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How U.S. policy has impoverished and devastated Haiti
A collection of articles from SocialistWorker.org and the International Socialist Review
“The fault line of U.S. imperialism interacted with the geological one to turn the natural disaster into a social catastrophe.” – Ashley Smith
Catastrophe in Haiti by Ashley Smith, January '10 | 2 The Uses and Abuses of Haiti Helen Scott interviews Paul Farmer, March '03 | 4 200 Years of U.S. Imperialism: Haiti Under Siege by Helen Scott, May '04 | 8 The New Occupation of Haiti: Aristide's Rise and Fall by Ashley Smith, May '04 | 18 Haiti's Food Riots by Mark Schuller, May '08 | 24 Natural and Unnatural Disasters by Ashley Smith, September '08 | 27 C. L. R. James's The Black Jacobins by Ashley Smith, January '09 | 29 More empty promises for Haiti by Wadner Pierre, August '09 | 40
Catastrophe in Haiti Ashley Smith describes the natural and not-so-natural factors that contributed to the devastation when Haiti was struck by a strong earthquake. SocialistWorker.org January 14, 2010 A DEVASTATING earthquake, the worst in 200 years, struck Port-au-Prince on Tuesday, laying waste to the city and killing untold numbers of people. The quake measured 7.0 on the Richter scale, and detonated more than 30 aftershocks, all more than 4.5 in magnitude, through the night and into Wednesday morning. The earthquake toppled poorly constructed houses, hotels, hospitals and even the capital city's main political buildings, including the presidential palace. The collapse of so many structures sent a giant cloud into the sky, which hovered over the city, raining dust down onto the wasteland below. According to some estimates, more than 100,000 people may have died, in a metropolis of 2 million people. Those that survived are living in the streets, afraid to return inside any building that remains standing. Around the world, Haitians struggled to contact their family and friends in the devastated country. But most could not reach their loved ones since phone lines were down throughout the country. One person who did reach relatives, Garry Pierre-Pierre, editor and publisher of the Brooklyn-based Haitian Times, stated, "People are in shock. They're afraid to go out in the streets for obvious reasons, and most of them can't get inside their homes. A lot of people are sitting or sleeping in front of the rubble that used to be their homes." President René Préval issued an emergency appeal for humanitarian aid. He described the scene in Port-au-Prince as "unimaginable. Parliament has collapsed. The tax office has collapsed. Schools have collapsed. Hospitals have collapsed. There are a lot of schools that have a lot of dead people in them. All the hospitals are packed with people. It's a catastrophe." The weak Préval government was unable to respond to the crisis, and the United Nations--which occupies Haiti with close to 9,000 troops--was completely unprepared to manage the situation. Many UN leaders and troops died in buildings that collapsed, including their own headquarters. International Red Cross spokesman Paul Conneally said that 3 million out of Haiti's 9 million people would need international emergency aid in the coming weeks just to survive. The UN, U.S., European Union, Canada and countless non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have promised humanitarian aid. ----------------
WHILE MOST people reacted to the crisis by trying to find a way to help or donate money, Christian Right fanatic Pat Robertson stooped to new depths of racism. He explained that Haitians were cursed because they made a pact with the devil to liberate themselves from their French slave masters in the Haitian revolution two centuries ago. The corporate media at least reported that shifting tectonic plates along a fault line underneath Port-au-Prince caused the earthquake--and that Haiti's poverty and the incapacity of the Préval government made the disaster so much worse. But they didn't delve below the surface. "The media coverage of the earthquake is marked by an almost complete divorce of the disaster from the social and political history of Haiti," Canadian Haiti solidarity activist Yves Engler said in an interview. "They repeatedly state that the government was completely unprepared to deal with the crisis. This is true. But they left out why." Why were 60 percent of the buildings in Port-au-Prince shoddily constructed and unsafe in normal circumstances, according to the city's mayor? Why are there no building regulations in a city that sits on a fault line? Why has Portau-Prince swelled from a small town of 50,000 in the 1950s to a population of 2 million desperately poor people today? Why was the state completely overwhelmed by the disaster? To understand these facts, we have to look at a second fault line--U.S. imperial policy toward Haiti. The U.S. government, the UN, and other powers have aided the Haitian elite in subjecting the country to neoliberal economic plans that have impoverished the masses, deforested the land, wrecked the infrastructure and incapacitated the government. The fault line of U.S. imperialism interacted with the geological one to turn the natural disaster into a social catastrophe. During the Cold War, the U.S. supported the dictatorships of Papa Doc Duvalier and then Baby Doc Duvalier--which ruled the country from 1957 to 1986--as an anticommunist counterweight to Castro's Cuba nearby. Under guidance from Washington, Baby Doc Duvalier opened the Haitian economy up to U.S. capital in the 1970s and 1980s. Floods of U.S. agricultural imports destroyed peasant agriculture. As a result, hundred of thousands of people flocked to the teeming slums of Portau-Prince to labor for pitifully low wages in sweatshops located in U.S. export processing zones. In the 1980s, masses of Haitians rose up to drive the Duvaliers from power--later, they elected reformer JeanBertrand Aristide to be president on a platform of land reform, aid to peasants, reforestation, investment in
infrastructure for the people, and increased wages and union rights for sweatshop workers. The U.S. in turn backed a coup that drove Aristide from power in 1991. Eventually, the elected president was restored to power in 1994 when Bill Clinton sent U.S. troops to the island--but on the condition that he implement the U.S. neoliberal plan--which Haitians called the "plan of death." Aristide resisted parts of the U.S. program for Haiti, but implemented other provisions, undermining his hoped-for reforms. Eventually, though, the U.S. grew impatient with Aristide's failure to obey completely, especially when he demanded $21 billion in reparations during his final year in office. The U.S. imposed an economic embargo that strangled the country, driving peasants and workers even deeper into poverty. In 2004, Washington collaborated with Haiti's ruling elite to back death squads that toppled the government, kidnapped and deported Aristide. The United Nations sent troops to occupy the country, and the puppet government of Gérard Latortue was installed to continue Washington's neoliberal plans. Latortue's brief regime was utterly corrupt--he and his cronies pocketed large portions of the $4 billion poured into the country by the U.S. and other powers when they ended their embargo. The regime dismantled the mild reforms Aristide had managed to implement. Thus, the pattern of impoverishment and degradation of the country's infrastructure accelerated. In 2006 elections, the Haitian masses voted in longtime Aristide ally René Préval as president. But Préval has been a weak figure who collaborated with U.S. plans for the country and failed to address the growing social crisis. In fact, the U.S., UN and other imperial powers effectively bypassed the Préval government and instead poured money into NGOs. "Haiti now has the highest per capita presence of NGOs in the world," says Yves Engler. The Préval government has become a political fig leaf, behind which the real decisions are made by the imperial powers, and implemented through their chosen international NGOs. ---------------THE REAL state power isn't the Préval government, but the U.S.-backed United Nations occupation. Under Brazilian leadership, UN forces have protected the rich and collaborated with--or turned a blind eye to--right-wing death squads who terrorize supporters of Aristide and his Lavalas Party. The occupiers have done nothing to address the poverty, wrecked infrastructure and massive deforestation that have exacerbated the effects of a series of natural disasters--
severe hurricanes in 2004 and 2008, and now the Port-auPrince earthquake. Instead, they merely police a social catastrophe, and in so doing, have committed the normal crimes characteristic of all police forces. As Dan Beeton wrote in NACLA Report on the Americas, "The UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), which began its mission in June 2004, has been marred by scandals of killings, rape and other violence by its troops almost since it began." First the Bush administration and now the Obama administration have used the coup and social and natural crises to expand the U.S.'s neoliberal economic plans. Under Obama, the U.S. has granted Haiti $1.2 billion in debt relief, but it hasn't canceled all of Haiti's debt--the country still pays huge sums to the Inter-American Development Bank. The debt relief is classic windowdressing for Obama's real Haiti policy, which is the same old Haiti policy. In close collaboration with the new UN Special Envoy to Haiti, former President Bill Clinton, Obama has pushed for an economic program familiar to much of the rest of the Caribbean--tourism, textile sweatshops and weakening of state control of the economy through privatization and deregulation. In particular, Clinton has orchestrated a plan for turning the north of Haiti into a tourist playground, as far away as possible from the teeming slums of Port-au-Prince. Clinton lured Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines into investing $55 million to build a pier along the coastline of Labadee, which it has leased until 2050. From there, Haiti's tourist industry hopes to lead expeditions to the mountaintop fortress Citadelle and the Palace of Sans Souci, both built by Henri Christophe, one of the leaders of Haiti's slave revolution. According to the Miami Herald: The $40 million plan involved transforming the now quaint town of Milot, home to the Citadelle and Palace of Sans Souci ruin, into a vibrant tourist village, with arts and crafts markets, restaurants and stoned streets. Guests would be ferried past a congested Cap-Haïtien to a bay, then transported by bus past peasant plantations. Once in Milot, they would either hike or horseback to the Citadelle...named a world heritage site in 1982... Eco-tourism, archaeological exploration and voyeuristic visits to Vodou rituals are all being touted by Haiti's struggling boutique tourism industry, as Royal Caribbean plans to bring the world largest cruise ship here, sparking the need for excursions. So while Pat Robertson denounces Haiti's great slave revolution as a pact with the devil, Clinton is helping to reduce it to a tourist trap.
At the same time, Clinton's plans for Haiti include an expansion of the sweatshop industry to take advantage of cheap labor available from the urban masses. The U.S. granted duty-free treatment for Haitian apparel exports to make it easy for sweatshops to return to Haiti. Clinton celebrated the possibilities of sweatshop development during a whirlwind tour of a textile plant owned and operated by the infamous Cintas Corp. He announced that George Soros had offered $50 million for a new industrial park of sweatshops that could create 25,000 jobs in the garment industry. Clinton explained at a press conference that Haiti's government could create "more jobs by lowering the cost of doing business, including the cost of rent." As TransAfrica founder Randall Robinson told Democracy Now! "That isn't the kind of investment that Haiti needs. It needs capital investment. It needs investment so that it can be self-sufficient. It needs investment so that it can feed itself." One of the reasons why Clinton could be so unabashed in celebrating sweatshops is that the U.S.-backed coup repressed any and all resistance. It got rid of Aristide and his troublesome habit of raising the minimum wage. It banished him from the country, terrorized his remaining allies and barred his political party, Fanmi Lavalas, the most popular in the country, from running for office. The coup regime also attacked union organizers within the sweatshops themselves. As a result, Clinton could state to business leaders: "Your political risk in Haiti is lower than it has ever been in my lifetime." Thus, as previous U.S. presidencies have done before, the Obama administration has worked to aid Haiti's elite, sponsor international corporations taking advantage of cheap labor, weaken the ability of the Haitian state to regulate the society, and repress any political resistance to that agenda. ---------------THESE POLICIES led directly to the incapacitated Haitian state, dilapidated infrastructure, poorly constructed buildings and desperate poverty that combined with the hurricanes and now the earthquake to turn natural disasters into social catastrophes. While everyone should support the current outpouring of aid to help Haiti, no one should do so with political blinders on. As Engler said: Aid in Haiti has always been used to further imperial interests. This is obvious when you look at how the U.S. and Canada treated the Aristide government in contrast to the coup regime. The U.S. and Canada starved Aristide of almost all aid. But then after the coup, they opened a
floodgate of money to back some of the most reactionary forces in Haitian society. We should therefore agitate against any attempt by the U.S. and other powers to use this crisis to further impose their program on a prostrate country. We should also be wary of the role of international NGOs. While many NGOs are trying to address the crisis, the U.S. and other governments are funneling aid to them in order to undermine Haitians' democratic right to selfdetermination. The international NGOs are unaccountable to either the Haitian state or Haitian population. So the aid funneled through them further weakens what little hold Haitians have on their own society. The Obama administration should also immediately lift the ban against Aristide's return to Haiti, as well as the political ban on his party, Fanmi Lavalas, from participating in the electoral process. After all, a known drug criminal and coup leader, Guy Philippe, and his party Front for National Reconstruction (FRN) has been allowed to participate in the electoral process. Aristide and his party, by contrast, are still the most popular political force in the country and should have the right to participate in an open and fair vote. The U.S. should also stop deportations of Haitians who have fled their crisis-torn country and grant Temporary Protected Status to Haitian refugees. That would allow any Haitians who have fled the political and social crisis since the coup, the hurricanes and now the earthquake to remain legally in the U.S. On top of that, we must demand that the U.S. stop imposing its neoliberal plans. The U.S. has plundered Haitian society for decades. Instead of Haiti owing any debt to the U.S., other countries or international financial institutions, the reverse is the case. The U.S., France, Canada and the UN owe the people of Haiti reparations to redress the imperial plunder of the country. With these funds and political space, Haitians would be finally able to begin shaping their own political and economic future--the dream of the great slave revolution 200 years ago.
The Uses and Abuses of Haiti Helen Scott interviews Paul Farmer International Socialist Review Issue 28, March-April 2003 Paul Farmer has worked for two decades as medical director of a hospital in the village of Cange in Haiti that serves the rural poor. He helped establish two organizations-Zanmi Lasante in Haiti and Partners in Health in Massachusetts-that aim to redress inequalities in
access to health care. Farmer used a 1993 MacArthur "genius grant" to establish the Institute for Health and Social Justice, which has supported important research on the link between sickness and social and economic inequality. Farmer has published several books that expose the connections between poverty, inequality and infectious diseases, especially AIDS. His work rejects the brutal logic of a for-profit system of health care that reserves cutting edge research and technology for the wealthy while denying the poor the most basic provisions necessary for survival. In 1994 he wrote The Uses of Haiti, a sweeping history that reveals the consistent role of foreign powers, especially the United States, in the exploitation and oppression of the Haitian people. After several years out of print, an updated version of The Uses of Haiti has now been reissued. The book rips apart the myth, so often repeated in the New York Times and other mainstream media outlets, that Haiti is a world apart, inexplicably the "poorest country in the Western hemisphere." Farmer shows that Haiti has always been enmeshed in a global system of imperialist competition, its resources and people ruthlessly exploited for profit, its repeated struggles for liberation brutally suppressed. As Noam Chomsky wrote in the 1994 introduction, the book "tells the truth about what has been happening in Haiti, and the U.S. role in its bitter fate."' The Uses of Haiti tells of the vicious Duvalier dictatorship, headed first by Francois "Papa Doc" and then his son Jean-Claude "Baby Doc," that maintained a reign of terror over Haiti's workers and poor through the infamous armed thugs, the Tontons Macoutes. The U.S government maintained a steady flow of aid to the regime even as it blatantly violated political, social and human rights at every level. Jean-Claude Duvalier was overthrown by a popular uprising in 1986, and in 1990 a large majority democratically elected the immensely popular activist-priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide-only to watch the Duvalier forces organize a military coup within months. The (first) Bush and then Clinton administrations worked to undermine Aristide while supporting the forces behind the coup. They also broke an embargo imposed by the Organization of American States (OAS) to protest the atrocities of the coup regime. Yet the U.S. officially opposed the coup regime and eventually, in 1994, launched a military invasion ostensibly to "restore democracy." Nothing could be further from the truth. As Noam Chomsky puts it in a recent interview, "When the United States government thought that the Haitian population had been tortured enough...the Aristide government was allowed back in under the condition that it accept U.S. demands for an extremely harsh neoliberal regime which has pretty well devastated what's left of the country."
