Oct 28, 1994
The TV image that symbolizes Jean-Bertrand Aristide's return to Haiti is of Aristide, surrounded by the Haitian army and state dignitaries, as well as U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher and an array of other diplomats, standing in a reinforced glass cage on the steps of the National Palace. Meanwhile the ordinary people are kept outside, separated from the stage by a fence.
The glass cage itself underlined the fact that not only did the priest-president have to be protected, but also that, without the protection of the American army, he was nothing.
Aristide has been quick to offer thanks to all concerned. He made the political gestures the U.S. expected of him. Immediately after he stepped out of the American plane which brought him back, he warmly embraced the new head of the army Duperval, who had been number three in the hierarchy of the military dictatorship, just behind Cédras and Biamby. He also had a warm embrace for the president of the Senate and the president of the Chamber of Deputies, even though the latter is a notorious former Macoute and both were Cédras's puppets in parliament.
After an American helicopter dropped him off at the presidential palace, Aristide made his first speech on Haitian soil after three years of forced exile. It was a speech of reconciliation, in other words a speech calling on the poor population to forget the thousands who died in the coup; to forget three years of rule by terror; and to hold out their hand to those who had humiliated and tortured them.
This time Aristide did not content himself with metaphors, although he did manage a few gems such as "We shall continue to pour the coffee of reconciliation into the filter of justice so that there shall be no mark of violence, no mark of revenge." But he made clear what he was saying, when he added "If an attaché [one of the army's civilian auxiliaries responsible for spying on and terrorizing the population] with his weapon falls into your hands, hand him over to the troops who are restoring security. Every day, walk with the American troops who provide you with unlimited security, and with the multi-national forces who give security free of charge."
This speech of reconciliation was obviously not aimed at the bourgeoisie, which still harbors an intense hatred for Aristide. Of course, they do not hate him because he has become a political tool of the U.S., but because he continues to embody the hopes, despite everything, of the majority of the poor population.
This poor population believed that Aristide's return represented hope for a little justice, or at least, hope that the killers would be called to account. Yet, it is Aristide himself who now has that hope! The American leaders, Aristide and all the politicians who returned with him have all said that it is up to the police to enforce the law and up to the judiciary to dispense justice.
This is not just a matter of words. TV stations all over the world widely covered the arrest of a few attachés by the American army. But they practically ignored events when the same American army handed the attachés over to the police. It is up to the police to enforce the law! But in Haiti the police are part of the army, and in fact are one of its most sinister sections, headed as they were by Colonel François, the mastermind of the September 1991 coup and head of the corps of attachés. Handing the attachés over to the police ensures that they will be both protected and allowed to go free.
After all, there is no reason why the attachés or the thugs of the FRAPH (the far right militia also sponsored by the army) should be unduly concerned about the American troops, when the FRAPH's leader, Constant, has been left completely untouched and remains a public figure. Not to mention the fact that he had long been on the CIA's payroll — by admission of the U.S. government.
The pretense of disarming the attachés, Macoutes and private militia members is nothing but a vast smoke screen. The American army doesn't need the "arms repurchase operation" to disarm these forces. Files at the police headquarters occupied by American troops contain a list of all attachés, giving their name, photograph, address and gun license number. U.S. troops need do nothing more than to go to the attachés' homes. But there is no question that the U.S. army will do so. U.S. leaders know that they or the local bourgeoisie may need the attachés against the population. Therefore they leave the attachés armed and ready to be used. Some of them in fact are still active. Even since Aristide's return they have murdered several people in Cité Soleil. Today most attachés, Macoutes and members of the FRAPH are keeping a low profile, simply because they are worried, despite Aristide's promises and the presence of the American army, that the population in their neighborhood may wipe them out.
It is against this population that the "arms repurchase" operation is being carried out — to get them to turn in the guns they find.
The Haitian army is itself disorganized today, partly because it also fears the population. In certain provincial towns, barracks are empty and their
occupants have disappeared. Despite the explicit wish of U.S. leaders to leave policing tasks to the Haitian forces of repression, American troops are forced to carry out these tasks in many places. Inconvenient as this is, the United States does not want to see a vacuum of power created. That is why one of the U.S. occupiers' main priorities is to set up a Haitian police force. In the meantime, the American troops will try to unload this task of policing on their auxiliaries in the "multinational force".
The organizing of a police force independent of the army raises the problem of restructuring the army. But it's more and more obvious that this can only mean keeping the former military hierarchy, while reinforcing it with new faces. The pardoning of the army as it is — that is, the same army which carried out the coup and exercised a dictatorship — helps prepare the way for this, particularly since Aristide gives his blessing to this pardon. The way is also prepared when Evans Paul (mayor of Port-au-Prince, a former Maoist and now supporter of Arisitide — the archetypical careerist politician) pays tribute to the "legitimist captains" who apparently offered him their protection under the dictatorship. No wonder this American-backed demagogue has become the darling of the bourgeoisie.
The U.S. has announced that this reorganization of the army will mean a reduction in troop levels. A large part of the first credits released by the U.S. "to help Haiti" will be devoted to this operation. Thirty-two million dollars is to go toward developing the police; 6 million toward reinforcing the old section chiefs; and 5 million to employ the soldiers and attachés whom the army no longer needs. They are the only part of the future unemployed whose future is already guaranteed — in a country where 80% of the urban population is unemployed. (Of course, the bulk of the credits — 169 million dollars worth — will go to foreign, mostly U.S., banks and businesses.)
For the moment, the main change in the army, if not the only one, has been the departure of Cédras, Biamby and François.
