the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist
“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx
Apr 21, 2004
In 1994, the U.S. military invaded Haiti and reinstated Jean Bertrand Aristide to the Haitian presidency. He had been overthrown by the Haitian army in September of 1991, only eight months after taking office as the first democratically elected president in nearly 200 years.
In 2004, at the very end of February, the U.S. took Aristide back out. Despite all George Bush and Colin Powell’s protestations, it’s clear that’s exactly what they did—they took him out forcibly. They sent in the U.S. ambassador with an effective ultimatum—resign and leave with us now, or we’ll hand you over to those armed gangs out there—who will kill you. This was backed up by the refusal of the American private police company that provided his bodyguards to send additional help and by the refusal of the bodyguards themselves to continue defending him.
What’s the deal? Is this a U.S. policy flip-flop? Was Bill Clinton, the president in 1994, sympathetic to Aristide while George Bush was not?
In fact, that might be possible, but it’s hardly the reason. Clinton and Bush might have done seemingly opposite things, but the aim is the same: to control the Haitian population. The problem for U.S. imperialism in 1994 was that the military dictatorship that had overthrown Aristide wasn’t able to prevent the Haitian population from mobilizing. And any situation like that in U.S. imperialism’s "backyard" could only be viewed by the U.S. authorities as a threat to a much wider area than just Haiti itself, threatening to spill over into nearby countries, stopping where no one had any idea. So Aristide was brought back as a way of derailing the mobilization of the Haitian masses. His regime had enjoyed immense popular support when Aristide was elected president for the first time in 1990. When he was reinstated in 1994, he still had kept a good deal of his past popularity among the masses of poor people.
American imperialist leaders "put up" with Aristide or at times supported him only because Haiti’s ordinary folks trusted him and listened to him. Clinton, as well as Bush later on, viewed Aristide as the lesser evil for maintaining law and order in Haiti. But his past as a popular leader prevented them from fully trusting him. They had brought him back to Haiti, after eliminating the military regime, and allowed him to run in the presidential election, but they found all kinds of excuses (rigged elections, lack of democracy) for blocking international financial aid.
Nonetheless, they protected Aristide, preventing him from being thrown out, because they saw him as their best trump card, the politician most able to maintain social peace in Haiti.
He was able to maintain social peace for years because of the illusions he could still foster among poor Haitians.
But Aristide dug his own grave. He became more and more cut off from ordinary folks and relied on the support of the big powers, notably the United States, to let him serve out his term. His own bodyguards had been provided by the San Francisco-based Steele Foundation—one of the new batch of U.S. companies providing mercenaries and other private armies around the world. The big powers might put Aristide back in power, they might prop him up against the remnants of the Haitian army. But their support was temporary—lasting only so long as Aristide could contain the poor masses of Haiti, lulling them to sleep, and finally discouraging them by ignoring even their smallest demands.
The political crisis that started in December 2003 and became a military confrontation in early February showed that Aristide could no longer maintain order in Haiti. When it became obvious that he could no longer control the situation, the United States threw him away like a squeezed-out lemon. This time, the people in the poor areas, terrorized by Aristide’s armed militias, dubbed the "Chimeras" (after the fire-breathing monsters of Greek mythology), saw no reason to come out in his defense.
The troops sent into Haiti by the United States and France were sent to maintain law and order in Haiti, not to rescue the population from its destitution and the chaos still reigning. Even if they pose as a "peace force" and have been anointed by the United Nations, the 5,000 soldiers of the international force are an imperialist army of occupation, whose aim is to maintain the quiet plundering of this unfortunate country, the unimaginable poverty of its peasantry and the overexploitation of the workers of its industrial zone, who earn little more than a dollar a day working to enrich American, French and Haitian capitalists.
Despite what is claimed by the leaders of both imperialist powers, these forces cannot bring about a "democratic solution" to Haiti. Not only because the imperialist powers rely on anti-Aristide political and military forces that have shown their inbred hatred of the poor, but, above all, because the great majority of people continue to literally die of misery.
We reprint below four short articles coming from three organizations of the ICU current, one based in Haiti, one in France and one in Guadeloupe/Martinique (the French West Indies). Not only do these articles give a picture of the political situation, they also convey a little of what was going on in Haiti itself because they come from organizations which have more intimate knowledge about the events there.
