Eight months after the overthrow of Jean Bertrand Aristide and the occupation of Haiti by UN troops, the puppet regime of Gerard Latortue has shown its true colours. The mass media claim that gangs of Aristide supporters from the slums are attacking the Haitian police and UN forces in what the Latortue government claims is an operation on the part of these gangs called “Operation Baghdad”. In reality these “terrorists” are the poor and working class supporters of former president Aristide who are fighting back against mounting repression and reprisals from the coup-installed government.
The waves of reprisal
The reprisals against Lavalas and Aristide supporters began as the coup was taking place in February. The Haitian ruling class and imperialist powers wish to teach the workers, the peasants and the urban poor of Haiti a lesson. The imperialists are also hoping that the workers and peasants all across the Caribbean and Latin America are paying attention to the events in Haiti, to show them what may be in store for them if they get out of line. Every single major reform or policy of the Aristide government has been, or is in the process of being overturned. The coup-installed government is now trying to remove physically Lavalas from Haiti and wipe any resistance against the occupation and the puppet regime on the part of the workers and poor in Haiti. Far from what the bourgeois media portray as a struggle between vicious gangs in the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, it is in fact a struggle between the classes. The Haitian ruling class, allied with the forces of imperialism and the former officer cast, as well as drug traffickers and the death squads, have launched an all out attack on the workers and poor who supported Aristide.
The Haitian ruling class and US imperialism could not tolerate the reforms of the Aristide government, which had come to power as a result of the revolutionary overthrow of the hated Duvalier dictatorship in the 1980s, hence the US backed a coup against him in 1991, bringing death squads and criminals to power until 1994. This dictatorship exacted a cruel and murderous revenge on the Haitian workers and peasants. US foreign policy changed with Bill Clinton and Aristide was reinstated to power on the back of a US invasion. The US wanted someone in power in Haiti they could control. Clearly they could not control the death squads and the military, so they brought Aristide back. Aristide was a man they thought they could work with. Aristide made a deal with US imperialism. The US preferred a civilian regime, and Aristide promised to follow US and IMF dictates if they helped him return to power. His regime was heavily dependent and indebted to US imperialism, and needed to follow US directives in order to survive.
Aristide did indeed institute several IMF policies and measures, such as the creation of Free Trade zones, which damaged his image and popularity with the masses who were hoping he would continued the reforms promised under his first government. Batay Ouvriye, the “Workers’ Fight”, a militant workers’ organization in Haiti, has a long history of militant trade union struggle and sweatshop organizing. Recently they helped workers at a factory in Ouanaminthe owned by Grupo-M, a Dominican company that makes jeans for Levis, organize a union. Workers there have been fired, intimidated, and beaten in an effort to get rid of the union. Paramilitaries and the members of the Dominican army are being used to terrorize the workers. Ouanaminthe is inside one of these free trade zones established by Aristide, where workers in sweatshops face extremely harsh working conditions and low wages. Batay Ouvriye’s union organizing brought them into conflict with the Aristide regime. Workers earn far less than the minimum wage, which is set at 72 gourdes a day or roughly US $1.50. Surprisingly, the minimum wage was higher under the regime of Baby Doc, where it was about $2.40 a day – and that was 20 years ago. Workers earned roughly twice as much then as they do now.
Batay Ouvriye blames the Aristide regime for setting the precedent of justifying foreign intervention. The return of Aristide in 1994 under US occupation furthered the process of placing Haiti under imperialist control. Batay Ouvriye has battled against the low minimum wage and the free trade zones established by Aristide, as well as the IMF structural adjustment packages instituted by Aristide’s government. When the free trade zone in Ouanaminthe was established, Aristide, who laid the foundation stone with Dominican president Mejia in April 2003, did so in secret. Haitians only heard about it the following day in the Dominican press. Aristide also promised to open 14 free trade zones in Haiti by 2006, saying in his inaugural speech in February 2001 “Haiti has an extraordinary potential to transform herself into a pole of attraction”.
The former army
The Aristide government did however continue with several reforms to the extreme dislike of US imperialism – such as a programme of education for the poor, land reform and a programme of public housing. Aristide had also disbanded Haiti’s military, which had been the source of 33 coups since its inception during the first US occupation from 1915-1934. Members of the former army, as well as members of the CIA trained death squad FRAPH, and former police officers like Guy Phillipe (accused of plotting a coup in 2003), were given safe harbour by segments of the Dominican government and army. After 2000 they began a series of incursions in Haiti, attacking police stations and assassinating members of the Lavalas Party. They would make the incursions and then retreat safely to the Dominican Republic. It is simply not possible that any of this could have been done without the complicity of the US and Dominican governments. Eventually the former military and death squads were able to launch a large offensive in February of this year.