This background is crucial for understanding the current crisis in Haiti and particularly for seeing through the despicable hypocrisy of the U.S. government. Levels of poverty are worse than ever, yet the U.S is blocking the aid that is desperately needed while working to destabilize the Aristide government. Farmer explains: "The current U.S-sponsored embargo against Haiti targets the most vulnerable population in all of the hemisphere, the poorest people with the most fragile economy, ecology and society." The rationale for the embargo-"irregularities" in local elections in 2000-stinks of hypocrisy given the decades-long flood of money to the dictatorial Duvaliersnot to mention the United States' own election irregularities in Florida that took place at the same time. Unlike the Florida case, which led to the second Bush presidency, the Haitian irregularities played no part in Aristide's reelection; in fact the senators involved all subsequently resigned their seats. Meanwhile, the minority political group opposing Aristide's government, the rightwing and misnamed "Convergence Democratique," more accurately known as the "Macouto-Bourgeois alliance," is receiving funding from Republican organizations in Washington. As Farmer puts it, "we hear endless complaints about the corruption of the Haitian government, with no mention of the industrial-strength corruption of the United States and its vassals." The new edition of The Uses of Haiti is crucial reading for anyone who wants to see beyond the current crocodile tears shed by the U.S. government and its media over "human rights abuses" and "corruption" in Haiti. One of those "vassals," the OAS, released a report last year lamenting the "deteriorating human rights in Haiti" and even pointing out that poverty, child mortality and disease "represent by themselves human rights violations." Farmer responds: [O]f course Haiti's health and sanitary disasters 'represent by themselves human rights violations'. That's why it's wrong for the hemisphere's most powerful nation to block the humanitarian aid to the most impoverished and wronged one. The violations are caused not by Haiti, but by its powerful neighbor to the north. The following exchange recently took place between the ISR's HELEN SCOTT and PAUL FARMER. HS The US. invasion of 1994, named "Operation Restore Hope," was ostensibly to reinstate democratically elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide who had been ousted by a military coup. Yet the US. government and media have been consistently critical of Aristide. What is your assessment of the real reasons for the invasion? PF I suspect it would be best to make a list of reasons, and
then try to put them in order of importance. Although "restoring hope" or "restoring democracy" (or even "constitutional rule") may figure somewhere on that list, it won't be anywhere in the top 100 reasons. Were I to speculate as to what the ranking reasons were, I would say they're similar to the ones that are pushing the State Department, and its faithful prop the OAS, to reconsider their current sanctions against the democratically elected government of Haiti: fear of refugees, of continued social dislocation, and of violence as "contagious." Then there is contagion itself. It's no accident that polio, declared eradicated from the hemisphere, resurfaced recently in Haiti. It's no accident that the prevalence of infectious diseases is higher here than anywhere else. For example, malaria has been more or less eliminated from both Cuba and Jamaica, as it has from many of the smaller CARICOM (Caribbean Community) nations. Here in our clinic in central Haiti, we diagnosed almost 2,000 cases of malaria last month alone. Then come a host of other reasons internal to U.S. politics and resulting from pressure, weak as it was, from the human rights groups and UN system. But "restoring hope" was not, it would seem, a ranking reason, since our policies since then have been designed to weaken the broad-based popular movement that advocates social and economic rights. Destroying hope would be a better term. The U.S. and also the Haitian elite have long been opposed- openly, not clandestinely-to such a platform. HS Can you describe current conditions in Haiti? PF Conditions are what you'd expect after a couple centuries of extracting everything the land and the people have to give. Haitians, especially the ones I see as a physician, draw direct connections between the current conditions and their history. (I've noticed the same tendency in Chiapas and even Peru: an interest among the poor in restoring their history, and history of what's been done to them. This is, alas, countered by even more powerful efforts to erase or rewrite history.) The latter part of the 20th century was worse than any period since slavery was abolished by force of arms in the Haitian Revolution (1791-1803). Well before the Duvalier regime was entrenched, Haiti was declared the poorest country in the hemisphere, even though, in the 19th century, there were probably more peasant landholders here than elsewhere in Latin America. The past few decades have been more or less an undeclared war against the poor. Under JeanClaude Duvalier, there was a massive amount of aid funneled into Haiti through the "government"-the dictatorship- from the "international community." The World Bank, the IDB (International Development Bank), USAID (U.S. Agency for International Development), all
the big players. Even their own report cards on this aid are pretty bad; the local grades were even harsher. Finally, the poverty and corruption were so bad that a popular uprising led to the collapse of 29 years of family dictatorship in 1986. In 1986, there was one institution to avoid strengthening if democracy was to take hold. That was of course the army, which was completely duvalieriste, having been reshaped by 30 years of family dictatorship. Yet that was precisely the instrument supported by the U.S. (and thus the international community over the next several years, with military juntas receiving over $200 million in aid in the 18 months after the collapse of the dictatorship. These are the same folks that brought you, by the way, the sacking and burning of the Church of St-Jean Bosco-during mass, with great loss of life. Note that these are the very same institutions, only too happy to finance aid and development efforts through the dictatorship and military juntas, are the ones who now have an embargo against aid to the Haitian government. A lot of the arrears the Haitian government "owes" these institutions were loans disbursed to decidedly antidemocratic governments. This sounds to Haitians a lot like the 150 million francs in "reparations" they were obliged to pay the French in the early 19th century after the revolution. HS What is behind the US. decision to withhold aid to Haiti and what is the impact of this embargo on ordinary Haitians? PF Well, the reason given by officialdom couldn't possibly be the correct one. The reason given is that we're unhappy with the legislative elections of May 2000, when there should've been run-offs for seven or eight senatorial races. Instead of runoffs, the elections went to the person who had the most votes-a real crime against democracy. This could never be the reason for withholding aid since we disburse fantastic amounts of aid to governments that were not elected. Pakistan, Egypt and so on-these are military governments. The former came to power in a military coup, but since September 11 we've lifted all restrictions and are giving them tons of money. The real reason we have an embargo against Haiti, in my view, is that every time the Haitians are allowed to elect who they want they make the mistake of not electing the kind of people the U.S. government wants. They keep electing, in fact, the same guy, the one who is pushing social and economic rights for the poor. The same guy who is vilified by the establishment press (when Aristide was recently given an award by the UN Food and Agricultural Organization, the Wall Street Journal said, "What next? A prize for Fidel Castro?" or something like that). The sad thing about a lot
of so-called progressive commentary from outside of Haiti is that it too erases history. How can you rebuild Haiti without massive resources, perhaps something on the scale of half of what has been drained from Haiti? It will require, as noted, a billion dollars to rebuild ruined health, educational and sanitary infrastructure here. So I'm not against moving funds back to Haiti. I'm all for it. And until that happens, there will be misery and hunger and inequality here. That "structural violence," which has been perpetrated from without, will be reflected in local violence, just as it is everywhere in the world. You'd think that progressive observers would at least make this connection. But they don't. The "human rights community" rarely dares to criticize the United States government and its obedient appendages (such as the OAS), but we should be following the chain of command and asking why it is, for example, that the International Republican Institute and the National Endowment for Democracy are so keen on financing the Haitian opposition. As for the impact of the embargo on the Haitian poor, what do you think would happen if: 1) the public infrastructure of the country were run into the ground; 2) the Haitian poor desperately need clean water, good medical care and educational opportunities; and 3) the three IDB loans that were blocked-as far as we can tell, by U.S. veto power, since the loans were already approved by the Haitian government and the IDB-are for water, health care and education? As the Haitians say, you can't get blood out of a rock. The situation here is as bad as I've seen it, with an international aid embargo on a democratically elected government and "progressive" analysts spending all of their energies, it would seem, criticizing David, not Goliath. HS Can you explain the work of the Zanmi Lasante Clinic and the role it plays in Haiti? PF Part of me is tempted to say that we don't really have a national role per se, that ours is a regional effort, a community-based effort. That would all be true. At the same time, what I've seen over the past 20 years leads me to believe that Zanmi Lasante may well be playing an important role in other parts of Haiti and beyond its borders. Allow me to give some specific examples, and then link them to a general contribution to the struggle of the poor. Zanmi Lasante has pioneered a number of interventions around complex health problems including hard-to-treat tuberculosis, AIDS prevention and care and maternal mortality. We've done these projects from the middle of a squatter settlement inhabited almost exclusively by landless peasants. We've even performed open-heart
surgery here. We've done this with an all-Haitian staffnon-Haitians like me have been volunteers. We have recently welcomed our first Cuban staff, a very experienced surgeon and a pediatrician, but we don't have to pay them either. It's part of Cuba's aid program to Haiti. In "pioneering" these projects, we have attracted attention from other places in Haiti. For example, we were named, years ago, the national referral center for the treatment of drug-resistant tuberculosis. So there are people referred from the capital city to receive their "high-tech" care in the middle of a squatter settlement on the central plateau. The Ministry of Health called upon us to lead public health efforts in the region. And our AIDS treatment program-perhaps the first donor-supported one m such a poverty-stricken setting-has been visited by doctors from across sub-Saharan Africa. The staff of Zanmi Lasante, which is underpaid and works under adverse conditions, is proud of these victories, as slender as they are in the face of current global trends. Most of all, we're known for seeing patients. The provider of last resort for the region's poor. We may see, here in Cange, close to 200,000 ambulatory visits this year, more than three times the number we saw last year. We never would have thought it possible. Of course the staff is exhausted and raising funds for the medications is a constant headache for Partners In Health-Boston. And that figure would not include patients seen in their homes by community health workers, nor would it include patients seen in our sister institutions in Thomonde, Boucan Carre, and Lascahobas. We're involved in seeing that decent services are made available in those places, too. One of the unusual things about Zanmi Lasante is that it is a health NGO that is skeptical about NGOs. It's a private facility on the side of public facilities. We regard our primary mission as rendering service to the poor without losing sight of why it is that there are so many poor people out there, without forgetting why it is that the public sector has had its legs cut out from under it-and not by the Haitian government. It is the so-called international community that is weakening the public sector in Haiti. So to have a private NGO always complaining about the "NGO-ification" and "privatization" of Haiti and other poor regions of the world is unusual. HS What is your assessment of the current state of movements for social and economic rights in Haiti? And what can progressive forces in the US. do to assist those movements? PF So far, progressive forces in the United States have been pretty silent on Haiti. They've been silent or divided. What we all know is that Haiti has been driven into the ground
over the past couple of decades. As a doctor and a progressive, I'd like to underline the following point: When something is driven into the ground, resources are required to rebuild it. A person who has been kicked to the ground must expend energy to get back up again. This was clear in 1986, more so in 1990 and 1994, and clearest of all right now. "A Marshall Plan for Haiti" some said. "Reparations," observed the more historically minded. (A few truly ahistorical ideologues, some of them selfdeclared progressives, have argued, "Haiti needs no aid. It can recover on its own." This is absurd and dangerous ideology.) The real reason we have an embargo against Haiti, as I already mentioned, is that every time the Haitians are allowed to elect who they want they make the mistake of not electing the kind of people the U.S. government wants. In almost all of his public utterances, Aristide brings forth the significance of social and economic rights. An article in the Village Voice, which was not at all flattering to the Aristide government, quoted Aristide saying the following: "The people of Cite Soleil [a poor area of Port au Prince] are the sons and daughters of the country. Their rights are violated when they cannot eat; their rights are violated when they cannot go to school. We must work with all sectors, the opposition and the elite, to improve their lives. We are committed to working with them and we will not rest until we do that." The Wall Street Journal might deny the relevance of Aristide's comments to the situation, but any inhabitant of Haiti would see the connection: without social and economic rights, political rights have no soil to grow in. The brutality in Haiti's streets will not be tamed by legal reforms or by extralegal police action, but by confronting poverty and disease. And that will require a major influx of capital. As of today, all significant aid to the public sector remains blocked, although smaller amounts are being routed through NGOs (some of them doing excellent work, but on a local scale), through right-wing political parties, and through churches, some of them also quite conservative. Haitians abroad continue to send home remittances, but remittances, though vital to the survival of many families here, cannot substitute for the aid necessary to rebuild the country. Progressive forces in the United States and Europe should spend their energies denouncing the abuses of the powerful (our governments) and working to move resources back to a place that has been devastated by mean-spirited policies from without. HS I was struck by a talk you gave recently in which you quoted Roman historian Tacitus, who said of Roman conquest, "They make a desert and call it peace." Given
the US. record of verbally espousing democracy while actually working to undermine it in Haiti what is your assessment of the current war on terror in Afghanistan and shortly in Iraq, which is waged in the name of democracy and freedom? PF Any honest assessment of the historical underpinnings of these two "wars" will teach us the same lesson that Haitian history does: We have had a hand in creating these "failed states" and "rogue states." Erasing history is always expedient to the powerful, as Tacitus pointed our many centuries ago.
200 Years of U.S. Imperialism: Haiti Under Siege By Helen Scott International Socialist Review Issue 35, May–June 2004 Why have you come to save me? Why have you come to save me? You, Americans, have saved me Who will save me now? —Popular song during the American occupation of 1994.1 IN THE U.S., Haiti is portrayed as a world apart: the "poorest country in the western hemisphere"–a place of inexplicable violence and instability, horrible poverty, and scant resources. Seldom are we reminded that this was the first nation after the U.S. to achieve independence, and was the first Black republic–that this is a country with a history not only of repression and violence but also of heroism, resistance, immense human and cultural vitality. Far from being "a world apart," Haiti has from its inception been all too firmly locked into a world system that has exploited, battered, and abused its natural and human resources. Perhaps the starkest omission is that the U.S. has played a long and devastating role in Haiti, including a brutal nineteen-year military occupation, from 1915 to 1934. Writes Historian Mary Renda:
While in Haiti, marines installed a puppet president, dissolved the legislature at gunpoint, denied freedom of speech, and forced a new constitution on the Caribbean nation–one more favorable to foreign investment. With the help of the marines, U.S. officials seized customs houses, took control of Haitian finances.… Meanwhile, marines waged war against insurgents (called cacos) who for several years maintained an armed resistance in the countryside, and imposed a brutal system of forced labor that engendered even more fierce Haitian resistance. By official U.S. estimates, more than 3,000 Haitians were killed during this period; a more
thorough accounting reveals that the death toll may have reached 11,500.
Renda continues:"This extended breach of Haitian sovereignty constitutes an infamous but crucial chapter in Haitian history." Yet, "the occupation has earned little more than a footnote in standard accounts of U.S. history."2 This occupation was in fact a crucial moment in the development of American imperialism, and the brutality and betrayal of the long occupation is consistent with the treatment meted out to Haiti by the U.S. throughout its history to the present day. From slavery to revolution "Haiti" comes from the name given to the island it occupies by the original inhabitants, the Arawaks: "Ayiti," meaning "land of the mountains." The hilly island the Arawaks lived in was lush, beautiful, and bountiful. Edwidge Danticat explains in After the Dance, her account of the popular carnival at Jacmel, where Christopher Columbus first saw Haiti in the fifteenth century, that Columbus wrote in his log: "This island is very large… there are some of the most beautiful plains in the world, almost like the lands of Castille, only better."3 It came to be known as the "jewel of the Caribbean" by the Spanish and then the French.4 There is much to suggest that the Arawaks were a generous and peaceable people. Columbus described their warm reception of him and his men: "They gave my men bread and fish and whatever they had. The Indians on my ship had told the Indian accompanying the sailors that I wanted a parrot, and he passed the word on.… They brought many parrots and required no payment for them."5 As Danticat explains, the kindness was not reciprocated: "The cost to the Arawaks, however, was great. A hundred years after Columbus’s arrival, they had all but disappeared. And the Spaniards, having exhausted the mining possibilities of their lands, moved on to newer adventures…"6 French settlers moved in, and for some time they fought the Spanish for dominion of the land until, in 1697, they carved it in two, forming a French colony in the west, Saint Domingue (now Haiti); and a Spanish one, Santo Domingo in the east (now the Dominican Republic). Haiti soon became a huge source of wealth for the French, who enslaved Africans and forced them to work on sugar, coffee, and tobacco plantations. Like all the plantation economies that provided the "primitive accumulation" of young capitalism, Saint Domingue was an ugly and brutal place: An immensely wealthy elite of slave-owners pursued lives of extravagance and opulence, while presiding over a system that denied the vast majority of Black slaves the most basic requirements of humanity. The
central division was between the white slave-owning minority and Black slave majority, but the system also relied on an elaborate hierarchical system of divisions based on status and color. A minority of gens de couleur or mulattoes, light-skinned free Blacks, also owned slaves. The race-obsessed system divided the nonwhite population into no fewer than 128 divisions based on skin color and ancestry. Again, like the other plantation societies of the eighteenth century, the slaves of Saint Domingue constantly resisted their enslavement, periodically in organized rebellions. Many escaped, and joined with other former slaves and affranchis, free Blacks, in the forests and mountains. These "maroons" became increasingly organized and sizeable, and in 1790 started to develop into rebel cells, using voodoo–a religion combining Catholicism with African traditions–and hornlike conch shells to communicate. In August 1791, according to Haitian legend, they came together in Bois Caiman–Caiman woods–under the leadership of a Vodou Houngan, or priest, and vowed to overthrow the brutal slave owners by coordinating a campaign of burning the plantations and killing the planters. Unlike the slave rebellions of other plantation societies, this was a successful revolution. Overcoming the armies of Spain, Britain, and France, and the divisions between themselves–the slaves, mulattoes, and free Blacks came together to fight their common enemy. In 1804, Haiti became an independent nation. This remarkable achievement forms a crucial part of Haiti’s popular culture and history. Independent Haiti: Island in a storm Yet Haitians had to continually struggle to maintain their security and their freedom: The contradictions of the slave economy and the hostility of the world’s powers formed insurmountable obstacles to the establishment of a healthy nation. The new rulers–drawn from the gens de couleur and Black military leaders–wanted to establish a profitable economy based on commodity production for export; many tried to re-establish plantations. The majority of former slaves wanted freedom from the humiliation and hardship of plantation labor, and the right to subsistence farming on their own plots of land. Meanwhile, the world powers, led by the U.S. and the Vatican, would not recognize Haiti’s sovereignty–the U.S. refusing to do so until 1862–and placed an embargo on trade and political relations with this lone Black nation. In 1825, France finally agreed to recognize Haiti, but at a price: Haiti was to pay 150 million francs as an indemnity to the French planters who lost their land in the revolution. This saddled Haiti with a debt that crippled its already foundering economy and increased Haitian dependence on France. The new Black nation also faced the constant threat of invasion by the world powers: Its territorial waters were in fact invaded many times in the second half of the
nineteenth century by Spain, Britain, France, the U.S., Germany, Sweden, and Norway. Despite formal prohibitions, foreign merchants, particularly German and American, continued to operate in Haiti: The global ostracism ensured that trade would be on their terms, not the Haitians’. As Haitian historian Michel-Rolph Trouillot puts it "the foreign trader has always operated in Haiti with the assurance that he can call in a foreign power if necessary."7 Haitian writer Michael J. Dash writes of how the U.S., fearing that the example of a successful slave rising and independence struggle might spread, used its influence in Haiti to promote internally repressive, externally obedient, regimes:
It was this influence that was feared, and the United States relaxed only when the counter-revolution led by elite interests within Haiti made the possibility of Haitian success unlikely. The United States since then has tended to favor any regime, Black or mulatto, from Boyer to Duvalier, which reduced Haiti to an impoverished, peasant community.8
The state became increasingly militarized and corrupt, dominated by patronage. The customs houses at Port-auPrince, which accounted for all government revenues, became the country’s main power source. As the nineteenth century turned, a series of military governments rose and fell; of the eleven presidents between 1888 and 1915 none served a complete sevenyear term, and all but one were either killed or overthrown. According to Trouillot, no single group was able to assume absolute power due to three factors: The military was decentralized; different regions of the country still exerted some autonomy from Port-au-Prince; and imperialist rivals abroad gave support to different factions, preventing any one from becoming all-powerful. The 1915 occupation The U.S. government’s official reason for invading was to protect human rights and restore democracy. Haitian President Vilbrun Guillaume Sam was overthrown in July 1915, after he massacred 167 political prisoners; his opponents dismembered him and paraded his body parts around Port-au-Prince. Historian Hans Schmidt writes:
The United States, as the self-appointed trustee of civilization in the Caribbean, was obligated to maintain minimal standards of decency and morality. The weakness of this argument was readily demonstrated by opponents of the intervention. A prominent Haitian writer, referring to an incident in a southern United States town where a Black man was dragged form the local jail and burned alive in the town square, pointed out that barbarity also existed in the United States. In a 1929 U.S. congressional debate, several congressmen noted that the number of Haitian presidents assassinated over the years was almost the same as the number of American presidents assassinated and that since 1862, the year of the American recognition of Haiti, the number was identical–three presidents killed in each country.9
Haiti became a nation with a weak and heavily dependent economy and growing divisions between the majority of peasants and the elite–who were willing to make deals with foreign powers to enrich themselves–and therefore chronic political instability was the rule. Economic patterns developed that would determine Haiti’s crisis-prone future. The vast majority were agricultural workers–peasants using archaic methods of production, with a feudal relationship to the landowning class. The fruits of their labor were seized by the landowners and the middle men, who dealt with the foreign merchants who exported primary goods–coffee, cocoa, and logwood–for the world market. Through heavy taxation on basic goods, peasants also bore the brunt of repaying the loans from foreign powers secured by the Haitian ruling class. A vicious cycle emerged whereby the peasants worked harder but produced less and sank further into poverty, while the urban elite enriched themselves. Despite their actual dependency on the mass of laborers, the elite became increasingly removed from them; this is shown by the fact that the peasantry became known as the mounn andeyo, "the people outside." The rulers were Roman Catholic, spoke French, the official language, and enjoyed fine imported goods and culture from France; the masses practiced voodoo, spoke Haitian Creole, were mostly illiterate and lived perilously close to destitution. The pigmentocracy developed under the plantation system continued: The elite–perhaps 3 percent of the population at the time of the 1915 invasion–consisted mostly of lightskinned descendants of the gens de couleur while the majority were mostly Black.
Such logic did not deter the U.S., since these justifications were simply alibis for the invasion and occupation, which were actually driven by imperialist competition. As Trouillot explains, "Plans for the invasion were in the works at least a year before the events that precipitated it."10 The U.S. ruling class saw military occupation as a way to establish political and economic dominance of Haiti and secure a base of power in the region. Since the middle of the nineteenth century, the United States had been interested in acquiring a naval base in the Caribbean. Securing Haiti’s deep and protected harbor at Môle-SaintNicolas had been considered favorably by presidents Johnson and Grant; and again seriously by Secretary of State James G. Blaine in the late 1880s. In the 1890s, increasing emphasis on American naval expansion and the subsequent building of the Panama Canal again heightened the attraction.
