By Kevin Pena
As Ralph Ellison portrayed in his groundbreaking book “Invisible Man,” the plight and the struggles of African peoples are often ignored by mainstream media. And because of the ability of the ruling class to spread the racist idea that countries consisting of dark-skinned peoples are of no consequence, that invisibility manifests as apathy and ignorance even amongst some progressive news outlets.
Take Haiti, for example. The protests that exploded in July 2018 appeared as if coming out of thin air — as if coming from a fourth dimension into our three dimensional world, missing the element of time and history giving context. But those protests — of fuel price increases of 38 percent to 50 percent by President Jovenel Moïse’s government — were also a culmination of anger at the consistent violence, poverty, shortages and stolen elections in collusion with U.S. and European imperialism.
Also at the center of the complaints against the Moïse government is the consistent corruption that culminated in proven theft of the $4 billion in Petrocaribe loans given by Venezuela to Haiti for social service relief programs, money that wound up in the pockets of government officials and members of the Haitian Parliament.
However, the protests also reflect a history of unwavering determination against those assaults. Those out in the streets are the descendants of a people who won the first successful slave revolution in 1804 — freeing themselves and defeating the mighty French military.
The militant protests in July 2018 stopped business as usual and forced the announced price hikes demanded by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to be rescinded. Then, in October, they tried to implement fuel price increases again, which were also stopped by more militant protests.
All of the protests have been met with brutal repression, and, as of early February, as the repression increased so did the militancy. Flights on major airlines are restricting travel to Haiti and the government has canceled Carnival. According to the Miami Herald: “Observers say this is only the third time in recent memories that the Haitian government has canceled Carnival. The previous two occasions were in 1986, after the fall of the nearly 30-year Duvalier family dictatorship and in 2010, after the country’s massive earthquake.”
CNN reports that, as of Feb. 16, the U.S. and Canadian governments have warned people not to travel to Haiti “due to crime and civil unrest.” The Canadian government has issued a travel advisory to “avoid all travel to Haiti.”
Although CNN reports this week say that the protests have calmed down, a conflicting report this week says that the protests have gotten so intense that family members of President Jovenel Moïse are reportedly leaving the country in fear. According to a report by Yves Engler on Feb. 22:
“The Haiti Information Project reported that they may have helped family members of President Jovenel Moïse’s unpopular government flee the country. HIP tweeted, ‘troops & plainclothes from Canada providing security at Toussaint Louverture airport in Port-au-Prince today as cars from Haiti’s National Palace also drop off PHTK govt official’s family to leave the country today. … Two days after Canadian troops were spotted at the airport five heavily armed former U.S. soldiers were arrested. The next day the five Americans and two Serbian colleagues flew to the U.S. where they will not face charges. One of them, former Navy SEAL Chris Osman, posted on Instagram that he provided security ‘for people who are directly connected to the current President’ of Haiti. … Dozens of anti-government protesters and individuals living in neighborhoods viewed as hostile to the government have been killed as calls for the president to step down have grown in recent months.”
Haiti is again showing that its invisibility belies its importance. And its historical relevance to today’s struggles against imperialism not only parallel the current crisis of Venezuela, but are where the history of Venezuela and all of Latin America’s fight against colonialism begins.
Hugo Chávez on Haiti
On Jan. 12, 2010, after the devastating earthquake in Haiti, former President Hugo Chávez, announcing to the foreign ministers of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA) the canceling of Venezuela’s debt, explained, “Haiti has no debt with Venezuela, just the opposite: Venezuela has a historical debt with that nation, with that people for whom we feel not pity but rather admiration, and we share their faith, their hope.”
Chávez is referring to the military assistance and training that the victors of the first successful slave revolution provided to Venezuela’s Simón Bolívar, who was instrumental in helping Latin America liberate itself from Spanish colonialism. Venezuela’s Simón Bolívar is addressing Alexander Petion, the first president of liberated Haiti: “Should I not let it be known to later generations that Alexandre Petion is the true liberator of my country?”
Bolívar also borrowed Petion’s constitution when he wrote the constitution for newly liberated Bolivia. In the private letters of Simón Bolívar, published in “El Libertador: Writings of Simón Bolívar,” by David Bushnell, the chapter titled Bolivian Constitution quotes Bolívar:
“The president of Bolivia is endowed with powers similar to those of the American executive, but with restrictions beneficial to the people. His term of office is the same as that of the presidents of Haiti. I have chosen as the model for Bolivia the executive of the most democratic republic in the world. The island of Haiti (forgive my digression) found herself in a state of constant insurrection. After having tried every type of government known to man — empire, monarchy, republic — and a few never seen before, she had to resort to the distinguished [Alexandre] Pétion to save her. The people put their trust in him, and the destiny of Haiti has not wavered since.”