The opposition was able to mobilize middle-class opposition to Aristide, but were unable to win the sympathy and support of the majority of the population, who clearly did not want to see the return of armed groups lead by death squad leaders and murderers from the early 1990s. Many of these people defended the Lavalas regime until the end.
It is quite clear, despite the claims to the contrary of the US and co., that Aristide was kidnapped and forcibly removed from Haiti. As the crisis in Haiti developed throughout February the US seemed content to “wait and see” before they acted in order to guarantee the best possible results for their interests. It seems that developments on February 29 forced the US to act, and act quickly. The former military and death squads had approached Port-au-Prince and demanded that Aristide resign, or they would launch an assault on the capital. Aristide supporters came on the streets and set up roadblocks and were committed to defending the city from the hated former military and death squads. The Haitian Police were desperately outgunned and out-manned. Aristide stated that he would stay and fight. It has now been revealed that as US troops entered Aristide’s house to force him onto the plane that would take him to the Central African Republic, there was a plane refuelling on a tarmac in Jamaica destined for Port-au-Prince. The aircraft was from South Africa, which because of a unilateral assistance treaty between South Africa and Haiti, was delivering a shipment of supplies and arms and ammunition for the Haitian Police in order to fight off the paramilitaries.
The forces of imperialism felt compelled to act. They desperately wanted to avoid an all out civil war, as this would be the least conducive to their interests. In the event of such a conflict, had Aristide won, his regime would have emerged entrenched, armed and hostile to the interests of the US, as the US role in the arming and training of the paramilitaries was well known. It is likely as well that Aristide stalled the shipment of arms, to prevent the arming of his supporters amongst the urban poor and sections of the working class for the defence of his regime. Aristide had been working very hard at reaching a deal with the “democratic opposition” and the imperialists. He had banked all of his hopes on such a deal and agreed to one, as any hope of victory for Aristide without the help of the imperialists would have meant that he would have to rely on the armed working class and poor of Haiti. Only the paramilitaries and the opposition refused and pressed on with their assault, feeling themselves in a position of power. In the end Aristide would have preferred a deal with the paramilitaries and imperialism to save capitalism and his regime rather than see the arming of the workers and poor of Port-au-Prince, as this would have effectively put power in the hands of the workers and poor. To avoid a full out civil war Aristide was forcibly removed from his home, kidnapped and forced onto a plane, and sent into exile before the supply plane arrived from Jamaica. It is an absolute scandal that the US entered Haiti, kidnapped its democratically elected president and removed him from power. Death squads and the former military then entered Port-au-Prince to exact a terrible revenge on Lavalas supporters. Just a few days after the coup the morgue in Port-au-Prince was claiming that it was full and there was no more room for casualties. It is reported that some 800 died within just a few days of the coup alone.
The United Nations quickly passed a resolution giving UN troops a mandate to “restore order” and “assist the Haitian police”. UN troops stood by as the paramilitaries hunted down and killed Lavalas supporters across the country. There was a massacre on March 12 of Lavalas supporters in Bel Air, a slum of Port-au-Prince and again on May 18.
A reactionary puppet regime
The character of the regime can be clearly seen in the vicious way it has attacked and dismantled the reforms instituted by Aristide. Haiti’s agricultural industries have been smashed by the lowering of tariff barriers imposed by multinational institutions and as a result must import most of its food, usually from the US. This, along with the fact that food subsides have been abolished has caused the cost of food to skyrocket.
Poor families have also been evicted from public housing. The public housing works of the Aristide government is in fact being dismantled by none other than the UN. Public housing had been built to assist poor families. The rent paid by these families would be applied for an equity to allow them, for the first time, to own their own house or apartment. These were decent homes with running water and electricity. These homes are now being taken over by the Latortue government and given to UN officials for their own personal housing.