The following two articles are translations of articles published in La Voix des Travailleurs ("Workers’ Voice"), a communist revolutionary monthly paper put out in Haiti itself. They were written on January22, 2004, at a time when Aristide was still in office and the crisis had not yet reached the stage of military confrontation, eventually leading to the regime’s downfall. Despite being outdated by the speeding-up of events, these excerpts give the reader an understanding of the political situation before the regime’s collapse and, above all, describe the actors who, tomorrow, will be presented by the American and French occupying forces as offering a "political solution."
Port-au-Prince, January 22, 2004
Since early December 2003, a new situation has emerged, characterized by the size and frequency of anti-Aristide demonstrations. After the 2000 elections, the opposition had done its best to give rise to protests but was not able to organize more than a limited number of demonstrations worth mentioning. Such is no longer the case.
The protest movement is taking shape. Demonstrations are more and more frequent and repression, both by the official police and by pro-Aristide militias, has failed to prevent demonstrators from turning up as numerous or even more numerous each time. The movement is not limited to Port-au-Prince or GonaVves. It has reached, with more or less success, the cities in the north and center of the country. It has also had an impact both inside and outside the country, affecting Haiti’s political caste and the big powers’ diplomacy.
How important is the movement? What about its dynamic? Its social composition? Its alleged objectives... and behind them, its real objectives? Those are the questions that must be answered before trying to assess the movement’s chances of success and what it represents from the workers’ point of view.
The turning point was the violent intervention of pro-Aristide militias inside the Faculty of Social Sciences (the University), on December 5, 2003. It gave the protest a wide and combative base among the students, who have since supplied the bulk of demonstrators.
It was not the militias’ first intervention inside the university. But it was one too many. Nor was it the beginning of the students’ movement. But that was when it became political, putting forward Aristide’s departure as its only demand, and joining forces with the existing opposition—first as a matter of course and then officially, after the publication of a "democratic platform."
Before these events, the students were already seething with unrest over basically corporatist fears and demands. The demand for the university’s "autonomy" and the dismissal of university authorities by Aristide were the moving forces behind the slow, progressive students’ mobilization. On this particular point, the present situation can be compared to the high school students’ mobilization which triggered the general movement of 1986. However, for the time being at least, it unfavorably compares with the movement that forced Duvalier to leave the country.
In 1986, high school-goers were from the outset motivated by aspirations which were not limited to their own future place in society, to the preservation and consolidation of their specific situation and their hopes of escaping the deprivation which is the lot of most people. Their opposition to the Duvalier clan and their aspiration to more freedom and democracy remained rather vague, but they reflected the aspirations of society as a whole. They advocated "going to the people" in order to "raise people’s consciousness" and fight against illiteracy by teaching villagers how to read and write. This approach of course had its limits and was naive, to say the least, but understandable after 30years of a ferocious dictatorship and isolation from the outside world. But it was full of generosity and idealism as well. It raised the problem of the conditions of the poor, whether they lived in the cities or the countryside—without, of course, being able to put forward solutions.
The present student movement began around strictly academic demands. However, when the Chimera thugs broke into the university, real life, life as it is experienced in the poorer neighborhoods, suddenly caught up with the students and their concerns. Of course, many students come from these neighborhoods and are aware of the living conditions of the poor, but they see education as a way out. When they protested against the "violation of university privileges," they were not simply reacting to the Chimeras’ terror. They were also proclaiming their right to be spared by it. The very words they used showed that they wanted to defend their own future privileges. The fact that most students are not conscious of this or that some try to go beyond the limitations of the movement changes nothing. The political forces behind the so-called Democratic Convergence coalition and, above all, the self-proclaimed representatives of "civil society" were not mistaken. They quickly established contacts with the students and offered their help, knowing that the student movement was not hostile either to themselves or to their perspectives. They rather easily gained the political leadership of the student movement, in the name of the "democratic platform."
The students have had the opportunity to learn that these "democratic" leaders do want Aristide’s fall (in fact, that sums up their political program), but are not ready to call into question, even rhetorically, the leading role of Haiti’s privileged class. The innocent banner hanging inside the Faculty of Social Sciences saying "The bourgeoisie robbed us of the 1804 Revolution" was nearly brought down at the request of someone from the Group of 184 (the main opposition coalition) whose only concern was of course the "unity" of the movement.
In similar fashion, the students were asked to wipe off the graffiti spelling the slogan "Down with rotten politicians, the greedy bourgeoisie and the corrupt state." The fact that such banners and slogans hurt the feelings of supporters of the Group of 184 or the Democratic Convergence coalition says a lot about who they really are. The fact that they wanted the banner down reveals their conception of democracy and the fact that the students gave in to their demand shows their own political squeamishness. Bravery in front of the police or the militias does not automatically imply political courage or clear-sightedness.
