented to the March 31 U.N. conference. Although the cover page bears the seal of the Government of the Republic of Haiti, the plan was essentially dictated to it by the U.S. The Miami Nuevo Herald (11 February) reported:
“The plan, conceived by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s staff and presented a few days ago [during a visit by Bill Clinton] to Haiti’s president, René Préval, urges the creation of a Haiti Interim Recovery Commission (HIRC) to supervise the ‘urgent and quick recovery’ in the coming 18 months. Among the main priorities of the commission: to establish a Haitian Development Authority...for the next ten years or more.”
The terminology is virtually identical to that presented by Haiti to the March 31 U.N. conference.
and Hillary Show at the United Nations, March 31. Between the Clintons,
U.N. secretary general Ban Ki-moon (left) and Haitian president
In exchange for promises of $9.9 billion in aid, the Haitian government signed over control of its funds to this committee responsible to the imperialist governments and financial agencies like the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. While press reports stressed the size of the commitments, the cost of rebuilding Haiti’s capital city from scratch will far outstrip those amounts. Besides, only a small fraction of the millions in aid pledged after the 2008 hurricanes was ever paid. The role of the HIRC recalls the Municipal Assistance Corporation (MAC) in New York City set up in the wake of 1975 bank-engineered “fiscal crisis,” which took de facto control of NYC finances in order to impose massive cutbacks and layoffs. Felix Rohatyn of the Lazard Frères investment bank played the role in the MAC that Bill Clinton does now in the HIRC. The “new future” promised to Haiti will be shaped by the imperialist “donors,” who just to make sure have a beefed-up MINUSTAH (increased from 9,000 to 13,500 troops) and a U.S. contingent at their disposal to maintain “security” and suppress any protests. For as the New York Times (1 April) noted, “anger mounts among Haitians who hear about billions in aid while hundreds of thousands of them still struggle for earthquake relief.”
Such a detailed plan, filled with specific budgetary targets, could hardly be worked up in the space of a few weeks in the midst of a crisis dominated by the aftermath of the earthquake and the dispatch of U.S. troops to take control of “security” in Haiti. In reality, the “new” plan is a reiteration (with some amendments) of the plan the U.S. has been pushing in Haiti since overthrowing the government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide in March 2004. Already by July 2004, a detailed (110-page) “Interim Cooperation Framework 2004-2006” was presented by the Haitian “government” installed by the U.N. after the U.S./Canada/French invasion, along with the United Nations, World Bank, European Commission and Inter-American Development Bank. This, in turn, was a rehash of a 1995 “Policy Framework Paper” of the IMF, World Bank and Haitian government, which was itself a continuation of the policies laid out in the 1993 Emergency Economic Recovery Program, which the government of Bill Clinton insisted that the exiled Aristide agree to in order to get U.S. support to return him to power in a U.S. invasion in 1994.
And they all go back to a 1982 World Bank “Economic Memorandum on Haiti.” That memo put forward an “export-led development strategy, under which the Bank and USAID designed a plan to develop the export potential of both agro-industry and the country’s assembly industry” (Lisa McGowan, “Democracy Undermined, Economic Justice Denied: Structural Adjustment and the Aid Juggernaut in Haiti,” Development Group for Alternative Policies, January 1997). The productive lands on Haiti’s plains would be converted from food production to crops for sale in the United States, while assembly industries like garments, toys and baseballs would be attracted by low-wage industrial labor. A key part of this “development model” was a strong state to keep down peasant and labor agitation: the dictatorship of Jean-Claude (“Baby Doc”) Duvalier. When he was toppled by popular protests in 1986, a generals’ junta took the reins of power. In 1990, swelling discontent led to the election of Aristide with almost three-quarters of the votes, but when he sought to introduce price controls and raise the minimum wage, the populist president was overthrown by a military coup in September 1991.
Ever since, succeeding administrations in Washington have responded to every crisis in Haiti by seeking to impose the same “model” of low-wage industry. Frequently it is not Republican reactionaries but Democratic liberals and high-flying academic “experts” who push this program. In January 2009, following the four devastating hurricanes of 2008, Paul Collier of Oxford University in Britain wrote a report to the Secretary General of the United Nations, “Haiti: From Natural Catastrophe to Economic Security,” advocating the creation of export zones for garment manufacturing and production of mangoes (for a new soft drink):
“[T]he fundamentals are propitious. In garments the largest single component of costs is labour. Due to its poverty and relatively unregulated labour market, Haiti has labour costs that are fully competitive with China, which is the global benchmark.”