Another reform being dismantled is the agrarian reform. 70 percent of Haiti’s population are poor peasants living in the countryside. Aristide had enacted the Agrarian Reform Act, and had begun to break down the huge land estates of the landowners and began to distribute the land to the peasants. The bourgeois media continually claim that there never was any agrarian reform. If this is true then why are the landowners returning to take their land back and why is there violence in the countryside as the peasants fight back and defend their newly won land? Kevin Pina, a freelance journalist in Haiti, states that there is now an open revolt in the Haitian countryside as the peasants fight to keep their land from the returning landlords.
The government has also attacked the education reforms initiated by Aristide. The Aristide government had created a Ministry of Literacy, which was one of the first ministries to be abolished by the Latortue government. Schools and education centres for the poor are being harassed by the police, death squads and the former military. The government is also considering revoking the leases for the school grounds. Some school headmasters have even been threatened and have gone into hiding.
The role of the UN
Keeping the “peace”
If there was ever any doubt as to the nature of UN “peacekeeping” there can be no doubt now. The UN has completely revealed its reactionary nature in Haiti as it helps the coup-installed government raid areas of Port-au-Prince and arrest and murder Lavalas supporters. It has become obvious that the majority of the population is opposed to the removal of the democratically elected president and the presence of foreign troops, which are being used to prop up the new regime – the UN troops are simply an occupation force
The Latortue government is actually very weak. The UN force, at first consisting of US, French and Canadian troops was sent to Haiti to restore order and replace the US led mission. The US was reluctant to use its own troops in Haiti, and has used troops from other countries to do their dirty work for them. Most of their troops have left and have been replaced by Brazilian, Argentine and Chilean troops. The use of troops from the supposedly progressive regimes in Brazil and Argentina also provides a “humanitarian” and “democratic” cover for the actions of imperialism. The UN mandate called for 6,700 troops, but until Spanish, Sri Lankan and Moroccan troops arrived last week, the total UN force was only around 2,800. The Zapatero government in Spain has sent troops to re-affirm its commitment to the “international community” after withdrawing its troops from Iraq under pressure from the masses. At the time of the floods in May, the UN force was stretched to the limit and unable to offer effective aid or assistance. There are now around 3,300 UN troops in Haiti. By the end of November it is expected to be around 8,000 troops.
The UN commander, Brazilian General Augusto Heleno, repeatedly states that the UN’s mandate in Haiti is to assist the police to restore order and stability, not to disarm the various factions. He claims that the UN force is too weak to stop the advance of the death squads and former military in the north. The UN force is however not too weak to assist the police and these same death squads in raiding the slums of the capital and arresting hundreds of Aristide supporters.
The Haitian Police has been re-armed and has incorporated large sections of the former military, yet it is still not strong enough to restore order. The government has now created a commission to study the full integration of the former army into the police, a process which has been occurring since March and is now picking up steam. The army has been calling for its re-establishment, and openly wants to aid the government rid Haiti of Lavalas. But the regime cannot yet re-establish the army, as it is yet too weak to defend itself if the army were to turn on it. The re-establishment of the army would also provoke the indignation and anger of the Haitian masses, and open the possibility of an all out civil war, something the regime is also too weak to handle.
The remnants of the army are still being used to repress the workers and peasants, just in a slightly more subtle way. The Haitian police have given control of certain areas and public functions to the former military and death squads, because the Haitian National Police are not strong enough to control the country on their own. They are dependent on the former military and death squads to help maintain the new government. This is the way the forces of imperialism want it. A weak government is more dependent on imperialist countries for aid, money, and arms, and so the US and other countries expect that the new Latortue government will be more willing to follow the dictates of imperialism by controlling the flow of cash and arms. In such a weak state the Latortue government will remain a suitable stooge to US imperialism.
Yet there is evidence of an un-easy alliance between the new government and the former military. The former military was actually to disarm and hand its weapons over to the government on September 15, in exchange for amnesty and payment of lost wages. This deadline came and went with no disarmament. As the violence mounted throughout September and October, the former military continued to make calls for its re-establishment and lurked on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, announcing that they were ready to aid the Haitian police and UN to descend into the city and rid it of Lavalas supporters. The government uses the former military and death squads as a reserve force against the masses. Yet there is the danger that the military and death squads, the very same forces that Latortue referred to as “freedom fighters” in March, could get out of control and threaten the new regime itself.
