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(en) Haiti, Stop the military occupation of - an anarchist take

Date Thu, 18 Aug 2005 13:09:50 +0300


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 the 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% reache 65 years old).

And now times are getting even tougher, as the population is again
brutalised by a de facto government, 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 from 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 of 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
in 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.
Brief history of Haiti

The history of Haiti, well reflected by the wise proverb at the start, is
a tragedy that spans 500 years, and it 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 out 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 suffering
from their same fate.

Ten years after the Spanish settling, however, the local labour
(which 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 exports 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, slave riots erupt in the whole 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 in 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 wouldn't recognise it
until 1862, under the excuse that black ambassadors would be a bad
example for the local slaves, and France only recognised it in 1825,
after Haiti, strangled by an economic blockade, had to accept paying
for the estimation France had made of their "losses” with
Haiti’s independence: the estimatie was made in a calculation of
how much the French had stopped profiting, and for the
“price” of all the slaves that had been freed ... civilised
manners demand payment for the loss of “property”. The
debt Haiti 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 that the debt
was further adjusted to 90 million, by the end of the XIX century,
this debt absorbed 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 in 1947.

In the shade of this debt and the restrictions on trade, a tiny elite
strove to monopolise 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
ratify 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 tightly the strings of power.
Papa Doc to Aristide

One of the most notorious dictators 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 lost their attraction as centuries of intensive
plantation were taking its toll over the face of Haiti, which is
suffering from a serious erosion problem. The garnment factories
flourished from 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 in power, until a
charismatic Salesian priest made his appearance ion the 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 members of the Catholic communities that followed him, were
persecuted and killed. But nothing could stop him winning 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 started a number of reforms to
privilege 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, applied 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 the 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 president no
longer, and couldn’t be re-elected.

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, these 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 the Haitian rice from the local
markets, and now the country, that once was self-sufficient in rice,
gets it all from the USA.

But they weren’t willing to go to the step the IMF was asking,
which gained further animosity from the “international
community” to the populist movement lead by Aristide, Lavalas.
And the traditional elites started resumed their campaign to oust
Aristide from office and to gain power for themselves alone. They
started denouncing, under the umbrella group, the G-184,
government corruption: there was indeed corruption, but nothing
compared to the “official piracy” of any other Haitian
government.

They denounced that legislative elections in June 2000 as rigged: but
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
carried out by supporters of Aristide, but there was no proven State
inforcement of violence through government institutions like that
which had occurred under the 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: but 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 also echoed those fake concerns on the
Human Rights records of Aristide, the French press, probably being,
the one that went furthest, Liberation denounced 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 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.

The 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.

Aristide is now a refugee in South Africa, and the people in Haiti 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
Brazil 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 Chile 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 legitimatise the coup in the face of the world, and to
exclude Lavalas from power. The 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 with 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 which
revolutionaries get tangled up in.

We all know 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

The 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 on
Anarkismo.net. The full references are published in the mentioned
articles and the interested reader can consult them online.

The article has been edited for Anarkismo.net

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