American warships had in fact been very active in Haitian waters in the previous fifty years, visiting Haitian ports to "protect American lives and property" on numerous occasions. In the late nineteenth century the State Department worked actively to develop American trade, in competition with France and increasingly Germany, which had successfully penetrated the Haitian economy. By the first decade of the twentieth century, U.S. capitalism had made significant inroads in trade, and investments in railroad construction and banking. This interest in Haiti was part of the larger Caribbean plan, which in turn was part of the broader effort by the U.S. to become an imperialist power capable of challenging its European rivals. Mary Renda summarizes: "[Haiti] was one of several important arenas in which the United States was remade through overseas imperial ventures in the first third of the 20th century. The transformations of imperialism were also effected in Puerto Rico, Cuba, Nicaragua, China, the Philippines, and dozens of other places around the globe."11 The Monroe Doctrine explicitly staked out Latin America and the Caribbean as the United States’ sphere of influence. The "big stick" policy of President Roosevelt–based on dominating Latin America through military might–was continued by President Taft, whose policy was "oriented towards introducing American financial participation as a means of limiting European influence."12 While the U.S. had direct commercial interests to defend and expand, the central motivation for the invasion of Haiti in 1915 was negative: It wanted to stop its rivals, particularly Germany, from acquiring more influence. The immediate actions of the occupying forces blatantly contradicted the rhetoric of bringing freedom and democracy to Haiti. First, they installed a puppet president, Philippe-Sudre Dartiguenave, one hundred armed marines "overseeing" his "election" by the senate (which they dissolved the following year). They wrote and imposed a convention giving the U.S. the right to police the country and take control of public finances. They seized the national bank and the customs houses. They wrote a new constitution that granted foreigners the right to own property–removing one of the central principles of Haitian independence. When the National Assembly refused to pass the constitution, the occupiers compelled the puppet president to dissolve the assembly. The official story was that the president Dartiguenave was responsible for the dissolution, but Major General Smedley Butler, who was in charge of the occupation at the time, observed privately that the assembly had become "so impudent that the Gendarmerie had to dissolve them, which dissolution was effected by genuinely Marine Corps methods."13 The new constitution also created a Council of State, to be appointed by the client president, to take over all legislative functions until the elected legislature was
reconstituted, at some unnamed future date. The occupying forces instructed Dartiguenave to declare war against Germany in July 1918, which enabled them to intern or supervise all Germans in the country and sequester their property.14 Since the start of the First World War, Butler had been urging the state department to
"cook up" some scheme to drive the German influence out of this country, now that the ‘open season’ for Germans is upon us, as after the war we should control this island.… A declaration of war would permit us to take most any step we saw fit towards the German holdings here.15
In one of Edwidge Danticat’s short stories a character says: "The Americans taught us how to build prisons. By the end of the 1915 occupation, the police in the city really knew how to hold human beings trapped in cages."16 The U.S. did indeed establish a national gendarmerie, or military police force. The marines who became gendarmerie officers ruled their respective regions, and the commandant–the first was Butler–effectively ruled the country. Butler had previously headed up the occupation of Nicaragua. The Nation in 1921 noted that his brutality was so broadly known that Nicaraguan mothers threatened naughty children that "General Butler will get you."17 The gendarmerie’s rank and file came from the Haitian poor, and this became an avenue for social advancement for a small section of this class. In order to facilitate their control of the whole country, the occupying force also embarked on a project of road building, and to do this they imposed a corvée– a system of forced labor–on the Haitian people. The occupation at the same time initiated a policy of "uplift," in keeping with the racist idea of the "white man’s burden" that was so central to British imperialism. They set up a technical school system, and embarked on a project of public works and public health. But these social programs were always secondary to two objectives. First, national development was, as Mary Renda puts it "based on the assumptions and imperatives of international capitalism."18 Electricity, plumbing, telephones, paved roads, and bridges…would facilitate the establishment of stability because policing could be more effective with improvements in communication and transportation… (and) they would make possible increased American investment in the Haitian economy.19 Second, investment in infrastructure, public education, and health was always subordinate to debt repayment. Successful maintenance of foreign debt repayment was in fact probably the only "positive" achievement of the nineteen-year occupation. Furthermore, the idea of benevolent development coexisted with vicious racism. Schmidt’s history gives us plenty of examples of the attitudes of those who
implemented and ran the occupation: Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan infamously said of the Haitian elite "Dear me, think of it! Niggers speaking French."20 State Department Counselor Robert Lansing believed that "[t]he experience of Liberia and Haiti show that the African race are devoid of any capacity for political organization and lack genius for government. Unquestionably there is in them an inherent tendency to revert to savagery and to cast aside the shackles of civilization which are irksome to their physical nature."21 And Assistant Secretary of State William Philipps bemoaned "‘the failure of an inferior people to maintain the degree of civilization left them by the French."22 Such attitudes posed practical problems. At one point the president of the Black Tuskegee College (which was often cited as a model for the technical school), Robert Moton, was charged by President Hoover to visit Haiti and advise the administrators. However, as the visiting team members were Black, they were not allowed passage to Haiti on U.S. Navy ships. The American occupying army was met with hostility and resistance. The majority of Haitians were against the occupation and their opposition took many forms. Within the elite there emerged new movements known variously as "Indigenist," "Haitianist," or "Africanist," forerunners of the negritude movement, that rejected the influence of European culture and looked for a new identity based in Haiti’s Black, African origins. New cultural movements investigated and celebrated Haitian folklore–the religion and language of the peasantry. Among Haitian novelists and poets there arose a new style of socially engaged literature–"la litterature engagée." Politically, Marxist internationalism became more influential and in 1934 writer Jacques Roumain founded the Haitian Communist Party. Left intellectuals were oriented around newspapers critical of the occupation; their editors and writers were frequently arrested and imprisoned by the American authorities, who maintained ruthless censorship throughout their rule. But the political reaction to the occupation that would become dominant was based around nationalism and patriotism, which paved the way for the noirisme or Black nationalism, manipulated by dictator François Duvalier. From armed resistance to mass rebellion The occupation confronted powerful resistance from the peasantry, who organized into rebel armies known as cacos. According to mythology they were named after a fiery red bird, and this is why they wore patches of red material to identify themselves. From the initial invasion, cacos fought the marines. Like their marroon ancestors, they used conch shells to communicate, and gathered in the mountains to plot against the hated invaders. The occupying army followed a policy of "vigorous pursuit and decimation," and used all the latest in weaponry
against the hoes, sticks, and stones of the Haitian peasants. In a single battle at Fort Rivière, 200 cacos were killed; there were no American casualties. Butler talked of his men hunting the cacos like pigs (he was awarded a medal by President Roosevelt for this). By the fall of 1915, the first caco resistance was crushed. But after the imposition of forced labor, the cacos came back in even greater numbers and the scattered resistance turned into full-scale revolt. The corvée was officially terminated, but the rebellion was not able to end the occupation. Rebel leader Charlemagne Peralte organized a provisional government in the north and thousands of Haitians fought alongside him–some estimates suggest as many as 15,000 at the height of resistance–but the American government and military maintained the myth throughout that opposition was restricted to an elite minority. Again the Americans used all their superior weaponry to destroy the opposition. In the first case of recorded airground combat, the marines surrounded groups of cacos and dropped bombs on them. The Marine Corps officially registered more than 1,800 Haitian fatalities in 1919. Among them was Charlemagne Peralte. Two marines, disguised as Haitians and tipped off by an informer, went to his camp and shot him. The triumphant marines tied his dead body to a door and displayed it in an attempt to intimidate the population, but the Haitians saw a resemblance to Jesus on the crucifix, and Peralte became a popular martyr. The rebellion was nonetheless crushed, and until 1929 the occupation met little organized resistance. After fifteen years there had been no democratization or shift toward self-determination, and the occupation remained monolithically authoritarian. The occupation had, in fact, become an embarrassment to the American government since the end of the First World War, but they were unable to extricate themselves. Only the massive military presence kept the client government in place; without it the country would have replaced the U.S.imposed regime with something of their own choosing. By the late 1920s, opposition was mounting at home: The Nation published an issue on the case for Haitian independence, and prominent Americans, especially African Americans, made links with the Haitian opposition. Stories of atrocities committed by marines at the highest levels against Haitian civilians were made public, fueling opposition in the United States. Meanwhile, the economic recession caused the coffee market, already hit by a bad crop in 1928, to collapse, removing the one source of income for most Haitians. At the same time, the occupying government increased taxes and once more "postponed" elections, at a time when the client president, Louis Borno, was widely hated. "These factors exacerbated the latent hatred of the occupation inspired by American racial condescension and boorish
military dictation."23 The result was a mass rebellion against the occupation. It started with a series of student strikes against the technical school established by the occupying regime. In late October 1929, students walked out to protest changes in how scholarships were awarded. A British reporter in the Manchester Guardian wrote, "resentment against the American occupation has long been smoldering and needed only some minor dispute to cause it to burst into flame."24 This was the spark. Sympathy strikes spread across private and public schools all over the country. The authorities attempted to pacify protesters by announcing that President Borno would not return to power at the end of his term, but at the same time the regime appealed for more marines. In December, the rebellion became generalized, with a strike by workers at the customs houses in Port-au-Prince–the heart of the country’s wealth. The strikes led to general mass protests on the streets, where marine patrols were stoned. The Americans imposed a curfew and military law, shut down the opposition press, dispatched marines across the nation, fired government workers who had gone on strike, and arrested protesters. On December 6, 1,500 peasants protested against taxes and arrests of protesters in Cayes. Marine airplanes dropped bombs on the harbor, which only enraged the Haitians more. Around 1,500 peasants armed with stones, machetes, and clubs, confronted twenty marines armed with automatic weapons. The marines opened fire into the crowd, killing two dozen and injuring more than fifty Haitians. The U.S. Navy awarded the Navy Cross to the commander of the detachment for "commendable courage and forbearance." The official response, carried by the "embeds" of the time, Associated and United Press reporters who were also marine officers, maintained that opposition was restricted to a minority, "a few elite politicians." An American colonel said that the strikes and protests were the work of an "international red conspiracy" and "dishonest, paid agitators." But as news reached the world, public opinion turned strongly against the occupation. One American congressman remarked, while criticizing the U.S. marines for "playing pirates" in Haiti: "Our smugness irritates the world and does not blind it. The White House often fools the country, but seldom fools the world."25 The Communist Party played a major role in publicizing the truth of the occupation. They sent out, for example, a press release about the Cayes massacre to African American newspapers across the U.S. and worked with the AntiImperialist League to organize conferences and generate and distribute literature about imperialism in Haiti.26 The criticism coming from across the world, including Latin America and at home, was very embarrassing to the Hoover administration, which had been boasting about
their "good neighbor" policy towards Latin America. As protests escalated, the U.S. government sent in a task force, "the Forbes Commission," to evaluate the occupation. They were met by 6,000 protesters with placards denouncing the occupation. The commission’s report, predictably, mostly praised the occupation, but, recognizing the scale of the problem, also recommended that Colonel John H. Russell, Haiti’s appointed high commissioner, be removed, and preparations be made for American withdrawal. President Borno was to be replaced by an interim government and elections were scheduled for November 1930. Ominously, the report concluded of Haitians’ future that, "their best hope is for a benevolent despot to arise, who like Porfirio Diaz in Mexico, will guide them."27 As historian Schmidt points out, Diaz was benevolent only to American interests. In Haiti, the rebellion continued to escalate after the commission left. Protesters burned down homes of marine colonels in what High Commissioner Russell referred to as an attempt to "create a reign of terror among the Americans."28 There was a general strike in Cap Haitien. Longshoremen, coffee sorters, logwood workers, agricultural laborers, public works, and sanitary department employees all walked out, undaunted by the punishments meted out against previous striking workers. The elections soundly defeated the American-supported candidate and selected the Haitian nationalist Sténio Vincent. The U.S. was forced to withdraw ahead of schedule and troops finally left in 1934. Before leaving, however, the U.S. government made a deal with Vincent, bypassing the more principled Haitian legislature, in the Executive Accord of August 1933. In exchange for withdrawal of troops and a loan, the U.S. government would maintain supervision of Haitian finances until all outstanding American bonds expired in 1952. What was the outcome of the occupation’s vaunted policy of "uplift?" After nineteen years, 95 percent of Haitians remained illiterate–the same as before the invasion. Despite an explicit goal of diversifying and therefore stabilizing the Haitian economy, Haiti was even more dependent on a single crop, coffee. While sisal, a plant fiber used for making rope, and banana production had started to develop, both were controlled by American companies. The terms of trade had been shifted overwhelmingly in favor of U.S. interests. The occupation also intensified the inherently unjust system of raising money through taxes and customs duties from the Haitian peasantry. The U.S. left a highly centralized state apparatus in Portau-Prince and a large U.S.-trained military well practiced in repressing domestic rebellions. The gendarmerie of Haiti was to become the Duvalier dictatorship’s chief weapon; just as the constabularies developed during the
U.S. occupation of Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Nicaragua were central to the Batista, Trujillo, and Somoza dictatorships. All the practices of absolutism perfected by the Duvalier regime were actually introduced by the occupation: Martial law and military tribunals for civilians; intimidation and imprisonment of journalists; dissolution of the legislature; indiscriminate killing of peasants; civilian administrative roles filled by soldiers; censorship of culture.29 The negative role of the U.S. in Haiti throughout the twentieth century was more than simply a legacy, however. U.S. power continued to hover over Haiti, aiding its dictators and intervening more directly whenever necessary. The Duvalier regime By the 1950s the conflicts exacerbated by the occupation came to a head, as the peasantry, already drained to such an extent that it was at or below subsistence level, was hard hit by another collapse in the international coffee market. A series of short-lived governments were unable to offer any solution other than increased taxation and repression. In 1957, a campaign of military terror was unleashed on the suffering population, "the totalitarian response was the brainchild of the army trained by the marines, and particularly of the cadets of the graduating class of 1930— 1931."30 That year a decree banned "drawings, prints, paintings, writings, or any other mode of expression of thought aimed at undermining the authority of the state" and another outlawed the wearing of khaki or "or any other cloth of that shade"–the army was instructed to open fire on anyone wearing light brown or olive green.31 In this context, François Duvalier won the presidential election in September 1957. Using the rhetoric of noirisme, Black nationalism, he promised to redistribute the wealth out of the hands of the light-skinned elite to the Black majority. In fact, once in power, he favored the very elite he claimed to despise. Duvalier made sure that the share of coffee profits would grow for the merchants and middlemen, and fall for the peasants. Duvalierism thus led to an extreme social polarization between an astonishingly wealthy minority on the one hand, and the impoverished bulk of the population on the other. The only wealth he redistributed was from the pockets of the poor via the state coffers into the pockets of his henchmen and lackeys. As Trouillot puts it, Duvalier "formalized the crisis" of Haiti. He attacked all national institutions that could support an opposition; shut down the press, purged the Catholic Church, schools, and colleges; cracked down on the unions; punished his critics with torture and execution and rewarded his followers from his slush funds; and created a climate of terror through random violent attacks by the military. He built "a maniacal private security
force,"32 a new plain clothes body of armed thugs, the dreadful tonton-makout or Tontons Macoutes, named after the frightening bogeyman of folklore who stole children and put them in his basket. The Macoutes made it clear that nobody was immune from state terror. Women, children, the elderly, state officials–all were vulnerable to indiscriminate attack at any time. While "Papa Doc" Duvalier, as he came to be known (in a name that linked him to the voodoo deities), was not installed by the U.S. government, and at times, especially during the presidency of John F. Kennedy, was not on good terms with it, ultimately his regime survived and thrived on American support. This was because Duvalier proved himself very useful to U.S. imperialism in two major ways. First, he unconditionally supported U.S. capital. In the first four years of his regime, for example, the American Reynolds Mining Company, with a monopoly on Haitian bauxite mining, paid a mere 7 percent of its earnings to the Haitian state; and those exports controlled by the U.S.–sisal, sugar cane, copper, and bauxite increased. Second, during the Cold War Duvalier acted as a bulwark against communism, a counterweight against Cuba. He proved his anticommunist credentials by destroying the Haitian Communist Party, Parti Unifié des Communistes Haitiens or PUCH (Unified Party of Haitian Communists), and then pursuing a witch hunt against the Left that would have been the envy of Joseph McCarthy:
[Duvalier’s government] physically eliminated, imprisoned, or forced into exile hundreds of progressive intellectuals, writers, professors, journalists, and union and peasant leaders. The vast majority of these people had no contact with the PUCH or with any other political organization. In ideological terms, most of the victims were barely what U.S. nomenclature would describe as left of center. But that was all it took.… Duvalier used the proven existence of a few armed communists to push the legislature into voting a legal monstrosity, the Anti-Communist Law of April 1969. Every "profession of communist belief, verbal or written, public or private" was declared a crime against national security and made its perpetrator into an "outlaw eligible for the death penalty meted out by a permanent military court."33
From then on, Haiti became a firm ally of the United States. Nelson Rockefeller visited to pay his respects to Papa Doc, and when his son Jean-Claude Duvalier inherited the presidency, U.S. vessels patrolled Haitian waters to make sure the inauguration was not interrupted.34 From neoliberalism to Lavalas Jean-Claude Duvalier, who came to power in 1971, played just as important a role for imperialism’s next phase,
neoliberalism. He opened up the economy to light industry and oversaw the development of assembly plants that offered cheap, non-unionized labor–predominantly of young women–to manufacture clothing, baseballs, and other goods for American companies on wages that barely covered costs of transport and food for the worker. In the coming decades, neoliberalism would transform the nation, accelerating the decline of the peasant system of agriculture, causing hundreds of thousands to flee rural poverty for the cities. The poor crowded into slums like Cité Soleil outside Port-au-Prince, where more than 200,000 people live in tin-roofed, cinderblock, and cardboard shacks without electricity, water, or sewers. The dire consequences of American influence in this period can be seen graphically in the Creole pig incident of the early 1980s. On the (unproven) grounds that an outbreak of African swine fever threatened the North American pork industry, the U.S. government paid Duvalier to exterminate the Creole pigs that played a crucial role in the peasant economy and replace them with pigs imported from the United States. Many, especially poorer peasants, never received the promised replacement pigs; those who did found that these animals failed miserably to adapt to the Haitian environment. This struck a terrible blow to the rural economy and further contributed to the problem of deforestation, as many of the rural poor turned to charcoal production to replace their lost pigs.35 The period of the Duvaliers’ rule was also one of increased international "aid," largely in the form of loans from the International Monetary Fund, the Inter-American Development Bank, and the North American and Western European governments. The corrupt regime siphoned off much of the money for personal gain and very little was invested in development. Between 1973 and 1980 Haiti’s debt increased from $53 million to $366 million, while the percentage of the population living in extreme poverty increased from 48 percent in 1976 to 81 percent 1985. Loans were contingent on an economic orientation on agricultural exports and the assembly industry–"The American Plan"–which ruined Haiti’s peasant farmers while benefiting only U.S. and Haitian corporate elites.36 The American plan proved an economic disaster. Official unemployment increased from 22 to 30 percent between 1980 and 1986, and in the same period economic growth showed an annual 2.5 percent decline.37 But after a decade in which a minority continued to enrich itself and flaunt its extravagances, while the majority was squeezed and battered, Haiti’s majority again rose up to fight against its enemies at home and abroad. In the late 1980s, a mass movement developed, using the church and radio stations to organize an opposition to the Duvalier regime and to the conditions brought on them by American imperialism and global capitalism.
Despite repression, tens of thousands took to the streets until, in 1986, they ousted Jean-Claude Duvalier. Gage Averill’s eyewitness account conveys the jubilant mood:
As the news of Duvalier’s exile spread throughout the country, throngs took to the street, stripping trees of their branches and hoisting them high in the air as symbols of renewal. Crowds sang the French version of Burns’ "Auld Lang Syne," a song of parting that takes on sarcastic overtones when bidding farewell to a humiliated or despised ruler.38
The people of Haiti, free of Duvalier, talked of dechoukaj– Haitian Creole for uprooting–which meant pulling the old regime up by the roots. A popular song of the time, (translated from the Haitian Creole) declared, "Wo, uproot them/ We’re uprooting all of the bad weeds/ in order to unite," and the poor did just that:
Dechoukaj ruled the land as Haitians administered a people’s justice, looting the villas of the rich, lynching Tontons Macoutes and staging strikes and sit-down protests to drive Duvalierists out of their jobs and into hiding. The Macoutes’ new national headquarters was turned into a school; some cabinet ministers handed back their salaries; communist historian Roger Gaillard was named head of the university; the Cité Simone slum, named for Duvalier’s mother, was renamed after the Church’s Radyo Soley; and women marched to demand their rights for the first time in Haitian history.39
By the end of the decade the movement consolidated into Lavalas–which means cleansing wave or flood–and the slogan "alone we are weak, together, together we are a flood" rang loud in the streets, on t-shirts, and on posters. Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a radical priest and activist for the rights of the poor, emerged as a leader. In 1990 he was elected on a reform platform by a 67.5 percent majority–in a contest that had fourteen candidates–and Haiti’s majority celebrated their seeming liberation on the streets of cities and villages across the nation. Just nine months later, however, a military coup was launched, funded by the nation’s seven richest families and orchestrated by Duvalierist thugs. The coup regime took its revenge on the population with mass arrests, assassinations, torture, beatings, rapes, and atrocities for the next three years. And in September 1994, U.S. troops again entered Haiti. The goal of this invasion, the official story goes, was not to repress but to liberate the Haitian people, remove a military regime, and reinstate a democratically elected president living in exile in the United States. "Operation Restore Democracy" was to be the poster child of American foreign policy in the post— Cold War era: This was to be a "humanitarian intervention." Stephen Solarz, in his stunningly naive foreword to Schmidt’s history of the first intervention, summarizes the official ideology of the 1994 invasion:
The primary difference between the interventions in 1915 and 1994 was the motivation…in the latter, the purpose of our intervention was not to deny a foreign power the use of Haitian territory for military purposes, but to restore to its proper place on Haitian territory the democratically elected government of the country.40
The U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency’s Colonel Patrick Collins met with Constant and "urged him to organize an effective counterforce to Aristide’s base of popular support among the masses." Agents met with Constant almost daily, gave him $700 a month, walkie-talkies, and updates from their surveillance.46 Many of the junta members and supporters received substantial U.S. funding, through the National Endowment for Democracy, the U.S. Agency for International Development, as well as the CIA–all agencies that have worked against the development of popular movements in Haiti. The Haitian people saw through the duplicity of the United States. Gage Averill cites Haitian popular songs from the late 1980s that
suggested that little had really changed in Haiti since February 7, 1986: Duvalierists still held state power, class relations were largely unchanged, and the transition in Haiti was being managed by the U.S. State Department precisely to forestall revolutionary change.47
In reality, the substance remained the same, only the details were different. The goal of this invasion, like the first, was to protect the interests of American imperialism. The main threat to those interests was not the coup regime, but rather the masses–who had already unseated a U.S. ally, Duvalier, and now were challenging the entire system of neoliberalism. The evidence for this is everywhere. First, in the fact that the U.S. government consistently sponsored the Duvalier regime while it was in power, and when the uprising threatened to bring him down, they came to the rescue. Greg Chamberlain describes Duvalier’s exit in February 1986 this way: "It was clear…that the longer the revolt went on, the more radical influences and anti-U.S. sentiment would grow. Washington had to act, organizing a night escape of the Duvaliers into exile in France."41 Once they’d removed Duvalier to safety, the U.S. installed the National Government Council (CNG), containing key figures of the old regime and led by right-wing General Henri Namphy; the CNG officially abolished the Tontons Macoutes, "but many simply changed uniforms and slipped quietly into the ranks of the army or police."4243 The U.S. government granted $2.8 million in military aid for CNG’s first year, even as human rights organizations protested and Haitians demonstrated against the government. And with good reason: The CNG, using U.S. money, gunned down more Haitians than had Duvalier in the previous fifteen years.44 Throughout the period the U.S. maintained a hostile stance toward Aristide. In the 1990 elections, the U.S. supported and funded former World Bank official and darling of of the multinational corporations Marc Bazin, through the ironically named "National Endowment for Democracy." Journalist Bob Shacochis, who was in Haiti during the period, witnessed the institutional double-dealing:
The CIA, in collusion with elements in the Defense and State Departments, Congress, the INS and the national press, was openly working to subvert the White House’s stated policy. It launched a smear campaign against Titid’s (Aristide’s nickname) mental health with fabricated evidence recycled by… a senior analyst at the agency.… [T]he agency functioned as a behind the scenes architect of FRAPH, a paramilitary terrorist organization run by a media-slick, cocaine-snorting, self infatuated madman named Emmanuel "Toto" Constant.45
But if the U.S. largely orchestrated the coup, it adamantly denied responsibility for the ensuing suffering. During the coup’s reign of terror in 1991, 38,000 Haitians fled and sought refuge in the United States. Of those, less than 5 percent received asylum and the rest were repatriated or held in prison camps at Guantánamo Bay. Even more criminally, U.S. agencies actually gave names and addresses to coup leaders of some of those who had attempted to flee, guaranteeing arrest, torture, and execution for unknown numbers.48 The U.S. agreed to an embargo on the coup regime. But its impact was exclusively on the poor, not the ruling class, as Shacochis recognized with characteristic derision:
The embargo’s impact on one’s opportunity for fine dining in Petionville was zero…except for the better hotels, the military caserns, central police stations, and homes flush enough to afford a generator, the entire country had been living in darkness, without electricity, for months.49
Prior to the invasion, the U.S. secured a deal with the coup leaders in the infamous Governor’s Island Accord, with former President Jimmy Carter as the American spokesperson, chosen, as embassy spokesman Stanley Schrager put it, because "Carter knows how to ingratiate himself with tyrants and dictators."50 The accord secured the coup leaders a role in the new regime. Aristide, on the other hand, would only be allowed to serve out the rest of his term (even though most of it had been stolen by the coup) and had to sign on to a strict structural adjustment program "intended to narrow the role of the state and control government spending, privatize the state-owned enterprises, maintain low wages, eliminate import tariffs, and provide incentives for export industries."51
The actual military occupation did not disarm but rehabilitated the thugs of the Duvalier and coup regimes, giving the old police a facelift and calling it something new. In the process of supposedly monitoring the coup regime’s activities, U.S. officials seized approximately 150,000 pages of documentation from the headquarters of FRAPH and the Haitian army and refused to hand them over to Aristide. They doubtless contained evidence of years of atrocities, and of course CIA complicity. Shacochis observed a typical scene in Port-au-Prince, where attachés–basically Macoutes by another name–fired into a crowd while the American army looked the other way. "The objective of the U.S. military now seemed rather conclusive–to protect the well-heeled elites up on the mountainside from the wrath of a million poor people in the slums below, whom the troops had supposedly come to liberate."52 The other reason, made clear by the Clinton administration’s imprisonment of Haitian refugees, was to create the semblance of order in Haiti in order to justify a policy of refusing Haitian immigration into the United States. Ten years after the occupation, the situation in Haiti had become so bad that, as a recent survey found, 67 percent of the population would emigrate if they could.53 Conditions are worse than ever. Poverty has grown more severe by the embargo on aid imposed by the U.S., European Union, Canada, and Japan supposedly because of electoral irregularities. The U.S., having happily paid for decades of Duvalier brutality, had the gall to refuse money to Aristide until he proved that such money would be "honestly spent." But Aristide, serving his second term as president, bore little resemblance to the rebel priest, advocate of the poor that so threatened the world’s rulers. None of the promised "literacy campaigns, rural clinics, public works, and land reform" materialized.54 His Lavalas Party was torn apart by divisions, and Aristide proceeded to rule by a cult of personality, totally disconnected from the mass movement that brought him to power, and he offered new Export Processing Zones at the border with the Dominican Republic as the solution. Tragically, the only opposition with any forces has come from the Right, which led to the new coup to remove Aristide, orchestrated by the Haitian ruling class in collaboration with the U.S. state. Haiti’s mass movement for change has once again been cut down, with the collusion of the Haitian ruling class and U.S. imperialism. Yet the hope for the future remains where it always has–in the inspiration of the masses. They can only win if we do our part here, in exposing and opposing U.S. imperialism, and ultimately removing this major obstacle to Haitian freedom.
