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(en) Haiti: A scar in the face of America by José Antonio Gutiérrez D. - OCL-Chile Stop the military occupation of Haiti!

Date Mon, 15 Aug 2005 08:08:22 +0300

This article is a brief summary of two articles previously published
in Spanish, “Haiti: la cara sucia de las razones humanitarias”
(OSL editions, Buenos Aires, Argentina, 2004) and “Ayití, una
cicatriz en el rostro de América Latina” (both documents are
available in www.anarkismo.net). The full references are published
in the mentioned articles. None was published with this one, and the
interested reader can consult them online.
Deye Mon, gen Mon (After the mountains, come more mountains -Haitian Proverb)
Haiti is a small country (28,000 sq. Kms), that shares the western
part of the same island with Dominican Republic. 8 million human
beings live there in desperately poor conditions, dwelling in
overcrowded shanty towns, that don’t meet the basic standards
to fulfill the most essential human needs: just 46% of the population
have access to safe water, leatrines are a luxurious item in most
houses in the poor areas of the biggest cities (Port Au Prince,
Gonaive, Cap Haitien), AIDS rates are rampant (6%, actually, the
highest in America) and are a sad legacy of the US sex tourism of
the 70s and 80s, only half of the population know how to read or
write, and if you are lucky, you will be able to live longer than 50
years…. Most people don’t make it (just 3,7% reaches 65 years
old). And now times are getting even tougher, as the population is
again brutalised by a government de facto, in office since March
2004, that has already claimed the lives of several Haitians (some
figures claim around 10,000 people has died as a result of political
violence and repression in just one year). And nature hasn’t
been anymore compassionate with Haitian people than its
government. Last year, hurricane Jeanne and the consecutive floods,
claimed the lives of some 2,000 people.

But, despite everything, hope springs out in Haiti just where the
blood merges with the mud and the tears of its people. And that hope
takes its inspiration on its own history, for the history of Haiti is
intimately linked to the history of the struggle against oppression and
slavery, in its oldest forms, as well as on its newest forms. Few
countries, probably, have had the importance of that small half an
island. Haiti, more than an actual country, has represented for
centuries, a symbol: it is the first nation in Latin America to become
independent and it helped its brethen in the south to get rid of the
Spanish yoke early in the XIXth century; it is the first black republic
of the world; and it is the first country to effectively abolish slavery.
For all its current sorrows, the greatness of its people is the sole
guarantee of better days to come.

The history of Haiti, well reflected by the wise proverb at the start, is
a tragedy that spans for 500 years, and is by far, the country that has
been worst punished by Colonialism and by the legacy of its
aftermath: “discovered” in 1492 by Columbus, the island,
that was called Hispaniola, had, in a census carried in 1493, around
3 millions of native inhabitants, the Tainos. By the year 1519, all of
them had disappeared from the face of Earth, victims of the
exploitation of gold for the Spanish. Most of them died of over-work,
others were murdered, others killed themselves in desperation and
comitted infanticide to avoid their children to suffer from their same
fate. Ten years after the Spanish settling, however, the local labour
(that was increasingly getting scarse), starts being suplemented by
the masive importation of slaves from Africa. The poor slaves
didn’t have a better life: the mortality rate was over the roof, and
the casualties were quickly replaced by “fresh flesh” from
Congo or Guinea. By 1520 the gold exploitation ceases, and
plantations become Haiti’s big business: the first export of sugar
had already happened in 1516. But Spain soon lost interest in the
island, attracted by the wealth of Mexico and Peru, leaving it as a
land for cattle to roam and pasture by the late XVIth century. In the
mid-XVIIth century, the French start to settle in the western side of
la Hispaniola, and the Spanish cede that portion of the island to
them in 1697. From then on, the French intensified the slave traffick
and the plantations, turning it into a great producer of tobacco,
coffee, sugar and cotton. It soon acquired the nickname “the
pearl of the Antilles”, as the production of its slaves made it the
most profitable colony at the time in the world. In the 1790s,
however, slaves’ riots erupts in whole the country, like a boiling
vulcano that has, for long, standed an unbearable pain. No partial
reform can quell the rebellion lead by Touissant L’Overture and
Jean Jacques Dessalines: not even the formal abolition of slavery in
1794. The slaves want their masters out of the island for good, and
fight hard the US, French, Spanish and British armies that came to
support the French settlers. And on 1804 they drove them out,
giving birth painfully to the first black republic of the world.