After the earthquake, the execrable Nicholas Kristof, ever seeking U.S. imperialist intervention in the name of “human rights,” took up Collier’s plan in the New York Times (21 January):
“That idea (sweatshops!) may sound horrific to Americans. But it’s a strategy that has worked for other countries, such as Bangladesh, and Haitians in the slums would tell you that their most fervent wish is for jobs. A few dozen major shirt factories could be transformational for Haiti.”
The third leg of this “development” plan is tourism, pushed in particular by the Clintons, who keep talking about how they spent their honeymoon in Haiti. So there you have the imperialists’ “new Haiti”: sweatshops for Levis, mangoes for Coca-Cola and beaches for the Royal Caribbean Lines.
Actually, Mr. Kristof, Haiti had more than “a few dozen” major garment factories before, in the 1980s. The result was a steady drop in real wages, which fell by 9 percent from 1980 to 1985, and an even greater decline in minimum wages, which plummeted by 45 percent from 1985 to 1990. Haiti’s gross national product per capita also declined, because wages were so low that workers could hardly increase consumption. Rice farming collapsed as peasants, unable to sell their harvest in the face of lower-cost imports subsidized by the U.S. abandoned their fields and migrated to the swollen metropolis of Port-au-Prince. (Bill Clinton admitted to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee recently that his policies benefited rice farmers in Arkansas rather than those in Haiti.) And actually, Mr. Kristof, the standard of living of workers in free trade zone plants is lower than in many of Haiti’s rural areas. No one would work for such starvation wages if the alternative in the vast shantytowns were not, literally, starvation. And if the main attraction for such industries is low wages, this creates tremendous pressure to keep workers mired in poverty (see “Haiti: Battle Over Starvation Wages and Neocolonial Occupation,” The Internationalist No. 30, November-December 2009).
Two changes from past imperialist “development” plans for Haiti are that now lip service is paid to agriculture and “food security,” and calls are made to decentralize the country, so that it is not simply the “Republic of Port-au-Prince.” As the 2008 hunger riots showed, a situation in which 80 percent of Haiti’s export earnings go to pay for food imports is unviable. But even as planners now budget tiny amounts for agricultural inputs (seeds, fertilizer), many of Haiti’s peasants have fled the countryside, so financial incentives alone will not solve food shortages. And while the latest plan talks of five sites where 100,000 quake survivors could be relocated, more than 1.2 million are now living in 460 camps around the capital, a number of them in acute danger of being wiped out in the hurricane season about to begin. Now private landowners (including schools run by Catholic clergy) are beginning to push out camps on “their” property (such as by cutting off waste removal), and on the other hand camp residents are refusing to let the government exile them to South African apartheid-style townships far from the city.
So as torrential rains threaten a new catastrophe in which thousands more could die, a battle is brewing between the impoverished homeless population and the government of the bourgeoisie backed up by the imperialists.
Over the past quarter century, there has been a seemingly endless stream of plans calling for export-led growth in Haiti, yet except for the period before 1990 there has been no growth. Why? Right-wing zealots like evangelist preacher Pat Robertson blame the supposed sins of the Haitian people, while more mainstream conservatives and not a few liberals point to Aristide and Préval personally. But imperialist spokesmen are virtually unanimous in writing off the Haitian government as a “failed state,” or more circumspectly as a “fragile state.” Naturally they don’t mention how the U.S. brought the Haitian state to its present condition, refusing to channel aid through the government, eliminating import duties and forcing the sale of government-owned industry. Virtually every source of government income was cut off, and whole swaths of normal government activities have been privatized or (like garbage collection) no longer exist.
As a result, there is a near consensus among the U.S. imperialist bourgeoisie to dispense with, or at least sideline, the present Haitian government. Within 24 hours of the earthquake, the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington issued a statement that “the U.S. response to the tragic earthquake in Haiti offers opportunities to re-shape Haiti's long-dysfunctional government and economy....” James Dobbins, a former special envoy to Haiti under Clinton, now a senior official at the RAND Corporation think tank, argued that “This disaster is an opportunity to accelerate oft-delayed reforms,” such as privatizing the government telephone company and reorganizing the ports, two of the last remaining government enterprises in Haiti (New York Times, 17 January). In Haiti, a group of right-wing coup financiers headed by Senator Rudolph Henri Boulos put forward a “Strategic Plan of National Salvation” in early February whose centerpiece is to “reconstitute the Armed Forces the assure national security.”
