The Spark

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

Haiti:
Between Natural Catastrophe, Social Misery and the Armed Gangs

Oct 5, 2004

For a few days, the enormous catastrophe following the Tropical Storm Jeanne drew the attention of the media to Haiti, which shares the Caribbean island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic. One hurricane and tropical storm after the other in the West Indies also reached Florida, in the U.S., and caused widespread destruction and some deaths. Nonetheless there is no comparison with the number of dead in Haiti: 2,400 officially acknowledged and probably twice as many in reality. The affected zones, for a while in the limelight, have revealed how the widespread poverty, the lack of facilities and the cheapness of the dwellings multiplied by ten or a hundred the effects of the tropical storm.

Even more revolting was the fact that the big powers limited themselves to making just a few small gestures, although it was obvious that the local state apparatus was so rotten, it was completely incapable of helping any of the victims. The U.S., whose corporations for years have taken profit out of the special industrial zones carved out of Port-au-Prince, barely took notice, offering only a bare pittance, and certainly offered none of the vast physical means it has to bring in aid. Just a small part of the money the United States has spent on the war in Iraq could answer Haiti's most urgent needs: food, shelter and sanitation. And it would not be a big effort to get the material into Haiti since it is only a few miles away from the United States. But the U.S. reserves all its money, its big construction equipment, its transport equipment for such things as the war in Iraq – certainly not for helping destitute people.

The two articles that follow this brief introduction are from Workers' Voice (La Voix des Travailleurs), published by the Revolutionary Workers' Organization of Haiti (Internationalist Communist Union). The first text was published in the September 24, 2004 issue of their newspaper, a few days after the hurricane hit. The second one is from the July 15 issue. It was written well before the hurricane and it describes the breakdown of the Haitian state apparatus. This breakdown was already very advanced under the previous dictatorship of Aristide. Since February 2004, when the French and American troops kicked him out, it has gotten even worse.

Since July, when the article was written, this downward spiral has accelerated. The new government of Latortue and the interim president, Honorat, who had been installed by the American and French troops, neither control the country, nor even the capital. Beyond the almost non-existent central government, there are the armed gangs, each with their own preoccupations, interests and policy. The official armed force are the 3,000 police, who are badly armed and rotten with corruption. Some policemen work overtime, without their uniform, carrying out criminal acts. The police don't even bother to pretend to provide a minimum level of security.

The poor areas of the capital, particularly Cité Soleil and Bel Air, are entirely controlled by other armed gangs, called the "Chimeres," or "ghosts," who had been armed and paid by Aristide, when he was president. When Aristide was forced out of the country, the Chimeres remained. The police do not enter the area controlled by the Chimeres, and the government tolerates them, since it cannot do otherwise.

Other gangs are made up of more or less substantial remnants of the former Armed Forces of Haiti (FAH). The FAH rose to power in 1986 when Duvalier fell. It directly ruled the country until Aristide was elected. One general took the place of the next. In 1991, under the rule of Cedras, the Army kicked out Aristide and installed a bloody dictatorship. In 1995 the US army brought Aristide back, and he dissolved the Armed Forces of Haiti, replacing them with the present police force.

Some of the former officers of this army, generally known as the worst butchers under Cedras's dictatorship, gathered members of the former army around them, in particular in the neighboring Dominican Republic. These gangs crossed the border, contributing to Aristide's fall. Today they claim to be liberators of the country. They demand that the old army of Haiti be rebuilt, and they insist not only on being paid but on getting all their retroactive pay since the military was disbanded. After getting rid of the police forces, these gangs have occupied the old barracks in a certain number of towns, such as Petit Goâve, or the police station or public buildings. The government is unable to react, except with nervous speeches about the need to disarm the illegal gangs. Unable to disarm them and maybe eager to obtain their future integration in a new armed force, the government has started negotiating with them. The commission in charge of the negotiations even concluded that the state will pay compensation to the military. But since the coffers of the state are empty, they have no way to finance this.

In addition to those armed gangs, there are gangs trafficking in all sorts of items, especially drugs. It is usual for those belonging to a gang trafficking in drugs to also belong to the police or the former army.

Finally, there is the United Nations Mission of Stabilization, which includes 2,700 troops from Brazil, Argentina and Chile who have replaced the French and U.S. troops. Despite their name, these troops are useless and do not stabilize anything. In the capital, their armored vehicles drive past gangs of armed Chimeres without paying any attention even when the latter are obviously busy terrorizing the population. They only deal with the security at the airport, presidential palace, and sometimes at the industrial zone near the airport.

In this country considered as the poorest in the Western Hemisphere and one of the poorest of the world, the presence of these armed gangs exacerbates the conditions of poverty for the vast majority of the population.