The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Haiti:
After Aristide's Non-return

Apr 20, 1994

October 30, 1993 will probably prove to be a turning point in the political situation in Haiti. That was the date the so-called Governor's Island Agreements had set for the priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide to return to Haiti and take up his position as president again. Aristide had been elected in December 1990 by nearly two-thirds of the electorate (essentially the urban and rural poor); he was then overthrown on September 29, 1991 and driven out of the country. But Aristide was unable to return on October 30, despite the backing of international diplomacy.

The poorest people in Haiti have long borne the brunt of the massacres immediately after this coup d'état, and of the daily oppression ever since. They clung to certain hopes of what his return could mean for them. This hope was irrational. But the Governor's Island Agreements lent their hopes some credibility, while the fact that Aristide was unable to set foot on Haitian soil seems to have destroyed these hopes. It also constituted a victory for those who carried out, supported or at least sanctioned the coup. With the poor masses disoriented and bereft of a perspective, the feverish activity of the thugs of the Tonton Macoute may lead to a lasting shift in the balance of power unless the masses react soon enough to halt the process now underway.

International Diplomacy & the President-in-Exile

International diplomacy – except for the very holy diplomacy of the Vatican – has never recognized the regime which took power after the September 1991 coup. The United States, the dominant power in the region, backed by France and some Latin American countries like Venezuela, has continued to treat Aristide like the president, even if in exile. Aristide was admittedly not their choice when he was elected in the first more or less free election in Haiti. But his eight months as president were not enough to dent his considerable prestige with the poor masses. And this prestige among the poor in the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, a country which also happened to be located not far from U.S. shores, obviously concerned Washington.

Aristide has never been a revolutionary; he is simply a priest who spoke comforting words. In the rotten world of Haitian politics, however, this was enough, by itself, to have a decisive effect and even to worry the American leaders. The problem was not his actual words, but the possible reaction of the masses. The poor masses had not only triumphantly elected Aristide but had also shown, when they mobilized to oppose the first coup d'état which had tried to prevent Aristide's inauguration, that they might not limit their political role to the periodic use of a ballot paper.

The large-scale repression which followed the September 1991 coup has, however, "acted as an antidote to Aristide's policy" –to use the cynical expression of the coup's instigator, Cédras. The army's actions have prevented the masses from turning the dreams of change aroused by Aristide into reality. Washington was certainly not displeased by this blow to the masses, despite its hypocritical protests against the military's breach of "constitutional legality" in expelling the president.

But Washington wanted the army to return to its barracks after doing its dirty work. Washington takes a broad political view; it is well aware of the corruption, deep decay and consequent weakness of the Haitian army. It preferred that the army not go on exercising direct political rule, as it had done almost continuously since the fall of Duvalier.

The army, however, did not withdraw. Admittedly, Cédras did not make the same mistake as his predecessors Namphy and Avril, who had moved into the presidential palace. But the puppets initially installed as provisional president and prime minister did not fool anyone. Even when the army installed Bazin, the former U.S. favorite, as prime minister, they left him with so little power that Bazin lost whatever credit he had left with the Haitian people.

Aristide, solidly flanked by American "advisers", has given guarantee after guarantee to those whom he himself has increasingly presented as his main protectors. He has toned down the populism of his language. He has promised to pardon the people who overthrew him – excepting only General Cédras and Colonel François, the leaders and main directors of the coup – and to govern at the head of a broad coalition which will even include factions close to Macoutism. Above all, he has repeated time and again to his own supporters, especially the poor masses, that the "return to democracy" cannot and should not come from them, but rather from international diplomacy, from the so-called friendly countries led by the United States.

In return, Aristide has been received by world leaders as the president of Haiti. He is also able to speak in this capacity at international conferences. The United States finances his presidential team, his diplomatic missions and his official visits, everything which enables him to maintain a tiny nucleus of a government in exile. Washington obviously pulls this financial lever whenever Aristide acts as though he might make a decision which doesn't suit the U.S.

In the two years since the coup, however, neither the United States nor any other country has done anything to force the army officers to let Aristide return from exile. The only thing they did was to declare an embargo of Haiti. This embargo was sufficiently flexible to let the local pro-coup bourgeoisie bring into the country more or less all the goods it wanted, but sufficiently publicized to let them use it as a pretext for creating artificial shortages and sharply increasing prices.