There may not be consensus on every aspect of plans to make use of the “opportunity” to “refound” the Haitian state. Not everyone wants to resuscitate the armed forces, especially since the present Haitian National Police (PNH) was recruited from the death squads that appeared after Aristide dissolved the army in 1995. The plan presented to the March 31 donors conference includes as much money for police as for agriculture, calling to expand the PNH from 9,500 officers at present to 16,000. Other government functions would be privatized, or administered by the HIRC under Clinton, with Préval as his powerless sidekick. Meanwhile, the Haitian president is calling on the legislature to renew the present “state of exception” for another 18 months, providing for rule by decree and cancellation of what civil liberties exist on paper. What Pastor, Dodd and other called for in advocating “a kind of trusteeship” for Haiti under imperialist auspices is what is now happening.
Not a “Savior” But a Revolutionary Leadership
The Boulos “national salvation plan” paints the “catastrophic image of a drowned country and a collapsed government” to justify its plans for the “refoundation” of Haiti with a militarized government. So here we have the right wing of the Haitian bourgeoisie adopting the language of nationalist-populist regimes like Hugo Chávez, Evo Morales and Rafael Correa who talk of “refounding” Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador. Certainly the physical destruction of virtually every ministry (as well as the national palace) and decimation of the state apparatus means that there is little left to “reconstruct.” But Haitian working people have no interest in “refounding” a capitalist state that represents the interests of an infinitesimal ruling class, lording it over a vast mass of brutally exploited urban and rural poor. Workers and peasants should respond to this emergency by beginning to organize their own class power against the rapacious capitalist rulers. And that requires above all a struggle to forge the nucleus of a revolutionary workers party.
In Haiti today there is a proliferation of more than 1,000 “non-governmental organizations”; Bill Clinton speaks of 10,000 if you include the smaller operations. It’s the largest concentration of NGOs on the planet, many financed directly or indirectly by governments, foundations and international (imperialist) agencies, or various churches. The politics of most reflect their role as privatized social support agencies in the framework of “free market” capitalist policies. But there is a fringe of supposed “progressive” NGOs around the Platform to Advocate Alternative Development Policies (PAPDA) which has been calling for a new “model” of development, involving “participatory democracy,” an “end to economic dependency,” a “break with exclusion,” and similar nostrums. PAPDA, whose slogan is “another Haiti is possible,” is a darling of the “anti-globalization” movement such as Alternatives in Canada, who call for an end to “neo-liberalism.” But the devastation of Haiti over the last two centuries is due to capitalism, not simply to the particular economic policies of the last two decades.
Inudstries plant in Haiti,
In fact, neither “another Haiti” nor “another world” are possible so long as the capitalist-imperialist system remains. “Neo-liberal” measures of rampant privatization and brutal slashing of social services are not due to a choice of budget priorities, which a different set of rulers could reverse if they wished and had enough popular support. Previous “Keynesian” economics were abandoned in the late 1970s economic crisis because capitalists no longer found it profitable to invest, due to what Karl Marx long ago analyzed as a declining rate of profit and overproduction of capital. In the U.S. this intensified as government expenditures on “guns and butter,” on the Vietnam War and “Great Society” social programs led to a bank-engineered debt crisis and “stagflation” which spread to the major capitalist powers. Today, even bourgeois nationalist governments with great oil wealth, allowing them a limited degree of autonomy which Haiti lacks, have carried out at most minimal nationalizations combined with welfare programs compatible with “neo-liberalism” (Venezuela) or have been aggressively privatizing (Iran).