The student movement could obviously develop into something different in the course of the struggle. It could drop its corporatist concerns. It could put forward demands expressing the needs of the poorest people and expose Haiti’s blatant social inequalities, the workers’ and peasants’ exploitation by a handful of bourgeois dynasties tied to U.S. and French big capital. But so far, they have limited their demands to Aristide’s departure; they do not go any further, they do not raise the question of why Haiti was never able to rid itself of dictatorship and poverty. This in turn has limited their understanding of the situation, leaving them totally at the mercy of the opposition who view them as undemanding foot soldiers.
In 2000, the disputed elections of May 21 and November 26 witnessed the electoral success of the Lavalas (Creole for "avalanche") party and Aristide himself. These victories were not merely the result of fraud or of pressures exerted by the Chimeras, though both played a role and showed the Lavalas party’s contempt for their own followers. Aristide’s popularity in 2000 had little to do with what it was after the 1990 election. During that decade, he had betrayed the hopes he had fostered among the poor, had failed to take a single measure in their favor, had become immensely rich (as had the people around him), had been reinstalled in the presidential palace by the U.S. army, had struck compromises with the most ruthless gangsters of the former regimes and had shown his fearful respect of the wealthy and the powerful. The people’s support was less and less active, but still existed. In the poor areas, it was still out of the question to vote for anyone else.
But despite his servility toward the propertied classes, Aristide did not and could not win over the leading circles of "civil society"—that is, big business. With a few exceptions, Haiti’s bourgeoisie never forgave him for having raised hopes among the poor. They made do with Aristide, who did not hamper their business, on the contrary, but, nevertheless, they did not like him.
In fact, they had no other choice. The opposition politicians were a mixed bunch of ex-Macoutes (Duvalier’s militiamen) and ex-Maoists, with a handful of former Aristide followers who felt they had not been given a proper reward. They had no credibility, including in the eyes of those who make up "civil society"—that is, the privileged in the broad sense of the word, who represent roughly 10% of the population. These people—the big and small businessmen, the petty bourgeois intellectuals, and more generally all those who do not belong or feel they do not belong to the despised mass of workers, unemployed, small shopkeepers or peasants—are the opposition’s traditional public. They are the people the opposition politicians are eager to represent and whose support they seek by showing the highest degree of contempt for ordinary folks. Their attacks against Aristide were not merely aimed at the would-be dictator—dictatorship keeps the poor submissive and has never been a handicap for business. They were above all attacks against the poor people’s president.
The creation of the Group of 184 was the result of Democratic Convergence’s failure to be recognized as a political alternative by the privileged class. These fictional "representatives of civil society" and their self-proclaimed lack of political involvement had more chances of being acknowledged by the better-off—including teachers, intellectuals, doctors and artists who had for a moment been favorable to Aristide before turning their backs on him. The operation has apparently been a success.
André Apaid is a more likely representative of the protest movement than the ex-Macoutes de Ronceray and Reynold-George; or Himler Rébu, a former army colonel and leader of a failed coup attempt; or opportunists like Pierre-Charles and K-Plim. Apaid can hope to get the support of the big and small business owners whose interests he directly stands for, but he may also count on the support of a variety of discontented people, like the small shopkeepers who were conned in the cooperative scandal or former pro-Aristide militiamen who have joined the opposition. It must not be forgotten that one of the major factors of the present political crisis and destabilization of the regime, apart from the students’ rebellion, is the uprising of the Chimera gangs in GonaVves who saw the murder of their leader Amiot Métayer as a provocation against them.
Such a hodgepodge of contradictory interests does not make a political line—but after all, do the people who merely want to get rid of Aristide while preserving the old social order really need a political line? The Lavalas regime has been shaken to its foundations, all the more easily as Aristide’s party had already lost its social base. The events of the last few weeks speak for themselves. Aristide can no longer mobilize the poor who live in the shanty towns against the opposition. For years, opposition politicians periodically showed that they lacked support in the population. But today, they organize demonstrations where students turn up in large numbers and it is Aristide’s turn to show his failure to organize sizeable counter-demonstrations. He no longer appeals to the poorer people like he used to do, but tries to break down the rebels by terrorizing them with the police or the Chimeras.