While the army was bringing terror to poor neighborhoods, international diplomacy continued to talk: trying to persuade the army to agree to a compromise to "find a democratic solution to the Haitian crisis".

The army officers, the real power behind the facade of a parliament and impotent government leaders, were somewhat hampered by international isolation. Under international pressure, they allowed the puppet parliament to pass a decree in June 1993 "rehabilitating" (the official expression!) Aristide as president. Then Cédras, the pro-coup army leader, went to New York to place his signature alongside Aristide's on the July 3rd Governor's Island agreement cooked up by American diplomacy.

The agreement stipulated that Cédras would retire on October 15 of that year, and that Aristide would return to the presidential palace on October 30.

While still in exile, Aristide used his newly-regained presidential prerogatives to appoint Malval as prime minister. This led to a piece of surrealist theater acted out by a president who thought he was a president, a prime minister who thought he was a prime minister and a parliament which thought it was a parliament, with discussions, parliamentary questions, alliances and crises – in short, the whole paraphernalia of "normal" parliamentary life.

The only problem was that the "rehabilitated" president still could not set foot in the country he was supposedly "governing", and his supporters could be lined up and shot simply for displaying pictures of him. The prime minister, who had been constitutionally appointed and had taken great care to form a "balanced" government, had no power beyond the walls of his own office. The minister of justice was assassinated in broad daylight on the way out of his ministry. As for the parliament, nobody in Haiti could ever imagine this institution wielding any power.

Nevertheless, this was enough for international diplomacy, which, after this happy turn of events, ceased to apply even the semblance of an embargo.

Meanwhile, the army was making a mockery of the government and visibly intensifying repression in the countryside and the poor neighborhoods. Either directly or by means of armed thugs, it tracked down any pro-Aristide militants or people connected to him. The closer the fatal date of October 30 came, the more assassinations there were, some of them targeting highly placed dignitaries who were close to Aristide.

The United States then promised to send peace-keeping forces to protect Aristide on his return, and, as they put it, "temper the climate of insecurity".

On October 11, the American battleship Harlan County, which was supposed to land two hundred American and Canadian soldiers, came within sight of Port-au-Prince. But it was only within sight of it. A small group of pro-coup civilians, expressing support both for Cédras and for Duvalier, occupied the docks and brandished revolvers and knives, ready to disperse if the ship approached.

The ship, however, stopped and then sailed away. The Macoutes stayed where they were and cried victory. On October 15, Cédras did not resign as planned, and on October 30, Aristide did not return to the country.

What the United States Fears

This small band of gesticulating demonstrators was obviously not enough to scare the American leaders, but their presence was enough to transform the landing into a test of strength. It was admittedly a derisory test of strength which a few determined American soldiers could have won immediately against people who show courage only against unarmed opponents. But the American leaders did not want this type of victory under any circumstances. Even when they envisaged sending troops, they were not talking about forcing the military to accept Aristide's return. A peace-keeping force would be present in Haiti with the agreement of both parties, Aristide and Cédras – in other words with the agreement of the army officers who had led the coup, the people really in power. There was no question of U.S. or Canadian soldiers confronting the Haitian army, still less of defeating it, thereby appearing as the military arm of Aristide's legality.

The United States has adopted as cautious an approach toward Haiti as it has shown toward Bosnia, with its long avoidance of military engagement there. But the problems it faces are not the same. In Haiti, the U.S. does not fear getting bogged down in an inextricable military and political situation.

What it does fear is the Haitian masses and the possibility that these masses might see any retreat forced on the army and the Tonton Macoute as a victory which could encourage "popular excesses", perhaps more violent, more massive and of a different nature than those which led to Duvalier's fall in 1986.

At that time the United States was able to defuse the popular anger which began the process of toppling the dictator's power. The U.S. pushed Duvalier out and supported the head of the armed forces, General Namphy, as his replacement. "Excesses" then were limited to "déchoukages", that is, the destruction of the ill-gotten gains of certain Macoutes and subordinate representatives of the Duvalier regime, and a few executions. Small fry paid for the crimes of the biggest villains. The fallen dictator's departure for a life of comfortable exile on the French Riviera was greeted with cries of "long live the army", despite the fact that the army hierarchy had, for thirty years, been an integral part of the dictator's regime. As for those who really profited from the Duvalier regime, the main bourgeois families who had for thirty years been filling their pockets from the plundering of the state controlled by the Duvaliers, nobody even mentioned their names.

