By Mision Verdad – March 2, 2021
To try to answer this question, it is necessary to identify the causes of the political, economic and social crisis in Haiti and delve into its history, marked by invasions, tutelage and looting by imperial powers.
In recent weeks, there have been strong protests against the president of that country, Jovenel Moïse, whose mandate has been surrounded by controversy since he won the elections in November 2016.
Confronted with the cry of “no to the dictatorship!” and the repression by Moïse, the Organization of American States (OAS) and the United States have spoken. US governments have traditionally supported authoritarian Haitian presidents who are subservient to their policies, which contradicts their supposed concern about what they call “the dictatorship of Nicolás Maduro” in Venezuela.
Since the first round of the presidential elections, which took place in 2015, Jovenel Moïse has been accused of fraud. In January of the following year, strong protests were registered in the capital of the Caribbean country to demand the departure of the then president, Michel Martelly, and the appointment of a transitional government. Meanwhile, Moïse asked the electoral authorities to reschedule the elections (scheduled for January 2016), as indeed happened, for the end of that year.
Therefore, the argument of the opposition is that the mandate of the current president ended in February, according to the established logic. The constitutional crisis worsened when the judiciary determined on February 7 that the mandate of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse expired that same day, with the opposition appointing a magistrate as “president of the transition.”
The president of transition appointed is Judge Joseph Mecène Jean Louis, a member of the Court of Cassation since 2011. “I accept the election of the opposition and civil society to be able to serve my country as interim president of the transition during this rupture. May God have mercy on the Haitian nation,” Mecène said in a video released by the media.
Meanwhile, after “making an illegitimate interpretation of the Constitution,” Moïse affirms that his position will continue until 2022. Since last year, after suspending two-thirds of the Senate, the entire Chamber of Deputies and all the country’s mayors, he has governed by decree. “He has refused to hold elections in the last four years.”
In addition to being supported by the US administration, according to some media, the Haitian president is supported by criminal gangs whose members have been linked to the police and have committed extrajudicial executions. Since last year, the rise of criminal gangs that plague entire communities with robberies, fires and rapes has become more evident.
“The G9 alliance has reportedly benefited from the strong ties it has established with the government of President Jovenel Moïse. Apparently, the gang leaders are not prosecuted as long as they help keep the peace in the slums. In return, the Moïse government sees them as loyal soldiers who control security, silence opposition voices and bolster political support throughout the capital,” InsightCrime notes.
But the protests against “banana man,” as businessman Moïse is nicknamed, for being linked to the production and export of this fruit, did not start recently. At the end of 2019, there was an escalation of violence in several counties of the nation, all with direct involvement from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). In Chile, the social unrest was due to an increase in Metro fares; in Ecuador and Haiti due to increases in the price of fuel. The only difference has been the media coverage given to these three events.
As in the South American riots, massive marches and protests were held in this Caribbean country, leaving people dead, and accompanied by looting and heavy repression . On that occasion, what began as a protest against for the rise in gasoline prices, with its strong implications for the daily life of the already downtrodden Haitians, ended with a demand for the resignation of the president. The violence then turned towards public institutions and the police, to demand justice.
The initial trigger for the protests in Haiti was the increase in fuel prices, but behind it there are other claims against intervention, looting, vicissitudes and history itself. Elements of which, on that occasion and on others, a wall has been built around.
According to a special piece in the Tricontinental magazine dedicated to Haiti, this is the poorest country in America. It is also one of the most unequal societies with the lowest Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the Western Hemisphere. According to UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) data, more than half of the population is food insecure.
State infrastructure was devastated by the 2010 earthquake and so far it has not been able to be rebuilt, which further restricts the presence of the State in society. This is a symbolic fact if one takes into account the risk that any country runs if it does not have control of political and economic activity.
Added to this is the fact that education and health are almost entirely privatized. This first factor affects the illiteracy rate, the highest in the continent, and the second unemployment, which ends up being absorbed by organized crime that controls drug trafficking.
On the other hand, the lack of investment in the agri-food sector promotes mobilization of the rural population to the largest cities. This important workforce for the country ends up in marginal neighborhoods and they do not have many options. One of them is to stay in the queues of the small factories within the “free trade zones,” to be enslaved by the manufacturing transnationals.
