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Remembrance

Jean Anil Louis-Juste, Prezan!

Toussaint Losier

On Friday, March 12, 2010, I joined hundreds gathered at the School of the Human
Sciences (FASCH) at the State University of Haiti (UEH) to honor Sociology Profes-
sor Jean Anil Louis-Juste. Two months prior, men on motorcycles gunned Anil down
as he was leaving UEH in downtown Port-au-Prince. Though he was rushed to the
hospital, Anil died several hours later. Shocked by his killing, colleagues had only a
few hours to react to his death before a magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck southwest
Haiti, leaving an estimated 316,000 dead and well over a million people homeless.
Anil Louis-Juste was born in 1957 in Ganthier, a small town just eighteen
miles east of Port-au-Prince near the Dominican border. He studied agronomy at
the UEH School of Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine. While at university, he
received his political education as a member of the National Federation of Haitian
Students (FENEH). In November 1980, Anil and other agronomy students led a
strike in response to a crackdown on independent journalists, union activists, and
human rights advocates by the government of President-for-Life Jean-Claude Baby
Doc Duvalier.
Within days, the student strike spread to other schools within the UEH
system in Port-au-Prince. Fearing the possibility of a general strike, the Duvalier
government sought to quickly appease the students before they inspired demonstra-
tions among other sectors of society, as historically they had done. In late 1929, for
instance, a student strike in the town of Damien, just northeast of Port-au-Prince,
grew into a general strike that marked the beginning of the end of a nineteen-year
occupation of Haiti by US military forces (19151934).

Radical History Review


Issue 115 (Winter 2013) doi 10.1215/01636545-1724796
2013 by MARHO: The Radical Historians Organization, Inc.

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When student militants again played a crucial role in the 1986 dchoukaj
(popular revolt) that brought down Baby Doc, Anil had already received his degree
and was working as an agronomist among the peasant farmers of Papaye in Haitis
Central Plateau. There, he quickly grew critical of agronomists who turned to rural
development projects in the absence of an engagement with the politics of rural
Haiti. Under both Duvalier regimes, a handful of oligarchic landowners, or gran-
dons, used the power of the state to claim ownership of most of the regions arable
land and to monopolize the rental of state-owned land.
In the rural area around the northwest farming town of Jean-Rabel, for
example, three grandons rented 84.5 percent of state lands in the area at low costs
and sublet it to peasants for demwatye, or tenant farming, with the remaining land
divided among ninety of Jean-Rabels farmers.1 Several hundred residents who
demanded land redistribution in Jean-Rabel were brutally massacred on July 23,
1987, in one of the largest single-day massacres in twentieth-century Latin Ameri-
can history.
In a pamphlet entitled The Jean-Rabel Massacre: Wager and Challenge,
Anil pointed out that the massacre took place not long after Tt Ansamn, or Heads
Together, a peasant land reform group, had organized a march against recent land
appropriations. In contrast to many of his contemporaries, Anil faulted Tt Ansamn
for failing to raise the consciousness of peasants in preparation for revolutionary
upheaval. Instead, the movement engaged peasants in politics that were fundamen-
tally reformist, ultimately depriving the broader progressive movement of militant
peasant leadership.
Furthermore, this massacre signaled that unless progressive forces intensi-
fied their struggle, the ruling classes would not allow a change in their relationships
of exploitation and humiliation with workers and peasants. In raising these con-
cerns, Anil placed himself to the left of the National Front for Democratic Change
(FNCD), the broad coalition that coalesced around the 1990 presidential candidacy
of Father Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a liberation theologian who would win that years
election by a stunning two-thirds majority.
On September 30, 1991, the Haitian military toppled Aristide in a US-backed
coup detat, killing in the first two days alone at least three hundred people across
the country suspected of being supporters of Aristides populist Lavalas party. Over
the next three years, paramilitary death squads killed somewhere between 10,000
and 30,000 people, primarily by targeting prominent activists and brutally repress-
ing the poorest neighborhoods of Port-au-Prince and other cities. Active in a variety
of progressive organizations, Anil was one of those sought by coup forces operating
in Papaye during the coups first days.
By the time a 1994 US military intervention reinstalled Aristide, Anil
returned to UEH to study for a second degree in social service with a thesis offering
a sociological analysis of peasant life in Papaye. After completing this degree, Anil
Losier | Jean Anil Louis-Juste, Prezan! 215

traveled to Brazil to complete graduate work in social service at the Federal Univer-
sity of Pernambuco. Published in 1999, his masters thesis examined the history of
peasant organization and the co-optation of rural social movements by community
development projects.
His engagement with the politics of rural development led him to the sub-
ject of his next research project: the role of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).
Beginning in the 1980s and increasing in number after the 1986 ouster of Baby
Doc, NGOs were becoming an increasingly prevalent aspect of the countrys politi-
cal landscape. By the late 1990s, the World Bank estimated that there were some-
where between 10,000 and 20,000 NGOs operating in Haiti, providing much of the
countrys basic public services, such that some soon called the country the Republic
of NGOs.2
Anils doctoral research at Pernambucos Graduate Social Service Program
focused particularly on those NGOs that purported to do progressive work. He
appropriated the term international community to refer to the hegemonic role
played by institutionsfrom UN agencies to local and foreign NGOsin facilitat-
ing the domestic interests of foreign countries in Haitiby sidestepping the local
structures of exploitation and approaching capitalist development as the sole frame-
work of rural development.
In 2005, Anil completed his doctoral thesis, A Critique of Partnership as
a Form of Solidarity in the Spectacle of Community Development in Haiti, and
returned to UEH to teach sociology at FASCH. A tireless educator and adviser,
he stood out by teaching in Haitian Kreyol, rather than French, and by becom-
ing a practicing Vodouisant, adopting the religion for political as well as spiritual
purposes.
Anil returned to FASCH in the wake of the February 29, 2004, overthrow of
Aristides second presidential administration. Orchestrated by a coalition of opposi-
tion forces and executed largely by military officers demobilized during Aristides
first term, the coup culminated in Aristides forced exile, the jailing of his political
allies, and deadly incursions into popular neighborhoods. To prop up an unelected
interim government, first US marines and French soldiers, and later a multinational
contingent of the UN Stabilization Mission (MINUSTAH), gained control of Haitis
major cities and towns.
Anil was concerned that the Haitian Left was incapable of reviving the sort
of nationalist consciousness that ultimately brought an end to the first US occupa-
tion. To address this, he worked with other faculty and students to establish several
progressive organizations, most notably the Association of Dessalinin University
Students (ASID) in 2007. Unlike other radical student groups, this organization
joined Marxist analysis to a nationalism that venerated Jean-Jacques Dessalines, the
first ruler of independent Haiti, as an antiliberal socialist.
At a moment when the government of Ren Prval, Aristides former prime
216 Radical History Review