The poor masses were full of illusions, politically disarmed first by the so-called democratic leaders, and then, when these people lost all credibility, by Aristide. There was no one with enough credit among the poor masses to prepare them to confront the army. And yet this army is ridiculously weak: some seven thousand regular troops, not all of whom are even housed in barracks, backed up by the auxiliary forces of "section leaders" in the countryside and "attachés" in the towns. This comes to a total of perhaps twenty thousand men in a country with a population of six million, the vast majority of whom are poor people: poor peasants in the countryside and workers, the unemployed and "jobbers" in the towns. Nevertheless, the leaders of the army have succeeded for nearly five years in stifling the masses' aspirations for democratic freedom; the army has monopolized power through a series of coups. The candidacy of a populist priest in elections organized under international pressure seemed to mark a break from all this and at last present the masses with the prospect of a regime which would be democratic. The latest coup put a bloody end to this hope.

After the coup, the regime's profiteers – the top military hierarchy and, behind them, the bourgeoisie which had grown rich under the Duvaliers – began plundering the country on a scale unprecedented even under the former dictators. The state coffers have been emptied, services and infrastructure are visibly deteriorating, and corruption and insecurity are so great that the country can no longer be exploited in the normal manner capitalism exploits a poor country. Some American investors, who formerly profited from miserable Haitian wages – $3 American a day, now barely more than $1 – have switched production to the neighboring Dominican Republic. Some elements of the Haitian bourgeoisie are themselves suffering as a result; but contraband and trafficking of all kinds, including in drugs, are sufficiently profitable to make the present situation quite tolerable to those on top.

The Haitian bourgeoisie cuts down the already wretched standard of living of the workers and poor peasants through speculative price increases. The wealthy sharks who dominate the import-export trade and wholesale trade are stockpiling basic commodities (rice, corn, sugar and dried beans) to create artificial shortages. They then double or triple the prices, cynically blaming the embargo for this (when in fact the embargo does not concern basic commodities).

The masses increasingly have their backs to the wall. The overwhelming majority of privileged Haitians are so greedy, so used to getting rich through short-term schemes, and also so arrogant that they do not even realize they are living on a volcano. The U.S. leaders, however, understand the situation, and that is why Washington is keeping Aristide in reserve. But it is the reason that washington does not want his return, because the poor may see it as a victory, which could lead to a social explosion.

If this were to happen, the "excesses" are likely to go further than they did in 1986. The masses have learned a lot since then, and above all they have suffered a lot. They are likely to start by sweeping aside the army. This would be a problem for the U.S., of course, but not an insurmountable one. The United States could sponsor the creation of a new army, with the "democratic" backing of Aristide himself. Persistent rumors that a "democratic" police force, subordinate to the legal president, might be set up abroad (perhaps in Venezuela), suggest that this possibility is being considered. The United States has the means to finance a small mercenary army. There are no doubt enough American army officers of Haitian origin to provide advisers, or even leaders, without offending nationalist sentiments (especially, as the arm-twisters in Washington might put it, if this is done at Aristide's request).

But who can guarantee that a popular explosion will not go further and call into question the social system itself? The army, the Macoute and the wealthy are now seen to be so closely intertwined, so directly and collectively responsible for the growing poverty of the masses and the regime of terror imposed on them, that the explosion may sweep aside the wealthy and attack private property.

The Balance of Power Today ... and Tomorrow

Aristide's failure to return, and the U.S. retreat, are strengthening all sorts of thugs. The close interrelationship between the army and the Macoutes is of course nothing new. Several former top-ranking officers of the Duvalier era are still present on the political scene. The Macoute thugs enjoy the active sympathy of the army hierarchy, which has long called on the Macoutes to back up the army in various atrocities.

But the Macoutes, as a distinct civilian movement, only played a back-up role in the army's return to power, following the social unrest before and after Duvalier's fall. It supplemented the "attachés", the civilians recruited and armed by the army to spy on and monitor the poor neighborhoods. Its leaders, moreover, were divided between rival cliques.

What is new is the creation last summer of a neo-Duvalierist organization, the FRAPH (Revolutionary Front for the Advancement of Progress in Haiti). It serves up a political mish-mash of nostalgia for the Duvalier period, condemnation of parliament and politicians, black nationalism and nationalist demagogy against whites in general and the United States in particular. FRAPH criticizes the U.S. for interfering in Haiti's internal affairs. This is the organization which has most openly carried out acts of terror against poor neighborhoods (such as the arson attack on the Cité Soleil, the most recent massacre in Raboteau – a shanty town in Gonaive, and a large number of individual murders).