Prime Minister Latortue in fact gave control of the port of Gonaives to Winter Etienne and Buteur Metayer. These two, if one remembers, were leaders of the death squad, at the time called “Gonaives Resistance Front” (formerly “the Cannibals”), who had taken Gonaives in February and declared the independent country of “l’Arbonite”. They were to be disarmed but the government needed them to restore order in Gonaives. Latortue gave the death squad, now renamed “the Resistance Front Arbonite”, control of the port of Gonaives. The UN reportedly also hired the local gang leaders to keep order. Etienne and Metayer ran Gonaives like their own private fiefdom. A campaign of violence was started against Lavalas and government institutions. As a result the two death squad leaders control the mayor’s office as well. Gonaives is effectively in their hands. The UN at one stage after Tropical Storm Jeanne hit had intended to bring aid and supplies to the port of Gonaives, but upon arriving and seeing heavily armed paramilitaries, they feared that the aid and supplies would never get through, so they decided to turn back and the aid was sent via another route.
Throughout October the UN force coordinated raids and attacks on slums where support for Aristide is strongest, such as Bel Air, Cite Soleil, La Saline, Grand Ravine, Delmas 2, and Martissant. UN General Heleno himself has declared that “we must kill the bandits”. “Bandits” is of course a code word for Lavalas and Aristide supporters. There are reports that the former military is openly marching with UN troops in Port-au-Prince and Cap Haitien. The UN also allowed the former military to march, armed, though the capital on August 15 while Lavalas demonstrations have been brutally repressed.
And where has this collusion with known murderers, death squads and the former military landed the US backed government and UN forces? They are now faced with a threat from Etienne, the gang leader of Gonaives. Etienne issued an ultimatum to the government on Tuesday, October 26. He demanded that the government rebuild Gonaives or face another armed revolt. He demanded that 200, 000 homes be built, that roads be rebuilt and more aid delivered. If this does not happen he warned the government that his paramilitaries would “do the same thing they did before to get rid of Aristide”. He has also informed UN troops in the area that he is willing to work with them to “eradicate the bandits”.
Repression of Lavalas
The repression against Lavalas has been ongoing since the coup in February. The reprisals have been mounting since May and culminated in armed clashes sparked off by police firing on unarmed demonstrators at the end of September. As most of the information on the repression of Lavalas does not make it into the coverage of the mass media, or is distorted and twisted so badly as to be unrecognisable, we will go into some detail looking at the events over the past few months.
The repression of Lavalas has been widespread, far-reaching, and brutal. Former Prime Minister Yvon Neptune was arrested in June. Former Minister of the Interior Jocelerme Privert has been in prison for six months and has yet to see a judge or be formally charged with any crime – something which, according to the Haitian constitution, which was thrown out the window February 29, should happen within 48 hours of an arrest.
The former mayor of Port-au-Prince had been detained by the US military for 20 days on a boat offshore while the new government established itself, then was transferred to a national penitentiary where he remains. There was also the arrest of a popular folk-singer, Annette Auguste, know also as “So Anne” who was arrested May 10 by US marines. Ms. Auguste and her entire family of fifteen, including children as young as 12, 10 and 5 years old are in prison. The marines used grenades to break into her house and arrest the family. The US claims they had reports that she was a terrorist who was importing arms for the purposes of attacking the new government. She has never been formally charged and has yet to see a judge.
Compare this with the trial of Louis Jodel Chamblain, one of the leaders of the paramilitary squads that entered Haiti from the Dominican Republic in February. He joined FRAPH and became second in command in the early 1990s and had been in prison in Gonaives for his role in a 1994 massacre. He was also seen by witnesses to be the trigger man who killed a leading businessman and Aristide supporter Antoine Izmery on September 11, 1993. Chamblain’s trial was a sham. Whereas former government ministers such as Neptune and Privert have either only had cursory visits to a court, or no visits at all, this convicted criminal and murderer, who as a leader of FRAPH is responsible for thousands of deaths after the coup against Aristide in 1991, is given an immediate trial. Eight witnesses were called, seven of which were too frightened to show up and testify. One witness did show up, but claimed he knew nothing of the incident. The jury deliberated in secret in the middle of the night, and the next day Chamblain was aquitted.
The repression against Lavalas, though constant, has picked up since September. Thousands of supporters and activists took to streets on September 11 to demand the return of Aristide and the restoration of democracy in Haiti. September 11 is a date well fixed in the minds of Haitians. It marks the anniversary of the brutal massacre in Aristide’s former parish of St. Jean Bosco in 1988 as well as the murder of Lavalas supporter Antoine Izmery in 1993. Tens of thousands of people came onto the streets of Porte-au-Prince to demonstrate. This was a show of strength by Lavalas and the still strong support for Aristide that the Latortue government could not tolerate.
