The general strike gripping Haiti is the latest chapter in a struggle against dictatorship, corruption and the bloody history of US intervention, argues Unjum Mirza
General strikes and mass demonstrations continue to rock Haiti against the brutal and corrupt government of Jovenel Moïse, who refuses to step down even though his term of office ended on 7 February.
Many fear that Moïse is preparing the ground for dictatorial rule. The decades of dictatorship under the Duvalier family – with the full support of the US – ended in 1986 following a revolutionary upsurge that remains fresh in people’s memories.
In a rigged election, Moïse was elected to a five-year term in 2016. However, having taken office in 2017, he wants to prolong his term for an additional year. In that year, he aims to re-write the constitution drafted solely by himself and a handpicked committee of his allies.
Having dissolved parliament Moïse has ruled the past year by decree combined with deadly state repression and violence directed against political opponents, workers and the poor.
While Moïse praised Trump, his rise to power was contrived under Obama’s administration with both Hilary Clinton as secretary of state and former US President Bill Clinton, as UN Special envoy to Haiti, playing key roles in his ascendency.
Little surprise then that the newly elected US President Joe Biden has thrown his weight behind Moïse’s position, ‘for a five-year term, … scheduled to end on February 7, 2022.’
In an all too familiar sick joke – under both Democrat and Republican administrations – Biden announced his key foreign policy goal to ‘rally the nations of the world to defend democracy globally, to push back the authoritarianism’s advance’ just as he firmed up his support for the authoritarian regime in Port-au-Prince.
In truth, Biden’s policy is a continuation of over a century-long history of US imperial intervention, suppression and support for murderous dictatorships subservient to US political interests to extract wealth from desperately impoverished countries.
Haiti remains the most impoverished country in the western hemisphere. Even before the devastating earthquake that struck in 2010, the World Health Organisation estimated that some 2.4 million Haitians couldn’t afford food.
Sixty percent of Haitians live in poverty and 25 percent are in extreme poverty. Hundreds of thousands of people are malnourished. A new UN report says that nearly one third of children suffer from chronic malnutrition.
This is the result of decades of imperialist domination from the United States and other powers.
Haiti was formed in 1804 after the successful slave revolution led by Toussaint L’Ouverture and Jean Jacques Dessalines defeated invading French and British armies determined to restore colonial power.
While Haitians emerged victorious, their enemies have never forgotten nor forgiven. European powers feared slave revolts would spread to other colonies and Haiti has been punished and crippled ever since. At the barrel of a gun, the new republic agreed to pay reparations to French slave owners for their loss of earnings. It took until 1947 to pay off.
In 1915, the US invaded to ensure money loaned would be repaid. The occupation lasted until 1934 and left the country under military rule. Francois ‘Papa Doc’ Duvalier became dictator in 1957 with the assistance of the US and the military. Duvalier’s Tonton Macoute militia repressed and murdered tens of thousands of Haitians. In 1959, US marines invaded to keep Duvalier in power.
The election held two years later was the most fraudulent in history, with Duvalier winning by 1,320,748 votes to zero. Duvalier’s proclaimed himself ‘president for life’ with power handed his son Jean-Claude ‘Baby Doc’ Duvalier following his death in 1971.
The hated Duvalier dictatorship was overthrown in a revolutionary upsurge in February 1986.
Today UN troops occupy Haiti. Their role is described as ‘stabilising’ which in reality means keeping a lid on social discontent. In the first three days of the earthquake, the UN didn’t pull anyone out of the rubble – not one.
If anyone holds any illusions about the Biden presidency and US foreign policy, then consider this: while Biden firms up his support for Moïse, the racist US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is loading Haitian refugees and migrants, including infants and young children, back to Port-au-Prince with a threatened explosion of coronavirus cases and deaths, a health care system in shambles and a protracted political crisis. Haiti is among the least prepared countries in the hemisphere to deal with the deadly pandemic.
Haiti has for so long been caught in a vice: between corrupt governments and dictatorships with the support of US imperialism on the one hand; on the other, genuine mass movements and uprisings which have been misled by those who were part of past corrupt governments and dictatorships with the support of US imperialism.
The Haitian general strike and mass protests must grow and deepen while maintaining their independence in demanding an end to the threat of dictatorship, corruption, brutal austerity and in fighting for social justice.
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Unjum Mirza is a driver on the London Underground. He is on the Editorial Board of Tunnel Vision, the rank and file bulletin, and is an Aslef union branch chair.
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