All of the world was shocked and horrified: It was a
“dreadful” example for slaves everywhere. No country gave
Haiti formal recognition until much later. USA won’t recognise
it until 1862, under the excuse that black ambassadors would be a
bad example for the local slaves, and France will recognise it in
1825, after Haiti, strangled by an economic blockade, had to accept
to pay for the estimation France had made of their "losses” with
Haiti’s independence: the estimation was made in a calculation
of how much they had stopped profiting, and for the “price”
of all the slaves that had been freed… civilised manners demand to
pay for the loss of “property”. The debt they had to pay was
originally 150 millions of francs, 44 times the national budget of
Haiti at the time. They got into a debt that will last for 100 years with
French bankers, and no matter the debt was further adjusted to 90
million, by the end of the XIX century, this debt absorved 80% of the
national income. It is in this, that we find the main reason of
Haiti’s apalling poverty. The debt was only cancelled by 1947.

At the shade of this debt and the restrictions of trade, a tiny elite
strove to monopolise the power with an iron hand. Internal disputes
of that elite pave the way for the 1915 military intervention of the
USA on Haiti, that will cost the lives of 15.000 Haitians, and will
leave a painful legacy of economic and political interventionism. The
intervention, had, as a main goal, to reform the land laws of Haiti,
allowing the appropiation of it by foreign investors, taking away
(most of the times with the help of the marines) the land from the
poor peasants, and giving it to the plantations of private US
companies. For this purpose, they drafted a Constitution that was
approved by less than 5% of the population (the marines dissolved
the National Assembly –Parliament- in 1917, after they
didn’t ratified it), that protected above the rights of the locals,
the right of private and foreign investors in regard to the resources
and wealth of the country –it allowed, for instance, the full
repatriation of profits. They introduced forced labour in the
platations, what sparked the Cacos rebellion. They formed the
Haitian military forces, one of the most backwarded armies in the
world, notorious for their brutality, whose sole victory has been
against Haitian people themselves. The army has been one of the
pillars of political domination by the Haitian elites, and for their allies
in Washington. They stayed in the country until 1934, but when they
left, they made sure that their friends remained holding really
thightly the strings of power.

One of the most notorious dictator that came later into scene, was
Francoise Duvalier, “Papa Doc”, who became president for
life, ruling the country from 1957 to 1971. His regime claimed the
lives of 60.000 Haitians, but was considered by the USA as a
“democratic” friend, for his opposition to Castro’s
regime in Cuba. He used his knowledge of voodoo to terrorise the
population, dressing as the spirit of death, Baron Samedi, and
forming a paramilitary group, the Tontons Macoutes, wizards that
made people “disappear” (both in the myth and in reality).
Macoutes has become all over the world a byword of torture and
brutality. His son, Jean Claude Duvalier, “Baby Doc”, come
to power after his death, and his ascension to power, matches the
change of emphasis of US investment in Haiti from plantations, to
garnment factories. Plantations loss their attractive as centuries of
intensive plantation were taking its toll over the face of Haiti, that is
suffering from a serious erosion problem. The garnment factories
flourished since the 70s until the mid-90s, increasing the levels of
impoverishment of an already impoverished population; as the
factories were set to satisfy an external demand, they didn’t
improved salaries in order to “create” a local market to
absorb production. Recently, however, as many factories are closing,
unemployment is making prey of Haiti’s urban centres. In the
political field, under Baby Doc, brutality kept going on, as usual….