The stage was set for major clashes on September 30. It was on September 30, 1991 that the first coup against Aristide took place. Lavalas announced that a major demonstration was to be held that day in memory of the event. Again tens of thousands of people came out to call for the return of Aristide and the restoration of democracy in Haiti. Normally there is a large contingent of Haitian police and UN troops present at Lavalas demonstrations, to “provide security”. These were conspicuously absent when the demo began. Lavalas supporters claim that members of the Haitian police and S.W.A.T team members had entered residents’ homes early in the morning and waited to launch a sneak attack. Towards the end of the demonstration the police began shooting at the demonstration, killing several unarmed demonstrators. In an interview posted on ZNET a Lavalas militant in Port-au-Prince said “On September 30 many people were killed, especially in Bel Air. The former military had already set up operations in Bel Air and Cite Soleil without our knowledge before the demonstration had started. We did not know that they had quietly entered certain houses very early in the morning and held the occupants at gunpoint waiting for the right moment to strike. After the killing started they broke into many more houses shooting and beating people who stayed at home [...] Later in the afternoon the police entered the poor neighbourhoods and arrested everyone they could get their hands on.”
This was the beginning of a general operation and fresh round of repression and reprisals against Lavalas. After the shooting of the demonstrators there were demonstrations and riots across most of the slums of Porte-au-Prince. The government claims that Lavalas supporters killed and decapitated 3 police officers. The government claims that the “chimeres”, the Lavalas supporters, have started what they call “Operation Baghdad” by decapitating the three officers. They may have claimed this to gain the favour of the US administration and the US public, by linking the alleged murder of these police officers to the murder of hostages in Iraq. The authorities have however failed to produce any evidence of the murdered police officers or of any operation called “Operation Baghdad”. Apparently the officers were not in uniform, and their bodies were cremated before any body could see them and before any independent investigation could be started. There is absolutely no evidence that any police officers were killed, and even if they were, there is no evidence that it was done by Lavalas members or supporters. “Operation Baghdad” is no doubt a hoax designed to rally US and UN support against Lavalas and Aristide. It seems that these officers, whether real or imaginary, became the excuse the government needed to launch an offensive on Lavalas as it has now become the blanket charge and excuse for all violence directed towards the workers and poor in Haiti. Typically, the bourgeois media constantly goes on about the savage violence of Aristide supporters who decapitated three police officers and this so-called barbaric “Operation Baghdad”.
After the assault on the demonstration of September 30 demonstrations continued the next day. There were reports of clashes between Lavalas supporters and the police which culminated in a night time raid on Bel Air, one of the most militant Aristide supporting slums, on October 2. The raid was repelled and the police regrouped and tried again on October 3, only to be repelled again. The police then enlisted the aid of the UN, who with bulldozers and heavily armed APVs coordinated an attack on Bel Air with the Haitian police. The police got through on October 6, and UN troops hung around in the background and at roadblocks preventing anyone from escaping. Some 500 people were detained and 75 arrested. Out of those 500 people, not one single gun was found. So everyone is asking – where are all the weapons? The government has charged that someone in the police force informed Bel Air residents and Lavalas supporters that a raid was imminent, and this has led many to believe that a second purge of the police forces is imminent. Latortue himself said “when we stormed the slum the bandits apparently had time to transport the weapons into another slum”. In the same interview on ZNET as quoted above the Lavalas militant says “in the days that followed we would not allow them to enter our communities and continue the killing. They tried several times on their own and we would not let them enter. So they set up on the outskirts of our neighbourhoods and began to arrest everybody in sight. Outside Bel Air we have seen them force three year-olds and four year-olds to the ground [...] They know that without the Brazilians they could never have entered Bel Air. They know that without the Jordanians they could never keep us from the National Palace. Without the UN forces this phony government would not last a week. That is why we call them occupation forces and it is criminal for them to prop up this killing machine that is trying to destroy us.”
