The Spark

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

Haiti:
A Decaying State

Jul 15, 2004

In Haiti today the Alexandre-Latortue ticket, set up thanks to the intervention of the U.S. army, curries favor with foreign diplomats in order to try to gain international recognition for the new regime. Meanwhile the highest authorities are busy maneuvering and settling accounts with each other. The state machinery is in advanced decay. This goes back a long way. Long ago, the Haitian state stopped providing even the most basic public services, leaving the hospitals completely neglected and garbage collection only sporadic. Vital roads have not been repaired and they have become impassable. Electricity, including in the capital, is uncertain, and there is no public health service. Even a small tropical storm turns Port-au-Prince into a cesspool. It can even turn into a full-blown catastrophe, as happened recently in Mapou and Fond-Verettes.

The state apparatus is corrupt from top to bottom. Those with positions of public responsibility only seek to enrich themselves as fast as possible. They empty the coffers of the state, embezzle the small funds set aside for the needs of the population and, having nothing else to offer, end up selling their own authority – even if it means jeopardizing their future.

Ultimately, even the most democratic state is nothing but a repressive machine serving the interests of the dominant bourgeois class. Under Duvalier, the state apparatus served the sole interests of the Duvalier family and its clan. But the fall of the Duvaliers did not put an end to the predatory functioning of the state. It only increased the number of potential predators. The succession of military dictatorships and so-called democratic governments all had one thing in common: it whetted the appetites of the growing number of would-be capitalists who had no money of their own, but relied on the state to get some. After the state coffers were emptied, trafficking, especially drug trafficking, became their new source of wealth.

Haiti's army (formerly the Armed Forces of Haiti) was so rotten that it collapsed long before the U.S. army dealt the final blow when Aristide returned to power. Even Haiti's wealthiest and most powerful did not oppose Aristide, when he dissolved the army. That is how parasitic and sclerotic the army had become. However, as the saying goes, same causes, same effects. The new police force quickly became so corrupt that it started to implode. The barons of Aristide's Lavalas Party merely replaced the military cliques – or rather they took their place alongside them. With arms trafficking quite naturally added to drug trafficking, Aristide felt that his power was threatened. So he financed the Chimera gangs, who took their place alongside the armed gangs of the official police. But that did not save Aristide from finally being overthrown. Despite his downfall, Aristide kept the money he had embezzled, and he is now enjoying himself in South Africa – while the Chimera thugs continue their activities in Haiti.

Today, Haiti is at the mercy of various rival armed gangs. The armed gangs of the official police are incapable of ensuring any kind of public security. The unofficial armed gangs of former members of the Armed Forces of Haiti parade around in their uniforms and demand the return of the old army. Then there are the private armed gangs of the wealthy, the gangs of criminals whom the United States has kindly returned to Haiti, and finally the Chimera gangs. Also worth mentioning is another official armed gang, made up of troops representing the so-called "international community." They all fight for the control of Cité Soleil and the poorer areas of the capital, that is, the right to plunder, steal and rape with impunity.

This situation is no doubt upsetting for the bourgeoisie itself. Rich wholesalers and middlemen have seen their downtown warehouses set afire by arsonists. Luxury Toyotas do not offer appropriate protection from bullets, and private guards are not always up to the task of protecting their employers' villas against armed robbery.

But those are relatively small inconveniences compared to the unbearable living situation in the poorer districts. Cité Soleil has been completely abandoned to the rule of the Chimera gangs. These gangs may no longer enjoy Aristide's political protection and financial support. But they make up for this by attacking and imposing terror on the population. Houses are regularly and violently plundered in broad daylight. Idle members of the Chimera gangs open fire simply because someone has trespassed on their "territory." Women, young and old, as well as little girls, are raped at home and in the streets. There are crimes new to Port-au-Prince, such as the kidnaping, not of rich people for ransom, but of poor people in order to rape them at will. The shoot-outs between rival gangs kill more passers-by than gangsters. Violence is no longer a means, but an end in itself. And in Cité Soleil, some nights are so terrifying, people often go to work without being able to get any sleep.