Much of the opposition to the U.N. occupation of Haiti has come from supporters of Jean-Bertrand Aristide and his Lavalas (Landslide) party, which since his ouster in 2004 has fragmented. The Brazilian newspaper Folha de S. Paulo (31 January) visited Lavalas strongholds such as Cité Soleil and Bel-Air reporting that “Anti-Brazil Mobilization Reverberates Since the Earthquake.” “We haven’t stopped closely following, with concern, the actions of Aristide’s supporters, despite their weakened position,” said a spokesman for the Brazilian command of the MINUSTAH occupation troops. On February 5, thousands demonstrated outside the offices of the mayor of Pétion-ville, shouting “We’re hungry, down with Péval.” A Lavalas leader of the protest declared, “Aristide can help us. He must come back to save us” (Haïti-Liberté, 10 February).
Today, in the face of the arrogant U.S. takeover, many Haitians look to Aristide to guarantee “Haitian sovereignty.” Certainly all opponents of imperialism support demands that the occupation forces lift their ban on Haiti’s democratically elected president who was kidnapped and spirited out of the country by U.S. forces in 2004. At the same time, we warn against illusions in Aristide, who in his South African exile has done nothing for the Haitian masses. In office (with Préval as his prime minister and later successor as president), Aristide dutifully carried out the dictates of Washington, which put him back in office with U.S. troops, and of the imperialist banks. Aristide sold off state-owned companies, suppressed wages, repressed unions and maintained the “free trade” that spelled ruin for Haitian peasants. Haiti doesn’t need a condescending savior, in the words of the workers anthem, the Internationale – not another capitalist ruler, but rather a hard struggle to forge a revolutionary working-class leadership fighting to establish the class rule of Haiti’s working people.
In the workers movement, the syndicalist organization Batay Ouvriye (Workers Struggle) has been active for a number of years organizing workers in free trade zone plants. Batay Ouvriye has led important struggles of workers in the CODEVI industrial park in Ouanaminthe, who were repressed by Aristide when he was in power, and then by both the Dominican military and Haitian right-wing coup plotters while the U.S. was engineering the ouster of Aristide in 2004 (see “The Struggle for Workers Revolution in the Caribbean,” The Internationalist No. 18, May-June 2004). But while B.O. represents perhaps the most left-wing sector of the small workers movement in Haiti, and although it is quite hostile to Aristide and the Lavalas milieu, its political statements are couched in the same populist language that is the common idiom of petty-bourgeois and bourgeois “progressives” in Haiti.
Thus a position statement of Batay Ouvriye, “After the January 12, 2010 Earthquake” (7 February) says that there can be no confidence in the present Haitian state: “It is not our state; it is not a worker’s state. On the contrary, it is the state of the bourgeoisie, it is against working people, and it is against the popular masses! ... If we want to realize our own interests, we have no other choice, we need another state. We need our own state.” But what kind of state, and how to get it? B.O. writes that “we must work to reinforce the progressive camp both inside and abroad (in the belly of the beast). We must reinforce the people’s camp.” Like the popular-front left that chants “The people united will never be defeated,” B.O.’s talk of a “progressive camp” and “people’s camp” amounts to calling to unite with bourgeois sectors. Marxists do not orient to a mythical “progressive camp” as opposed to a “reactionary camp” – we seek to mobilize the working class, leading all the exploited and oppressed, against the bourgeoisie.
This conception led Batay Ouvriye to make common cause with the rightist-led mobilization against Aristide in late 2003, even as it declared “Lavalas and the bourgeois opposition are two rotten legs of the same torn pair of pants.” A B.O. statement argued that it was necessary to “thwart the bourgeois orientation within the anti-Lavalas mobilization” (our emphasis). Rather than posing a class struggle against both wings of the Haitian bourgeoisie, it called upon workers, poor peasants, students and “consistent progressives” to “build their autonomy” as the “camp of the people” representing the popular masses “within the general movement of struggle.” But that “general movement of struggle” was a reactionary pro-imperialist mobilization, led by factory owner (and Duvalier supporter) André Apaid and his Group of 184. Class-conscious workers had to oppose this “movement” at the same time as they opposed Aristide and has Lavalas supporters who were implementing the plans of U.S. imperialism. Two years later, guided by the same program, B.O. declared in a January 2006 statement that the election campaign had led to the “formation of two poles. We must take up position against the fascists, block the reactionaries.” This amounted to backhanded support to Préval.