On Saturday October 2, the government launched a wave of repression and arrests against former Lavalas leaders. Haitian police raided the Radio Caraibes premises and arrested three Lavalas members who had just criticized the government on air minutes before. Senate Chairman Yvon Feuille, Senator Rudy Herivaux, and former deputy Gerard Gilles were participating in a roundtable radio discussion forum with opposition members, including the head of the Democratic Convergence Evans Paul and former military officer Himmler Rebu. The three Lavalas members had condemned the police for firing on unarmed demonstrators on September 30. Before the programme ended heavily armed police surrounded the building and announced their intentions to arrest the three Lavalas members. Paul and Rebu have condemned the arrests. The radio station also condemned the arrests and stopped broadcasting for two days in protest, saying that the arrests compromised their integrity as a news organization and the freedom of speech. They also arrested a fourth legislator, Axene Joseph, who also publicly protested the arrests.
Father Gerard Jean-Juste
On October 13, as the violence continued, the Haitian police then raided the parish of Father Jean-Juste, a well-known anti-militarist and Aristide supporter, and critic of the Latortue government. His parish was attacked by heavily armed and masked gunmen and he was arrested while feeding 600 children at his parish of St. Claire in Porte-au-Prince. The puppet government claims he was arrested on the basis of accusations that he was harbouring gunmen at his parish – they even suggested that he provided “guns and money for terrorists”.
His arrest coincided with the entrance of the former military into Porte-au-Prince. The police smashed windows and beat Father Juste as they arrested him. It is even claimed that some of the children present were shot at by the police. The government strongly denied this, until three children from the parish appeared in public with gunshot wounds.
Father Jean-Juste remained in Haiti after the first coup overthrew Aristide in 1991. While many were fleeing into exile and many more were murdered, Father Jean-Juste remained in Haiti and confronted the military with non-violent means. He suffered terribly as many of his friends and colleagues were murdered. He lived a life on the run as he was in hiding because the military was tracking him and hunting him down. After Aristide’s return in 1994, Father Jean-Juste became the Minister of the Tenth Department. – a ministry for Haitian living abroad. He was heavily involved in various projects to rebuild Haiti, and was a strong advocate of literacy. Father Jean-Juste denied the charges against him, citing his long history of non-violent struggle against militarism, saying “everyone who knows me knows I’m a man of non-violence”.
In the face of public outrage both in Haiti and internationally, the government finally brought official charges against the priest a week later. He was officially charged with “trouble a l’ordre public” – disturbing the peace. Under Haitian law, this is a crime like a traffic ticket – punishable by a fine of up to 15 gourdes, or about 40 cents US. In spite of the fact that he has only been charged with a minor crime, and despite the fact that he should be able to see a judge, pay his fine (or dispute the phony charge) and leave a free man, no hearing has been scheduled for him at all.
Speaking along with Kevin Pina on a Flashpoints radio interview, reproduced on ZNET, Brian Concannon, an international human rights lawyer said “But also in some ways we’re going also way far back beyond the de facto regime (in reference to the 1991-1994 dictatorship) to the Duvalier dictatorships, because the de facto regime wouldn’t dare go into a church and send masked men to drag out priests who are serving a meal to poor children. That was something that not even Baby Doc would have done and we have to go back to Papa Doc to do that. You didn’t have in the de facto dictatorship; they didn’t surround radio stations and pull Senators and deputies dragging out of them because they said the wrong thing.”
The puppet government is weak, and feels the pressure of the masses, and fears that someone may be able to capture the popular imagination and lead the struggle against the new government. Hence the government is arresting Lavalas leaders and anyone who represents a possible pole of attraction to the masses – people like Father Jean-Juste. People are wondering just how much this 40 cent “crime” is going cost the puppet government. The arrest of Jean-Juste could be the spark that lights the fire, and could end up costing the Latortue government a lot – his arrest could unleash the pent up rage and frustration of the masses. The resulting social forces unleashed could topple the government.
The Coalition of the Killing
Some Haitians and freelance journalists have dubbed the coalition of UN troops, the former military and death squads in Haiti as the coalition of the killing. All activities of the Haitian police are coordinated with and assisted by the UN and the US. The Haitian police, the UN, the former death squads and the military, worked together in an unholy alliance for weeks rounding up and arresting and killing Lavalas supporters in and around Porte-au-Prince. Bel Air was under siege for weeks, and suffered heavily from incursions by the police followed by heavily armed UN troops. Pitched battles in the streets would be followed by arrests of Lavalas and Aristide supporters – hundreds of people were rounded up and arrested.
