Mar 1, 2004
Following weeks of fighting in the streets of Haiti's main cities, with more and more of the country taken over by gangs of rebels, the U.S. and France pressured Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide to step down. Aristide was Haiti's only elected president in 200 years of independence.
Aristide had been put into power in 1991 as the result of a vast mobilization of the population that forced through elections. But he was almost immediately overthrown by a military coup, whose leader General Cedras held onto power for three years. Aristide was restored to the presidency in 1994 when the U.S., having decided that the growing popular mobilization might lead to wider unrest in Haiti, sent in marines to convince Cedras and his cohorts to leave. Having been threatened by the army before, Aristide disbanded it, setting up in place his own militias. But this disbanded army soon was regrouping in the form of localized gangs, including among themselves some of the old Tontons Macoutes from Duvalier's days. They lived off the population, carrying out a rampage of rape, robbery and extortion.
If the population had given its overwhelming support to Aristide during all these years, placing their hopes in him, their hopes soon were betrayed. Every day the country fell a little further into misery. The wealthy and the big companies stopped paying any taxes. The militias were no defense against the gangs, and, in fact, without the money to pay his militias, Aristide set them loose to pay themselves by also extorting money from the population, terrorizing people in order to get the money. At the same time, the bosses were tightening the screws on their own workers. Aristide's armed gangs were increasingly used to prevent any kind of dissent, both against his government and against the bosses.
In recent months, as the situation worsened, the popular opposition to Aristide has grown, including among former Aristide supporters. This opposition emboldened many of the gangs developing in the country to build a loose alliance with each other and to move to take over parts of Haiti.
Whatever hopes the population once had in Aristide, the last ten years have shown him and his government to be as corrupt as his predecessors, squirreling away riches or openly flaunting wealth in the poorest country in the Western hemisphere. For such reasons, the rebels were sometimes cheered on by crowds.
At the same time, a more "legal" opposition formed around the Group of 184, an organization of the bosses. While they encouraged the rebel gangs to attack Aristide's followers, they pretended to distance themselves from the gangs, putting themselves forward as the "democratic opposition."
It's very possible that the U.S. and France will push to establish a "coalition" government built around this Group of 184. If so, this will not stop the exactions which the gangs take from the population, nor will it stop the enormous exploitation carried out in the factories and workshops owned by these very same bosses or foreign, including U.S., interests.
If the U.S. and France are intervening in Haiti today, it's only to impose order so their big companies can once again drain wealth out of the industrial zones where desperate workers slave away at below subsistence level wages.
The working people of Haiti have nothing to gain in all of this. But they have shown themselves capable of chasing from power those who would enslave them. They have every reason to do it again.