The independence of Haiti was marked by the first slave revolution in the Americas, and it served as an example for all emancipatory objectives in the region. It began with a revolt and the liberation of exploited captives led by François Dominique Toussaint-Louverture in 1795 and was consolidated in 1804, when Jean-Jacques Dessalines proclaimed the Republic. This feat was an affront to imperialism for which the Caribbean country has had to pay a high price.
In retaliation, France used its military power and diplomatic influence to initiate a blockade against the newly founded nation.
In 1825, despite the fact that the European country had already extracted a large part of Haiti’s wealth, the Caribbean nation was forced to pay for the losses that independence caused to the landowners, otherwise it would not be recognized as a Republic. Already impoverished and with the crops burned, she had to apply for a loan and the condition was that only French banks could be used, which was an ironic disgrace. The refusal to pay at first resulted in the arrival of naval ships from the European country to its shores.
It took Haiti more than a century to pay off its estimated $22 billion debt.
Besieged by empires
The nation seemed to be emerging from the quagmire when it was again subdued by another imperial power, this time from the same continent.
At the beginning of the 20th century, at the request of President Woodrow Wilson, it was occupied militarily by the United States. The Marines were sent to “maintain peace and stability” after a mob assassinated Haitian President Jean Vilburn Guillaume Sam in 1915, following the decision to execute 167 political prisoners.
During the invasion, the troops seized the country’s gold reserves. The other hypothesis that is bandied about is a concern about the presence of Germany in the region, and the threat that this posed for US interests.
The occupation lasted until 1934. Until then, any peasant insurrection was dismantled and leaders who had a patriotic or anti-American stance were eliminated. One who took a subservient position was Philippe Sudre Dartiguenave and that is why he was “elected” as president. During his tenure, the situation was such that the United States controlled the treasury and customs. In that period, more than 20 thousand Haitians were killed.
It was Duvalier
Later, François Duvalier, a doctor who became popular for fighting tropical diseases, appeared on the Haitian political scene. After holding various government positions in the health sector, in 1957 he ran for president and won. Also known as Papa Doc, he proposed himself as a savior of blackness and pretended he was a hougan, or voodoo priest.
The performance as a voodoo deity and other political circumstances served to consolidate his power and he was proclaimed president for life. Despite the mediatization of religious and political persecution, due to the Cold War context, the United States established a strategic alliance with Haiti to contain the rise of leftist movements in the region.
This US containment policy also included “cooperation” in economic and military matters. With this first resource, a developmental model was imposed that would allow, through small loans, to boost the local economy and generate social stability that could project the capitalist model as successful.
Part of these resources would be aimed at, among others, building industrial infrastructure, improving services and thereby paving the way for the arrival of US investment to exploit the countries resources under favorable conditions.
Another empty phase
This development became impossible because Papa Doc captured all the foreign aid and resources of the State. He exercised a policy of persecution against small businessmen and merchants, whom he looted, forcing them to finance government policies through direct contributions.
“Those who truly controlled the country during this time were foreign businessmen, who manipulated the nation’s economy and were defended by brigades of parastatal militias,” says Georges Fortuné, quoted in a text by Carlos Murgueitio.
Haiti’s economic situation worsened when the dictator favored landowners and transnational corporations while expelling peasants from state land. Added to this was the failure of two large agricultural assistance projects promoted by President Eisenhower, between 1957 and 1961, which channeled funds through HADO (Haitian American Development Organization).
In the 1960s, the Haitian economy became dependent on loans and the external debt tripled. In 1963, the United States, under John F. Kennedy, granted Haiti $28 million to start a process of economic liberalization and, by applying the recipe, the IMF contributed another $6 million, says Murgueitio.
Social discontent and protests against looting, corruption and impoverishment were contained with the use of excessive violence by the Tonton Macoutes, a paramilitary group created by Duvalier that served as a security body and were religiously subordinate to him. They associated him with Baron Samedi, a mocking cadaverous deity who grants wishes and determines who passes to the afterlife once dead.
Trained by a US military mission, the Tonton Macoutes killed more than 50,000 people during the dictatorships of François Duvalier and his son Jean-Claude Duvalier, Baby Doc, who assumed power when his father died in 1971, until 1986.