Until the people decided, once again, that they had enough. That
happened in 1986, when Duvalier, was forced into exile by an angry
country, being well received in France, where he enjoys the
protection of his international friends that profited during their reign
of terror. A number of generals alternated into power, until a
charismatic Salesian priest made its appearance into scene: his name
was Jean Bertrand Aristide. But the people called him, with love,
Titid –the little one in Kreyole, the language of Haiti. His
sermons talked about love, organisation, about the right to rebel
against injustice, about unity and about hope. The memebers of the
Catholic communities that followed him, were persecuted and killed.
But nothing could stop him to win the elections in December 1990,
with 67% of the votes. But his anti-duvalierism was at odds with the
allegiance of most of the tiny but powerful Haitian oligarchy towards
the deposed dictator. He increased the minimum wage and start a
number of reforms to privilege the social investment in education
and health. But the USA distrusted him, and the local elites disliked
him too much to let him finish his period, and a coup d’etat,
sent him into exile on September 1991, just after being seven
months in office. The new dictator Raoul Cedras, applies the
traditional repression well known to Haitian people: until 1994, when
an agreement between the USA, the Haitian elite and Aristide
finished his rule, it had claimed the lives of 5,000 Haitians. The
agreement contemplated amnesty to the regime for its violations of
Human Rights, implementation of neoliberal policies and that
Aristide will accept its original end of presidential period as not
affected by all the years he spent in exile. That meant that by early
1995, he couldn’t be no longer president, and couldn’t be

A close associate of Aristide, Rene Preval, wins the elections and
becomes president from 1995 to 2000. And that year, Aristide wins
again the elections. During that time, they made some reforms on
the educational ground, that improved notably the literacy rates in
that country, but faced very harsh times as the garment factories
were leaving the country, and as the IMF was pressuring the small
country to apply its structural adjustment policies, that meant,
basically, privatizing and auctioning the National area of the
economy, and liberalising the introductions of imports; in a couple of
years, US subsidied rice wiped out from the local markets the
Haitian rice, and now the country, that once was self-sufficient in
rice, get it all from the USA. But they weren’t willing to go at the
step the IMF was asking, what gained further animosity from the
“international community” to the populist movement leaded
by Aristide, Lavalas. And the traditional elites started again their
campaign to oust Aristide from office and to gain the power for them
alone. They started denouncing, under the umbrella group, the
G-184, government corruption: there was indeed, but nothing
compared to the “official piracy” of any other Haitian
government. They denounced that legislative elections in June 2000
were rigged: the only thing that was criticised by international
observers was the method of counting, that included only the four
favorite candidates in 8 disputed seats, affecting the percentages, but
not the number of votes. They criticised that the government
promoted violence: there was indeed gang violence, from both sides,
and some of that was taken by supporters of Aristide, but there was
no proven State inforcement of violence through government
institutions like under Cedras or Duvalier dictatorship. They
denounced a number of political prisoners: that was never proved,
and only some ex-army officers unprotected from the amnesty laws
remained in jail for their violaitons of Human Rights. They
denounced “massacres” during his government: from 2000
to 2003, some 30 people died for political reasons, a far cry from the
5,000 victims of Cedras, and half of them were supporters of the
government. All that violence was linked to ex-army members and
to gang fighting (one of the organisations that denounced most of
the “violations of Human Rights” in Haiti, CARLI, today
regret doing so, and said they had to exaggerate the facts under
pressure from the Republican based US organisation National
Endowment for Democracy).

The international press, as well, echoed those fake concerns on the
Human Rights records of Aristide, being the French press, probably,
the one that went further, Liberation coming to denounce the
“carnival of death and torture” of Aristide. All that with the
explicit purpose of helping the internal opposition of the elites. It is
worth mentioning that the same press has remained silent about the
current carnival of death and torture in Haiti… it seems that as long
as death strikes the poor, no one really seems to care. The most
shocking hard figure of how the fake “humanitarian
concerns” were exploited with a political agenda, is the situation
of asylum seekers: of more than 24,000 Haitians intercepted on
boats trying to reach USA shores from 1980 to 1990, only 11
received asylum status as victims of political persecution, compared
to 75,000 out of 75,000 Cubans (the laste ones, obviously, are used
as a propaganda factor). But in the 7 months on Aristide in office in
1991, as the numbers of people fleeing were dramatically reduced,
the USA granted asylum to 20 people, double as they gave in 10
years of Duvalier and post-Duvalier terror.