It appears that ordinary folks can no longer be mobilized with mere words and speeches, not even coming from Aristide. They could be mobilized if Aristide, instead of hot air, gave them a small share of what they hoped for when they elected him president. But he will not do that. He is too respectful of the propertied classes to even lay a finger on their privileges—something he would be compelled to do if he wanted to help the poor. The versatile demagogue of a decade ago has obviously become a "responsible" politician serving the interests of the wealthy and imperialism. He is so responsible indeed as to step down rather than taking the measures that could save his regime by rallying the poor around him.
Port-au-Prince, January 22, 2004
Since the violent raid launched by the Chimera gangs against the Faculty of Social Sciences (the University), on December5, 2003, students have courageously fought to protest against the attack as well as against the more and more obvious evolution of the Lavalas regime toward dictatorship. The demonstrators have not been deterred by the violent repression, including beatings and gunshots. More and more people attend more and more demonstrations. Despite their efforts, the leaders of the regime have trouble mobilizing people (outside the Chimera thugs, that is) against the street demonstrators. Folks living in poor areas are no longer ready to fly to Aristide’s assistance.
And for good reason! The ordinary people who put Aristide into power in the first place and defended him against Lafontant’s attempted coup, who ensured his own and his party’s electoral success by voting for them time and again, have every reason to feel they have been conned and betrayed. After so many decades under the Duvalier dictatorships, followed by years of ferocious military dictatorships, the workers, the unemployed and the small peasants hoped for a policy that would be a little more favorable to the poor. Nobody was so naive as to expect miracles when Aristide came to power. But the poor masses did expect a bit less misery and a bit more respect. None of their hopes has materialized. Deprivation is on the increase. The most basic public services (drinking water, garbage collecting, hospitals) are going to the dogs. The workers’ purchasing power has lost two-thirds of its value and nobody knows how many people do not even have a job or how many working class families do not have enough to eat every day. In many regions, notably in the North and North-West, people are starving and have started to die of hunger.
The Lavalas regime is certainly not the only cause of the catastrophic situation of the poor masses. Those who say so are outright liars. In this country, whether in the cities or in the countryside, workers have always been extremely poor. They have always been despised by the privileged classes who live off their work. And the only things they ever received from state officials were beatings.
The Lavalas regime was not worse than the previous ones. But it was not better either. This is the cause of the disillusion of most of those who believed in Aristide and put him into power. Aristide, like his predecessors, despises the poor, is corrupt and shows favor to the wealthy who continue to enrich themselves while the poor, not even knowing where their next meal is coming from, grieve over their lost hopes. The traditional plunderers of the state coffers have simply been joined by another gang of looters bred by the Lavalas party—starting with Aristide himself, who fifteen years ago posed as the poor people’s spokesman and has now become the rich occupant of the presidential palace of Tabarre.
Worse still, his regime tramples the workers’ and ordinary folks’ dignity, by abandoning their neighborhoods to the rule of the Chimera thugs who behave more and more like Duvalier’s Tontons Macoutes.
The students revolted against the Chimera thugs who attacked their university. And they were right to do so. But workers and all others who live in Cité Soleil are mugged by the Chimeras on a permanent basis, and not just when they demonstrate or when the militia launches a raid against them. Putting an end to the reign of these hoodlums is in their interest, at least as much if not more so than in the interest of students.
By picking up the fight against dictatorship, students have given everybody an example of courage. However, their fight is not a working-class fight.
First of all, the more moderate students limit the goal of their struggle to the respect of the university’s traditional privileges and the more radical ones to Aristide’s departure. They do not care about the dire misery of the laboring masses and about the causes of this unbearable situation. They are wrong, because dictatorship and the Chimeras are rooted in the country’s utter poverty and social inequalities.
Secondly, and more importantly, if the students have spearheaded the rebellion, they have allowed others to assume the political leadership of the movement.
The leadership has been left in the hands of Democratic Convergence, a grouping of shady politicians who sold themselves in the past either to Duvalier or to the generals who replaced him in power, or even to Aristide—some of them managing to suck up to every successive ruler. However, this political conglomeration is so discredited, so unconvincing as to be useless for the privileged classes of this country and the great powers behind them. This is why some bourgeois individuals had to jump in and do the job that is normally done by politicians. They have set up their own political force, under the direct leadership of wealthy businessmen like Apaid and Becker. Their advantage over the corrupt politicians of Democratic Convergence is that they never were ministers under Duvalier or the generals. At the time, they were simply busy enriching themselves—thanks to Haiti’s successive dictators.