The FRAPH is now recruiting widely, and it is opening a large number of "recruitment offices" in poor neighborhoods.

It is difficult to tell whether the FRAPH will remain essentially a body of army auxiliaries or a grouping of certain officer cliques against others. It is common knowledge that Colonel François, the strongman of the army and potential rival of Cédras, played a dominant role in its creation.

Yet there are many indications that the FRAPH intends not only to play a political role, but also to reconstitute for its own ends the Macoute movement of the early Duvalier era. This includes the systematic political stances of its official representatives, its stated aim of recruiting widely and the opening of "recruitment offices" in poor neighborhoods.

If this is actually carried out, it would undoubtedly represent a serious additional threat for the poor masses. The terror imposed by the army, even with the help of spies and "attachés", is still to a certain extent an "external" terror. It takes the form of sudden raids. But the army is not big enough to continuously patrol and control poor neighborhoods. Up until now, there has been nothing comparable to the Macoutism of the past, which was a kind of poor country's fascism which, for more than a generation, succeeded in eliminating all militants, all "troublemakers" and any form of opposition in the villages and in the poor districts of the towns.

There are factors in the present situation which could favor the return of Macoutism. The poor masses are disillusioned and demoralized; they see no perspectives today; there is growing poverty and an increasing number of the poor are becoming lumpenized.

It is certainly nothing new for Haitian politicians to recruit thugs from the lumpen proletariat, for the price of a bottle of alcohol and a five gourde note. This is enough to manufacture a "spontaneous" demonstration or carry out occasional dirty tricks. Papa Doc Duvalier practiced it on an unprecedented scale of unrelenting violence. He did not even have to supply the money or the drink: he supplied a gun – or the complicity of someone who was armed – and permission to use it, even for personal ends.

The bourgeois families who financed the September 1991 coup may be tempted to fund such an operation again. And they certainly have the means: Brandt apparently paid out of his own pocket the back pay owed the army, thus allowing the coup to take place. There are enough frustrated people among the Haitian middle classes whose possibilities of getting rich are blocked. Today they join the officer corps or even emigrate. These kinds of people could provide the leadership for the Macoute troops recruited from the lumpen proletariat.

Such a process is already underway. The FRAPH, led by army officers and far right-wing civilians, is beginning to enroll low-level former Macoutes from the poor neighborhoods. Not all of these underwent "déchoukage" after the fall of Duvalier, but they are all despised and so they seek an opportunity for revenge. The FRAPH is also enrolling those who have scores to settle with their neighbors, sad cases who get a sense of power from holding a gun, and even former supporters of Aristide who have been left disillusioned, without perspectives, and who now choose to "get even."

The army is probably no longer solely responsible for the resurgence of terror in poor neighborhoods. The scale of terror is too large for their size. Murders are a daily event. Bodies are found every morning on the sidewalk. Cité Soleil, the biggest of Port-au-Prince's shanty towns and until recently the bastion of "Aristidism", is being singled out as a special target. Some of its inhabitants are now fleeing to other areas or to the countryside when they can.

How far might the development of a Macoute movement go? The army officers themselves may not want the movement to go beyond the creation of an auxiliary force of repression. The military hierarchy has mixed feelings about the time when Papa Doc Duvalier played on the rivalry between the army and the Macoute militias. Despite their collaboration in repression, there have already been reports of a few skirmishes between groups of soldiers and groups of armed civilians, generally resulting from a rivalry over who should "protect" a given neighborhood. Some of the FRAPH's hired thugs, especially those who are also "attachés", i.e., protected by the army, already strut around openly in certain neighborhoods. But they nevertheless choose the dark of night to carry out their most despicable acts in areas far from where they live. The slowness with which the rats are coming out of their holes, more than two years after the coup, indicates that they still fear a sudden turn in events.

So there is still hope for the future, for a reversal in the balance of power. At present the poor classes seem resigned to their fate, but they have not really been broken by the coup; they still could explode at any moment and sweep aside the scum who are presently establishing themselves. The fear of such an explosion haunts not only politicians in Washington or Paris, but even sometimes, in a flash of lucidity, certain politicians in Haiti.

We publish below a translation of the editorial of the January 1994 issue of La Voix des Travailleurs (Workers' Voice), the publication of our Haitian comrades in the Organization des Travailleurs Révolutionnaires.