Aristide government was far from being perfect, but couldn’t be
compared to any other regime that had been tolerated by the
international community in that country. As well he is still the most
popular political figure in that country. Haiti was strangled by an
oppresive economic situation, and claiming electoral scandals, the
USA managed to block all sort of economic support to Haiti since
2002. France hardens its hand over Haiti as well, after Aristide was
bold enough to claim that France should pay back the money Haiti
paid them as a price for their independence (they calculate it in 22
billions euros). Pressured internally by the G-184, he had to face
armed attacks from the dominican border by the ex-army, leaded by
the thug Guy Phillipe, who launched a large scale offensive in
February 2004, that finishes with the toppling, once again, of
Aristide, just after the 200th anniversary of their independence. He is
now a refugee in South Africa, and the people in that country are
back to the old routine of brutalisation: today, there are around 1.000
political prisoners, 10.000 people are estimated to have died by
political violence and repression. The UN nominated in June 2004 a
peace keeping mission (MINUSTAH), supposed to reinforce
democratic institutions in Haiti. That force is, though, composed of
countries with dirty records when it comes to Human Rights:
Angola, Pakistan, Nepal, Chile, Argentina and Brazil. Not much
understanding of human rights and democracy can be expected from
that bunch. Sadly, the reports of Human Rights observers all prove
that the UN mission in Haiti is, at best, indifferent to Human Rights
violations, and, at worse, accomplice of it –this is good to bear in
mind for those who advocate a more active role of UN peacekeeping
forces globally in opposition to US militarism.

This MINUSTAH is lead by Brazil and it seems that the sacrifice of
Haitian people is the price president Lula is paying for a permanent
seat in the Security Council of United Nations. This leading role in
the arbitrary and bloody occupation of Haiti is directed to show this
country as a regional leader and as a reliable force for the
international community. The Chilean presence in the occupation
has been as bad as the Brazilian one; the subservience of the ruling
class of this country to the USA anyway, leaves very little margin for
surprises, but worringly this is the first time that Chilean forces have
been openly used as a mercenary army for the USA in another Latin
American country. We have to oppose with all of our strength that
this is repeated again.

Many Human Rights reports are denouncing the brutality of the
Haitian police, and how they are assisted by MINUSTAH in their
represive raids to the popular shanty towns. There are elections
planned for October and November, and with those elections, they
are trying to legitimate the coup in the face of the world, and to
exclude Lavalas from power. Haitian oligarchy is not willing to allow
the minimum share of power with the riff raff.

And the world seems to keep turning indifferent to the big sorrow of
Haitian people. But there is light at the end of the tunnel: the
resistance to the occupation grows stronger each passing day. The
Haitian working class are taking to the streets in every slum across
the island to demand the end of this nightmare and to declare their
will to start building a new Haiti. They have a long tradition of direct
action, what they call the practices of Kraze Brise, Dechoukaj and
Raché Manyok all terms that indicate the need to pull out the
problems from the roots, and to clear the field before implementing
new practices and solutions. Those practices should become the
germs of a new society and should be taken to a strategical
perspective, beyond the limits imposed by the participation in the
formal burgeois institutions, that has historically been the trap were
revolutionaries get tangled up.

We all now that the fate of Haiti is up to the Haitians themselves.
But they need our help, and we need as many people as possible to
demonstrate against the occupation to let them know that they are
not alone and that no struggle in the world occurs without solidarity.
As another Haitian proverb says “Men Ampil, Chay Pa Lou”
(Many hand make the burden not so heavy). They need friendly
hands, hands that will help them to complete the heroic struggle
they started 200 years ago for an independent life.

José Antonio Gutiérrez Danton

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