The Spark

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

Haiti:
After the Presidential Election

Apr 27, 2011

In Haiti, the recent presidential election brought Michel Martelly to power, a popular-music star who perhaps is better known by his stage name “Sweet Micky.”

In a dirt-poor country where the consequences of the January 2010 earthquake are still visible and where people are in the throes of a cholera epidemic, the conditions of the election showed once again that, for the big powers, “election” and “democracy” are nothing but hollow words.

Following the first round of the election, the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) declared that the two candidates who had come out on top were Haiti’s one-time First Lady, Mirlande Manigat, and Jude Célestin, a former protégé of President René Préval. Mirlande Manigat’s husband, Leslie Manigat, became president in February 1988 thanks to the army’s top brass who were in power, but a few months later, the military dismissed him. As for Jude Célestin, he started his career by joining Préval’s group of henchmen and thus received the former president’s support. Commentators expected him to win the election, thanks to his rich backers who, for instance, paid the cost of renting a small airplane that flew his name over the ruins of Port-au-Prince, the capital which has not yet been rebuilt, and dropped propaganda leaflets over a number of provincial towns.

However, people were so utterly fed up with Haiti’s former president and his protégé that when the results were proclaimed by the CEP, the overwhelming feeling was that the election had been rigged. There were demonstrations asking for the ballot to be cancelled. Finally, the CEP backed down and decided after a “most objective” scrutiny that the actual winners of the first round were Manigat and Martelly.

In the second round, the singer “topped the charts” with 67.6% of the vote.

“Sweet Micky,” aka President Martelly, obviously owes his election to the poorer layers of the population who voted for him as a means of expressing their distrust of the political class. However, Martelly has never hidden his personal admiration for the former president and dictator, François Duvalier, and soon after he became president himself, he appointed councillors coming from the far-right Macoute movement.

That the poor have chosen to vote for a singer, after following in the steps of Aristide, a former priest, stands as an indication of their demoralization and disorientation. However, the poorer people have shown more than once in the past, that they are capable of sudden outbursts of anger or will at times react with the utmost violence, wiping out anything that stands in their way, as Jean-Claude Duvalier learned when he was ousted from the country 25 years ago.

The following is an assessment of the situation created by the election of Martelly, appearing in the April 27, 2011 editorial of La Voix des Travailleurs [Workers Voice], a paper published by comrades in Haiti, members of the Organization of Revolutionary Workers.

The Poorer Classes Will Get Only What They Can Force Out of Martelly and His Government

The announcement of Michel Martelly’s overwhelming victory (67.6% of the vote) in the second round of the presidential election was greeted with spontaneous demonstrations of joy in Port-au-Prince and in most provincial towns where the vote was almost transformed into a plebiscite for Martelly, a.k.a. “Sweet Micky.” In the poorer areas of Port-au-Prince, shouts of joy were heard when he was officially proclaimed the winner, and his victory was celebrated well into the night of April 4. The enthusiasm was such that many workers from the industrial zone stayed home the next day – taking the risk of being fired.

Some observers think that a lot of people simply used the ballot as a way of protesting against Haiti’s traditional political class, especially Préval and his likes, who were loathed by the same poor people who had voted massively for the Préval clique in 2006. Indeed, be it under Aristide, the Latortue-Boniface tandem or Préval, the living conditions in Haiti have rapidly worsened. The January 2010 earthquake and the cholera epidemic have shown openly and most dramatically the utter decomposition of the state, the powerlessness and the uselessness of leaders whose main preoccupation is to get rich quick at the expense of the Public Treasury. The wealthy can no longer hide their scorn for the demands of the poorer people. Their impotence, if not their unwillingness to use the means of the state to rescue ordinary people is patent, even when the people are trying to survive in life-threatening conditions. They are nothing but a bunch of scavengers.

The presidential and the legislative elections have given the masses the opportunity to express their frustration, to tell Préval they’ve had enough of him and wanted some things to change.

In Haiti, ordinary folks associate Martelly with the possibility of a change for a better life. They had the choice between 19 candidates, but they voted for a popular singer suddenly turned politician for the duration of an electoral campaign because they believed that Martelly was intent on changing their living conditions. But their high hopes rested on sham, elusive promises made by the singer from the beginning to the end of his campaign. He presented himself as the candidate for “change,” who wanted to “break with the past” and was capable of “changing the whole system,” because, said he, there lay the main cause of Haiti’s poverty.

In all his public interventions, he ripped into the Préval government for having done nothing to improve the daily life of Haitians and promised free schools, land reform, creating new jobs, finding places where the victims of the earthquake could finally settle down.