Determined to continue exercising control over the island nation, when Papa Doc died, the United States sent battleships to its shores to guarantee the transition of power to the son and avoid obstacles in this process.
The Baby Doc dictatorship proved unable to contain popular protests, forcing him to flee in a US military plane to France. From that moment began a stage that they called Duvalierism without Duvalier, a succession of military governments that still maintained the hard line of the dictatorships.
Haitians at that time were poorer and less self-sufficient in food production. Many lived off American factories like Disney and Kmart, which paid laborers 11 cents an hour to sew pajamas and T-shirts.
The democratic stage
Ironically, for the new democratic period that was beginning, the US government and the IMF “recommended” a series of neoliberal measures for Haiti. This policy ended up undermining the agricultural sector and investment in the countryside was discouraged. In addition to this, debt contracted by the dictators had to be paid.
Social discontent coalesced into a political movement led by Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a former priest opposed to the power elites left by Duvalierism, who in 1991 won the first democratic elections of the century. After several months in power, he was subjected to a coup led by Raoul Cedras, who was known as a member of a first-generation member of the Macoutes. Aristide returned to the country in 1994 with the support of the international community and US troops.
Aristide promoted a series of reforms that promoted equality and was the first president to make a just claim to France for restitution of the historic debt that had taken more than a century to be paid.
Aristide was elected again as president in 2004. This new political scenario was complicated as he had to face the blockade of international aid and anti-government protests. Following his kidnapping by US military forces that year, Aristide was forced to leave office. The social crisis led to a new occupation by the UN Stabilization Force (MINUSTAH). Subsequently, it was shown that this military force was involved, not only in drug trafficking, but also acts of torture, rape, human trafficking and prostitution in exchange for food.
If the scene was already dramatic, when the earthquake of 7.3 on the Richter scale was registered in 2010, even more atrocious realities were exposed. The earthquake left more than 200,000 dead, amid the general collapse of Haiti’s infrastructure, with thousands of people homeless and, therefore, poorer than ever. Due to the magnitude of the event, the country was in the news for a few days before once again falling into oblivion.
During the effervescence of the media moment, the government, NGOs, artists and others, offered resources that amounted to more than $5 billion, intended for the emergency and rebuilding of the country. Much of that money never made it to the Haitian government. One of many corruption cases was that of the United States Red Cross which, in charge of such a vast fund, only built six houses in five years.
Added to this catastrophe was the deliberate introduction of a cholera outbreak by UN troops, who discharged sewage into the Artibonite River (the longest on the island). This disease killed more than 8,000 people. Ironically, on the agency’s website they talk about the mission of the MINUTAH in Haiti and among several aspects, the mobilization of resources to help in the work of caring for the victims and containing and addressing the October 2010 cholera outbreak, which it caused, stands out.
By the end of 2019, Telesur noted that Haiti’s external debt was estimated at about $890 million, of which 41% corresponded to the IDB, its largest creditor, and 27% to the World Bank. This demolishes the myth of “humanitarian aid” as better aid would be to forgive the debt of the Caribbean country with the West.
The key to the 2019 protests was the increase in fuel prices, an IMF measure that also included the privatization of the electricity system. The crisis worsened in 2018 when Venezuela, due to the economic blockade imposed, stopped sending subsidized fuel to Haiti through Petrocaribe. This forced the country to turn to US oil companies with higher prices.
Although Petrocaribe’s contribution did not solve the problems, it represented an important contribution to the fuel subsidy. The blackmail of the United States has impacted on the decisions of Haiti in the OAS, which until that moment accompanied Venezuela in the decisions that were made in the multilateral body.
In other words, it was imperative for the United States to stop any type of strategic alliance that interrupted its plans to keep some nations under its influence and tutelage.
Paradoxically, the country that first managed to break free from the yoke of a European crown is the least autonomous for the reasons that we have already seen here. In order to try to answer the question that this report is entitled to, it was necessary to go through the vicissitudes of Haiti from independence until now. What is currently happening is the continuity of the same depredatory processes that have marked the Caribbean country since its founding as a republic.
Featured image: Demonstrations against Jovenel Moïse continue (Photo: Junior Augustin / Reuters).
Translation: Orinoco Tribune