These people now pose as the "representatives of civil society." They obviously think that "society" means nothing but themselves; in their mouth, the word "society" signifies the bosses, the petty and big bourgeoisies, the Church dignitaries. The workers, the unemployed, the laborers, the small shopkeepers, the peasants, in other words, the majority of the people, do not exist for them. These people have always been and continue to be hostile to Aristide, not because of what he is today—the protector of rich people and rich himself—but because of the hopes he stirred (even though they were nothing but empty promises and did not last long). Haiti’s propertied classes have always been shortsighted, including when their own class interests are at stake. They are so greedy and at the same time so scared by the impoverished masses that they end up acting stupidly. Thus, they have always refused to forgive political leaders who addressed the plight of the "miserable."
Today, they are represented by Apaid and his likes, who use the students in order to channel the people’s discontent and get rid of Aristide. But the workers and the poor have nothing to expect from them. Those who work in the industrial zone have no illusion: they know that Apaid is no better than Aristide. Apaid and those around him have taken a stand against Aristide’s dictatorship and for freedom, but inside their plants, they exert their own dictatorship over the workers. They dare talk about a "new social contract" and raise their voice against poverty, but they are the main cause—and the main beneficiaries—of people’s misery.
What is keeping Apaid, Becker and all the other bosses who strut in front of the demonstrations from alleviating their own workers’ conditions—for instance, by giving them wages with the same purchasing power as under Duvalier, who never claimed to be a friend of the workers? A workers’ daily wage used to be three dollars a day, which corresponds to 135 gourdes. What is preventing them from giving the workers basic democratic freedoms, like the right of assembly and the right to set up unions? Why don’t they stop firing people over the slightest reason? Why don’t they ensure working, hygiene and security conditions worthy of human beings instead of making people work in pigsties?
In the industrial zone, not a single sensible worker expects anything from his boss. At any of the workplaces owned by the leaders of "civil society," whether it be at Apaid’s AGC company, Becker’s Apparel SA or Michiko, exploitation is as fierce, working conditions as appalling and wages as miserable as anywhere else. The profits made by the bosses are precisely based on these conditions.
Today, workers may well find themselves in the same demonstrations as the students and the youth from the poor neighborhoods who are drawn into the anti-Chimera protest movement. But they must not accept what the students have accepted—that is, hush up their own demands in the name of the "unity" of the anti-Aristide movement.
In the war that is being waged between Aristide and the opposition, neither camp represents the interests of the workers and the poor. On the contrary, both stand for the continuation of today’s miserable conditions and oppression. The form of oppression might even remain the same: today’s pro-Aristide Chimera gangs may well tomorrow rally to the opposition—if they are paid to do so. The thugs of GonaVves are not any friendlier for having fought against Aristide.
Yes to the fight against dictatorship and the Chimeras! But not behind Apaid and his likes, or behind former or future Macoute politicians whose regime can only be a tyranny against the workers and the poor.
Yes to the struggle for freedom! But not for the freedom of a minority who call themselves the "elite" and despise the poor majority of the population. Workers must demand the freedom to defend their living conditions inside the workplaces, the right to organize and the right to contest the bosses’ power.
There is another right that is a pre-condition of any progress for the laboring masses: the right not to die of hunger, that is, the right to have a job, and when you have a job, the right to a decent salary. This implies imposing new conditions on Apaid and his likes. It means obliging them to reinvest their profits in the country instead of placing the capital they draw from the workers’ exploitation in American banks. It entails compelling the state not to surrender its coffers over to the bourgeoisie, to corrupt government officials and hoggish politicians. Instead, the state must collect the taxes owed by the wealthy and use that money to create useful jobs, to install plumbing to bring water into the poor areas, to organize garbage collection, create a proper road network and build and operate new hospitals and health centers.
The price hikes have made it impossible for an increasing number of poor people to buy even the most basic food. Malnutrition and famine threaten Haiti with a major catastrophe. The only way to avoid it is to take drastic measures, like the requisition of all speculative food stocks and their distribution to the hungry; a special tax on the wealthy to import basic food supplies and sell them at cost in state stores. Those who are hungry can neither wait nor feed on words and promises.
The leaders of the opposition movement hope they can capture the discontent to their own profit and limit the movement’s demands to Aristide’s departure. The best thing would be for the student’s agitation to draw the laboring masses into the movement and then for the workers to refuse to fight for empty words, and to start the fight for their own demands, demands that are vital for themselves and the huge majority of Haitians.