Apparently, some people are quite happy to sit back and wait. They say that now that the election is over, there is nothing else to be done except to wait and see, and in due time, the government will come up with the jobs, salaries, homes, free schools they dream of. However, chances are that by giving “time” to the government, their “dream” will become a “nightmare” – as was the case under Aristide and Préval.

The worst thing that could happen would be for the poorer people to think that now that Martelly has been “elected,” all they have to do is to keep their fingers crossed and hope for the best. They must not keep quiet, hoping that the government is working in their interest and should not be disturbed, while the rich continue to lobby the government and use the power that comes with wealth and their stranglehold over the economy in order to further their interests.

The vast majority of the people is extremely poor simply because a tiny minority gets the lion’s share of the country’s resources, owns all the means of production and gets wealthier by the day. They invest in various types of trafficking, in the shameless over-exploitation of workers and in the permanently increasing prices of basic foodstuffs and consumer goods. As the cost of living goes up, they make fortunes starving the poor.

When things go from bad to worse for the poor in general, the Mevz, Brandt, Biggio, Madsen, Boulos, Apaid, Backer, etc. are better and better off.

Poor people are prey for these blood-thirsty sharks who are systematically getting rid of what is left of the state machine with the help of Haiti’s successive governmental cliques.

It is impossible to bring about a notable change in the standard of living of the people or in the “system” Martelly ranted against during the campaign without taking from this handful of very wealthy people. Martelly’s hands are tied and he is nothing more than a puppet in the hands of the wealthy. They are the ones who financed his campaign and who helped him put together his government. They regularly met with him before the election, and they continue to do so.

Haiti’s bourgeoisie fully controls the new president. The president cannot be expected to make the slightest dent in these people’s wealth. Whoever has the money runs the country. During his campaign, Martelly never made the smallest allusion to the rich, in other words, to those who are the system’s main supporters and biggest profiteers. Martelly said he wanted to “change” the system, but how can you do that if you refuse to challenge the foremost proponents and stakeholders of the system, in other words, the propertied classes?

Martelly has already made it clear in his April 27 press conference that his government would finance its free schooling program by levying taxes on the Borlette (Haiti’s most popular lottery) and on money transfers. However, these taxes will be paid by the clients and not by the bankers who organize Borlettes or by the big money transfer companies. In other words, Martelly will tax the poor, those who buy Borlette tickets or survive thanks to the money transfers sent from relatives abroad, who have up to three different jobs to make a living and feed their family in Haiti.

The new president is very proud of his success in recruiting experts who were not members of the task force surrounding his predecessor, René Préval. However, most of these experts, if not all, served under the Duvaliers, father and son. Daniel Supplice occupied a high-ranking post between 1977 to 1986 under François Duvalier; Charles Gervais was Jean-Claude Duvalier’s lawyer; Calixte Delatour was one of the supporters of the Duvalier dictatorship and the family’s lawyer from 1964 onwards. What can the poor expect from such a bunch of slick and tricky politicians who are tied by family and personal relationships to the propertied class and share the same class interests, and whose ambition is to get as rich as they can before the next presidential election or before being dismissed?

The restaurant is perhaps “under new management,” but the food is as crummy as ever. The new faces are there to trick people into believing things will change. But the only thing Martelly’s experts have come up with is the new taxes on the Borlette and on money transfers.

One thing is certain: Michel Martelly’s government will generate a – relatively – new layer of big shots who will want to siphon out whatever money there still is or there will be in the state’s coffers, while the poor continue to starve to death. The wealthy will carry on with their profit-making schemes in Haiti’s ocean of poverty, with the assurance that Martelly will be able to calm the poor down with promises and lies and mind-numbing deceitful speeches.

For how long? Préval was very proud to have been Haiti’s only president who had stayed in power for two full terms. He thought of it as an accomplishment but was beaten to a pulp by the poorer people between the two rounds of the last election. His popularity is today at its lowest and he doesn’t speak anymore of walking or driving by himself in the streets of the capital – something he said he wanted to do after his last term as president.

Thanks to the mobilization of the poor, Martelly was hauled back in by the scruff of his neck and replaced Jude Célestin as the second official candidate in the second round of the election. And this time too, it was thanks to the poor people’s vote that he became Haiti’s new president, against the wishes and skulduggery of the Préval-Bellerive government.

Martelly’s promises will not be even partially implemented unless the poorer classes stay mobilized and increase their pressure on Haiti’s wealthy and on those at their service in government.

The only way to obtain anything is to yank it away from the government. The only way to be heard by Haiti’s political and economic leaders is to have recourse to sheer strength and exert maximum pressure.