The Spark

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

Haiti:
The Plight of the Poor Classes

Jul 1, 2005

The following article comes from a newspaper published monthly in Haiti by the Revolutionary Workers' Organization (ICU). It gives some sense of the desperate situation in which the Haitian people find themselves today, in consequence of the policies long carried out toward Haiti by the U.S.

On February 29, 2004, the United States, along with France and other countries, sent troops to Haiti, to get rid of the then president, Aristide.

Aristide had first been elected in 1990. His campaign had set off a wave of enthusiasm in the poorer masses. But only nine months after his nomination, Aristide was overthrown by a military coup.

But the military regime that took over was so corrupt that the United States decided to bring Aristide back in 1994.

After his return, and especially after his reelection in 2000, his regime became more and more dictatorial, and corruption more and more widespread. In order to stay in power, the regime turned toward the poorer neighborhoods where it recruited, trained and financed armed gangs, called the "chimeras" [after the fire-breathing monsters of Greek mythology]. The chimeras soon imposed a reign of terror on the poorer neighborhoods.

When Aristide was once again expelled in 2004, this did not put an end to the chimeras' reign of terror. On the contrary. Their proclaimed objective – "the return of the legitimate president" – allows them to pretend they fight for a political cause. In fact, the violence they use against the population, especially its poorest layers, is more and more villainous. The "armed gangs" demanding Aristide's return have been joined by drug traffickers and highway robbers.

At the time of Aristide's overthrow, U.S. and French political leaders talked of a giant step towards "freedom" and "democracy." But the only "freedom" ordinary folks have gained is the freedom to get killed on a street corner, while the international troops that were left behind do not lift a finger. And the only "democracy" ordinary people have under Latortue's provisional government is to watch the small political circle busily preparing to use next fall's elections for their own advantage. In fact, nobody knows whether these elections can be held at all. In any case, the overwhelming majority of Haitians simply try to survive the insecurity and hunger and have totally lost interest in this sort of political agitation.

If the U.S. and French governments really wanted to improve the conditions of the Haitian people, they should have done something about the dire poverty people face and the almost complete ruin of any kind of public infrastructure. It could have been done and for a relatively cheap price. But from the beginning, they never intended to do such a thing.

Instead of helping Haiti out of poverty, big capital continues to plunder it, notably through the companies established in the industrial zone, where they subcontract for big conglomerates and exploit workers who are paid around a dollar a day!

The majority of Haitians – and especially the exploited classes – are confronted by insecurity as well. When they leave their workplaces, they are threatened by the armed gangs who hold them for ransom.

Haiti today is the incarnation of the capitalist so-called free world.

What follows is a translation of an article appearing in the June6, 2005, issue of La Voix des Travailleurs (Workers' Voice) in Haiti. It illustrates the catastrophic situation of the ordinary people of Haiti, which has long been the poorest country of the Americas and one of the poorest in the world.

The MINUSTAH and the Government Fail to Subdue the Bandits

This week, the armed bandits who terrorize the capital with impunity since Aristide's departure have intensified their terror campaign against the poorer people. They started fires in some neighborhoods, like Bel-Air. And they summarily executed some people. Dozens of people have been the victims of criminal acts on state highway #1, on the road to Nazon and in the neighborhoods occupied by the "chimeras." Automobile drivers have been the victims of hold-ups and the number of people kidnapped for ransom is on the increase. In the north of the country, an honorary French consul was shot dead as he tried to reach the airport.

All of this follows the arson attack on Tuesday, May 31, at the TLte de Boeuf (Oxhead) market. Officially, ten charred bodies were found there, but distress, discouragement and powerlessness were palpable in the desperate cries of hundreds of women working there as "small street merchants." They lost in the fire the only means they had of feeding their family. Their financial losses were enormous.

Since September 30 and the launching of "Operation Baghdad" by the "chimeras," the small merchants have been easy prey for Haiti's gangsters. Downtown, where the women display their merchandise to passers-by, they are permanently harassed by bandits, big and small, who demand extortion payments regularly. Their calls asking the authorities to guarantee security in the markets have been ignored.

For roughly eight months now, under the pretense of fighting for Aristide's return, bandits, murderers, drug traffickers and criminals have ganged up and taken the population hostage. Some neighborhoods, like Bel-Air and Cité Soleil, have become their sanctuaries. This is where they plan their attacks and return with their prey and booty. In recent months, kidnapping, which means big money, has become one of the bandits' favorite activities. Murders, robberies and rapes now take place in areas that used to be safe, like Thomassin, Laboule, Cité Militaire. Nothing seems to stop the progress of these criminal thugs.

The United Nations' Mission for the Stabilization of Haiti (MINUSTAH), which is 7,500 strong, and Haiti's National Police (PNH) do not act like they want to subdue the bandits. They say they cannot stop organized crime in Port-au-Prince – despite the impressive means at their disposal (armored vehicles, ammunition, bulletproof jackets, advanced logistics, four-wheel drives, helicopters, telephones). People's security is apparently the least of their worries. They all give the impression of being there merely to make a few thousand dollars and go back home. In some areas of the capital, their presence even acts as a safety net for the bandits: the illusion that the U.N. troops will guarantee the security of ordinary people becomes a source of demoralization when they don't do it. People then become easy prey to the bandits who no longer fear the possible reaction of their victims.

The police are rotten and corrupt from top to bottom and do little. Worse: some policemen are accused of involvement in the present situation. The police spokesperson herself declared that police officers have been detained in isolation for their involvement in robberies, kidnapping and murders. The Minister of Justice declared this week that a number of planned interventions against the bandits failed because insiders had warned them about police raids.

The poorer people are left to fend for themselves. The politicians who, in recent weeks, were hot with electoral fever, now are keeping a very low profile. Despite the growing insecurity, they all hope that the electoral masquerade will take place and that, as Latortue goes on repeating, they will assume power on February 7, 2006.

Ordinary people have been stunned by the insecurity, the increase in the price of bare necessities, the bad conditions in the plants combined with unemployment. We are witnessing a huge setback, with a deep demobilization. However, people would be wrong to place their hopes in a savior, in someone who will solve their problems for them. In the past, people knew how to defend themselves against state-sponsored marauding, against Franck Romains' red armbands, Duvalier's "macoutes" or Raoul Cédras' and Marc Bazin's "attachés." Each time, they found the energy and the will that were needed to defeat these gangsters. Today, people cannot count on the MINUSTAH – even reinforced by a contingent of American soldiers – or on a new Latortue government to guarantee their security. The only way for people to stop being easy prey for criminal thugs is to take their fate into their own hands.

Despite their numbers, the criminals and hoodlums who are active in the capital are insignificant when compared to the two million people living in Port-au-Prince. They can be neutralized and reduced to silence. But to do this, the poor people need self-confidence.... The focus must be on developing people's self-confidence and determination to fight back, because that is the only way out of the present situation for the poor masses.