Occasionally, the big downtown merchants are the victims of looting and arson. They complain because the police don't respond to their calls. But ordinary people have no illusions that the police will protect them. Often it is the police who are among the aggressors. The authorities have openly abandoned the poorer districts to the rule of the armed gangs. The so-called "international protection force" is in Haiti just to protect the airport, official buildings and the industrial zone – not the population.

Thus, the workers of the industrial zone are not just exploited by the bosses, but targeted by the armed gangs.

The damage isn't only material. In the past, poverty and exploitation brought about a number of collective responses based on a sense of mutual courtesy and concern for each other. These responses often offered the poor some kind of protection when they were confronted by the powerful or the authorities.

Now with the escalation of violence, there has not been the same kind of collective reaction. Instead, out of fear, people have withdrawn into themselves. Today's victims are isolated from those of tomorrow. This makes it easier for the parasites for whom a gun or a knife is a way to survive.

However, working people's only hope is in a collective response. The state apparatus that serves the propertied classes is incapable of guaranteeing even a minimal degree of security. It has relinquished all its prerogatives. Can it regain the authority it has lost? Can it "disarm the armed gangs," as the government's slogan goes? Can it implement more serious measures than the recent and pathetic appeal to the gunmen's sense of civic responsibility or the ridiculous offer of a free ticket to the Haiti-Brazil soccer match in exchange for turning in "illegal arms?" It is doubtful. But even if it tried and succeeded, it would only replace the terror of the Chimera thugs with the legal – or illegal – terror of the police. The Brazilian favelas have gone through that sad experience: the police fought against the child bandits who terrorized the neighborhoods by setting up illegal death squads who gunned down street children at random. In any case, Haiti's propertied classes are not willing to foot the bill – even for a state which is meant to protect them. It is not at all sure that they will want or be able to stop the state's collapse. Just as it is not at all sure that in their place the United States will agree to pay the bill.

The wealthy have more options to cope with the situation. They can hire more security agents and bodyguards. This may be inconvenient for them. But that is the price they pay for profiting at the expense of a population, most of whom are destitute. The occupying forces are the last resort for preserving their main asset: the ongoing exploitation of the poor. For them, society takes the form of a small number of havens for the wealthy protected by private armies and surrounded by a jungle where the laboring masses try to survive.

So what can be done? The workers of this country cannot accept living in a permanent state of fear, exploited during the day and robbed or beaten at night. It is unacceptable that their children have been condemned to a future of either dying of poverty and fear or, for a small minority, joining the pack of hyenas who prey on their own brothers and sisters. People cannot accept being deprived not only of bread but also dignity.

The answer to the insecurity is the same as the answer to the problem of jobs and the basic necessities of life. For their own defense, the workers and the poor can only count on themselves. One day, hopefully, they will be able to impose their own collective rule.

Even people without arms can stop a criminal act, when they refuse to leave someone alone with only his or her own fear to confront an aggressor. People can react collectively. A woman who is being harassed should be able to count on the onlookers coming to her aid and using force. Even armed thugs will hesitate to attack people in a neighborhood when the people are known for their solidarity.

This may seem out of reach today. Society is rotten to the core. The state has collapsed, disrupting social relationships and undermining collective responses.

But in the industrial zones, there is still some sort of collective organization left. Capitalist production still brings together an important part of the poor population in order to continue to exploit it. When workers organize to defend their interests against the bosses, they take an important step in building up their feelings of being part of a collective. They take another step forward when those who work in different workplaces, but often know each other, also establish links. When workers of the industrial zones organize in their own defense, this can then be the basis for organizing in the neighborhoods also. They can establish ties with victimized street peddlers, abused women, youth, the unemployed and day laborers, that is, the impoverished who have not succumbed to being outlaws. And when people are organized, they can develop a collective will and find the ways and means of neutralizing the armed enemy, that is, the parasites, big and small.

This may seem almost unimaginable today. But what other choice do we have, but to replace the failing power of the propertied classes with another power, the power of workers who have become conscious of their own interests as well as of the interests of all exploited classes.