by Joseph Green
(CV #33, March 25, 2004)
. US imperialism is brutally interfering in Haiti again. The Bush administration has backed a revolt against the government of President Aristide and forced him out of the country. It has sent in troops to suppress Aristide loyalists and keep order. This is yet another American occupation -- for how long is unclear. The shape of the new government will be determined mainly, not by the Haitian people, but by what is acceptable to Bush.
. Haiti is one of the poorest countries of the world. And for a long time the people were held down by death squads like the Tontons Macoute. For a time the people thought they saw an alternative to their economic misery and lack of political rights. After decades of dictatorship from first the Duvaliers and then a military regime, they managed to elect Aristide president in late 1990. The masses of the poor backed him because he denounced their oppressors, called for reforms, and organized the Lavalas movement among the poorer majority of the people. He was, however, overthrown by the Haitian military in September 1991. He returned to office when in October 1994 the Clinton administration carried out a US invasion of Haiti and overthrew the military junta. Aristide finished his term of office and was succeeded in office at the end of 1995 by one of his supporters, Rene Preval. Then Aristide was elected to office again in the presidential elections of late 2000.
. Meanwhile imperialism was losing patience with the Aristide government. An international cut-off of direct aid to Haiti had begun in protest against electoral fraud in the mid-year 2000 legislative elections, and indeed there was such fraud. The cut-off hit Haiti hard as aid constituted a large part of the government budget, as well as providing direct assistance to individual Haitians. The Bush administration continued the pressure on Haiti, as it preferred to get rid of Aristide altogether. And finally, as a revolt spread against Aristide, US marines removed him from the country.
. Does this mean that Aristide is an anti-imperialist leader? No, it doesn't. Although he is hated by the conservative wing of imperialism, he had relations with Clinton and the liberal wing of US imperialism. The Clinton administration had restored Aristide to the presidency in Haiti in 1994, but it had a price for doing this. It insisted that Aristide carry out a neo-liberal economic policy of privatization and austerity. And since then, Aristide had moved in the direction of the economic course imposed by the US and the world agencies. This intensified especially during Preval's presidency, and continued during Aristide's second term. Meanwhile, even after the aid cutoff that began under Clinton, a section of the Democratic Party has continued to have hopes in Aristide.
. Although the Bush administration sent in Marines to remove Aristide by flying him out of the country, the revolt against him was not simply a creation of the US government. Aristide had been immensely popular with the poverty-stricken majority of the Haitian people. But since 1994 he and Rene Preval have sacrificed most of his promised reforms to a neo-liberal economic policy, and they sought to work in conjunction with part of the Haitian elite. They came into conflict with various of the organizations and self-help groups of the Haitian masses who had previously supported Aristide. The Lavalas movement itself split into two parts, as Aristide organized a new group, the Fanmi Lavalas (Lavalas Family), and left the OPL (formerly the Lavalas Political Organization but later the Organization of People in Struggle). The Fanmi Lavalas no longer represented a mobilization of the people with its own initiative, as the Lavalas movement originally was, but became a personal instrument of Aristide's will. The government itself ruled roughly, through a system of gangs (Chimeres), patronage, and personal power. It became corrupt, and its leaders lived very well indeed while Haiti sunk deeper into poverty and despair.
. Thus Aristide came into conflict with a wide variety of forces. Already under Preval, the split in the Lavalas movement had resulted in a governmental crisis; for the last part of Preval's term, parliament was shut down and he ruled by decree. As a result of the disputed election of 2000, this crisis continued. Aristide came into sharper conflict with organizations of the working poor who were seeking to improve their conditions, and his government also had bloody clashes with students. The opposition contained groups with conflicting political views, including former Lavalists, political trends with a mild reformist viewpoint, opportunist groupings, and those with the viewpoint of "civic society". He also faced opposition from conservative businesspeople, much of the traditional elite, and sympathizers of the old dictatorships. And of course the leaders of the old death squads, many of whom had gone into exile, wanted to see him go as well.
. When the revolt began this year, there were few left willing to stand in Aristide's support. He retained a good deal of popularity among the poor, but this was a passive support: the Lavalas had long before ceased to be an instrument of mass mobilization, and it was the gangs that were active. Thus it was not until he had fled the country that one saw signs of mass anger in the poor urban districts.
. The active forces of the revolt against Aristide were also weak. The best-armed forces of the revolt was led in large part by notorious former rightists, stained with the blood of the Haitian poor. They may well take revenge again on the Haitian people. US imperialism, even when restoring Aristide to power in 1994, had made sure to keep these forces in reserve. For example, when it raided the offices of the death squads during its brief occupation of Haiti in 1994, the American military had captured 160,000 pages of documents about the atrocities of the army and of the death squads of FRAPH. These included trophy pictures of atrocities, kept by the death squads to boast about their crimes. The US removed the documentation from Haiti, and never allowed them back. It thus shielded the murderers and torturers from exposure and prosecution.
. Now the US is setting up a government in Haiti. It wants to ensure that the death squad leaders relinquish power to the civilian government that the US wants. The Bush administration wants to put the death squad leaders in reserve for use on another day. US imperialism talks about democracy; it deposes governments in the name of democracy; but it always preserves the gun and the noose as its own means of bringing countries to heel. After all, there is always a chance that the masses will rise again. And the Bush administration doesn't even quite dare to altogether count out Aristide as a force yet. It flew him to Africa, but then twitched nervously as Aristide came back to the Caribbean, reaching Jamaica.
. Alongside US imperialism, French imperialism has been particularly active in the last phase of the removal of Aristide. Because the French government put some obstacles in the way of a unilateral US invasion of Iraq, it has been seen by reformist forces in the anti-war movement as almost anti-imperialist. But only the French anti-war activists, not the French government, were concerned with the plight of the Iraqi people. It is the French working masses whose class interests incline them to international solidarity; the French government merely sought to ensure that its own imperialist interests were protected. And hence the same French government that squabbles with the Bush administration over Iraq, has joined together with Bush in dealing with Haiti. Meanwhile the UN is looking into how to play its usual role of cleaning up after US intervention.
. The Bush administration wants a government in Haiti that will carry out the neo-liberal policy even more faithfully than Aristide did. It wants a government that will abandon Aristide's rhetoric against the bourgeoisie and the foreign exploiters, and loyally follow the twists and turns of US policy. And it wants a government that will keep Haitians from fleeing to the US, as the American bourgeoisie is racist. To these ends, it is carrying out the occupation.
. Aristide has always promised social reform and denounced the foreign oppression of Haiti.
Aristide and the Lavalas movement promised a lot in the days of the struggle against the death
squads and the old elite, and back then they persisted in dedicated struggle for this despite threats
and repression from the then-existing dictatorship. But despite his rhetoric, Aristide thought he
could accomplish reform through reconciliation with the Haitian elite and compromise with
imperialism. He joined with the Clinton wing of imperialism, and he joined with a section of the
Haitian elite. The result has been another tragedy for Haiti. Aristide turned his movement from a
rallying point of the poor into another fetter on their activity, and he established a regime of
personal enrichment. Meanwhile the dominant force in the opposition coalition mainly fought
with Aristide over the spoils of government. What the Haitian workers and poor need now is a
class movement in their own interests. Only such a movement can stand up to the Bush
administration, world agencies such as the IMF and World Bank, and all foreign imperialist
pressure. And only such a movement can provide the social reform that the masses sought from
Last modified: April 13, 2004.