The following is a translation of an article that appeared in issue number 79 of Lutte de Classe ("Class Struggle"), the political journal put out by the French Trotskyist organization, Lutte Ouvrière (Workers’ Struggle). Written just before Aristide was taken out of Haiti, it describes the fighting that went on between the various armed gangs in Haiti, which contributed finally to the fall of Aristide’s regime.
The armed gangs contesting Aristide’s power control more than half the country and are drawing near the capital, Port-au-Prince. The city is already in a state of war. The industrial zone has come to a standstill, shops are closed, the streets have been abandoned to the pro-Aristide militias. The Chimeras and the police, which have been routed in the provinces, are already taking cover in the capital. The airport is full of people waiting to leave the country. Though he said he wanted to fight to the end, Aristide has sent his children abroad and a number of top officials have suddenly discovered they had urgent missions in foreign countries!
The two main powers concerned, the United States and France, no longer support Aristide. In fact, they have demanded his departure, as it is obvious that Aristide cannot defeat the armed rebellion and regain control of the country. His clinging to power prolongs a state of military anarchy which is damaging to the political and economic interests of the big powers.
There may be new, surprising developments, but that is not likely. It is difficult to assess the fighting spirit of the Chimera gangs. The members of these pro-Aristide militias come from the poor neighborhoods, but they have long since been used by Aristide, who financed them, to control these neighborhoods through violence and terror. Cité Soleil, Carrefour and the other poor areas are unlikely to come to the rescue of the Chimera thugs should the latter decide to stand up to the rebel armed groups.
One thing is sure: Haiti’s ordinary people are paying a very dear price, in terms of bloodshed and suffering, for the agony of Aristide’s regime. And the installation of a new regime on the ruins of the present one is also expected to be costly. As for the political opposition, it is not closer to the interests of the poor masses than Aristide’s regime was. On the contrary, Aristide once had roots in the laboring masses and his influence was based on the hopes of ordinary people who had placed their trust in him. The people’s illusions were eventually blown away by his years at the head of the country, not only because he was a despot, but above all because he betrayed their hopes. The political opposition does not have similar ties with the poor classes of Haiti. One of the characteristics of Haiti’s ruling class is its hatred, mixed with fear, of the poorest people. Its better known leaders openly hate and despise the poor. So far, the political opposition has set up the "Democratic Platform" coalition. This coalition consists of, on the one hand, a conglomerate of ex-Duvalier ministers, right-wing politicians, ex-Maoist activists and a whole range of Social-Democrats; and on the other hand, a group pretending to represent "civil society," made up of different personalities who so far have not had the opportunity to compromise themselves. They are mostly members of the local bourgeoisie, including people like André Apaid and Charles Becker, two bosses from Port-au-Prince’s industrial zone.
On the diplomatic level, the coalition has received international recognition. However, the only cement between those who make up the opposition is their common hostility to Aristide. If they ever replace Aristide in power, their regime will inevitably be authoritarian and antagonistic to Haiti’s laboring masses.
Today, the bell tolls for Aristide and his regime. However, it is not the opposition that tolls the bell, but the military coalition of various armed forces, which have come together during the last few weeks. It all began in the city of GonaVves, with the rebellion of the local Chimeras, who used to be financed and armed by Aristide, but who after the murder of their leader, Amiot Métayer, decided to change sides, proclaimed their opposition to Aristide and took over GonaVves. These thugs, who were called the "cannibal army" when they ruled and terrorized the population of GonaVves’s poor areas for Aristide, suddenly became the "Artibonite Resistance Front." Two other groups—that partly overlapped—joined the rechristened Chimeras. First, there was a group of henchmen at the service of local drug traffickers who carry a lot of weight in the area as part of the cocaine bound for the U.S. market passes through the ports of GonaVves and Saint-Marc. Then, there was a group of former officers of the Haitian army disbanded by Aristide. Chamblain, the leader of the Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti (FRAPH), the most important para-military militia which was responsible of scores of murders and tortures under Cédras’s dictatorship, is one the better known figure of this lot. Another one is Guy Philippe, who did a stint as a police captain under Aristide, before being discharged for his alleged ties with the drug trade. Just back from his exile in the Dominican Republic, he proclaimed himself the leader of the armed rebellion. These two figureheads have attracted a number of former army officers who had been waiting for this type of opportunity, either in Haiti or in the neighboring Dominican Republic. Apparently, these former army officers have been recognized as their leaders by the militias’ armed thugs. As a consequence, the armed gangs very easily took control of the northern cities of Hinche, Ouanaminthe and, more importantly, Cap-HaVtien, the country’s second biggest city. It was all the easier as the police, the regime’s only armed force, did not even try to resist. Haiti’s police was only 4,000 strong for a population of eight million. And if we are to believe current reports concerning the "rebel army," it was better armed than the police itself. No doubt the drug-traffickers’ dollars had something to do with it.
