To understand the imperialist intervention from the US and its allies, look to Haiti and the region's history, argues John Clarke
Both the US and Canadian governments have urged their citizens to avoid travelling to Haiti due to an ‘eruption of public anger at the Moïse administration and, more broadly, the Haitian government over economic malaise and rampant corruption.’ The New York Times article that I have cited here is not wrong when it comes to the popular hatred for the government of Jovenel Moïse but it chooses not to dwell on the fact that Haitians are faced with such a political regime precisely because of the efforts of outside powers, with the US, Canada and France playing the leading role in this regard.
The present wave of resistance can’t possibly be understood without considering the history of colonialism and imperialist intervention that Haiti has been subjected to. The Haitian Revolution, from 1791 to 1804, was both a slave rebellion and an anti-colonialist struggle that produced fear and loathing in the ruling circles of Europe and the United States. The subjugation of the people of Haiti has remained a priority for the imperialist powers ever since.
In 1825, France sent warships to Haiti and extorted a ruinous payment of 150 million francs as ‘compensation’ for the emancipation of the slaves. The proceeds of this act of gangsterism have never been returned to the people of impoverished Haiti. The country was directly occupied by the US between 1915 and 1934 and, after this period, indirect domination was maintained, with brutal puppet regimes ensuring the flow of colonial profits. The regimes of ‘Papa Doc’ and ‘Baby Doc’ Duvalier, between 1957 and 1986, have become legendary for their brutality and use of unrestrained repression.
In 1990, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a reformer and liberation theologist, became Haiti’s first democratically elected President. He won with a massive majority and enjoyed huge popular support but a US-led alliance worked for his overthrow and a military coup deposed him in 1991. As he capitulated significantly to the dictates of the neoliberal Washington consensus, Aristide was able to regain the Presidency two more times but, in 2004, he was forced into exile by another coup.
The year before the 2004 coup, the Canadian Government of Jean Chrétien had pulled together an “Ottawa Initiative on Haiti” to which no Haitians were invited but that was comprised of senior officials from the US, France and Canada. A plan was developed to remove Aristide, restore the previous military structure and install a system of colonial domination fronted by the UN. This ushered in the repressive MINUSTAH occupation of the Country.
The supposed concern to ‘restore democracy’ in Venezuela and the loudly proclaimed desire to allow its people to freely express their will, are exposed as so much deceit and hypocrisy when a look is taken at the situation in Haiti. The kind of democracy that exists there, following the overthrow of Aristide and the period of occupation, is a transparent farce. It is not necessary to take an uncritical view of the Maduro government to immediately appreciate that those in power in Venezuela have a base of support many times greater than the puppet regime in Haiti. President Moïse took power in 2017, in conditions close to martial law, beset by rampant allegations of vote rigging and voter suppression and with a turnout in the election of only 18%. He was only brought in to front the operation because his predecessor and sponsor, Michel Martelly, hoped to quell massive social unrest by putting a new face on things. Martelly had himself won power in an election with a pathetic voter turnout of only 16%.
Yet, none of this is of the slightest concern to champions of democracy in Washington, Ottawa and Paris. Their Haitian puppet holds power because he is propped up by the ‘Core Group’ of ‘the Friends of Haiti’ which consists of the ambassadors of Canada, France, Brazil, Germany and the US and representatives from Spain, the EU and OAS. This body has provided legitimacy to the hard pressed regime, even as it has been challenged by the movement of resistance and opposition on the streets. Thousands of people have mobilised against Moïse in a wave of protests that has challenged his corrupt and discredited regime and demanded its ouster. Even as police attempt hold back this popular struggle for democratic rights, the representatives of the Core Group have issued a statement “acknowledging the professionalism shown by the [Canadian trained and financed] Haitian National Police.”
It is important and telling that the massive wave of protests in Haiti is very much linked to the imperialist attack on Venezuela. In 2005, Hugo Chávez signed an agreement with fourteen Caribbean countries to meet their oil needs and to be repaid at nominal interest rates. Haiti was not part of the initial group but signed onto the ‘Petrocaribe’ arrangement two years later. In 2010, following a massive earthquake in Haiti, Venezuela wrote off the country’s oil debt and helped finance reconstruction. “It was not Haiti that had a debt with Venezuela,” Chávez said at the time, “but Venezuela had a debt to Haiti.” He referred to the fact that, in 1815, the first President of Haiti, Alexandre Pétion, gave sanctuary to Latin American liberator, Simón Bolivar, and provided him with arms. A real bond of anti-colonial solidarity exists that Venezuela was acting upon.
Last year, the IMF provided a strings-attached loan to Haiti that included a demand that the fuel subsidies that had existed under Petrocaribe be abolished. The Haitian Government that accepted this harsh measure has also voted with the US in the Organisation of American States (OAS) against Venezuela. These attacks and acts of betrayal have been a very large part of what has driven people in Haiti to resist and take to the streets.
There is some irony that the system of colonial domination that wants to restore Venezuela to the role of helpless victim has sparked a fresh upsurge in Haiti, the very country that has been the object of some of its most determined efforts to contain and eradicate resistance. The full ruthlessness and the limitless hypocrisy of the imperialist powers are revealed in all of this. So too, however, is the long and rich history of liberation struggle that exists in Latin America and the Caribbean. Trump, Trudeau and Macron are discovering that that history is far from over and that it lives in the defiance of the people of Venezuela and the movement on the streets in Haiti.
John Clarke became an organiser with the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty when it was formed in 1990 and has been involved in mobilising poor communities under attack ever since.