B.O. has recently joined an alliance of left-wing trade-unionists set up by the Conlutas federation in Brazil, led by followers of the late Argentine pseudo-Trotskyist Nahuel Moreno.2 Conlutas has raised considerable sums for Batay Ouvriye. Previously, a scandal was unleashed when B.O. accepted a grant of almost $100,000 from the U.S. National Endowment for Democracy (NED), which funneled the money through the AFL-CIO’s “American Center for International Labor Solidarity” (ACILS).3 We wrote that – even though this was pounced on by Aristide supporters, who are only jealous that they didn’t get the Yankee dollars – receiving U.S. imperialist funds from the NED/ACILS was a “betrayal of the Haitian workers” (see “Batay Ouvriye and the ACILS,” The Internationalist No. 28, March-April 2009). As a result of the uproar, B.O. has stated that it no longer receives money and “does not have any relationship with the Solidarity Center,” but this “doesn’t convince us that this is best for the Haitian working class, in its extreme needs and abandon.” Repeatedly, Batay Ouvriye has let its financial needs determine its decisions.
A Program for Class Struggle
By pretending that the imperialists would tolerate a more “inclusive” program to “refound” Haitian capitalism, anti-neoliberal groups like PAPDA and its allies are spreading dangerous democratic illusions that serve to divert struggle and lead to defeat. The only way to stop the privatizations and dismantling of social services, and to cancel the imperialist debt – in fact, and not as an empty slogan – is by fighting for international socialist revolution. That will not happen overnight, and such a revolution, even if it should break out in Haiti with an impoverished population and a tiny working class, can only be completed on an international scale. But proletarian revolutionaries in Haiti can begin to fight by building a workers party guided by the perspective of permanent revolution, put forward by Leon Trotsky in summing up the experience of three Russian Revolutions of 1905 and 1917.
In our initial (20 January) article, we pointed to the experience of the 1985 Mexico City earthquake that led to organizing efforts in the working-class districts that were independent of and against the capitalist PRI-government. In Haiti today, many if not most of the hundreds of camps and many heavily damaged neighborhoods (such as Delmas 36 and the huge camp of 70,000 people in Delmas 40) have formed committees to obtain and distribute aid (see “A Neighborhood Tries to Take Matters in Hand,” Los Angeles Times, 21 January). It is necessary to give political orientation to such efforts, if they are not to turn into mere vehicles for a resuscitated government, the NGOs and imperialist agencies. Camp committees in alliance with workers organizations should undertake a census of the available food and supplies, and demand that all aid be turned over to them to distribute. For the safety of the residents, they should demand that Haitian National Police, MINUSTAH and U.S. occupation forces keep out. In industrial districts, defense guards linking the urban poor to workers in the factories should be formed.
The emergency conditions in Haiti have not made the class struggle go away. Some bosses saw their factories destroyed (and hundreds of workers killed as they were doing forced overtime on January 12) and are now asking for subsidies from aid funds. Others restarted production within a week, raising production quotas to make up for the hundreds of workers who were injured, dead or left for the countryside. Class-struggle unionists would renew the struggle for a massive increase in the minimum wage, indexed to the rate of inflation, and call for new workers to be hired instead of speed-up. In garment plants, most of which are intact, militant workers could join with community residents in this emergency to demand that production be reoriented to producing tents, thousands of which are needed, and which such factories (accustomed to switching designs) are quite capable of producing. The example of Haitian workers producing shelter for their people would inspire the survivors and workers worldwide.
Neighborhood committees could work together with peasant organizations to ensure food supplies, rather than depending on the U.N. functionaries who refused to distribute tons of stockpiled food and still refuse to enter “red zones” such as Bel Air and Cité Soleil because of whipped-up hysteria over “riots” and “violence.” Rather than wait for the government to restart education in the 4,000 schools that were destroyed or irremediably damaged in the Port-au-Prince area, teachers, parents, students and workers could begin organizing schools on their own, demanding that the authorities provide financing and build facilities. In the face of the impending catastrophe due to hurricanes, which will sweep away tents and precarious dwellings, workers and community organizations could demand and begin constructing large buildings that could provide shelter to hundreds during the storms and later serve as community centers or schools.