Now, if this military coalition, with armed thugs for a base and far-right ex-army officers for leaders, ever takes Port-au-Prince, the poorer people could find themselves in a worse predicament than ever before. The neighborhood of Cité Soleil, for instance, a large concentration of workers, unemployed and poor people, which was targeted by the Chimeras under Aristide, would be at risk of new, more severe attacks, because the armed gangs will want Cité Soleil’s population to pay for the resistance of the pro-Aristide Chimeras. Chamblain and his likes can be expected to try to put the finishing touch to the job they had undertaken during Cédras’s coup d’état, in 1991, when they massacred the inhabitants of Cité Soleil by the thousands.
Nobody can tell how the situation will evolve. At one point, France considered a military intervention which, under the circumstances, would have been a de facto support of Aristide’s regime. But the United States disagreed with that. The Republican administration never had a great liking for Aristide, not because of his actions while in office, but because of what he was before becoming president. Also, Bush certainly had nothing to gain from a military intervention in Haiti to save Aristide, especially during an election year and at a time when the U.S. army’s presence in Iraq and Afghanistan was more and more criticized by the American people.
But, generally speaking, the big powers are not too keen on the perpetuation of anarchy and the rule of armed gangs. They will accept such a state of affairs and live with it when it occurs in this or that part of Africa. But Haiti is geographically very close to the United States, and even closer to Cuba. And wealthy America doesn’t want to be invaded by thousands of Haitian "boat people." Under the pressure of poverty and famine, hundreds of Haitians have already put their lives at incredible risks to reach the shores of the United States. A protracted war could only increase the number of desperate runaways. There is also the fact that the United States does not want Haiti to become yet another base for drug traffic.
The big powers, including France, are not intent on bringing any kind of help to Aristide—who is thought to have completely lost the game. Instead, they are preparing to send out a police force whose task will be, after Aristide’s departure, to replace a completely dislocated state apparatus. They will say that they only do it to help a government of "national consensus." But they will also need a political solution to replace Aristide and up until now, they have not found one. Many Haitian politicians are quite ready to become the Western powers’ puppets. The problem is that there are too many of them and they are rivals. Another problem is whether the armed gangs will agree to disarm upon the call of the "national consensus" government being prepared in Washington and Paris. These armed gangs could be used to terrorize the masses of poor people who have already been demoralized by Aristide’s treasons and the bloody attacks of the Chimeras. But they are not viewed as reliable, neither by the native bourgeoisie nor imperialism. Apaid, Becker and the other leaders of the opposition find themselves temporarily in agreement with the war chiefs who, like themselves, want to get rid of Aristide. But as bosses, they would not like to see the rival armed gangs fight over the control of Port-au-Prince—a situation that would prevent the industrial zone from going back to business as usual. We should remember that a few years back, despite the fact that the CIA had helped Cédras overthrow Aristide, the United States was forced to intervene against Cédras, because his regime had become a factor of destabilization: corruption was everywhere, drug trafficking prospered, and the military was engaged in wholesale racketeering. So, disarming the armed gangs is quite a job and requires more than the 5,000men of the "peacekeeping" force. However, it is not to be excluded that the occupation forces will merely protect the embassies, the industrial zone and other foreign interests—and perhaps the homes of the rich—in the capital, abandoning the poor neighborhoods to Guy Philippe’s and Chamblain’s gangs.
The most revolting aspect of the situation is that the big powers pose the question of the consolidation of a new regime in Haiti strictly in terms of military support for a political team that does not yet exist. However, Haiti’s chronic instability is fundamentally to be blamed on the extreme poverty of its population, on the inequalities separating a thin layer of wealthy bourgeois people from the vast majority, and on the century-old plundering of the country’s riches, first by the French bourgeoisie and then by American big capital and others.
