Some observations on the current situation in Haiti

Haitians protest against President Jovenel Moïse - Port-au-Prince February 2021

By Martin Woodley

The assassination, and the manner of its execution, of President Jovenel Moise has brought the attention of the world to the situation of crisis which has existed in the Caribbean republic since the end of January, when Moise refused to step down after the end of his term. However, to understand the crisis one has to look back to its origins, the essence of which is its relation to imperialism, and particularly US imperialism.

When President Jean Vilbrun Guillaume Sam was killed by an angry crowd in 1915, U.S. Navy ships lay on the Haitian coast waiting to quell unrest to keep Haiti stable for American business interests there. In the wake of the killing, U.S. Marines occupied Haiti and remained there for 19 years, establishing a de facto US protectorate, assuming control over all arms of government and dictating the content of a new constitution. In particular, this period of the American protectorate brought to an end the prohibition of foreign ownership of land, the bedrock of Haitian national independence since the slave revolution and establishment of the republic in 1804. Roosevelt completed the US withdrawal in 1934, however, retaining control of Haiti’s finances until 1947. There also ensued a series of US proxy governments which ruled virtually by decree, until a revolt by the Garde ushered in a brief period of democratic rule.

The brief period of democratic rule brought some reforms, however, its demise came about in circumstances reminiscent to those prevailing under the presidency of Jovenel Moise – a refusal to step down at the end of the presidential term which led to mass protests, a general strike in Port Au Prince, and the declaration of martial law. The culmination was the rule of the Duvalier dynasty backed by the army and the paramilitary Tonton Macoutes. The Duvalier period lasted until 1986 when a popular uprising caused the army to force Jean Claude Duvalier to flee – this ushered in the present long period which can be described as a long struggle for democracy and national sovereignty.

This long period of struggle is characterised by elections, coups d’etats, CIA covert operations, CIA installed puppet agencies, etc. The most popular reformist politician of the period was Jean Bertrand Aritside. He came to power on a wave of popular sentiment in 1990 at a period in time when the US had overturned  popular revolutions in Grenada and Nicaragua, and the Warsaw Pact was imploding. The response to the election of Aristide was immediate – the CIA provided aid to General Raoul Cedras, who ousted Aristide within seven months of him taking office.  However, in the 2000 election the opposition boycotted the elections and refused to recognise the results. The western press made the now familiar claims of election fraud which greet the victory of any leadership that doesn’t fall in line. Also, the international community froze most of the country’s aid and loan payments, plunging it into chaos and severely damaged Haiti’s social infrastructure. This was exacerbated by the US engaging in agricultural dumping, which destroyed Haitian agriculture.

Aristide, who implemented some popular reforms, disbanded the army, which resulted in a convergence between former army officers and the opposition, which represented many of the business interests. There ensued an uprising of opposition forces resulting in the US forcing Aristide from office and imprisoning many members of Aristide’s Lavalas Party. US, French and Canadian troops occupied the republic, imposed a puppet President, and restored the re-militarised National Police Force. It subsequently emerged that US special forces had been sent secretly to the Dominican Republic to train Haitian oppositionists and members of the disbanded Haitian army to launch attacks on Haitian state targets.

Governments succeeding the Aristide administration have all been firmly in the grip of the country’s business elite and heavily dependent on the US. However, the state is weak – the army is only 500 strong, and the police force is some 15,000 strong. And while parties that seek to represent the popular masses have been banned, the major political parties have very narrow electoral support.

President Jovenel Moise was supported by Trump, and then by Biden primarily because he supported the campaign to oust Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela. However, Moise was extremely unpopular, provoking sustained mass anti-corruption protests and protests against the many deadly massacres and crimes against humanity including between mid 2018 and late 2019, together with several general strikes, including one that closed down Port-au-Prince for a month. Also, in February the IMF gave Haiti $96 million, a condition of which was that government subsidies on fuel had to be drastically reduced. At one stage, Jovenel Moise had gone into hiding as a result of the protests.

These protests have coalesced into a unified movement aimed at redistribution of the amassed wealth of the elite. This new development has come about as a result of the decimation of Haitian agriculture leading the peasantry to flock to the city shanty towns. These areas are run by gangs, some active around criminal activities, some forming a nucleus of revolutionary organisations (Revolutionary Forces of the G-9 Family and Allies) – under the leadership of  Jimmy ‘Barbecue’ Chrisier, who has vowed to lead a revolution against the elite. Since Jovenel Moise was the focus of the anger of the people, and the army is only 500 strong, he was no good for restoring order and putting down the uprisings. That is why the elites turned to external mercenaries. In particular, Moise had an arrest warrant out for a member of the local elite and opposition figure Reginald Boulos, who had been at the centre of both coups against Aristide.