1 Quoted in Bob Shacochis, The Immaculate Invasion (New York: Viking, 1999), 254.
2 Mary A. Renda, Taking Haiti: Military Occupation and the Culture of U.S. Imperialism, 1915—1940 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001), 10,11. 3 Edwidge Danticat, After the Dance: A Walk through Carnival in Jacmel, Haiti (New York: Crown Press, 2002), 39. 4 Ibid., 41. 5 Ibid., 40. 6 Ibid. 7 Michel-Rolph Trouillot, Haiti, State Against Nation: The Origins and Legacy of Duvalierism (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1990), 67. 8 J. Michael Dash, Haiti and the United States: National Stereotypes and the Literary Imagination, Second Edition (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1997), 137. 9 Hans Schmidt, The United States Occupation of Haiti 1915—1934 (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1995), 66. 10 Trouillot, 100. 11 Renda, 12. 12 Schmidt, 45. 13 Quoted in Schmidt, 97. 14 Germans had circumvented the constitutional ban on foreign ownership by marrying landowning Haitian women. 15 Quoted in Schmidt, 94. 16 Edwidge Danticat, "Nineteen Thirty-Seven," Krik? Krak! (New York: Soho Press, 1995), 35. 17 Quoted in Schmidt, 81. 18 Renda, 116. 19 Ibid., 117. 20 Quoted in Schmidt, 48. 21 Ibid., 62. 22 Ibid., 63. 23 Ibid., 196. 24 Ibid., 205. 25 Ibid., 204. 26 Renda, 269. 27 Schmidt, 216. 28 Ibid., 218. 29 Trouillot, 102—08. 30 Ibid., 148. 31 Ibid., 151. 32 Irwin Stotzky, Silencing the Guns In Haiti: The Promise of Deliberative Democracy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997), 25. 33 Trouillot, 202—03. 34 Ibid., 204. 35 Charles Arthur, Haiti: A Guide to the People, Politics and Culture (New York: Interlink, 2002), 42. 36 Ibid., 48—49. 37 "Growth and Structure of the Economy," Haiti, Library of Congress country studies, avaiable at http://countrystudies.us/haiti/. 38 Gage Averill, A Day for the Hunter, A Day for the Prey: Popular Music and Power in Haiti (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997), 160. 39 Greg Chamberlain, "Up by the Roots: Haitian History Through 1987" in NACLA, Haiti: Dangerous Crossroads (Boston: South End Press, 1995), 13—26, 19. 40 Stephen Solarz, "Foreword," Schmidt, x. 41 Chamberlain, 18. 42 Averill, 162. 43 Trouillot, 226.
44 Ibid., 222. 45 Bob Shacochis, The Immaculate Invasion (New York: Viking, 1999), 29. Constant currently lives in the U.S.–a terrorist "harbored" by the country that backed him. 46 Ibid. 47 Averill, 165. 48 Nikol Payen’s personal account of her experience as Creole interpreter for the military at Guantánamo Bay tells of accompanying a boat of repatriated refugees from the naval base to Haiti. She watched in horror as a U.S. state department staff member handed over the refugees’ identity cards to Haitian soldiers waiting as they disembarked. "Something in the Water...Reflections of a People’s Journey" in Edwidge Danticat, ed., The Butterfly’s Way: Voices from the Haitian Dyaspora in the United States (New York: Soho Press, 2001), 66—82. 49 Shacochis, 87. 50 Quoted in Shacochis, 74. 51 Arthur, 50. 52 Shacochis, 133. 53 Michael Norton, "No Solutions in Haiti," Haiti Info, March 18, 2000, available at http://www.haiti-info.com/imprimer.php3? id_article=59.
consolidating a totalitarian state based on the Haitian army and a vast network of paid thugs and informants called the Tontons Macoutes. The dictatorship enforced order on Haiti’s underdeveloped capitalism for the benefit of a parasitic ruling class that siphoned wealth from the country’s overwhelming peasant majority. With little wealth pumped back into the economy, the cities swelled with urban poor and the working class remained small. In the 1970s and 1980s the U.S. pressed Baby Doc to opt for a neoliberal economic strategy called the "American Plan": compel peasants into farming for export not subsistence, move the "surplus population" from the countryside to the city, and build sweatshops to take advantage of abundant and urbanized cheap labor. The plan increased peasant poverty and accelerated mass migration to Haiti’s cities, but most became part of the urban poor, the sweatshops unable to absorb them. The plan created an economic and political crisis. Between 1980 and 1985, agriculture production declined by 1.3 percent and industry by 2.5 percent each year.1 Baby Doc’s conspicuous consumption alienated the army, the conservative Catholic Church, and the private bourgeoisie, who saw his cronyism as a drain on profits. But it enraged the impoverished peasants, lumpen poor, and sweatshop workers. Aristide, who came from a devoutly Catholic small property-owning family, became a priest in the Salesian order and was eventually assigned to the St. Jean Bosco church in the poor La Saline neighborhood in Port-auPrince. Influenced by liberation theology, he called for a poor people’s movement that would unite all sympathetic forces, including liberal capitalists, to overthrow the dictatorship. He became the leader of a network of radical priests that was able to fill a vacuum that the Duvaliers had created by their repression of the Left. A skilled orator, Aristide was able to articulate the frustration of the Haitian majority. "We must end this regime where the donkeys do all the work and horses prance in the sunshine," he said in a 1982 speech that led to his expulsion to Canada, "a regime of misery imposed on us by the people in charge. They are voracious and insatiable dogs, who go their own way, each one looking out for himself."2 His was a populist ideology that could appeal across classes. He could denounce capitalism as a mortal sin and call for a socialist Haiti in one breath, and in the next breath defend peasants’ right to private property. The class base of Aristide’s Lavalas movement was the peasantry and the urban lumpen poor. Both of these classes have found it difficult to build their own organizations and have tended to be led by other classes. The peasants are divided between rich and poor and by their competitive aspirations for their own private plots of
54 New York Review of Books, March 13, 2003, 2.
The New Occupation of Haiti Aristide's Rise and Fall By Ashley Smith International Socialist Review Issue 35, May–June 2004 Ashley Smith, a member of the ISR’s editorial board, is author of "The Occupation of Japan" (ISR 29, May—June 2003) and "World War II: The Good War?" (ISR 10, Winter 2000). FOR THE third time in the last hundred years, the U.S. has invaded and occupied Haiti. Working behind the scenes, the U.S. conducted a destabilization campaign aimed at toppling the government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide. This is a message to the rest of the region: If you don’t obey, the U.S. will impose sanctions, overthrow your government, install a client regime, and support death squads to crush any resistance. Aristide offered the U.S. an easy target for such an intervention. He had been the pivotal voice of the mass movement against the Duvalier dictatorship, neoliberalism, and American imperialism. But once in office, he cut deals with the U.S. and demoralized his mass base. As a result, the U.S. was able to regroup its favored neoliberal technocrats, the Haitian bourgeoisie, and death squads to impose its wish for a client state on a resigned country. The rise of Lavalas and Aristide François "Papa Doc" Duvalier and his son, Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier ruled Haiti from 1957 to 1986,
land. The lumpen proletariat, as Amy Wilentz writes,
are traditionally fickle. At a moment of great historical change they may support you for your ideas, for your words. But many among them can be bought. In times of plenty they are loyal…. And in times of penury their support can be and often is purchased by the highest bidder–and for very little. For a dollar they’ll demonstrate. For twenty, maybe less, they’ll torture, they’ll burn, they’ll kill, they’ll assassinate.3
change. Like anywhere else in Latin America elections are in the hands of the oligarchy who use them to undermine popular demands."8 Aristide’s candidacy captured the aspirations of Haiti’s poor, voter registration skyrocketed, and he became the favorite to win the election. Liberal capitalists like Antoine Izmery and layers of middle class intellectuals also rallied to his campaign. He won an astonishing 67 percent of the vote and thoroughly trounced Bazin, who managed only 14 percent. The peasants and poor resisted the temptation of U.S. dollars and voted for emancipation. One voter told the press, "I’m not here for the money, it’s of my own free will."9 One supporter commented,
Aristide’s inauguration represents immense hope not only for the Haitian people, but also I believe for the people of the Dominican Republic and all the other peoples of Latin America. The beacon is no longer Nicaragua, it is now Haiti, and Haiti truly has the duty and the right to succeed on behalf of all people who desire the experience of liberation.10
Recognizing the fragility of his base in the lumpen proletariat, Aristide increasingly appealed to liberal sections of the bourgeoisie to come over to Lavalas’s struggle against Duvalier.4 His petty-bourgeois background, his brand of liberation theology, and the weakness of his mass base predisposed him to a politics of class compromise. Confronted with the rise of Lavalas, the U.S. and the Haitian ruling class decided to sacrifice Duvalier in order to reform and preserve the existing order. They whisked Baby Doc out of the country to Paris along with a fortune he had stolen from the Haitian treasury. They backed the army to take control of the society and guide it toward liberal democracy and neoliberal economics. Undersecretary of State Eliot Abrams boasted that the Haitian army and its generals who had terrorized the population offered the "best chance for democracy."5 In reality, the army continued Duvalierism without Duvalier: they integrated the Tontons Macoutes into their ranks, maintained the cronyism, terrorized the popular movement, and failed to stabilize the society. They actually killed more people in their four years of rule than Baby Doc had killed in his fifteen. Finally, after a period of coups and counter-coups, the U.S. and Haitian bourgeoisie opted to organize "free and fair" elections in 1990. Victory and compromises The U.S. tried to rig the 1990 election. In an attempt to undermine Aristide, the U.S. exaggerated his radicalism, representing him as a beardless, Black Castro and denouncing him as a "Marxist Maniac" who advocated class struggle and revolution.6 They poured $36 million into their chosen candidate, former World Bank employee Marc Bazin, and hoped that he would defeat the Duvalierists Roger Lafontant and Victor Benoit, put forward by the main reformist political group, National Front for Democracy and Change (FNCD).7 In a fateful move, Aristide decided to replace Benoit on the FNCD ticket and run for president himself in order to head off the neoliberals and Duvalierists. Previously, Aristide had criticized the idea that elections were a route for social transformation. He argued that "candidates can’t bring
The U.S., the bulk of the Haitian ruling class, and the army reacted in horror. One U.S. official snarled: "Aristide–slum priest, grass roots activist, exponent of liberation theology–represents everything that the CIA, DOD, and FBI think they have been trying to protect this country against for 50 years."11 A U.S. delegation, headed by Jimmy Carter, attempted to convince Aristide to allow Bazin to become president even though he had beaten him in a landslide.12 A section of Duvalierists attempted a preemptive coup to prevent Aristide’s inauguration, but a wave of mass protests foiled it. Aristide took office, left the FNCD, and established his own political party, the Lavalas Political Organization. But instead of pursuing fundamental social change, he moderated his agenda and attempted to mediate the struggle between classes. Author Robert Fatton notes that Aristide,
in spite of his multiple condemnations of imperialist and capitalist exploitation, his economic policies remained extremely pragmatic; at most they entailed a commitment to social democracy and the World Bank vision of "basic needs." He was always appealing for the cooperation of what he called the "nationalist bourgeoisie," and he accepted the necessity of dealing with international financial organizations.13
While he began to uproot the Macoutes, redistribute state lands, and raise the minimum wage, Aristide also agreed to a neoliberal program of deficit reduction and trade liberalization–and, incredibly, he promised a "marriage" between his government and the army. This attempt to please both the bourgeoisie and the masses
failed. The masses protested his meetings and agreements with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank. And the Haitian ruling class and army were terrified by his mild reforms. Aristide was caught between the movement’s demands for revolutionary change and the capitalist state, which was accountable to the ruling class. Aristide vacillated between damping down struggle so that he could maintain peace with the ruling class and encouraging it in order to improve his bargaining position. It was an untenable contradiction. The U.S. government, the Haitian ruling class, and the army plotted a counter-offensive. The U.S. conducted a destabilization campaign similar to the ones they had conducted against Salvador Allende in Chile and Michael Manley in Jamaica in the 1970s. Haiti’s rulers and army then began to organize a coup that Aristide knew was coming. He gave pyrotechnic speeches defending people’s right to self-defense and celebrating the infamous pere lebrun, the practice of putting burning tires around the necks of enemies in acts of popular justice. But he had demobilized the popular struggle, the only force capable of stopping the storm of ruling-class vengeance about to break out in Haiti. The coup and a deal with the devil Raoul Cedras, who Aristide had actually appointed head of the army to replace the Duvalierist Herard Abraham, led a coup that drove Aristide from government and into exile just seven months after he took office. While publicly distancing itself from the coup, the Bush administration supported it in order to crush the Lavalas movement. The Reagan and Bush administrations had maintained almost every coup leader on the CIA’s payroll. The Bush administration did impose an embargo, but it was perhaps the leakiest one in history, since the coup leaders enriched themselves, while the poor, who were actually its intended target, suffered immensely. Bush denied 60,000 refugees asylum, categorizing them as economic not political refugees, and either imprisoned them in concentration camps at Guantánamo Bay or forcibly repatriated them back to Haiti. Instead of denouncing the coup’s reign of terror, the Bush administration initiated a campaign against Aristide, claiming he was mentally unstable and a pathological killer.14 Even though Clinton had postured against Bush during the 1992 election, and criticized him for interning Haitian refugees on Guantanamo Bay, once in office, President Clinton maintained his predecessor’s policies toward Haiti. But in the wake of the fiasco in Somalia, when thousands of armed Somalis attacked and killed eighteen marines compelling a U.S. pullout, Clinton sought to use Haiti to rebuild domestic support for military interventions. He also wanted to head off domestic
protests against his policy of refusing asylum for Haitian refugees. Aristide had stated that he had "no illusion that a military intervention would serve the purpose of restoring democracy or justice to Haiti."15 But exile, pressure from his liberal bourgeois supporters, and Aristide’s own ambitions led him to abandon his reformism and adopt the American plan. He cut a deal with the devil. After a series of summits with the Clinton administration and representatives of the coup leaders, Aristide agreed to accept neoliberalists and former Duvalierists into his cabinet, give up the three years of his term he had lost during the coup, and sign on to a neoliberal structural adjustment program practically identical to that implemented by Baby Doc in the 1970s and 1980s. Aristide adopted the World Bank-designed "Strategy of Social and Economic Reconstruction." Alex Dupuy notes that
the objective of the neoliberal economic model adopted by the Strategy was to maintain Haiti’s comparative advantage, namely, its cheap labor. The dislocations caused by the cheap labor strategy were already well known and they would inevitably lead to still greater unemployment and rural-to-urban migration. The main beneficiaries undoubtedly would be the private local and foreign investors, foreign exporters, and the small wealthy faction of the bourgeoisie that controls the import sector.16
Aristide betrayed the peasants through trade liberalization, canceled equity projects for the poor and sweatshop workers, and instead opened Haiti for business. With UN approval, the U.S. invaded and restored Aristide to power in 1994. "Operation Uphold Democracy" would have been better termed "Operation Withhold Democracy." U.S. troops did not disarm the death squads; instead they smuggled incriminating papers that proved American complicity with the coup out of the country, warned the popular organizations not to challenge U.S. dictates, and drafted much of the old military into the new police so that it would have a loyal force ready to plan another coup. The degeneration of Aristide Haiti’s crushing debt load had grown from $302 million in 1980 to more than $1.2 billion today. "About 40 per cent of this debt," notes Farmer, "stems from loans to the brutal Duvalier dictators, who invested precious little of it in the country."17 Back in office, Aristide now committed Haiti to repaying it. Writes Farmer:
The author of a text entitled "Capitalism is a Mortal Sin" now meets regularly with representatives of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and AID [U.S. Agency for International
Development]. He was once the priest of the poor; now he’s president of a beleaguered nation, run into the ground by a vicious military and business elite and by their friends abroad. Aristide finds himself most indebted to the very people and institutions he once denounced from the pulpit.18
for making "unholy alliances not only between victims and former torturers but also between those aspiring to positions of power and the fierce and proven enemies of democratic principles who inspired the [Raoul Cedras] coup d’etat."24 Haitian society was coming apart at the seams. No real investment was coming in. Most U.S aid paid for the costs of the occupation. Drug trafficking developed, much of it through the utterly incompetent and corrupt new police force. In this unstable situation, the ruling class as a whole turned to private security forces to protect themselves and defend their hold on power. After he won the 2000 election, Aristide relied on his own security force, the Chimères, built out of the lumpen proletariat that had been his original base. They increasingly used violence against Aristide’s opponents, who in turn built up their own networks of thugs. Aristide’s second presidency The 2000 election precipitated a political crisis that paralyzed the government and gave the U.S the excuse to finally rid itself of Aristide. Aristide hoped that his presidential campaign would pull the FL’s legislative candidates into office and guarantee him a super majority. The OPL rallied a motley crew of opposition forces of former Lavalas supporters and Duvalierists to challenge the FL in the election. Aristide and FL soundly defeated the opposition, but in an unnecessary move to consolidate an absolute majority in the legislature, the FL fixed the counting of votes in eight different races, seven of which were won by FL candidates. Nevertheless, Aristide and his compromised government consolidated their power. Aristide’s new regime continued the neoliberal agenda, initiating plans with the U.S and the Dominican Republic to build an export processing zone that would be the first of fourteen he planned to construct in Haiti.25 Moreover, in a sign of complete political bankruptcy, Aristide appointed a crew of Duvalierists to his administration: Stanley Theard as commerce minister; Garry Lissade as justice minister; Faubert Gustave as minister of the economy and finances; and his old adversary, Marc Bazin, as minister of planning and external cooperation.26 Aristide covered up this turn to the right with left-wing rhetoric. He did double the minimum wage and also continued to stall on some aspects of neoliberal privatization.27 Moreover, his demands that France pay $21 billion in reparations for the debt it imposed on Haiti upon its independence in 1804 irritated the imperialist powers who oppose reparations for slavery. Moreover, the likes of Otto Reich, Roger Noriega, and Elliot Abrams in the new Bush administration had long hated Aristide and lost patience with his incomplete obedience of U.S dictates.