A small fraction of the immense wealth of the United States would suffice to completely transform the country, to build the non-existent infrastructures and allow people to have enough to live on. But the great powers which today pretend to be concerned with the fate of Haiti have themselves played a role in ruining the country and transforming it into a concentration camp where people are condemned to destitution. Anyone flying from Haiti to Miami is struck by what one sees: the once rich soil of Haiti has become a desert while Miami is a lush tropical paradise with postcard landscapes. In just half an hour, one can actually visualize what inequality, underdevelopment, injustice and capitalism really mean.
More electricity is produced on board a single one of the warships cruising around Haiti than in the whole country. But these ships are there to intercept the small crafts of those who try to run away from the island and send them back to their misery. This illustrates the relationship between imperialism and Haiti—in a nutshell.
The following is the translation of an article that first appeared in the March 27 issue of Combat Ouvrier ("Workers’ Fight"), the newspaper put out by militants of the organization Combat Ouvrier who are active in Guadeloupe and Martinique, in an area of the Caribbean touched by the events in Haiti. It gives a strong picture of what the Haitian population went through in the days just before and after the fall of Aristide.
Aristide has left, and the bourgeoisie and their politicians are rejoicing. Of course, there were casualties, especially among poor people. The Chimeras, embittered by being left in the lurch by their chief, took it out on the poor. In the last half of February, the ordinary people of Port-au-Prince faced a terrible situation.
There was no electricity, food or water. There was real fear in their neighborhoods (Bel-air, Carrefour, Cite Soleil) that were under the control of the Chimeras. Nonetheless, just as always, street peddlers set out on the ground some things to sell. But when a group of armed men showed up, making it too dangerous, the peddlers cleared out.
In the five days between Carnival and Aristide’s departure, people locked themselves indoors. On the streets outside, the rebels and the Chimeras fought. The Chimeras pressured the population to support slogans in favor of Aristide. The Chimeras beat, assaulted, raped and murdered many people.
A week after Aristide was gone, the Chimeras were no longer under the control of the American troops. People took terrible risks just to go to the markets to buy something. A group of Chimeras would accost them at a street corner, threatening to kill them.
Some people said, "In ’91 we were shot at when we went into the streets to save Aristide. In 2004 Aristide paid people to follow his call to demonstrate in the streets, and then it was the Chimeras who attacked us." The day after Aristide fled, the other leaders, including Rene Civil (JPP), Paul Denis, Marie Claudette Gauthier (delegate of the POP) Lovenski Pierre Antoine, did the same thing and took off on a private plane
For many people what was perhaps most painful was that the dream they had in 1991 did not come true. To have put so much hope in a man and to see him turn against you, that is what hits people the most. So, should we resign ourselves and go onto something else? Must we search for another way to survive, by counting on the good will of the possessors?
Many people feel beaten and demoralized. They believed that Aristide was something "for them," like them. But it was an illusion.
After Aristide left, order returned—the order of the possessors. The movement of angry students stopped, no more demonstrations. Some students are running in search of a career, making contacts with the big wheels in the new state.
The "internationals" put together a new government apparatus in order to reassure the possessors. This is what is behind naming Boniface the interim president. He has been given two years to put the country on track. His special advisor is Osner Fevry, an important official from the old Duvalier regime. As the people out of the Duvalier regime said, "after us, comes us!"
Prime Minister Latortue, a former U.N. official who had been in the USA, a former Duvalier official, began holding meetings with a council made up of "wise men" that is now supposed to put a government together that contains neither partisans of the opposition nor of Aristide.
But the most telling was the appointment of ex-general Abraham as minister of the interior. The army is returning to its old job of protecting the rich, after having just done them a big favor by getting rid of Aristide’s thugs. The Lavalas senators will serve out their term of two years.
The poor gain absolutely nothing from this change. Their difficulties will only get bigger. The possessors are getting a regime which won’t have to sow any illusions among the laboring masses. Instead the possessors can directly manipulate it. For the possessors, the bourgeoisie, all the poor are like the Chimeras. They say that the poor have let the "honest people" take care of the Chimeras. But for now the poor will have to suffer the consequences, the return of the club. Everyone will have to stay in their place, the poor with the poor, the rich with the rich, and everyone will respect the established order.
The markets are open. The banks and supermarkets are flooded with their more fortunate and affluent clientele. The schools were opened on Monday with a lot of publicity on the government-owned airways. The marines are back on their base at the airport, which is a bit dilapidated, but at least it is home. Order has returned to the big ghetto that is Haiti.