Things were coming to a head as October 15 approached. October 15 is of course the date on which Aristide returned to Haiti on the back of a US invasion in 1994. Lavalas had called for mass demonstrations on this day to commemorate the anniversary, and of course to loudly call for Aristide’s return and for the restoration of democracy in Haiti.
To counter Lavalas the business community and the “democratic opposition” labelled Lavalas “terrorists” and called for a business lock out to protest Lavalas and prevent them from coming out on to the streets. The call for the lock out was made by the Haitian Chamber of Commerce, and was backed by the US embassy which closed it doors and shutters in an act of solidarity with the business community. The capital was virtually shut down, yet thousands of Lavalas supporters still came out onto the streets.
The former military, who had entered the streets just 2 days before then entered La Saline, a poor pro-Aristide slum, and opened fire indiscriminately on the population. They then began to set up roadblocks across the capital. Upon hearing this news the people of Bel Air, one of the most militant neighbourhoods at the heart of the resistance to the occupation, rose up. Thousands and thousands of people came onto the streets to demand the return of Aristide and defend their neighbourhoods. The Haitian National police panicked. They needed to quell the unrest in Bel Air before it spread across the country. The police once again tried to enter Bel Air, but were repelled after a gun battle.
Pitched gun battles had erupted in Delmas 2, La Saline, and Bel Air. The bourgeois media have repeatedly reported that somewhere between 55-70 people had died in the “political violence” that had consumed Haiti since the end of September. But this is categorically not true. The death toll is much higher. The General Hospital was forced to call the Ministry of Health on October 15 and demanded emergency vehicles to remove the more than 600 corpses that had been stockpiled there. These were deaths from the preceding two weeks alone. News of this phone call from the General Hospital to the Ministry of Health was discovered quite by accident, and has led many to wonder how many other such calls have been without the knowledge of the general public. The bourgeois media also announced that some 140 people had been arrested that day, but the government later admitted that hundreds more had been arrested and that jails were overflowing and that there was no more room for prisoners.
There can be no doubt about the real nature of the recent outbreak of violence in Haiti. All the reactionary and counter-revolutionary forces in Haiti, the ruling class in the “democratic convergence”, the former military, and the death squads have come together in an unholy (and uneasy) alliance to physically remove and eliminate Lavalas. As Kevin Pina said in a recent article on ZNET when speaking about the role of the UN “well, what their role is on the ground, and I’ve seen it, I’ve studied it, I’ve filmed it, I’ve chronicled it, is that they are there to make certain there is no armed resistance while the Haitian police systematically murder, commit arbitrary detentions, arbitrary arrests, in order to destroy the majority political party, President Jean Bertrand’s Family Lavalas party”.
The puppet Latortue government, the UN, and the bourgeois media are desperate to find someone they can blame for the violence. At first they tried to blame Lavalas and the supporters of Aristide. But in the face of the facts this argument didn’t last very long. So in their search for enemies and people at fault, who did the UN eventually blame? None other than Senator John Kerry! As the violence was escalating in the middle of October, and the US election was coming near, the UN General Heleno said that comments made by Kerry to the New York Times in March, where Kerry explained that on the basis of agreements in the hemisphere, he would have done everything possible, indeed more than the Bush administration did, to ensure that Aristide had continued his role as democratically elected President. According to General Heleno “well, that’s tantamount to Kerry inciting violence in Haiti”. General Heleno added that Kerry’s comments gave hope to Aristide supporters that Aristide may indeed return to Haiti – a hope which he said was completely unfounded. So there we have it – a UN General has dictated the future to millions Haitians, the overwhelming majority of whom would like to see their democratically elected President return from exile.
The exact death toll since the coup is unknown. What is known, however, is that the death toll will continue to rise. Evidence has been uncovered that the puppet government plans to “purge” or exile some 25,000 people. Lavalas has recently received information on a secret meeting held between the Ministry of the Interior, Herard Abraham who is a former general in the Haitian military, Bernard Gousse the interim Minister of Justice, and Gerard Latortue where they discussed what measures would need to be taken to end the calls for the return of Aristide, and what it would take to prevent Lavalas from involving themselves in elections. The conclusion they reached was that some 25,000 people in the capital alone would either have to be killed or exiled in order for them to go ahead with elections next year.
Reports come in daily of further incursions, murders, and arrests by the Haitian police, the UN, the former military and the death squads in the poor slums of Porte-au-Prince. Everyday we hear of people being executed or hacked to death by machetes at the hands of the police and the death squads.