Aristide became an advocate of the policies he had formerly opposed. Camille Chalmers, a former aide to Aristide when he was in exile, said that the post-coup government in Haiti "completely submits itself to the order given by the United States, a government ready to do whatever it takes as long as it can remain in power." 19 "The intervention de-radicalized Aristide," writes Fatton, "transforming him from an anti-capitalist prophet into a staunch U.S ally committed to the virtues of the market."20 Aristide did disband the military to prevent the Duvalierists from carrying out a new coup. He also stalled on the worst aspects of the neoliberal program, refusing to fully privatize the state monopolies. But these were exceptions to his right-wing economic program. He only had a few months remaining in office before, under the terms of his restoration, he would have to step down in 1995. His ally, René Préval won the presidential election on the Lavalas ticket, but Aristide continued to dominate from behind the scenes. The Clinton administration withheld and then released aid to strongarm the Aristide/Préval regime into continuing its neoliberal policies. The Préval administration was paralyzed by bickering with the legislature, and as a result the society and economy stagnated. In this situation, the Lavalas leadership followed the pattern of the Haitian petty bourgeoisie. "The historical trajectory of the Haitian petite bourgeoisie," writes Fatton, "indicates very short-lived revolutionary proclivities and more enduring long-term aspirations to integrate into the dominant class. The Lavalas cadres could thus easily fall into the most opportunistic type of behavior."21 Soon Aristide’s allies were spotted driving SUVs and buying expensive houses. Haitians began to call them grands mangeurs–big eaters–who were literally getting fat off government spoils.22 Factions in the leadership of Lavalas competed for control of the government. Aristide formed his own political party, Fanmi Lavalas (FL), and his lesser-know competitors like Gérard Pierre-Charles formed the Organization for People’s Struggle (OPL). Neither offered a distinct political vision. Both accepted U.S. imperial dominance, advocated neoliberal economics, and incorporated members of the neoliberal technocracy and old Duvalierists.23 Michèle Montas, wife of the famous antiDuvalier radio journalist Jean Dominique who was mysteriously assassinated in 2000, denounced the parties
Another U.S. coup Despite repeated denials that it was advocating regime change in Haiti, the U.S. in fact orchestrated the coup that toppled Aristide in February 2004. On the eve of the coup, Jeffrey Sachs’ comments were prescient: Haiti is ablaze. President Jean-Bertrand Aristide is widely blamed, and he may be toppled soon. Almost nobody, however, understands that today’s chaos was made in Washington–deliberately, cynically, and steadfastly. History will bear this out. In the meantime, political, social, and economic chaos will deepen, and Haiti’s impoverished people will suffer.28 The U.S, the Organization of American States, and various international financial institutions exacerbated the economic crisis. First Clinton and then Bush used the irregularities in the 2000 election to justify an embargo of $500 million in aid.29 The U.S. hoped to discredit Aristide, drive the population into despair and passivity, and open the space for its chosen alternative. Through the National Endowment for Democracy, the Bush administration funded and sustained the OPL-led coalition called Democratic Convergence (CD) and the new Group of 184 headed by American-born sweatshop magnate André Apaid. Knowing they could not beat Aristide or his party, Fanmi Lavalas, in a free and fair election, they protested the 2000 election, refused to compromise or participate in a new election, paralyzed the government, and agitated for Aristide’s resignation. The Washington Post reported that CD’s most determined…men…freely express their desire to see the U.S. military intervene once again, this time to get rid of Aristide and rebuild the disbanded Haitian Army. "That would be the cleanest solution," said one opposition party leader. Failing that, they say, the CIA should train and equip Haitian officers exiled in the neighboring Dominican Republic so they could stage a comeback themselves."30 The Bush administration facilitated the rise of the socalled rebels in their training bases in the Dominican Republic. All the leaders had been on the U.S. payroll at one time or another. The U.S. trained Guy Phillipe at a military camp in Ecuador in the early 1990s. As a police chief, he had led other officers in an attempted coup against Aristide in October 2000 and, after it failed, fled to the Dominican Republic. Louis-Jodel Chamblain was second in command of Emmanuel Constant’s FRAPH death squad bankrolled by the CIA during the 1991—1994 Cedras dictatorship. Chamblain was one of seven military leaders convicted in absentia of the murder of Lavalas supporter Antoine Izmery.31 These two and their several dozen accomplices stormed
through Haiti armed with brand new M-16s and other military hardware that most certainly came out of the U.S. arms shipment recently sent to the Dominican Republic. Chamblain boasted of the rebels cooperation with the U.S.: "We do not have problems with the international forces. We are together with them like brothers."32 Ira Kurzban, the general counsel to the Haitian government, concluded, "I believe that this is a group that is armed by, trained by, and employed by the intelligence service of the United States. This is clearly a military operation, and it’s a military coup."33 The U.S. rushed to finish the coup after South Africa sent a planeload of arms and Venezuela offered to send troops to defend the embattled Aristide government.34 The U.S. finished off the coup by abducting the president and transporting him to the Central African Republic. Founder of TransAfrica Forum, Randall Robinson, told "Democracy Now" that Aristide "did not resign. He was taken by force from his residence in the middle of the night, forced on to a plane, taken away without being told where he was going. He was kidnapped."35 After the coup, Guy Phillipe announced, "I am the chief, the military chief." He then professed his love for Chilean Dictator Augusto Pinochet, who massacred 30,000 people after he overthrew democratically elected President Slavador Allende in 1973. He declared, "Pinochet made Chile what it is today," and promised that "we’re not going to let the country have another Aristide."36 The coup leaders have not yet turned to the scale of repression seen in 1991—1994, in part because of the demoralization and demobilization of the mass of Haitians, who have largely stood by and watched events, while Aristide’s supporters have mainly gone into hiding. But the signs are ominous. According to one eyewitness:
Since Aristide’s ouster over a month ago, one of the men [a former leader in Aristide’s party] has not dared sleep in the same house two nights running. He quit our meeting early so as to stay on the move. Later that day we found out that his name was read out on the radio, which is like being marked for death. Every afternoon around 4 p.m., names are broadcast. Perhaps they are on a list of those whom the new government wants to arrest, or perhaps listeners call in with the name of so-and-so. All are linked with Aristide in some way. Some of those named soon disappear.
The same writer describes the U.S. Marines who
patrol the streets and the airport, and fly helicopters almost constantly over the poorer parts of Port-auPrince night and day. U.S. forces have made many night-time raids into some of the poorest quarters, particularly the one called Belair. In these raids they have killed an uncertain number of people, estimates going as high as 70. Occasionally the foreign soldiers
venture into middle class neighborhoods, but never threaten the houses on the hills where the wealthy live.37
its historic strategy of coups, invasions, and occupations to install client regimes. What next for Haiti? "You took our president–now you’re taking our country!" was the greeting to a U.S. marine convoy in Port-auPrince from a Haitian youth.40 Once again, the U.S.–with UN approval, it must be noted–has used the pretext of "disorder" to invade, occupy, and impose a "regime change" in Haiti. Our first duty is to expose the coup and demand that the occupiers get out of Haiti and allow Haiti’s democratically elected president to return. But there are also crucial lessons to be learned from what has taken place. The U.S coup in Haiti has produced confusion on the left both inside Haiti and in the U.S. Some became Aristide’s uncritical supporters while others, frustrated with his betrayals, have called for his resignation. But neither position offers a way forward. Uncritical support for Aristide means blinding oneself to the way in which his accommodation to American imperialism demoralized and demobilized the movement in Haiti. Unfortunately, many progressives in the U.S. accepted uncritically Clinton’s 1994 invasion as a legitimate "humanitarian" intervention rather than what it really was–another illegitimate exercise of imperial control. But calling for Aristide’s resignation without a popular, progressive alternative to his left only aided and abetted the U.S. coup. Many Haitian activists, disillusioned by Aristide’s betrayals, fell into this trap. A new movement in Haiti against the occupiers and the Haitian bosses they are there to defend can only be built successfully if it stakes its ground independently of Aristide and the politics of compromise. It is necessary to defend Aristide against the coup-makers, but also to recognize the way in which Aristide himself contributed to the ease with which the coup-makers seized power. At the same time, the movement in Haiti must develop a new strategy to win liberation. Any strategy to transform Haiti that remains within a national framework will founder on the hard reality of Haitian capitalism’s underdevelopment. This is not to absolve Aristide for his compromises with imperialism and with the Haitian capitalist class. Nevertheless, it remains true that the Haitian masses, no matter how determined to free themselves from unemployment, low wages and domestic and foreign repression, cannot shoulder their liberation alone. Haiti’s future depends not only on what happens in Haiti, but what happens in the rest of Latin America, and in particular, on the building of a strong anti-imperialist movement in the United States. The Haitian poor and working class will fight again; but its success requires that it be united with the movements
Even though Aristide is still the most popular politician in Haiti, the masses that elected him in 1990 have lost hope and retreated to just surviving amidst horrible poverty. "The same social deterioration that ended up giving us this invasion has also hit the popular movement," said JeanFrancois, an associate of Aristide’s when he was involved in popular organizations that grew up around the president’s church, St. Jean Bosco. "The movement is incapable of even articulating its disapproval or of even offering an alternative."38 This is the tragedy of Aristide’s policy of compromise in the face of imperialist pressure. The American plan for Haiti and the region With UN approval, the U.S., France (which seems to have collaborated with the U.S. in the coup plot), Canada, and Chile have sent in so-called peacekeeping troops to consolidate the coup. There are now a total of 3,600 troops–2,000 of them U.S. Marines and 800 French– currently in Haiti. U.S. troops are set to stay for three months, when a UN-sponsored force is set to take over. The U.S. has backed an interim government headed by an old ally of Duvalier, Gerard Latortue, who has spent most of the last thirty years in Boca Raton, Florida. Latortue, in a triumphant ceremony in Gonaive, praised the death squads who now terrorize the country as "freedom fighters." These death squads have intimidated, hounded, and in some cases murdered Aristide supporters.39 He released from jail convicted Duvalierist criminals like General Prosper Avril who was convicted of massacring activists in the 1980s. Reaching the height of hypocrisy, Latortue cavorts with murderers while threatening to put Aristide and his supporters on trial for human rights abuses. Latortue has built an interim government out of neoliberal technocrats and Duvalierist military leaders like General Herard Abraham and plans to implement the old American plan: establish a shell of a democracy, rig it so that only pro-U.S. candidates could win, and restore the military to repress a desperate population. The motivation for the invasion is not so much economic as it is to stabilize the country on U.S. terms and send a message to the region, where the U.S. confronts a rebellion that has erupted over the last decade against freetrade globalization. In some cases the movement has brought to power governments that have partially balked at U.S. dictates–Lula in Brazil, Chávez in Venezuela, and of course the long-term thorn in the side of the U.S., Castro in Cuba. The U.S. is already engaged in a proxy war in Colombia and tried to topple Chávez in 2002. The intervention in Haiti shows that it stands ready to return to
against neoliberalism, imperialism, and capitalism from the Dominican Republic to Brazil and the United States.
1 Alex Dupuy, Haiti in the New World Order (Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1997), 33. 2 Amy Wilentz, The Rainy Season (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1989), 112. 3 Ibid., 128. 4 Ibid. 5 Paul Farmer, The Uses of Haiti (Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press, 1994), 132. 6 Wilentz, 137. 7 Quoted in NACLA, Haiti: Dangerous Crossroads (Boston: South End Press, 1995), 45. 8 Ibid., 45. 9 Ibid., 30—31. 10 Farmer, The Uses of Haiti, 235. 11 Quoted in Paul Quinn-Judge, Boston Globe, September 8, 1994. 12 Robert Fatton Jr., Haiti’s Predatory Republic (Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Reiner Publishers, 2002), 90. 13 Fatton, 79. 14 Dupuy, 153. 15 NACLA, 111. 16 Dupuy, 150. 17 Paul Farmer, "Who Removed Aristide?" London Review of Books, April 15, 2004. 18 Quoted in Ibid., 227. 19 Quoted in Ashley Smith and Helen Scott, "What led to the U.S.engineered coup?" Socialist Worker, March 12, 2004. 20 Fatton, 108. 21 Ibid., 111. 22 Ibid., 10. 23 Ibid., 177. 24 Ibid. 25 Clara James, "Haitian Free Trade Zone: Aristide’s Different Capitalism is the Same Old Story," Dollars and Sense, Nov—Dec 2002. 26 Fatton, 178. 27 Stephen Gowan, "Telling the Imperialists to Go to Hell," available online at http://www3.sympatico.ca/sr.gowans/hell.html. 28 Jeffrey Sachs, "The Fire This Time in Haiti was US-Fueled," Nation, February 28, 2004. 29 Peter Hallward, "Haiti’s Elected Leader Was Regarded as Threat by France and the US," Guardian, March 20, 2004. 30 Quoted in Fatton, 145. 31 Paul Farmer, "Who Removed Aristide?" 32 Quoted in Nancy San Martin and Susannah A. Nesmith, "Who’s in Charge? No one Knows," Boston Herald, March 20, 2004. 33 Quoted in Amy Goodman and Jeremy Scahill, "Haiti’s Lawyer: U.S. is Arming Anti-Aristide Paramilitaries, Calls for UN Peacekeepers," Democracy Now, February 26, 2004. 34 "U.S. Delegation Meets with President Aristide: Aristide Reveals Details of Coup," Haiti Progrès, March 10, 2004. 35 "President Aristide Says ‘I was kidnapped. Tell the world it was a Coup,’" Commondreams, March1, 2004, available online at http://www.commondreams.org/headlines04/0301-05.htm. 36 Jack McCarthy, "I am the Chief. My Hero is Pinochet," Counterpunch, March 3, 2003, available online at http://www.counterpunch.org/mccarthy03032004.html. 37 Tom Driver, "On the Way Home From Haiti," Haiti Progrès, April 7, 2004.
38 -Quoted in Jane Regan, "Haiti: U.S. Soldiers’ Boots Follow Footprints from the Past," Inter Press Review, March 4 2004. 39 Anthony Fenton, "Witch Hunt in Haiti by the Bush and ‘Boca Raton’ Regimes," Znet, April 6, 2003. 40 "Marines Receive Mixed Reaction in Haiti," NewsMax Wires, Friday, March 5, 2004, available at http://www.newsmax.com/archives/ articles/2004/3/4/215800.shtml.
Haiti's food riots An early-warning sign of the world food crisis Mark Schuller1 reports from Haiti International Socialist Review Issue 59, May–June 2008 IN EARLY April, Haiti was gripped by a nationwide mobilization to protest high food prices, which reached a crescendo when people burned tires and blocked national highways and city streets in Port-au-Prince as thousands took to the streets. Clashes with police and UN troops resulted in an official count of five dead. A handful of individuals also looted stores. Mainstream media coverage tells an all too familiar story of Haiti. The UN troops broke up a demonstration with rubber bullets, and the U.S. State Department responded by issuing a warning against its citizens entering the country. And almost as quickly as it appeared on the news, Haiti disappeared, leaving the residual image of being a hopeless, violent, and dangerous place. As awful as the loss of life, property damage, and the resulting climate of fear are, it is at the very least explainable. To understand the situation we need to look at three levels of analysis, not simply turn our attention to the most visible, the individual “rioters.” In addition to the people, there are also the Haitian government and international community. “The overloaded donkey cannot stand still” At the individual level, while the sale of “dirt cookies” (cookies of mud with salt and shortening) has increased over the past year, and while many individuals took to the streets and some took what they could to survive, Haiti also has a still-extant tradition of youn ede lòt —one helping the other. While foreigners may not notice, ordinary people often share what little they have with neighbors and extended kin. Most people I know in Haiti also organize sòl—solidarity lending groups. Each pay period a group pools together funds, with one person receiving the entire amount. People also organize themselves into neighborhood associations, picking up trash, fixing potholes, and even opening community schools. Unnoticed by mainstream accounts, this collectivist tradition in Haiti allowed people living on the margins of
society (the minimum wage for the 14 percent who work in the formal sector is 70 goud, or $1.80 per day) to survive as long as possible, explained by the Kreyòl [Creole] proverb, bourik chaje pa kanpe (the overloaded donkey can’t stand still). Many people have been telling me for the past four years, including three weeks ago,1 that their top concern was lavi chè a—the high cost of living. Each visit to Haiti I have observed an increase in food prices and almost invariably learn news of someone’s death from not having access to clean water, enough food, or health care. Rents in safe neighborhoods in Port-au-Prince doubled in 2004– 05, forcing poor people into neighborhoods like Bel-Air or Cité Soleil where clashes between armed gangs and UN troops were regular occurrences. Prices for staple goods such as rice, corn, beans, and cooking oil also increased dramatically, 30–40 percent over this one-year period. It has been suggested that rising gas costs is the primary reason for this increase. Undoubtedly, it is a key factor.2 However, according to the Nouvelliste, the cost of gas only went up 15 percent over this same period. Missing from most accounts is that while Haiti is the poorest country in the hemisphere—80 percent live on less than $2 per day, and around half have an income of $1 or less—it is also the most unequal. Worldwide, it is second only to Namibia in income inequality, and it has the region’s most millionaires per capita. “We’re waiting and watching the situation” Moving up a level of analysis, Haiti’s government receives some mainstream media attention and analysis. The interim regime of Boca Raton, Fla. retiree Gérard Latortue (2004–06) took no effective measures to halt rising prices in rent, food, and transport. On the contrary, his government’s words and actions likely contributed to their increase. In his first month as interim prime minister, Latortue granted a three-year tax exemption for large importers, Haiti’s traditional lighter-skinned merchant elite, the same group that controls Haiti’s foreign trade. In July, through a top-down, rushed process called the Cadre de Coopération Intérimaire (CCI—in English, ICF), the interim government signed off on neoliberal plans such as privatization, even lower tariffs for imported rice, and an export-oriented agricultural and industrial plan to the detriment of local production.3 Lavi chè—the high cost of living—was the focus of community mobilizations beginning in late 2004 bridging a political divide: Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s Fanmi Lavalas Party and leftist groups within Aristide’s opposition demanded Latortue address this problem. Latortue promised to create a commission to study the issue but
ultimately took no action. On February 7, 2006, President René Préval received the majority of votes that were cast for president, but blank ballots brought his total to just under 50 percent. As in most other Latin American countries, the Haitian Constitution stipulates a run-off of the top two contenders. According to non-governmental organization (NGO) and government sources, this was the pretext on which the international community demanded Préval form a socalled unity government with members of all six parties that gained seats in the parliament. Préval’s government made some progress on security and stabilization. Kidnapping and homicide rates dropped. One of Préval’s first actions was to negotiate the Petro Caribe oil assistance program with Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, offering lower cost oil and lower interest rate credit, and in Haiti’s case developing state-run power plants. According to Préval’s chief of staff, three such plants were scheduled to be online in April 2008. Haiti’s parliament ratified Petro Caribe in August 2006, and taptap [bus] fares immediately returned to 2004 levels of 5 goud. However, many people told me, “se tann nap tann” or “se swiv nap swiv”— we’re waiting, and/or we’re following the situation closely. While Préval is generally well regarded for his honesty and sincerity, day laborers, street vendors, factory workers, NGO employees, and other middle-class professionals often complained about Préval’s apparent lack of leadership and unwillingness to address the public. To many, while his relative silence contributed to this goodwill and keeping his “unity government” together, official government inaction led to the return of violence and lavi chè. The events of early April demonstrated among other things that the people’s patience had ultimately worn out. An April 10 AP story by Jonathan Katz quoted a protestor, “I voted Préval to hold on until Aristide comes back.” Carol Williams wrote in an April 13 Los Angeles Times story that close Aristide ally Gérard Jean-Juste was seen leading some of the rallies. The implication was that Lavalas—the most popular party among Haiti’s poor majority—was unhappy with the unity government’s inaction and demanded its attention, threatening its fissure. On Saturday, April 12, the Senate recalled Prime Minister Jacques-Edouard Alexis by sixteen votes, with the ten members of Préval’s Lespwa Party abstaining. Rightist opposition leader Youri Latortue led the recall effort, saying that Alexis’s removal, plus Préval’s negotiation with local business leaders and international agencies to lower the price of foreign rice from $51 to $43, “would satisfy the people.” For even the best news coverage, the analysis usually
stops here, at the state level. “Politics of the stomach” The food riots in Haiti were also a result of policies and actions of the international community. Haiti has lost its food sovereignty as a result of decades of foreign-imposed neoliberal measures. Many people in Haiti argue that the U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) eradication of the Haitian pig population, Haiti’s “great stock market crash,” was the first trigger, eventually contributing to the ouster of longtime dictator “Baby Doc” Duvalier on February 7, 1986. Under U.S. military supervision, an army junta took over. Its finance minister, Leslie Delatour, imposed a series of neoliberal measures, including currency devaluation, trade liberalization, and lowering Haiti’s tariffs. Today, Haiti is the most “open” economy in the hemisphere.3 In the 1990s, USAID gave hundreds of millions of dollars in direct food aid. The implementation of this aid weakened Haiti’s economy, with free or heavily subsidized U.S. rice underselling the local peasantry; food-for-work programs arriving during harvest when farmers needed hired help the most; and conditionalities such as even lower tariffs and further trade advantages for U.S. businesses. While it can be argued that Haitian governments can choose to refuse this aid, the majority of their funding comes from international institutions,4 a situation Haitians call “politics of the stomach.” Not surprisingly, U.S. assistance to Haiti is still laced with conditionalities that benefit U.S. corporate interests. For example, the HOPE Act, passed in December 2006 to create jobs, benefits U.S. business interests. The act stipulates that Haiti must establish or make progress towards “elimination of barriers to United States trade and investment” (Section (d)(1)(C)). In addition to bilateral aid, neoliberalism was also imposed through Haiti’s debt. By 1991, when Aristide— Haiti’s first democratically-elected president—took office, the official debt was $785 million, more than half of what was claimed in 2006 (nearly $1.5 billion). Debt drains resources that could otherwise be invested in national production. For example, in 2003, Haiti’s scheduled debt service was $57.4 million, whereas the entire foreign pledges for education, health care, environment, and transportation combined was $39.21 million. Debt also is the leverage for imposing what used to be called “structural adjustment programs” (SAPs), including privatization, trade liberalization, and forced reduction in services such as health care, education, or rural credit. The scheduled debt service for 2009 is $78.7 million. As a result of all these factors, Haiti is almost entirely
dependent on foreign food production. Once an exporter of rice, now Haiti imports an estimated 82 percent of total consumption, $200 million per year. Haiti has therefore lost its food security and food sovereignty. As Préval stated in April, “In 1987, when rice began being imported at a cheap price, many people applauded. But cheap imported rice destroyed [locally grown] rice. Today, imported rice has become expensive, and our national production is in ruins. That’s why subsidizing imported food is not the answer.” Prices for basic foodstuffs are tied to the global market. These have risen because of increased petroleum costs and inflation in grain prices because of grain’s increasing use as biofuel. What remains to be analyzed is the trigger. Why now? The question remains, why are the riots happening now? And, what does this mean for Haiti? The answer is, it depends on the level of analysis. This article has presented a tripartite analysis, looking at the level of the people, the government, and the international community. It is possible that the people were simply tired and fed up, that recent mobilizations were spontaneous and grass roots, as journalist Reed Lindsay reported was the case in the southern town Cavaillon. According to Lindsay, this protest organized by local peasants associations was peaceful and apolitical, calling upon both the government and the UN to end neoliberalism and lower rice prices. The mobilization across the “Aristide divide” might generate a reconciliation between Lavalas Party leaders and leftist NGOs: unions such as Batay Ouvriye (an outspoken critic of Aristide) and CATH (with ties to Lavalas) are both pressuring for a substantial increase in Haiti’s minimum wage. It is also possible that this could represent a fissure in Préval’s “unity” government, with Lavalas—and by extension the majority of people who voted for him— demanding a greater say and role. Préval’s statement outlines an alternative to the neoliberal vision of development embodied by many donors, prioritizing national production. This might foretell a progressive turn for the Préval government. An early sign would be Préval’s nomination of Alexis’s successor, not yet named as of press time. It is also possible that Latortue—who has made several public statements in favor of reviving the army that Aristide disbanded for its human rights violations—is intentionally destabilizing the government as a pretext for promoting a rightist agenda. It is also possible to see this trigger as a reaction to the UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon’s remarks on April 2, saying that Haiti’s economy was better than it had been in the past decade, an insult to people who steadily saw their minimum wage of 70 goud ($1.80) buy progressively less. His speech also argued that the 9,000 UN troops in Haiti
should remain past their current October mandate. Many people in Haiti, spanning political ideology and socioeconomic status, resent the UN presence as an insult to Haiti’s sovereignty. Many low-income residents of neighborhoods like Bèlè and Sitesolèy [Bel-Air and Cité Soleil] see the UN as a threat because troops have shot and killed many neighbors. Many progressive NGOs argue that UN troops maintain control over Haiti’s leta restavèk—a “child slave” government. UN troops’ shooting of protesters and public statements of support for Préval from Ban-Ki Moon and governments like Canada’s could foretell a division of Haiti’s people, supported by a tenuous coalition of formerly bitter enemies and Haiti’s government, supported by the international community. As with most things, time will tell. Se swiv nap swiv. The canary in the coal mine Most importantly, the events of early April in Haiti need to be seen not as “Haitian exceptionalism,” with the usual narrative of Haitians being violent, unruly, ungodly, and dangerous. Rather, Haiti needs to be seen as an early warning. Haiti’s geopolitical position—especially its proximity to the U.S. and its level of dependence on foreign aid—highlights the contradictions and flaws in the system of international aid and growing global food crisis.5 As such, the “riots” are not expressions of an incomprehensibly backward Haitian mentality but rather a clear example and early warning if significant changes are not made to the system. Already there have been mobilizations in the Philippines since. Cut the strings What is to be done? Long-term solutions should address both our dependence on oil and the inequalities in distribution within the world system. In the short term, we can promote the Jubilee Act—a complete, immediate cancellation of the debts of sixtyseven Southern countries, without conditionalities—that passed the House in April and is headed for a Senate vote. Debt cancellation would free up resources and relieve the pressure of neoliberalism, empowering Southern countries to define their own priorities, like national production. To unravel the inequalities of this contemporary neoliberal world system, we should start with the thread that is already loose.