It would have been too much of a provocation if they had been allowed to stay. But these latest "exiles" depart Haiti with few worries about their futures. Cédras, for example, has agreed to leave Haiti for Panama. His fortune is estimated at something like 100 million dollars, most of it stolen during the years of the dictatorship, supplemented by spin-offs from the drug trade! The American government has rented Cédras' luxury villa in Port au Prince along with his other residences, paying six months' rent in advance: a way of giving the departing dictator a bit of pocket money and, above all, of protecting these residences against possible "déchoukage" (dismantling by the population). This may be a mere detail, but it says a lot about the relations between the leaders of the military coup and the American army.
The aim of this army is to whitewash the Haitian military hierarchy and bourgeoisie who financed the coup, to protect the thousands of thugs who supported the army and the bourgeoisie, and to keep them safe from any attempt by the population to take revenge or even try to disarm the thugs. Nonetheless, today the poor population for the most part still views the American army as an army of liberation.
Up until now, the U.S. leaders can consider their operation a success. They have been able to invade Haiti, in order to monitor the poor population, with this population's consent and with the blessing of all those who claim to speak for it, starting with Aristide himself.
At the same time, they have managed to get the better of French imperialism, which openly poses as a rival of American imperialism in Haiti. In the first ten months of his presidency, Aristide had been inclined to play on this rivalry to gain a little room for maneuver. France prided itself on the fact that it was the French ambassador who had saved Aristide's life, rescuing him from the army. Now, however, the French embassy has been completely eclipsed by the American embassy.
Blinded by their hatred for Aristide and everything he symbolized, the Haitian bourgeoisie (traditionally pro-American, to put it mildly) viewed the American military intervention with some bewilderment, since its main purpose seemed to be to bring back the priest-president. This bewilderment bordered on panic when the dislocating of the Haitian army seemed to leave the privileged classes at the mercy of "the populace".
The American army's strong interventions against "looters" were political gestures toward both the bourgeoisie and the poor. The American army may tolerate the poor population turning on some Macoutes, attachés and underlings of the dictatorship, provided that the population then hands them over to U.S. forces and turns in any recovered weapons. But the U.S. army will not let the poor threaten the property of the profiteers, even those profiteers who grew rich under the dictatorship by stealing from the coffers of the state; nor even those who grew rich by hoarding food, medicine and essential goods to sell at higher and higher prices to those with money, while letting the rest literally die of hunger.
The American army will not allow the poor to lay their hands on the property of the rich, no matter how ill-gotten this property is. It has intervened precisely to prevent this process from starting. The U.S. army may allow the poor to take out their anger on a few henchmen of the dictatorship — but only if they do not start attacking their property, which can eventually lead to attacking all forms of private property. That is why the American army, whose leaders talk about disarming civilians, let the Haitian bourgeoisie prepare for war against the "looters", arming themselves or their henchmen. Already several people have been killed in incidents during which starving people tried to help themselves to warehoused food.
From the American army to the Haitian army, from the bourgeoisie's private militias to the far-right thugs, in spite of their disagreements, they all stand together against a common enemy: the poor population of Haiti. Whether the Haitian armed bands understood it or not — the U.S. intervened only to be able to preserve by other means, the property of the rich, the crying social inequalities, and the right of a bourgeois minority to enrich itself off the poverty of the majority of the population. And, of course, this intervention benefits not only the plundering Haitian privileged class, but more particularly, the American corporations who directly or indirectly siphon off the majority of the surplus value produced in Haiti.
This is what Aristide supports, this is what he uses his credit among the poor to sanction. In his speeches, he condemns the looting which "seeks to discredit democracy and reconciliation". He appoints a rich merchant as prime minister. He makes frantic attempts to win the favor of "the business community", in other words the parasitic bourgeoisie which has long been investing less and less in production and more and more in the infinitely more profitable areas of speculation, smuggling and drug trafficking. He promises to carry out to the letter the program of the IMF, which envisages privatization, state sector job cuts, and so on.
This policy of Aristide obviously must reassure the bourgeoisie, dissipating its false fears and increasing still further its arrogance toward the poor masses.
It is not certain, however, that Aristide has thereby won the bourgeoisie's esteem. It is not certain that the privileged classes see him as someone reliable.
It has already been agreed, with Aristide's own consent that he will step down from power at the end of this term in office (when he will have served less than two years of his original five-year term as president, having spent more than three years in exile). And Aristide will then be lucky if he isn't driven out of the country.
However, the situation is by no means stable yet in Haiti. Admittedly, the poor, and particularly the working class and poor farmers, will confront the next political tests under the worst possible conditions. The main obstacle is of course the powerful force of repression represented by the American army, a far greater force than the Haitian army. But on a completely different level, an equally important obstacle is the poor population's continuing illusions about Aristide.
At the same time, however, events may teach the poor many lessons very quickly. The rapid mobilization which occurred when a false rumor spread of an attack on Aristide; the continuing scenes of "déchoukage" against the attachés; the continuing raids on food stores despite the attitude of the American army — all these things show that the energy of the masses has not been exhausted, even if it is an energy fed by despair and hunger. And so long as this energy has not been dissipated, a section of the population may become aware that it is not in their interests to hand in the weapons they take from the attachés, that instead they should keep them; that they should not just hope the American troops will disarm their enemy, but that they can do so themselves. This section of the population may also come to realize that it is not a crime to take from the speculators' food stores, but a right, a legitimate defense against the bourgeoisie which starves them.
Obviously, it will take more than a spontaneous realization, especially under present conditions, for the poor masses to become aware that they have no future but poverty and hunger if they do not disarm all the bourgeoisie's armed bands, including the army, and replace them with an armed population — and if they do not completely expropriate the bourgeoisie itself. This understanding requires a party which stands for class struggle, a genuine communist party.
We can only hope that Aristide's restoration to power will not be the end, but the beginning of the Haitian working class and poor's rise to political maturity.