minister, was under tremendous pressure from the international community to


adopt another round of neoliberal structural adjustments, ASID looked to Dessa-
lines as a revolutionary figure who established key public institutions, nationalized
farm land, and promulgated laws regarding the relationship between employers
and employees. Although he was not the only ASID member whose writings were
engaged in a rehabilitation of Dessaliness memory, Anil was particularly influential
in arguing that Dessaliness antiliberalism should serve as a guide for contempo-
rary political practice.
In the middle of 2009, members of ASID tested these ideas by mobilizing in
support of an increase in the countrys daily minimum wage from 70 ($1.75) to 200
($5) gourdes, unanimously passed by Parliament but held up by President Prval.
The last adjustment to the minimum wage had taken place during Aristides second
administration and provoked vocal opposition from the business sector. Six years
later, the proposed legislation drew a similarly vocal response with claims that a
wage increase would result in up to half of the roughly 25,000 employees in the
textile industry losing their jobs.
On June 3, 2009, Anil and other members of ASID were at the forefront of
the more than seven hundred students who demonstrated in support of the stalled
legislation, strategically blocking Port-Au-Prince streets near the National Palace as
well as the offices of an educational NGO previously run by Prvals prime minister.
In spite of repression by police and MINUSTAH soldiers, the students continued to
take to the streets for the next two days throwing stones, erecting barricades, and
setting government vehicles on fire. Over the next several weeks, members of ASID
and other student organizations drew hundreds of people to the streets. Their signs
and slogans increasingly targeted not only Prval, but also the UN MINUSTAH
troops, describing the soldiers as an occupying force.
As Prval sought to win only a phased increase in the minimum wage for the
textile industry, members of ASID ultimately accomplished what few progressive
organizations had done prior: mobilizing large numbers of workers from the assem-
bly zones. This included organizing wildcat strikes on August 4 and 5 that drew
thousands of workers from the National Industrial Parks Corporation (SONAPI) to
marches, including one on the Parliament building.3 Even after Parliament voted
in favor of Prvals proposal, these wildcat strikes continued to force the closure of
SONAPI, dying down only after a heavy police presence at the gates to the complex
quelled further protests.4
Due to the fierce demonstrations of workers and students, explained Dan
Coughlin and Kim Ives in their analysis of secret US Embassy cables obtained by
WikiLeaks, sweatshop owners and Washington won only a partial victory in the
minimum wage battle, delaying the $5/day minimum for one year and keeping the
assembly sectors minimum wage a notch below all other sectors. In October 2010,
Losier | Jean Anil Louis-Juste, Prezan! 217

assembly workers minimum wage increased to 200 gourdes a day while in all other
sectors it went to 250 gourdes ($6.25).5
For his part, Anil would not live to see the demand for two hundred gourdes
per day realized. As a prominent leader of the minimum wage protest, Anil, who
was often the focus of political attention, received multiple death threats and was
targeted for assassination beginning in 2010.
At Anils memorial ceremony, a banner above FASCHs courtyard remem-
bered him not simply as a professor or an activist, but as a Dessalinian Libera-
tor. Placards with his most popular sayingsYou dont have liberty without arms
and NGO, an international government on national territoryhad been placed
throughout the grounds. And on the makeshift stage, Anils students and colleagues
rose one by one to reflect on not only how he had touched their lives personally, but
what struggles remained in order to realize the promise of freedom to which he had
dedicated his life.

Notes
1. Two Hundred Died in Massacre in Haiti, New York Times, August 30, 1987.
2. Peter Hallward, Damming the Flood: Haiti, Aristide, and the Politics of Containment
(New York: Verso Books, 2007), 17778.
3. Haiti: Maquila Workers March for Wage Hike, Weekly News Update on the Americas,
no. 1000, August 9, 2009, weeklynewsupdate.blogspot.com/2009/08/wnu-1000honduran
-unions-start-open.html (accessed January 7, 2012).
4. Haiti: More Strikes Hit Maquilas, Weekly Update on the Americas, no. 1001, August 23,
2009, weeklynewsupdate.blogspot.com/2009/08/wnu-1001more-strikes-hit-haitian.html
(accessed January 7, 2012).
5. Dan Coughlin and Kim Ives, Newly Released WikiLeaked Cables Reveal: Washington
Backed Famous Brand-Name Contractors in Fight Against Haitis Minimum Wage
Increase, Hati Libert, May 2430, 2011, 6.
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