1 I have conducted two years of anthropological fieldwork in Pòtoprens [Port-au-Prince], and have returned for several follow-up trips, including working on a documentary about Haitian women workers (www.potomitan.net). 2 Fares for taptap (buses) doubled for many Pòtoprens routes from 2003 to 2005, from 5 goud to 10 goud. 3 Customs duties are the lowest in the hemisphere. Excepting gasoline, they varied from 0 to 15 percent, “noticeably lowered in the 2000s” following IMF rulings, with an average of 9 percent according to the
Heritage Foundation. 4 In the mid-1990s, the figure was 90 percent higher than the latest estimate, 65 percent. 5 The World Food Program noted that costs for basic foodstuffs have doubled over the past year in many countries.
Natural and unnatural disasters Ashley Smith describes the conditions that transformed the hurricanes that struck Haiti into mass killers. SocialistWorker.org September 23, 2008 A SUCCESSION of storms struck Haiti in August and early September, bringing devastation to the cities and countryside. First, Tropical Storm Fay swept the island, and then came Hurricanes Gustav, Hanna and Ike. Haiti has the worst poverty in the Western Hemisphere, with over 80 percent of the country's people surviving on under $2 a day. Its peasant majority survives on subsistence agriculture, while the urban poor scrabble together income through day laboring, working in the small sweatshop sector, and hawking whatever they can find. Haiti's desperate population made headlines across the world when it rioted from Les Cayes to Port-au-Prince in April against the runaway cost of imported food. The hurricanes devastated the already impoverished masses. They wrecked whole cities, submerging them under 12 feet of water and mud, from Gonaives on the coast to Hinche and Mirebalais in the central plateau. They killed 1,000 people and drove over 1 million out of a population of 8 million into homelessness. In Gonaives, the flooding displaced 80 percent of the city's 300,000 people. The flooding has swept human and animal feces into the water, and could easily lead to epidemics of cholera and kill thousands more people. With the infrastructure of roads and ports severely damaged by the storms, the UN has struggled to get relief supplies to starving and dehydrated people. It has only been able to feed 298,000 people. In several instances, the UN convoys ran out of supplies and turned their guns on enraged people. Now, with the country's agricultural heartlands completely destroyed and livestock drowned by torrential flooding, the food crisis will grow even more severe. In Les Cayes, on August 25, angry Haitians again threw up barricades to protest the continuing high food costs. ---------------WHILE THE media covered the catastrophe, few reporters drew connections to the political and economic conditions that caused it. The devastation wrought by the storms isn't the result of natural causes, but of imperial
intervention in the politics and economics of Haiti for the last several hundred years. The contrast with Cuba, which wrested itself free from U.S. dominion, proves the point. Cuba was hit with many of the same storms as Haiti, but because it has a state sector that has invested in strategies like mass evacuation plans and infrastructure to support them, it lost almost no one in the storms. The U.S., on the other hand, has collaborated with Haiti's morally repugnant elite to subject the country to neoliberal economic plans that have for decades denied their state the ability to address their dilapidated infrastructure, horrible deforestation and poverty. As a result, storms that other countries survive with relatively little damage turn into mass killers in Haiti. The storms drop their rain, the deforested soil is unable to absorb it, and giant torrents gather in mountain rivers, wash away fields, and descend onto whole cities as deadly floods. As recently as 2004, Tropical Storm Jeanne killed over 3,000 and submerged Gonaives under a several feet of water. Haiti's deforestation began with French colonialism in the 18th century, when the French cleared huge areas of forest to build large slave plantations. After the Haitian slave revolution won independence in 1804, the world's most powerful nations, led by France and the U.S., imposed an embargo. The new government was only recognized after it agreed to pay reparations to France for winning its freedom. This crippled Haiti with poverty conditions that have been the source of devastating social and environmental problems ever since. With no other path to economic development possible, poor peasants divided plantations into small plots of land that they farmed for subsistence. As crop yields declined, peasants turned to chopping down forests to make charcoal to sell to other poor people for cooking fuel. In the 20th century, the U.S. support for the infamous Duvalier dictatorship that ruled Haiti from 1957 to 1986 accelerated the deforestation. The regime robbed the country and kept the peasants poor, failing to address the growing agricultural crisis, which in turn intensified the drive of farmers to plunder the forest to make a living. "In 1950, about 25 percent of Haiti's 10,700 square miles was covered with forest," the Miami Herald reported. "By 1987, it was down to 10 percent. By 1994, 4 percent. Now, foreign and Haitian scientists find only 1.4 percent of the Maryland-sized nation is forested." France and the U.S. thus denuded the country that was once a tropical rainforest, setting the stage for killer storms. In the 1980s, masses of Haitians rose up to drive the Duvaliers from power, and later elected reformer Jean-
Bertrand Aristide to be president on a platform of land reform, aid to peasants, reforestation and increased wages and union rights for sweatshop workers. The U.S. backed a coup that drove Aristide from power in 1991. Eventually, Washington restored the elected president in 1994, but on the condition that he implement the U.S. neoliberal plan--which Aristide for the most part did, undermining his hoped-for reforms. Eventually, the U.S. grew impatient with Aristide's lack of total subservience and imposed an embargo that strangled the country, driving peasants even deeper into poverty. Finally, in 2004, Washington collaborated with the nation's ruling class and backed death squads to topple the government, kidnapped and deported Aristide, orchestrated a UN occupation of the country and installed the puppet government of Gerard Latortue to continue its neoliberal plans. Latortue's brief regime was utterly corrupt, as he and his cronies pocketed hoards of money that the U.S. and other powers poured into the country when they ended their embargo. The regime accomplished the complete destruction of the mild reforms Aristide had implemented. So the pattern of impoverishment, deforestation and degradation of the country's infrastructure accelerated. Unsurprisingly, when Jeanne struck Gonaives in 2004, the regime failed to respond as an entire city drowned. Finally, in the 2006 elections, the Haitian masses voted in longtime Aristide ally Réne Préval as president on a mild reformist platform. But Préval has been a weak figure, who has collaborated with U.S. neoliberal plans and failed to address the growing social crisis in the country. Moreover, the food riots brought down his prime minister, Jacques-Edouard Alexis, in April, leaving the country without an effective government until September 5. Only then did the Haitian Senate finally select Michele Duvivier Pierre-Louis as the new prime minister. But with neither the will nor the resources to mount a relief effort, the Haitian state has been nearly irrelevant in the crisis. ---------------IN REALITY, the actual power in Haiti has been the UN occupation. Under Brazilian leadership, the UN forces have protected the rich and collaborated with, or turned a blind eye to, right-wing death squads terrorizing supporters of Aristide and his Lavalas Party. They have utterly failed to address the poverty, wrecked infrastructure and massive deforestation that lead to recent "natural disasters." They have also completely failed to prepare for or respond to the storms. They had ample time since Hurricane Jeanne destroyed Gonaives in 2004 to build levees to protect that city. They did not. They could have invested in
rebuilding the infrastructure of the country and hire unemployed Haitians in the process. They did not. They could have helped with reforestation or improving the country's agricultural self-sufficiency. They did not. Instead, they have merely policed a social catastrophe, and in so doing have committed the normal crimes, and in some cases extreme crimes, characteristic of all police forces. As Dan Beeton writes in NACLA, "The UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (Minustah), which began its mission in June 2004, has been marred by scandals of killings, rape and other violence by its troops almost since it began." Amid this hurricane crisis, the UN has done very little to meet the crying needs of the Haitian people. They have promised $108 million of emergency aid, but report "only 2 percent of the...flash appeal has so far been donated." The UN occupation has proven to be not a humanitarian effort but a vehicle for imperialism and neoliberalism--the very cause of the unnatural disasters we have witnessed this August and September. Various NGOs have attempted to fill the vacuum, but they can only provide band-aids to life-threatening wounds. The U.S. government's response to this latest crisis has been barbaric. A country that squandered $3 trillion on destroying Iraq has stood by and watched Haiti's agony and done next to nothing. The U.S. has only allocated $30 million for disaster relief. Thankfully, the U.S. government has temporarily suspended deportations of undocumented Haitian immigrants back to their country, but it refuses to grant them Temporary Protected Status, which allows immigrants from countries experiencing armed conflict or environmental disasters to stay and work in the U.S. Despite its own abandonment of neoliberalism and newfound love of state intervention to rescue its own rulers' banks and businesses, the U.S. continues to push neoliberal plans for Haiti. As a result, the U.S. continues to create the conditions for future unnatural disasters, a terrifying thought given that the hurricane season has only just begun. The U.S. didn't cause the storms, but it created the conditions that turned them into mass killers. The U.S. government has the blood of countless Haitians on its hands. It owes billions of dollars in reparations to Haitians, which they could use to address this crisis and to rebuild society however they see fit. The hope for accomplishing these goals lies not in the U.S. government or in the UN. Immediately people can give to organizations that actually provide services in Haiti like longtime Haiti solidarity activist Paul Farmer's health care organization Partners in
Health (pih.org) or the Lambi Fund of Haiti (lambifund.org) which channels funds into communitybased institutions for sustainable development. Give to help. To build up the society to prevent future unnatural disasters, the Haitian masses struggles will have to unite with a regional and worldwide struggle against neoliberalism and imperialism. Only such an international struggle can win reparations and political space for Haitians to raise themselves from poverty, invest in their infrastructure and reforest their countryside. Only then can we end these abominable and unnatural disasters.
C. L. R. James's The Black Jacobins By Ashely Smith International Socialist Review Issue 63, Jan. - Feb. 2009 THE HAITIAN Revolution was the first and only successful slave revolution in human history. The slaves’ struggle produced heroic leaders, especially Toussaint L’Ouverture. He and his revolutionary army of selfemancipated slaves defeated the three great empires of the eighteenth century—Spain, England, and France—and finally won independence after a decade of struggle in 1804. While historians have written tomes on the eighteenth century’s other great revolutions—the American, and French—the Haitian Revolution has been buried under calumny or simply suppressed. Why? Our rulers of course minimize the role of revolution in history, even the ones that brought them to power, for fear of highlighting the fact that fundamental change comes from social revolution. But they hold a particular animus toward the Haitian Revolution. In its time it directly threatened the slave empires in the new world. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, it offered hope of insurrection for independence to the colonies subject to the European empires. It has always been a challenge to liberals and their counsel of piecemeal reform and gradualism, which rarely if ever delivers change, and instead promises a counter-model of class struggle and revolution. Even on the left, the Haitian Revolution does not get the recognition it merits. For example, most left-wing histories of the French Revolution, often marred by a Stalinist French nationalism, fail to understand the centrality of the Haitian colony and slavery in the development of French capitalism and the consequent strength of the bourgeoisie to overthrow the absolutist monarchy.1 C. L. R. James’s brilliant book, The Black Jacobins,
rescues the Haitian Revolution from repression. James wrote it in 1938, making this year the seventieth anniversary of its publication. As he composed it, fascism swept Europe, Stalin imposed slave labor in his gulag, and Europe held the peoples of Africa and Asia in colonial bondage.2 James’s history both celebrates the triumph of Toussaint and the slaves and also uses it as a beacon call for national liberation and international proletarian solidarity against imperialism. Like Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution, on which James modeled his book, The Black Jac?obins is not academic history, but one written by a proletarian revolutionist using theory and history as a guide to revolutionary struggle. Throughout his book he highlights the dialectical interaction between the revolutions in France and Haiti, particularly the interaction between the Parisian masses, the sansculottes, and the slaves. For James that inter?national solidarity is the secret of both revolutions’ success, and necessary for human emancipation. Capitalism, colonialism, and primitive accumulation James opens The Black Jacobins by surveying the European conquest of the New World and their occupation of the island that would become Haiti:
The Spaniards, the most advanced Europeans of their day, annexed the island, called it Hispaniola, and took the backward natives under their protection. They introduced forced labor in mines, murder, rape, bloodhounds, strange diseases, and artificial famine (by the destruction of cultivation to starve the rebellious). These and other requirements of the higher civilization reduced the native population from an estimated half-a-million, perhaps a million, to 60,000 in 15 years (4).3
years, French merchants and planters turned San Domingue into a site of boundless horror and seemingly limitless profit that fueled French capitalism. At the time, France was ruled by an absolutist monarchy, which represented the feudal nobility but also facilitated the emerging capitalists. The lesser nobles, squeezed by the centralizing dynamics of the absolutist state, looked for new sources of wealth and became planters in the colony. The monarchy gave French merchants a monopoly on trade, the infamous exclusif. The merchants used the trade and consequent profits to develop the port cities, the heart of early French capitalism, like Nantes, Bordeaux and Marseilles that would generate many of the early leaders of the French Revolution. French merchants and planters turned San Domingue into, as James puts it, “the most profitable colony the world had ever known” (57). By 1789, its plantations produced half the world’s coffee, 40 percent of its sugar, and a host of lesser commodities like indigo. Over two-thirds of France’s trade flowed in and out of San Domingue. The colony became the envy of all the other imperial powers— Spain, Britain, and Holland. Based on this wealth, the French bourgeoisie would overthrow the monarchy, transform all of Europe, and (inadvertently) trigger a slave revolution that would remake the New World and lead to the eventual abolition of slavery. As one liberal Frenchman named Mirabeau put it, the colonial system was “sleeping at the edge of Vesuvius”(55). The Black slave laborers The eruption would begin among the 500,000 slaves that labored on San Domingue’s plantations. To fulfill their insatiable demand for workers, the European powers plundered Africa for slaves (12 million total), subjected them to the horrors of the Middle Passage, and compelled them into the backbreaking toil of plantation labor. In San Domingue, the slaves worked in giant labor gangs in the fields and sugar factories. The slave drivers whipped them through the course of eighteen-hour days to squeeze every ounce of labor out of them. The plantation masters often encased the slave’s heads in tin masks to prevent them from eating the sugar cane. Under criticism, the French monarchy attempted to regulate the brutality. The state imposed the Code Noir, a vast rulebook for implementing “humane” slavery, but it was honored more in the breach than the observance. San Domingue became a vast killing field, sacrificing life for profit. The labor conditions were so brutal that half the slaves died within ten years of arrival. The slaves tended not to reproduce, and when female slaves became pregnant they would often give themselves abortions to prevent their potential children from being enslaved. The slave masters therefore had to continuously replenish their
This plunder of the New World was part of what Marx called the “primitive accumulation” that fertilized European capitalism within the womb of feudalism. In Europe, the process was marked by the expropriation of peasants from their land, creating a “free” population that would form the basis of a wage working class. Meanwhile in the early colonies, merchant capitalists turned to chattel slavery to work the plantations that produced commodities and surplus for the system back in Europe. The emerging capitalist classes amassed fantastic fortunes and power that brought them into conflict with the feudal regimes, triggering the great bourgeois revolutions of the eighteenth century. Spain, England, and France battled over control of Hispaniola as part of this plunder and exploitation of the New World. Finally in 1679, France and Spain agreed to divide the island between themselves. Spain retained control of the eastern side of the island and called it San Domingo, while the French won control of the eastern half and named it San Domingue. In the space of one hundred
labor gangs with new slaves, buying an estimated 30,000 new laborers from the slave merchants each year. Thus, in 1791 on the eve of the revolution in San Domingue, more than two-thirds of the slaves had been born in Africa and known relative freedom within the last decade of their lives. Like every exploited class in history, the slaves resisted their exploitation. They struggled at every step from capture to transport to the plantation. They fled to the mountains to form what became known as maroon bands, attempted to organize rebellion, and dreamed of revolution. The very conditions of labor brought them together in a fashion that made class struggle more possible. James writes, “The slaves worked on the land, and, like revolutionary peasants everywhere, they aimed at the extermination of their oppressors. But working and living together in gangs of hundreds on the huge sugar factories which covered the Northern Plain, they were closer to a modern proletariat than any group of workers in existence at the time” (85–86). The very divisions that the planters used to control the slaves provided them with the means for organization and coordination. Within the slave gangs, the planters appointed commanders from among the slaves to oversee their work. It was this layer of commanders that would organize the revolt and provide slaves with military leadership. The merchants and planters were creating their own gravediggers. The booming colony nevertheless seemed stable. But, as James argues, “economic prosperity is no guarantee of social stability. That rests on the constantly shifting equilibrium between the classes. It was the prosperity of the bourgeoisie that started the English Revolution of the seventeenth century. With every stride in production the colony was marching toward its doom”(55). Newly enslaved, angry, restive, envious of the prosperity built on their whipped backs, the Black masses would soon rise up and smash their masters’ carefully cultivated barbarism. Some sensed the coming explosion and hoped for the leadership from among the slaves to organize the fight for emancipation. One French abolitionist, Abbe Raynal, wrote:
Already there are established two colonies of fugitive Negroes, whom treaties and power protect from assault. Those lightnings announce the thunder. A courageous chief only is wanted. Where is he, that great man whom Nature owes to her vexed, oppressed and tormented children? Where is he? He will appear, doubt it not; he will come forth and raise the sacred standard of liberty. This venerable goal will gather around him the companions of his misfortune. More impetuous than the torrents, they will everywhere leave the indelible traces of their just resentment. Everywhere people will bless the name of the hero who shall have reestablished the rights of
the human race; everywhere will they raise trophies in his honor. (25)
Toussaint Breda, a literate freed slave and overseer on the Breda Plantation, read this passage over and over again, dreaming of freedom for his slave brethren. The capitalists and planters Everywhere, even in the towns, the Black slaves outnumbered their white masters and overseers. There were only 30,000 whites in San Domingue amid half a million Blacks. They lived on their plantations scattered throughout the colony and in small towns of about 20,000 like Port Au Prince, the capital, and Cap Français in the North. The whites were bitterly divided. At the pinnacle of power stood the governor, the representative of monarchy in the colony. The merchants and planters comprised the white ruling class of the colony, the so-called grand blancs, the big whites. Beneath them as their managers and enforcers were the petit blancs, the small whites—the functionaries and the rabble. The planters hated the merchants and the governor because they enforced and benefited from the exclusif, the French monopoly on trade. The merchants also hated the governor and the restrictions of the feudal order back in France that constrained their economic and political advancement. And the small whites hated everyone above and below them. The final players in the colony’s ruling class were the gens de coleur, the free men of color.4 Numbering some 30,000, they were the illegitimate children of the merchants and planters and their slave mistresses. They vacillated between the rulers and the exploited slaves. While racially oppressed—famously divided up into an absurd hierarchy of 128 categories based on skin color— the free men of color had limited rights under the Code Noir. They were allowed to hold military office, acquire property, and purchase slaves for their own plantations. They were a subject part of the ruling class in the colony. They aspired to join their fathers among the big whites. But the white rulers hated them for driving up the price of land and attempted to restrict their rights. The free men of color in turn resented the big whites and also despised the monarchy and its representative for enforcing a racial order that excluded their full rights as rulers. Yet as rulers, however racially oppressed, they were no allies of the Black slaves whom they exploited, and from whom they attempted to distance themselves in the colony’s racial hierarchy. The impact of the French Revolution The bourgeoisie, including the merchants tied to slavery in the colonies, grew frustrated with the king and his regime’s feudal restraints on the economy and their
political rights. They especially resented how he attempted to solve the regime’s financial crisis, ironically the result of debts incurred by its war with England over control of North America and its support for the American Revolution. The king’s taxes fell disproportionately on the bourgeoisie with much of the nobility receiving feudal exemptions. But the king even managed to alienate much of the nobility. Famously, when Louis XVI tried in 1789 to shut down the Estates-General, the parliament he had called to impose taxes, the bourgeois delegates called together a constituent assembly to agitate for reform of the monarchy and its feudal restrictions. After the king attempted to disperse this assembly, the sans culottes—the artisan masses of Paris who were enraged by the increasing cost of food— stormed the Bastille and commenced the great French Revolution. Riding a mass movement, the assembly issued the Declaration of the Rights of Man announcing that all men are free and equal. Within the assembly the Amis Noirs, the Friends of the Blacks, demanded equal rights for the free men of color and gradual abolition of slavery itself. But the merchants and planters who had their representatives within the assembly attempted to silence even this mild demand for reform. At the heart of France’s bourgeois revolution for liberty, equality and fraternity lay a giant contradiction: racism and slavery. This contradiction between the proclaimed ideals of the revolution and the reality of bigotry and bondage would spark the slave revolution in San Domingue. The free men of color strike first The French Revolution ignited all the conflicts in France’s precious colony. The big whites, small whites, and the free men of color split into hostile camps. The planters were nobles who after flirting with the idea of fighting for independence quickly became royalists. They obviously opposed the Rights of Man and defended feudalism. The merchants quaked in fear that their colonial slave economy was in jeopardy from the revolution that they themselves had started. Rights are noble and morally virtuous, but for the good bourgeois, profits trump principle on every question. Nevertheless they opposed the planters’ royalism. They needed the connection to the French state and so wanted a limited revolution that kept slavery and the colonial order intact. The small whites immediately aligned themselves with the revolution as an opportunity to strike out against the big whites. But they were far from the radicalism of the Parisian masses; they were adamantly opposed to rights for free men of color and the abolition of slavery. The various white forces battled out their conflicting ideas in the colonial assembly set up in the wake of the revolution.