U.S.-led sabotage and corruption against economy
Like Venezuela after its independence, Haiti’s economic growth was sabotaged with invasions and coups — in Haiti’s case from 1915 to 1934 with the occupation initiated by then-President Woodrow Wilson. In 1929, a brutal suppression by U.S. soldiers of a nationwide strike killed at least 1,500 people.
This repression forced a change in the constitution, setting up the financial basis for U.S. ownership of Haiti’s assets and land. Later on, the U.S. would use more subtle but just as effective forms to steal resources from the Haitian people using cheap rice subsidized to U.S. farmers to drive Haitian rice farmers out of business, while at the same time increasing “humanitarian” aid, using rice as a weapon to supposedly provide the food to those negatively impacted by the predatory trade policies of the U.S. through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The rice would then be distributed into the Haitian market at cheaper prices than the Haitian rice to further flood the market.
This was done to force an end to the domestic production of rice and other agricultural production for domestic needs into production for export only. These policies are also mandatory dictates from the IMF, using future loans as extortion to force government compliance, resulting in the dependence on foreign imports and “aid” and the loss of livelihoods in Haiti, increasing poverty exponentially.
A clear example of this is written on the Haiti Solidarity website in an article titled: How the United States Crippled Haiti’s Rice Industry by Leslie Mullin:
“Ronald Reagan’s 1984 Caribbean Basin Initiative prompted a major increase in U.S. food aid to Haiti. In 1984, Haiti received $11 million in food aid; from 1985-88, Haiti received $54 million in food aid. The Caribbean Basin Initiative called for integrating Haiti into the global market by redirecting 30 percent of Haiti’s domestic food production towards export crops, a plan that USAID experts systematically carried out.”
It’s therefore no wonder why the CIA World Factbook admits that the unemployment rate in Haiti is over 40 percent (2010 estimate) and that two-thirds of the labor force do not have full-time jobs while 58.5 percent of Haitian people (2012 estimate) live below the poverty line and only 38 percent (2013 estimate) have electricity.
In spite of all this, the movement of resistance continues to grow, as witnessed during the protests in Haiti from 2015 to 2017 against fraudulent U.S.-sponsored elections. That rise in the movement led to the first democratic elections in Haiti in 1991.
When Jean-Claude Duvalier, also known as Baby Doc, the son of Haiti’s infamous dictator Francois Duvalier, was forced to flee the country due to popular anger and protest, he was followed by a junta supported by the U.S. and instructed by the IMF into policies severely hurting Haitian farmers. This forced another rebellion that led to the democratic election of Jean-Bertrand Aristide and his Lavalas Movement. Like President Maduro in the 2018 elections in Venezuela, he also received 67 percent of the vote.
Aristide’s policies were dedicated to working towards an economy that benefits the poor and forces the rich to pay taxes while fighting off IMF austerity and ruling-class corruption. And as the Bolivarian Revolution began to make tremendous strides at its birth in reducing poverty by redirecting priorities towards working and poor people, so did the Aristide government.
According to an article by Robert Roth, co-founder of the Haiti Action Committee, titled Haiti: Roots of an Uprising:
“Despite two U.S.-orchestrated coups against the administrations of former president Aristide, despite a sophisticated COINTELPRO-style campaign aimed at dividing and marginalizing Fanmi Lavalas and its allies, despite 14 years of United Nations military occupation, despite stolen elections, and despite the grinding economic misery facing most Haitian families, the popular movement has persisted.
“Why? This is a movement that has sunk its roots deep — and it remains the central force in the country capable of building an alternative to corruption and repression. During the years that the Lavalas governments were in power, more schools were built than in the entire previous history of Haiti. Health clinics sprouted up throughout the country, as the Aristide administrations spent unprecedented amounts on health care.”
The U.S. responded to progress made by Haiti with the same solution it tried against Venezuela — a coup. It failed in 2002 against the Bolivarian government, but succeeded against Aristide. Leslie Mullin writes:
“Just seven months after his inauguration, President Aristide and the democratic government were overthrown in a bloody military coup led by General Raoul Cedras. Trained in the United States and funded by the CIA, Cedras commanded the Haitian Army. His regime unleashed the collective violence of Haiti’s repressive forces against its own people. From 1991 to 1994, nearly five thousand Lavalas activists and supporters of the constitutional government were massacred; many others were savagely tortured and imprisoned. Rape as a political weapon was widespread. Three hundred thousand Haitians were driven into hiding, while tens of thousands fled the country.”
The final parallel between Haiti and Venezuela — the list of war criminals following suit with U.S. war crimes against sovereign countries filled with Black and Brown people is a further crime of racist genocide. Whether they are Canadian, French or even South American countries marching to the beat of imperialism, people should disrupt and shut down those embassies in concert and solidarity with the protests of the courageous people of Haiti. Let’s build a militant solidarity movement in defense of our international Haitian family and reject the invisibility of the glorious legacy and current Black struggle in Haiti.