Biden came into office and immediately lent his support to Moïse to stay beyond the 7 February term limit, together with his forcing of all parliamentary deputies and two thirds of the senators to resign, which meant that Moise was effectively ruling by decree. This sent thousands of Haitians protesting in the streets week after week. Over eight days, from June 25-30, Haiti had been subjected to increasing state-sponsored, imperial and gang violence. Massacres killed almost 60 people in Port au Prince, including in Cité Soleil, Delmas and Pétionville, as well as on Rue Magloire Ambroise. Prominent human-rights activist Antoinette (Netty) Duclaire and journalist Diego Charles were two of the victims.

Haitian civil society organizations proposed a negotiated departure for Moïse and his replacement by a non-partisan transitional government that can undertake needed reforms and eventually oversee a secure and credible transition back to democracy. The Biden administration, the UN Security Council, and Organization of American States all rejected this  path forward, insisting on maintaining Moise in power and holding elections at a later date at any cost. Civil society organisations claimed that this amounts to “US and other foreign interference propping up an interim leader whom none of them support”.

The assassination of Moise operation itself was clearly well planned and financed, and had high level support both within and outside of the country. Some of the central figures behind the 7 July assassination were, Christian Emmanuel Sanon, a Miami based Haitian American, Walter Weintemilla, a financier, and Antonio Intriago, the Venezuelan owner of a Florida based security firm. Vientimilla and Intriago aimed to recruit and assemble a private security force to protect Sanon until he became President of Haiti. However, it is widely believed in left circles that Sanon in particular was set up to take the blame, and that the real organisers were sections of the country’s elite, acting with the full knowledge of the US intelligence services. Even as late as 20 July government ministers were claiming that “big fish” at the heart of the conspiracy were still at large.

Following the assassination, the Haitian government instituted a state of siege in the country, and called for a direct US military intervention, citing a continuing threat from “urban terrorists”, and also requested an intervention from the UN. The government also admitted that the Haitian National Police had been “overwhelmed and facing well-armed gangs”. So far, the US has declined to send a military force, but instead have sent senior federal investigators.

Immediately following the assassination there was a political vacuum as various players jostled claims to the Presidency. An element in the backdrop intrigue immediately preceding the assassination is the fact that the acting Prime Minister, Clause Joseph (a creation of the National Endowment for Democracy during the second coup against Aristide) was the apparent successor whereas, Moise appointed Ariel Henry as his replacement. The US, and the rest of the international community immediately recognised Claude Joseph as the interim President, then mysteriously changed tack some days later and recognised Ariel Henry. Claude Joseph agreed under US pressure to step down in favour of Henry and take part in a new unity government.

However, despite the formation of a unity government the western press have been virtually unanimous in their desire for an intervention of some description. The Washington Post carried an editorial calling for swift and muscular international intervention; The Miami Herald carried an editorial on 7 July calling for the US to “get off the sidelines.”

Interestingly, the assassination was organised out of Miami, where there is a large Haitian exile community. The coup attempt against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in November 2019 by approximately 60 former Venezuelan soldiers and two former US green berets based in Columbia – aimed at securing the arrest of Maduro and installing Juan Guido as President – emanated from a private security firm based in Florida. It turns out that the three main exile communities in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach conurbation are the Cuban, Venezuelan and Haitian communities. The Venezuelan coup attempt has been tied to Guaido and Columbian president Ivan Duque, and follows a string of similar attempts at destabilisation.

Taking into consideration the recent unrest in Cuba, It would appear that there is a Florida-Columbia nexus aimed at destabilisation operations in Cuba, Venezuela and Haiti, at least. Given that sanctions and economic blockade have been applied and tightened against both Cuba and Venezuela over a very long period, the hollowness of western leadership, such as Biden’s assertion that he “stands with the Cuban people” against some putative failed socialist experiment becomes more manifest with every one of these incidents – if the conditions of the people were really caused by socialism then surely this would be more obvious if the sanctions and blockades were lifted. Until then the insistence that failed socialist experiments are responsible for the condition of the people ring hollow.

In Haiti, unlike Venezuela and Cuba, there has not taken place a socialist revolution. However, it is clear that despite the sanctions, embargos and economic blockades, the people of Cuba and Venezuela have been able to assert their independence and national sovereignty and enjoy qualitatively better conditions than those enjoyed by the people of Haiti. The current crisis in Haiti results from decades of a neo-colonial relationship with US imperialism, the narrow electoral supports of the ruling oligarchy which have all but disappeared, and the revolt of the people. A revolution in Haiti would at least bring Cuban or Venezuelan independence, dignity and national sovereignty; whereas regime change in Cuba or Venezuela would condemn the Cuban and Venezuelan people to a condition approaching that affecting the people in Haiti.