In these crosscurrents among the whites, the free men of color took up the standard of the revolution as an opportunity to win their rights as citizens. Of course, as colonial property owners, they too did not demand abolition of slavery. They sent a delegation to agitate for their inclusion in the Rights of Man at the assembly in Paris. The Friends of the Blacks and free men of color spoke to the assembly, sending a ripple of consternation through the merchants and planters who maneuvered to suppress the question. In the end, the assembly voted for a resolution that said nothing specific about rights for the free men of color. After a furious debate, they passed a resolution that all persons over the age of twenty-five and with property qualifications would be granted the right to vote. Instead of solving the question, this vague compromise triggered a three-cornered fight between white and free colored rulers and the small whites, many of whom would be denied the vote under the new law due to their lack of property. Enraged by the assembly’s failure to address their rights, one of the free men of color in the delegation, Vincent Oge, left France for England to meet British abolitionist Thomas Clarkson. Oge convinced him to supply money for an armed insurrection of the free men of color for their rights. Oge returned to San Domingue to lead a rebellion of a few hundred free men of color in Cap Français on October 21, 1790. Oge appealed not to the slaves, but to the big whites, hoping to convince them with arms that they held common interests as plantation owners. The big whites would have none of it. They responded with the utmost savagery, suppressing the rising, torturing Oge and the other leaders, and finally killing them. But the spark of rebellion had been lit, and the fire of revolution would travel back and forth between the France and the colony for the next decade. The fate of the two revolutions was tied together in a complex knot. France becomes a republic Faced with revolution in France and chaotic conflict in the colonies, the king attempted to organize a counterrevolution with international backing to reimpose the old order. The King fled Paris and was seized by the masses in Varennes. The Parisian masses had heard of Oge’s murder and began to see their common cause with not only the free men of color but with the slaves. They now demanded liberty and equality not only at home but also abroad. Under pressure from the radicalized masses, the assembly again debated the question of rights for free men of color. Julien Raimond, himself a free man of color, argued for rights for his group but also defended slavery before the assembly. In the end, they reached another rotten compromise that only served to further inflame the
colonial revolt. They granted rights to free men of color who had been born of free parents. They thus enfranchised only about 400 out of the 30,000 free men of color. On top of that, they defended slavery. One delegate, Barnave, summed up the attitude of the French bourgeoisie, stating that slavery “is absurd, but it is established and one cannot handle it roughly without unloosing the greatest disorder. This regime is oppressive, but it gives livelihood to several million Frenchmen. This regime is barbarous but a still greater barbarism will be the result if you interfere with it without the necessary knowledge”(80). The capitulation to profit over principle demoralized the assembly, especially the Jacobins, the left wing of the revolution, and their supporters among the Parisian masses. The capitulation also gave the green light to reaction. Royalist forces won the day, repressed the masses, and scattered the Jacobin radicals who fled or went into hiding. But as James argues, “phases of revolution are not decided in parliaments, they are only registered there”(81). Amid the tide of reaction, the Jacobins sharpened their ideas and cultivated their leadership of the French artisans and peasants. In San Domingue, James writes, the Black slaves “had heard of the revolution and had construed it in their own image: the white slaves in France had risen, and killed their masters, and were now enjoying the fruits of the earth. It was gravely inaccurate in fact, but they had caught the spirit of thing. Liberty. Equality. Fraternity”(81). The slave revolt Vesuvius was about to erupt. The crisis of the revolution and splits among the colony’s rulers opened space for the slave revolution. Throughout France’s Caribbean colonies, slaves revolted. Without this mass insurrection, there is no doubt that France would never have abolished slavery. James writes, “Neglected and ignored by politicians of every brand and persuasion, they had organized on their own and struck for freedom at last” (84). In San Domingue, the commanders—the better-educated slave overseers—provided the organization and leadership through secret meetings, which were often Vodou ceremonies. The slave commander Boukman led a meeting at Bois Caiman that organized and launched the insurrection at the end of July 1791. He and his followers built a vast conspiracy across dozens of plantations in the Northern Plain. No one informed the planters and merchants of the coming insurrection; they were completely caught by surprise—a testament to the overwhelming solidarity among the slaves. The slaves rose up in the tens of thousands, slaughtered their masters, burned the plantations, and terrorized the surviving white population,
taking revenge on their torturers. The slave masters of yesteryear and today, along with their liberal handmaidens, have always condemned the Black laborers for their violent insurrection. James refutes this slander arguing that the slaves were
surprisingly moderate, then and afterwards, far more humane than their masters had been or would ever be to them. They did not maintain this vengeful spirit for long. The cruelties of property and privilege are always more ferocious than the revenges of poverty and oppression. For the one aims at perpetuating resented injustice, the other is merely a momentary passion soon appeased…. Compared with what their masters had done to them in cold blood, what they did was negligible. (89)
Toussaint L’Ouverture Toussaint Breda, then using a last name borrowed from the plantation on which he labored, watched the rising from a distance, protecting the plantation and its mistress from harm. He was not a slave; he had been freed for quite some time. He was educated, literate, and had acquired at least one plantation and slaves of his own.5 He had achieved as much as any free Black man could in San Domingue. He certainly had more to lose than his chains. Toussaint watched the course of the struggle for a month, pondering Abbe Raynal’s famous passage and weighing his options. Finally he decided to join the ever-expanding slave army in the mountains of the north commanded by Jean Francois and Biassou. He was appointed as a doctor in the army and after demonstrating political and military skills was promoted to Biassou’s assistant. By then they collectively commanded an army of self-emancipated slaves that had grown to 100,000, dwarfing all other military forces on the island. In the colony’s less developed south and west, the free men of color rose up and demanded equality but not the abolition of slavery. This schism between the north and the south would plague the revolutionaries, opening breaches to imperialist schemes and invasions. In the north, the Black generals also did not demand abolition, but instead reform of slavery. Biassou, Jean Francois, and even Toussaint attempted to strike a deal with the French that would only emancipate a handful in return for peace. But the utterly reactionary planters and merchants refused. James writes, “only then did Toussaint come to an unalterable decision from which he never wavered and for which he died. Complete liberty for all, to be attained and held by their own strength”(107). To prepare for revolutionary war, Toussaint separated himself from the other Black generals and trained a professional army of his own, utterly loyal to him and fired by their commitment to liberation. Meanwhile in France, moderate revolutionaries, like the Girondin
Brissot, who was also a member of the Friends of the Blacks, were in power. But however much they supported rights for the free men of color, they said nothing about emancipation. Profits for the bourgeoisie mattered more than even their own doctrines. As James argues, Toussaint’s troops and “not the perorations in the Legislative would be decisive in the struggle for freedom”(117). The masses’ “frenzy for liberty” The French peasants and artisans, the mass base of the French Revolution, faced the same quandary as the Black slaves. The bourgeoisie had already attempted to rein in the radicalization. It was the masses and their Jacobin leadership that would bring the revolution to its grandest heights, finally eradicating the monarchy and abolishing slavery. The assembly had sent a new commission to San Domingue to secure peace between the big whites and free men of color, stabilize the colony under a new anti-racist compact in the ruling class, and repress the slave insurrection. Two moderate Jacobins, Sonthanax and Polverel, led the commission and oversaw General Leveaux and 6,000 new French troops. Upon arrival, however, their mission fell to pieces as the troops split into opposed camps of royalists and revolutionaries. The Paris masses decisively shifted the revolutionary tide in both France and San Domingue. They rose up to demand price controls on bread and other essentials, final abolition of all feudal strictures, and the end of the monarchy. They voted in Jacobins to the assembly. James describes their radical aims:
They were striking at royalty, tyranny, reaction and oppression of all types, and with these they included slavery. The prejudice of race is superficially the most irrational of all prejudices, and by a perfectly comprehensible reaction the Paris workers, from indifference in 1789, had come by this time to detest no section of the aristocracy so much as those whom they called “the aristocrats of the skin.” On August 11, the day after the Tuileries fell, Page, a notorious agent of the colonists in France, wrote home almost in despair. “One spirit alone reigns here, it is horror of slavery and enthusiasm for liberty. It is a frenzy which wins all heads and grows every day.” Henceforth the Paris masses were for abolition, and their Black brothers in San Domingo, for the first time, had passionate allies in France. (120)
San Domingue to seize the colony, reimpose slavery, and reap the profits they had long coveted. Sonthanax and the French leaders in San Domingue thus faced two imperial invasions and counterrevolution from royalist planters. Galbaud, a planter and the new governor of the colony appointed by the assembly, became the vehicle for counterrevolution. He and his planter allies attempted to overthrow Sonthanax. With no military forces to speak of, Sonthanax had no choice but to appeal to the slaves for military support. He promised emancipation for any slave who joined in the defense of his commission. Thousands of slaves rallied to his call and Sonthanax defeated Galbaud and chased 10,000 big whites from the island. Flush with victory, Sonthanax declared on August 29, 1793, the abolition of slavery in San Domingue. The Black Jacobins Yet Toussaint, Jean Francois, and Biassou did not rally to Sonthanax and the French Republic. Instead they allied themselves with monarchist and pro-slavery Spain, which hoped to use them as proxies bought with promises of individual liberty to conquer the colony. Toussaint was not fooled by the Spanish, and his decision was certainly not the result of some African allegiance to kingship. It was a rational calculation. He knew that Sonthanax had no power to abolish slavery; that lay in the hands of the assembly, which had yet to prove itself an ally of the slaves. Toussaint bided his time and built his own army. He took advantage of Spanish support to acquire training and guns, and waited for the French National Assembly to decide where it stood on slavery. As a counter to Sonthanax, Toussaint issued his own decree on August 29. He discarded his old slave last name, Breda, and announced his new one, L’Ouverture—meaning the opening to liberty. He declared,“Brothers and friends. I am Toussaint L’Ouverture, my name is perhaps known to you. I have undertaken vengeance. I want Liberty and Equality to reign in San Domingo. I work to bring them into existence. Unite yourselves to us, brothers, and fight with us for the same cause”(125). Meanwhile in the south and west, the ruling free men of color allied themselves with the invading British Army that had landed from Jamaica. Hemmed in by counterrevolution, the future of revolutionary France and the future of the slave rebellion in San Domingue hung in the balance. The Paris masses would decide the fate of both. They demanded that the Jacobins wash away every remaining vestige of feudalism, every limitation on liberty, including slavery. James writes:
It was not Paris alone but all revolutionary France. Servants, peasants, workers, the labourers by the day in the fields all over France were filled with a
With the Jacobins in firm command and backed by the French masses, they soon executed Louis XVI. Now France had become the center of world revolution and a threat to all the other European empires. Spain and England declared war on France, leading all the rest of Europe in a counterrevolutionary war for the destruction of Republican France. At the very same time, they invaded
virulent hatred against the “aristocracy of the skin.” The many so moved by the sufferings of the slaves that they had long ceased to drink coffee, thinking of it as drenched with the blood and sweat of men turned into brutes. Noble and generous working people of France… are the people whom the sons of Africa and the lovers of humanity will remember with gratitude and affection, not the perorating Liberals in France nor the… hypocrites in the British Houses of Parliament.” (139)
demanding equality to the officers in the army were filled with immense pride at being citizens of the French Republic ‘one and indivisible’ which had brought liberty and equality to the world”(154). Their determination and allegiance was so firm that, James declares, “The British and Spaniards could not defeat it. All they could offer was money, and there are periods in human history when money is not enough”(155). They quickly defeated Spain, which granted its half of the island to France. All but a few British redoubts remained in the north and south. By 1795 Laveaux and Toussaint were in control of San Domingue, facing the challenge of rebuilding the society ravaged by four years of warfare. Touissaint attempted to maintain the plantation system worked not by slave labor but by using the former slaves as wage laborers paid in money and a percentage of produce. He appointed whites to government posts and even allowed big whites to retain ownership of their great estates, and he tried to prevent the freed slaves from breaking up the plantations. This attempt to organize an agricultural proletariat on capitalist plantations would become a source of friction between Toussaint and the emancipated Black slaves, who wanted to farm their own small plots. But no old order dies without a fight. Toussaint would face counterrevolution again and again for the next nine years both at home and abroad. Laveaux and Toussaint had to repress the free men of color, who saw rulership as their right, as well as big whites who sought the re-imposition of slavery. Some of these counterrevolutionaries kidnapped Laveaux at one point. James writes that after being liberated by Toussaint, Laveaux, “to the astonishment of all and the unbounded joy of the Blacks … proclaimed Toussaint Assistant to the Governor and swore that he would never do anything without consulting him. He called him the saviour of constituted authority, the Black Spartacus, the Negro predicted by Raynal who would avenge the outrages done to his race”(171). France soon confirmed Toussaint’s appointment and entrusted his army with the defense of the new order while France’s own revolutionary army fought against the counterrevolutionary invasion from the rest of Europe. Victory and reaction in France France’s army soon defeated its foes. Now secure, the bourgeoisie began to rein in what it saw as the excesses of the revolution and consolidate their hold on the country. They repressed the Parisian masses, brought down the Jacobins, executed Robespierre, and ended the Terror the Jacobins had used to defend the revolution against internal foes. With the rollback of the revolution, the merchants and planters in Paris began to agitate for the return of slavery. In 1795 these and other conservative forces passed a new
Into this feverish climate of revolution that swept France in 1794, Sonthanax sent a multiracial delegation from San Domingue to appeal for emancipation. One white, one free man of color, and one former slave arrived to a rapturous reception in the National Convention. Minister Lacroix proposed a resolution that read, “The National Convention declares slavery abolished in all the colonies. In consequence it declares that all men, without distinction of colour, domiciled in the colonies, are French Citizens, and enjoy all the rights under the Constitution” (141). The convention passed it with overwhelming numbers. In San Domingue, Toussaint soon heard of the decree and abandoned Spain as well as the other Black generals who remained Spanish pawns. He led his professional army of 4,000 emancipated slaves to join Sonthanax, Polverel, and Laveaux in a revolutionary war for the expulsion of the British and Spanish invaders and for complete liberation of all the island’s slaves. Toussaint had become a Black Jacobin, committed to the French Revolution and the abolition of slavery—at this point, two intertwined allegiances. Toussaint and the revolutionary Black army At the moment of victory, Sonthanax and Polverel were recalled to France to face charges brought by disgruntled planters, leaving General Laveaux in charge of Toussaint, now a French general, and his army. Together they led the fight against the English and Spanish occupations. Toussaint gathered around himself the ex-slave generals who would decide the future of San Domingue— Dessalines, Christophe, Moise, and his own brother, Paul L’Ouverture. Toussaint’s army grew to immense size, its ranks drawn from emancipated slaves and maroon bands that rallied to the French after the decree of emancipation. Laveaux, Toussaint, and the Black generals controlled the north and west. In the south, Andre Rigaud, a free man of color, mounted a revolutionary campaign against the British and their collaborators among the free men of color. He consolidated much of the area under his own regime, separate from Toussaint and the French who dominated the north. The revolutionary forces were unstoppable in their assault on the British and Spanish. James captures the revolutionary spirit that animated their campaign: “All the French Blacks, from the labourers at Port-de-Paix
constitution and elected a new centralized leadership, the Directory. In the new parliamentary bodies, recently elected slaveholders raged against the loss of their property, the slaves, in San Domingue. Reaction was gaining strength in France but did not yet have the power and will to carry through counterrevolution in the colonies. Sonthanax, exonerated and back in San Domingue, noted the tide of reaction and worked to consolidate his regime’s control of the entire colony. He distributed 20,000 guns amongst the freed slaves, declaring, “here is the liberty which Sonthanax gives you; whoever would take this gun from you means to make you a slave again.”6 Against the wishes of Toussaint, Sonthanax then marched against Rigaud in the south. Up until then Toussaint and Rigaud had been collaborating despite differences, and both had abolished slavery in their territories. Rigaud quickly defeated Sonthanax’s forces. The conflict opened up two tragic fissures in the colony—one between Toussaint and Sonthanax and another between Toussaint and Rigaud. From this point on, Toussaint aimed to gain control of the whole island to preserve liberty under Black leadership. Both Laveaux and Sonthanax were elected to represent San Domingue in France. Laveaux soon left and Toussaint quickly moved to compel Sonthanax to leave as well. Toussaint’s motives were not simply power, as some cynics claim, but the need to unite the entire island under his leadership, and to prevent the Directory from restoring slavery. Toussaint issued a letter to the Directory declaring his allegiance to France but also his willingness to defend the new order in the colony. He hoped “France will not revoke her principles…. But if, to re-establish slavery in San Domingue, this was done, then I declare to you it would be to attempt the impossible: we have known how to face dangers to obtain our liberty, we shall know how to brave death to maintain it”(196–97). The Directory plots against Toussaint A split between France and Toussaint’s San Domingue was inevitable at this point. The Directory sent a new emissary, Gabriel Hedouville, to stir up division, win over Rigaud, and bring down Toussaint. While the Directory plotted his demise, Toussaint dutifully carried on his campaign against the British. As the British forces collapsed, General Maitland attempted to lure Toussaint away from France. But the Black Jacobin would have none of it; he remained loyal to the French Revolution to his death. He instead destroyed the British forces, which lost over 80,000 men to battle and disease; it was one of the biggest single defeats in Britain’s colonial history. Hedouville schemed against Toussaint, despite the Black
general’s loyal service to France. Hedouville attacked him for allowing royalist big whites to retain their plantations. Frustrated with Hedouville’s constant interference, Toussaint resigned his post, returned to his plantation, and let Hedouville rule the colony on his own. Bereft of the Black general’s support, Hedouville proceeded to offend Black leaders and laborers. After he dismissed the Black general Moise, Toussaint overthrew Hedouville and drove him back to France. Toussaint had crossed the Rubicon. He aimed to consolidate his hold on the island and prepare for its defense against what he feared to be an inevitable French invasion. He invaded the south to bring down Rigaud, whom Hedouville had stirred into opposition to Toussaint. Dessalines commanded the troops and quickly brought down the free men of color, as Rigaud too escaped to France. After suppressing various rebellions, Toussaint commanded the entire colony. In France, Napoleon had just seized control of the French state to prevent a royalist coup. In doing so he consolidated the bourgeois revolution. Busy with his own revolutionary campaign that overthrew several feudal states in Europe, he delayed any confrontation with Toussaint. Napoleon instead confirmed Toussaint as governor and commander-in-chief of San Domingue. Napoleon’s redesign of the French state, however, confirmed Toussaint’s worst fears. Napoleon terminated political representation from the colonies and ruled that they would be governed by, in an ominous phrase, “special laws.” Convinced that Napoleon aimed to restore slavery, Toussaint prepared the island for military defense and launched an enormous reconstruction plan to prove that it could be just as productive a colony under a free labor regime as it had been under slavery. He seized control of the Spanish section of the island to prevent it being used as a staging ground for a French invasion. He also freed slaves on the Spanish side of the island. However, James argues, Toussaint made a great mistake. He never explained to either his army or the Black masses that he was preparing a fight for independence to preserve liberty. In contrast, Dessalines told his followers, “The war you have won is a little war, but you have two more, bigger ones. One is against the Spaniards, who do not want to give up their land and who have insulted your brave Commander-in-Chief: the other is against France, who will try to make you slaves again as soon as she is finished with her enemies. We’ll win those wars”(240). James argues “that was and still is the way to speak to the masses, and it is no accident that Dessalines and not Toussaint finally led the island to independence. Toussaint, shut up within himself, immersed in diplomacy, went his tortuous way, overconfident that he had only to speak and the masses would follow”(240).