Rather than submit to forced relocation by the government or MINUSTAH, worker and community organizations advised by geologists and architects could occupy areas appropriate for residential housing that would not be so vulnerable to earthquakes and flooding. Haitian working people and workers everywhere should organize to drive the MINUSTAH and U.S. imperialist occupation forces out of Haiti, as well as Iraq, Afghanistan and everywhere. And they should join with the over 800 Cuban doctors and other medical personal who have been in Haiti throughout to defend Cuba against imperialism and counterrevolution, demanding that the U.S.’ torture prison and naval base in Guantánamo be returned to Cuba. Calls on international agencies and imperialist countries cancel Haiti’s debt would have broad resonance, but bankers rightly fear the example could be contagious. Thus this demand must be part of a program to expropriate the banks, factories and the whole of the bourgeoisie by a workers and peasants government as part of an international revolution.
Haitian women march on MINUSTAH February 5 during visit by Bill Clinton, chanting “tents not guns!”
(Brian Jackson/Millenials Project)
These are some of the measures that working-class revolutionaries could raise and fight for in Haiti today in the midst of the ongoing emergency. And calls for mobilization of the working people and the poor against the rulers are not illusory. On February 5, during the visit of Bill Clinton to Haiti, some 500 women marched more than seven miles from the Carrefour district to the airport, then to Préval’s office at the building of the judicial police and on to MINUSTAH headquarters and the U.S. embassy, chanting “tents not guns!” in Kreyol (Haïti Liberté, 17 February). On February 17, another big protest demonstration was held at the time of French president Nicolas Sarkozy’s visit, when several hundred demanded that France pay back the 90 million gold francs that it extorted from Haiti in exchange for recognizing the country’s independence in 1825 (worth US$22 billion in today’s currency). This debt later passed into the hands of U.S. bankers, and served as one of the pretext for Washington’s occupation of the country from 1915 to 1934. Haiti was unable to pay it off until 1947.
To achieve victory, the Haitian working class, which despite its small size demonstrated its capacity for struggle last year, must champion the interests of all the oppressed. It can undertake sharp class struggle against the imperialists and their Haitian flunkeys. But, like the Haitian Revolution of 1791-1804 against slavery and French colonialism, a successful struggle to overthrow U.S. imperialist domination can only be carried out in conjunction with the working class internationally. This means allying with workers next door in the Dominican Republic, as well as fighting for full citizenship rights for the estimated one million Dominican residents of Haitian ancestry who are today denied legal rights, denied schooling and subject to repeated racist massacres. No less crucial is the need to mobilize the hundreds of thousands of Haitian working people in the diaspora, from New York City to Montréal, Quebec. This population can be a human bridge to the imperialist center, where in the past tens of thousands have marched to protest attacks on Haitians, in the U.S. and on the impoverished island. And Haitian-Dominican workers unity in New York can begin the effort to build revolutionary workers parties that can unite the island of Quisqueya (Hispaniola) and make it once again, “the pearl of the Antilles.” ■
1 On what basis do we draw this conclusion? First, in spite of all the media coverage, the total number of lives saved by international rescue teams in Haiti was 121. The reason for this shockingly low number is that the teams were unable to get into the country for the crucial first 48 hours because U.S. authorities shut down the Port-au-Prince airport to non-U.S. military flights. Second, Partners in Health, the medical aid group co-founded by Dr. Paul Farmer, the deputy U.N. envoy to Haiti, which has been active in the country for the last quarter century warned emphatically on January 19: “TENS OF THOUSANDS OF EARTHQUAKE VICTIMS NEED EMERGENCY SURGICAL CARE NOW!!!!!” Alarmed by the continuing delays holding up aid, the statement continued: “Our medical director has estimated that 20,000 people are dying each day who could be saved by surgery.”
2 Moreno was a political quick change artist whose trademark was to present his current in the clothing of whatever movement was in vogue at the moment (often literally, as when the Morenoites donned olive green uniforms posing as Sandinista guerrillas in Nicaragua). At different points in his career, Moreno appeared as a Peronist, briefly as a crypto-Maoist, as a Castro-Guevarist and finally settling down as a left-wing social-democrat, which is what his followers are today.
3 The NED replaced the CIA’s covert funding of union and opposition groups after the U.S. spy agency’s cover was blown, while the ACILS replaced the notorious American Institute for Free Labor Development (AIFLD) as the vehicle for U.S. imperialist-financed anti-communist labor subversion in Latin America. The NED/AIFLD has been particularly active financing right-wing “union” opposition to the nationalist Chávez government in Venezuela.
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