They've Asked for It!

The Macoute deputy Mondé, the new Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies, stated on Radio Métropole that "mid-February will be the final deadline for finding a way out of the crisis: otherwise we will see a social explosion!".

This villain may be right. At any rate, we can only hope he is.

This country has been in an obvious political dead-end since October 30. Politicians like Mondé claim they are trying to solve it with a sudden spate of conferences in places from Miami to the National Theater, amid much agitation, but only among deputies and senators though. The population long ago lost interest in these clowns, puffed up with their own importance. In reality, they are impotent and contemptible.

While the deputies and senators chatter, Clinton and company continue to keep two irons in the fire. One is in the shape of Cédras and François, who keep the poor in check through violence. The other is in the shape of Aristide, whom they are holding in reserve in case they need to keep the poor in check through deceit. Meanwhile, the lives of the workers and poor peasants are becoming more and more unbearable.

Mad dogs – troops in uniform or civilian dress, attachés and armed FRAPH Macoutes – are turning poor neighborhoods into hunting grounds. How long will poor neighborhoods tolerate night-time shootings? These bandits attack, steal and rape even in people's own homes, and bodies are found on the sidewalk in the morning. How long will the poor endure such bloody provocations as the arson attack in the Cité Soleil? How long will the villages put up with arrogant section leaders and the attachés who support them?

How are the increasing numbers of people who can no longer afford basic necessities going to survive? For the few workers not condemned to unemployment by factory closings, it is becoming increasingly pointless and impossible to go to work, since the price of transportation to work is more than a day's wages! In how many villages are people reduced to eating grass, clay or nothing at all? The blood-sucking bourgeoisie and the speculators profit from an idiotic embargo by increasing prices. They get even richer from the growing poverty of the masses, and are probably killing more children, women and men in this country through starvation than the army does with guns. And the army itself is killing many.

How long will poor districts put up with living in the middle of garbage and its putrid stench, with people dying of easily-curable diseases because they lack the money to pay for treatment? How long will they put up with living without water or electricity, because the little that is produced is reserved for the rich neighborhoods which can pay off the mafias controlling the water and electricity companies?

Yes, it is indeed becoming too much to bear. And Mondé is right to be worried. The poor masses see no prospects ahead. This situation has allowed people to realize the mistake of placing hopes in Aristide's return.

It will become increasingly clear to the poor masses that in any case, they are threatened with impending death through repression or hunger. And they will end up realizing that if they are going to face such a threat, it might as well be for a good reason.

Mondé is certainly not the most clear-headed political representative of a Haitian privileged class where lucidity is rare – a class which is so short-sighted and stupid that it cannot see that its greed will end up driving the poor masses to a new slave revolt. But even someone like Mondé, a notorious cretin from Anse-à-Veau, is capable of working out something the leaders of the imperialist world have known for a long time and which is the reason for their caution toward Aristide: namely, that the day millions of starving people revolt, nothing will be able to stop them, least of all the Haitian army. Even backed up by attachés and Macoutes, this army is too weak in numbers, too corrupt and too cowardly to be capable of fighting anybody except unarmed people.

All those on the side of the poor can only hope for what Mondé fears. The only hope for the future is that the angry masses will rise up and sweep away the army and the Macoutes. That they will repeat what they were capable of doing against Duvalier, and then against Lafontant. That this time it will be better and they won't stop halfway. That they won't be content to sort out a few small-time villains while leaving the big fish in peace. That they won't take it out on a few guard dogs. But instead they will go after their masters – the rich, the bourgeoisie, the starvers of the poor.

We must hope the poor will not let themselves be demobilized again; not before they take what they need to eat from the supermarkets and the shops reserved for the rich; not before they go into the rich neighborhoods to take back from the speculators and capitalists of starvation all that these criminals have stolen. Not before they get even with both the little thieves and the big ones: the Mews, the Biggios and the Brandts – all those rich bourgeois families who have always lived by exploiting and stealing from the workers, the peasants and the poor, and who, in these times of poverty, are getting rich by driving the whole economy to ruin and the poor masses to death.

We must hope the poor will not be content with the promises and speeches of any illusion-monger (even if he is called Aristide) whom the Americans may agree to bring back to Haiti if they need to use deceit to stop the insurgent masses the army cannot stop by force.

We have no more means than Mondé of predicting when or how it might happen.

But if the "social explosion" comes, they will have asked for it. And they will deserve what they get....