Black rule and colonial reconstruction Nevertheless, Toussaint was in complete command of the island. He ruled for a brief period before the final war for independence. The island’s plantations were in ruins, much of the old ruling class had fled, and over a third of the ex-slaves had perished in the wars. Toussaint and his fellow generals represented a new Black ruling class that seized control of abandoned plantations, attempted to work out an antiracist compact with the remaining big whites, employing free Black laborers on the old plantations. They implemented Toussaint’s double aim of reconstruction and preparation for self-defense. They buttressed the army with tens of thousands of guns purchased from the United States and other powers. They imposed draconian labor regulations that prevented the Black workers from leaving plantations or buying up property for subsistence farming. Toussaint even legalized the slave trade to overcome the labor shortage. Of course he freed the slaves upon arrival on the island and he even entertained the idea of a revolutionary war for ending the African slave trade and emancipating the subject areas of Africa from European domination. The new Black rulers rebuilt the great towns of the colony, Le Cap and Port-auPrince. In these towns, they built a new education system to train a new layer of Black rulers. Toussaint wrote a new constitution for the colony not as an independent state, but as a colony with dominion status within the French empire. It abolished slavery, guaranteed civil rights for all, protected the right to private property, and declared Toussaint ruler for life with the right to name his successor. Even within these dictatorial and extreme measures—no worse than Napoleon’s consolidation of the French Revolution under his own dictatorship—San Domingue was still a beacon of liberty in a New World of slave states and colonies. Napoleon’s aim: Colonial counterrevolution Napoleon and the French bourgeoisie had by now thoroughly abandoned the revolutionary egalitarianism of 1794. Hungering for the boundless profits of their slave colonies, they began to devise plans to invade and reimpose slavery in San Domingue and elsewhere. Napoleon represented bourgeois reaction in France, but his wars in Europe were progressive. By contrast, his planned invasion of San Domingue was counterrevolutionary. Napoleon was a racist. He denounced the Black generals as “gilded Africans” and declared that “he would not leave an epaulette on the shoulders of a single nigger in the colony”(271). He dismissed Toussaint in particular as a “revolted slave” and raved that he would reduce them all to “nothingness”(271). He appointed his brother-in-law General Leclerc, a vile racist in his own right, to command
sixty-seven ships transporting 20,000 troops—the largest marine force in French history at the time. French invading forces would eventually peak at 60,000. Britain and the United States aided the French invasion. Leclerc boasted in classic imperial fashion, “All the niggers, when they see an army, will lay down their arms. They will be only too happy that we pardon them”(274). While the vast fleet crossed the ocean, Toussaint tightened his grip on the island. He repressed the Black workers who rose up against his stern regime of plantation labor. When they revolted in the north, the workers chanted support for Toussaint’s nephew, Moise, who had relaxed restrictions on the plantations and allowed them to buy and farm small plots of land of their own. They supported him as a political rival to Toussaint’s rule. Faced with revolt on the eve of the invasion, Toussaint crushed the rebellion, further undermining his base of support among the Black workers, and executed Moise. By turning against Moise and the workers, he isolated himself and weakened his ability to arouse his base against the French forces. On top of that, although he understood the threat from Napoleon, Toussaint again hesitated to openly declare resistance to France. James argues, “Toussaint could not believe that the French ruling class would be so depraved, so lost to all sense of decency, as to try to restore slavery. His grasp of politics led him to make all preparations, but he could not admit to himself and to his people that it was easier to find decency, gratitude, justice, and humanity in a cage of starving tigers than in the councils of imperialism”(282). Toussaint was caught between his commitment to the French Revolution and his commitment to liberty, a double commitment that had been united in 1794 but was now broken in contradiction. He could not come to grips with this reality and hesitated to fight for independence. Consequently he could not lay out to the laboring masses the nature of the struggle that lay ahead. Toussaint foundered on a contradiction he could not resolve. When the French landed in the old Spanish side of the island, Toussaint could not raise the masses and instead had to rely solely on his military forces. Nevertheless, Toussaint laid out a plan for the resistance. He wrote to Dessalines:
Do not forget, while waiting for the rainy season which will rid us of our foes, that we have no other resource than destruction and fire. Bear in mind that the soil bathed with our sweat must not furnish our enemies with the smallest sustenance. Tear up the road with shot; throw corpses and horses into all the fountains, burn everything and annihilate everything in order that those who come to reduce us to slavery may before their eyes see the image of that hell which they deserve. (300)
Even with a military plan of total war, he would not announce any goal of independence. The Black generals led a furious guerrilla war against the French troops, outsmarting them, wiping out thousands, and proving Leclerc wrong beyond his most traumatic nightmares. Toussaint, however, disoriented his generals by opening negotiations for some kind of settlement with France that would maintain the Black generals in their offices. This mixture of total war and negotiation demoralized his generals who one after the other capitulated to Leclerc, beginning with Christophe. Finally Toussaint and last of all Dessalines surrendered. Leclerc accepted Toussaint’s terms, maintaining the generals in their posts, but using them to repress the Black laborers who began to resist the French occupation. Leclerc used them yet distrusted them at the very same time; he always intended to get rid of them and replace them with white officers, and reimpose slavery. Leclerc began with Toussaint. He lured him into a meeting–which Toussaint could not refuse as an officer–captured him and his entire family, placed them in chains, and sent them aboard a ship for imprisonment in France. Toussaint, outraged, declared when boarding the ship, “In overthrowing me, you have cut down in San Domingo only the trunk of the tree of liberty. It will spring up again by the roots for they are numerous and deep”(334). Napoleon jailed Toussaint high up in the cold French mountains. He died alone on April 7, 1803, killed by “illtreatment, cold, and starvation” (363), abandoned by France—the country to which he had remained loyal, upholding its standard of liberty and equality even when its rulers had abandoned it. As the greatest Black Jacobin he had defeated two slave empires—Britain and Spain— but France, his treasured empire of liberty had betrayed him. The fight for independence to preserve liberty fell to his acolytes, the generals he had trained. The fight for independence Liberty hung by a thread. The struggle for its preservation was begun not by the generals, but by the Black laborers. They rose up when they heard rumors of Napo?leon’s restoration of slavery in Martinique and Guadeloupe in 1802. The old vultures, the big whites who had fled San Domingue, began to return in the hopes of reclaiming their old plantations with re-enslaved laborers. The Black generals vacillated between France and the rising by the laborers in defense of emancipation. They too were subject to the illusions that had doomed Toussaint. For a period they even followed Leclerc’s orders to repress the workers’ rebellion. Finally, Dessalines and other Black generals joined the rebellion, breaking forever with France, and gave the Black masses disciplined military leadership. The final fight for independence and liberty now commenced. Dessalines displayed what James calls a “one-sided genius,” far more
crude than Toussaint yet essential for emancipation. But the French imposed the rules of the final conflict. Leclerc waged a war of extermination, a genocidal war that aimed to kill off the existing workers who resisted and replace them with docile new slaves. General Rochambeau was particularly sadistic. Writes James, “Rochambeau drowned so many people in the Bay of Le Cap that for many a long day the people of the district would not eat fish. Following the example of the Spaniards in Cuba and the English in Jamaica, he brought 1,500 dogs to hunt down the Blacks” (359). He held a special “fete” in Le Cap in which a cheering audience of gaily-dressed white women watched dogs rip apart a Black man tied to a stake. He also invited a group of free women of color to a party at which he informed them that they had inadvertently participated in a funeral ceremony for their husbands whom Rochambeau had recently murdered. The French “burned alive, hanged, drowned, tortured and started their old habit of burying Blacks up to their neck near nests of insects. It was not only hatred and fear, but policy” (360). Leclerc’s plan was a fantasy of arrogance and ignorance. He was confronting not just a military resistance, but in fact an island-wide rebellion of the Black masses, who fought ferociously for liberty or death. “Far from being intimidated,” writes James, “the civil population met the terror with such courage and firmness as frightened the terrorists” (361). A French observer, LemonnierDelafosse, described how he witnessed a captured nineteen-year-old Black youth, who had seen two Blacks burned alive before him, shout, “You do not know how to die,” and proceed, in front of a crowd of whites, to free himself and put his own feet into the fire. Another captured woman refused to be hung by others, grabbed the rope and hung herself, remarking how sweet it is to die for liberty. “These were the men we had to fight against,” remarked Delafosse (361). This was a “people’s war,” in which “they played the most audacious tricks on the French” (366). One French army was held down all night in anticipation of a major assault, only to find that they had been fooled by the shouts and movements of one hundred laborers pretending to be an army. Groups of armed Blacks and free men of color made lightning raids using small boats, landing quietly, killing and carrying off prisoners and plunder, and then moving on. Leclerc’s forces soon succumbed to disease, demoralization, exhaustion, and death on the battlefield. His army crumbled and he himself soon died of disease. Dessalines declared the goal of the insurrection to be independence. Famously, he gathered his officers and soldiers together, took out the French tricolor flag, and tore out the white band, leaving the flag—blue and red— as a symbol of the Black nation’s resistance to white imperial rule and slavery. Fired with their new goal of
independence to preserve liberty, the Black army and laborers decimated the French, who lost nearly all of their 60,000 troops. In the final assault by the Black armies on Le Cap, the French faced wave after wave of attacks on their heavily entrenched positions. “The French, who had fought on so many fields,” writes James, “had never seen fighting like this” (367). French soldiers began shouting “Bravo!”, and Rochambeau sent a message to the other side commending the heroism of Clairveaux, the officer leading the assault. Delafosse later wrote in his memoirs:
But what men these Blacks are! How they fight and how they die! One has to make war against them to know their reckless courage in braving danger when they can no longer have recourse to strategem. I have seen a solid column, torn by grape-shot from four pieces of cannon, advance without making a retrograde step. The more they fell, the greater seemed to be the courage of the rest. They advance singing, for the Negro sings everywhere, makes songs on everything. Their song was a song of brave men… (368)
but slipped back into subsistence farming and the consequent underdevelopment that has plagued Haiti ever since. Haiti: Beacon of liberation It would be wrong, however, to see the final war for independence as a tragedy. The United States, France, and Britain strangled Haiti in the nineteenth century precisely because it was a threat to their slave economies, a threat that should be defended and celebrated. It had abolished slavery, won independence, and set an example that would inspire slave rebellion throughout the New World. As the great Black abolitionist Frederick Douglass declared, “We should not forget that the freedom you and I enjoy today; that the freedom that eight hundred thousand colored people enjoy in the British West Indies; the freedom that has come to colored race the world over, is largely due to the brave stand taken by the Black sons of Haiti…. When they struck for freedom… they struck for the freedom of every Black man in the world.”7 The Haitian Revolution transformed the Old and New Worlds. In Europe, Napoleon’s diversion of forces to reenslave San Domingue led directly to his defeats at sea and on the continent. In the New World, the revolution terrified the slave masters throughout the region. In the wake of the slaves’ victory, the British opted to abolish the slave trade for fear of importing restive African labor to their colonies. The French abandoned their pretension to empire when they sold off their possessions in America with the Louisiana Purchase. Haiti itself became a redoubt of anti-colonial revolution; on the condition that he would free the continent’s slaves, Haiti gave support to Simón Bolívar and his struggle for Latin American emancipation. In the modern imperialist era, Toussaint and the Black slaves’ revolution continued to inspire struggles for national liberation. C. L. R. James’s brilliant book recovers this revolutionary history to aid our struggles today. With imperialist occupations of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Haiti, we have much to learn from the intertwined struggle of Toussaint, the Black masses, and the Paris masses of the French Revolution. The Haitian Revolution’s searing lesson is that class struggle, the defense of the right of nations to self-determination, and international working-class solidarity for social revolution are the only solution to world imperialism.
1 Even Henry Heller’s The Bourgeois Revolution in France (New York: Berghahn Books, 2006), which presents a brilliant defense of the Marxist account of the French Revolution, fails to understand the significance of the colonies, especially San Domingue, for fertilizing French capitalism and spurring the revolution itself. 2 James was born in Trinidad and moved to Britain in the 1930s where he became a Trotskyist and deeply involved in the emergent PanAfricanist movement alongside his friend George Padmore. He later moved to the United States where he would play a leading role in the American Socialist Workers Party. He eventually broke with Trotsky
Dessalines, however, did not successfully take control of the Spanish section of the island that would eventually become the Dominican Republic, a division that would haunt the politics of both nations. Victorious against the French army, Dessalines declared independence in 1804. He named the new Black nation, “Haiti”—the name given the island by the indigenous population, the Tainos. It was a symbolic break with European and French slave masters’ conquest of the New World. He declared himself emperor for life. Then in 1805 faced with more counterrevolution from the big whites, he launched a massacre of the remaining white population. Importantly he did not kill all the whites, sparing Polish soldiers who had abandoned the French to fight on the side of the liberation struggle as well as white experts he thought necessary for the new nation. He declared that henceforth all citizens, regardless of their skin color, were Black. “The massacre of the whites was a tragedy,” writes James,
not for the whites. For these old slave-owners… there is no need to waste one tear or one drop of ink. The tragedy was for the Blacks and the Mulattoes. It was a policy of revenge, and revenge has no place in politics…. As it was, Haiti suffered terribly from the resulting isolation. Whites were banished from Haiti for generations, and the unfortunate country, ruined economically, its population lacking in social culture, had its inevitable difficulties doubled by this massacre. That the new nation survived at all is forever to its credit for if the Haitians thought that imperialism was finished with them, they were mistaken. (374)
Isolated and starved of capital, the Black and free men of color were unable to develop a vibrant capitalist economy,
and Trotskyism, developing his own analysis of Stalinism as state capitalism and attempting to combine in eclectic fashion his spontaneist Marxism and Pan-Africanism. For a good overview of James’s politics see Paul LeBlanc’s “C.L.R. James and Revolutionary Marxism” in C. L. R. James and Revolutionary Marxism (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1994), 1–37. 3 All page numbers refer to the 1989 (New York) Vintage Books edition. 4 In keeping with other historians such as Laurent Dubois in Avengers of the New World (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press , 2004), I use the term “free men of color” instead of “mulatto,” the term James uses. “Mulatto” carries a racist connotation, originally deriving from the French term for mule (the infertile product of horse and donkey). 5 For a new biography with interesting new information as well as some speculation about Toussaint, see Madison Smart Bell’s Toussaint Louverture (New York: Random House, 2007). Bell’s biography is quite good, despite being marred by his liberal politics and its dismissive view of James as a dogmatic Marxist, a characterization so inaccurate that it more reveals Bell’s own political hostility to any kind of Marxism rather than any accurate assessment of James’s classic book. 6 Bell, Toussaint Louverture, 142. 7 Quoted in Phillip Foner, The Life and Writings of Frederick Douglass, Volume 4 (New York: International Publishers, 1975), 484.
oligarchs, and has brutally put down protests such as the hunger riots of April 2008. And as Kevin Pina wrote recently on the HaitiAnalysis.com Web site, "Despite more than $4 billion of international assistance since the 2004 coup, life has only become worse for most Haitians as the predatory elite squeezes as much profit as they can out of a desperate population." Among the most desperate Haitians are the residents of Gonaïves, a city that was devastated by hurricanes in both 2004 and 2008. Wadner Pierre traveled there this summer to report on a people abandoned by the "international community" even as it promises to boost assistance. His report follows. ----------------GONAÏVES IS a port city with an estimated population of 200,000. It is the sixth largest city in Haiti and is located approximately 68 miles north of Port-au-Prince, Haiti's capital. In 2003, it was one of first places to come under the control of armed rebels who helped oust Haiti's democratic government on February 29, 2004. The coup was actually completed by foreign powers--primarily France, Canada and the U.S. Months after the coup, in September of 2004, Gonaïves was hit by Hurricane Jeanne. Three thousand lives were lost. In 2008, with the damage done by Jeanne still unrepaired, fierce storms (Hurricanes Fay, Gustav, Hanna) battered Gonaïves yet again. At least 500 were killed, over 100,000 made homeless. An astounding 800,000 were victimized by the storms, if crop destruction and drinking water contamination are considered. On my way to Gonaïves IT WAS just after midday on June 19, two days prior to another round of senatorial elections boycotted by most Haitians, when my bus left Port-au-Prince with 70 other passengers. Before 2004, it would have taken about two hours to reach the city. Now it takes almost five hours. The so-called "good" part of the road is from Port-auPrince to Montrouis in the northern part of the capital, also the last part of West department. Travelers are usually talkative in Haiti. They often discuss religion or political, economic and social issues. On this trip, they would talk mainly about the destruction visible everywhere in Gonaïves. They complained about the state of the road and blamed political leaders in the Artibonite department and at the national level for the lack of reconstruction. Mrs. Guerda, a nurse who teaches at a private vocational school, chatted with Frantz (who also works in the health care field) about the diseases and psychological trauma she witnessed among victims of the storms. Frantz asked Guerda for advice on how to help a friend's son who is plagued with psychological problems following the storm.
More empty promises for Haiti SocialistWorker.org August 18, 2009 First published at HaitiAnalysis.com. ----------------Former President Bill Clinton, the new UN envoy to Haiti, promised this month to boost investment in the Haiti, the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. Clinton's highprofile role, coordinated with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, seems to mark a shift in U.S. policy from the George W. Bush administration, which sponsored a 2004 coup that overthrew President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. That coup, which installed Gerard Latortue as president, oversaw the assassination and jailing of Aristide supporters and ousted his allies from national office. In 2006, Aristide's onetime ally, René Préval, won the presidency. But he soon embraced further neoliberal "reforms" and alienated much of his supporters, who boycotted legislative elections earlier this year. Then in June, Hillary Clinton personally toured the sweatshop owned by coup supporter Andy Apaid to tout Haiti as a good investment. Certainly some businesses will be attracted by Haiti's minimum wage of $3.75 per day. In his UN role, Bill Clinton promises to coordinate the activities of the 10,000 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) operating in Haiti. But foreign "assistance" hasn't improved the lives of Haitians. The UN military occupation of the country, headed by Brazil, has become an enforcer for Haiti's wealthy
Unfortunately, Guerda could only tell him that such problems are extremely common among victims. Guerda tells me that many from Gonaïves have moved to nearby cities such as Saint Marc, Cap-Haitian and, very often, Port-au-Prince. She explains that the General Hospital in Gonaïves, La Providence, no longer exists. Its operations have been transferred north to a warehouse once used by the humanitarian group CARE. It was renamed "Hopital de Secours" (Help Hospital). She assured me that I would not recognize the city. The water and filth are everywhere she says, and it creates a fertile environment for mosquitoes, which spread disease. Her children have abandoned the city but, despite her pessimism, she cannot leave the city where she made her life and established her career. Yves, who earns a living by using his motorcycle as a taxi, said that there is no hope for Gonaives. He will not leave and is resigned to living there in poverty. He will not vote in the upcoming elections because he feels that they are irrelevant to his life. Gonaïves UNFORTUNATELY, GONAÏVES turned out to be just as Guerda described. Upon entering the city I was overwhelmed by images of filth and destruction, of people wading through or leaping around puddles of water. For some reason, an image that lingers in my mind is one I witnessed in front of the police station: A man on a motorcycle struggled to drag a few sheep through the mud. The most galling images were of UN vehicles that quite uselessly patrolled the wreckage of Gonaïves. The city is below sea level. The area surrounding it is so deforested that the city has no natural protection from heavy rains. Most people I talked to believe that reconstruction funds have simply been pocketed by corrupt officials. It is easy to see why given the meager evidence of reconstruction. The Préval government recently established a state company (the Centre National des Equipements, or CNE) to supplement the rebuilding efforts of the Ministry of Public Works and Transport and Communication (MTPTC, according to its initials in French). The CNE, run by a close friend of Préval's, Jude Celestin, has made no obvious impact in the months that it has been operating--much like the countless foreign NGOs who have hovered around Gonaïves for years. In 2005, the Latortue dictatorship, flush with foreign funds that poured in after it seized power, initiated construction of a bridge a few kilometers south of the city that was to suppose to facilitate transportation. Latortue boasted that it would be the largest bridge in the Caribbean. It was never finished or used. The storms of 2008 destroyed it.
Most of the farmers near Gonaives have lost all hope. Their sons and daughter have often fled to the Bahamas to find work. They will be exploited, of course, since they will be illegal immigrants, but the lucky ones will at least survive the journey. One farmer I talked to had sent his son, Santo, to Nassau. They spent $2,000 to get him there--the family's life savings. They had spoken to Santo by phone recently. He confirmed that life is certainly tough for illegal immigrants, but at least he is there. Rodrigue ON THE bus trip back to Port-au-Prince I chatted with a gentle 23-year-old man named Rodrigue. He fled Gonaïves in 2008 and now works in an iron shop in Portau-Prince. His father still lives in Gonaïves and is very ill. Rodrigue had only returned to Gonaïves to check on him for three days. Rodrigue's job allows him to pay his high school tuition and take care of his father. He still has not finished high school and will have to quit this year to replenish his funds. "Next year, God willing, I will be able to enroll in night school."
Recommended further reading: The Black Jacobins by CLR James The Uses of Haiti by Paul Farmer Damning the Flood by Peter Hallward are available at HaymarketBooks.org. The Prophet and the Power by Alex Dupuy is available at amazon.com. Check SocialistWorker.org for daily news, political analysis, and activist reports.
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