Obviously the paramilitaries and the former military have no interest in elections, but neither does the Democratic Convergence. Even before Aristide was overthrown, the idea of holding fresh elections to replace the defunct parliament was discussed by the “democratic opposition”, Aristide and the imperialists. It was the Democratic Convergence that ultimately refused to go ahead with this plan. They knew that they did not have the popular support to win an election against Aristide and Lavalas, hence they resorted to other means. They refused to do anything in fact until Aristide was gone. Hence they resorted to provoking violence and organizing coups. The Latortue government also knows that it could not possibly win the elections next year. They know that Lavalas will win. In order to gain the victory, they seem willing to go the distance, and completely physically exterminate Lavalas from the island as a terrible revenge for the reforms put through by Aristide, and more importantly to crush the revolutionary spirit of the masses in Haiti, and stem the tide of revolutionary developments throughout the entire region.
The Return of Aristide
Lavalas members appear to be split over which direction the organization should now take. Some still want to continue to call for Aristide’s return, believing that this should be the ultimate goal of the organization. To them the calls for the restoration of democracy means the return of the president that they democratically elected into office. Others in the organization want to elect a new leadership and press on for elections scheduled for next year. This may all come to naught as the puppet government is considering banning Lavalas from the elections, not to mention the fact that they are considering “purging” 25,000 of its members.
Pro Aristide demonstration in Bel Air
The return of Aristide would not solve the problems of the Haitian workers and poor. The Aristide regime was a weak regime that was too dependent on the forces of imperialism. Although his regime continued with some bourgeois democratic reforms, Aristide also oversaw the establishment of the free trade zones and the crushing of the few workers’ rights that remained on the island. There can be no solution for the workers and poor of Haiti on the basis of capitalism, as the history of the Aristide regime has shown. What few reforms began by his regime could not be tolerated by imperialism or the Haitian ruling class, and led them to overthrow his regime and establish a regime that will better reflect their interests.
The lessons of Haiti are also clear for Venezuela. We pointed out in The Nature of the Coup in Haiti, that events in Haiti were a testing ground for further imperialist intervention in Latin America and around the world. The reforms pursued by the Lavalas regime did not go as far as the reforms of the Chavez regime in Venezuela. There was also not a revolutionary situation in Haiti like the Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela. If the imperialist powers could not tolerate the mild reforms in Haiti by a generally pro-US government, and were provoked into overthrowing the regime, then it is clear that they will be even less able to tolerate the situation in Venezuela. There is no hope of placating imperialism in Venezuela. There is no hope of reaching a compromise with the opposition, the ruling class, and the imperialists. There is no hope of proving to them that Chavez is democratic and not a dictator. They are not interested in democracy, and only wish to establish a regime that will carry out their interests and policies and put an end to the revolutionary movement of the masses. The imperialists are already provoked in Venezuela, as demonstrated by the coup in 2002. Had the coup succeed and not been overthrown by the Venezuelan masses, then we would have seen the same sort of violence and repression, if not worse, of the Bolivarian movement as we are seeing now against Lavalas in Haiti. The difference is that Chavez has not discredited himself by giving into the demands of imperialism and he still enjoys the overwhelming support of the workers and poor in Venezuela. It was a mass movement in Venezuela that defeated the attempts of counter-revolution. In Haiti, Aristide had already become discredited by implementing IMF policies.
Bataye Ouvriye faced state repression during the Aristide years because they were in opposition to the free trade zones and battled for better working conditions and wages. A statement released by the organization in May states: “Today, after a new style of coup d'etat, the country finds itself occupied! We can say that the ruling class, the politicians of all kinds – Lavalas the same as the Opposition – led us to this situation. Repression, always accompanied by corresponding terror, haunts us day and night. All our democratic rights that have not yet been trodden underfoot are heading that way. The free trade zone at Ouanaminthe is the most obvious proof. There, members of the Dominican middle class, taking advantage of the vacuum at the State level, do nothing but increase their rate of exploitation. [...] It’s the same at the factories run by local capitalists where these local blood suckers, again benefiting from the institutional vacuum, use violence to try to crush even the few rights that we previously enjoyed in this most unfair society: massive dismissals at the merest suspicion of union organising, systematic repression, permanent intimidation... terror! All with the aim of an even greater increase in the rate of exploitation. In the framework of this offensive they have even begun, in certain cities – in Cap-Haitien for example, to take control of the public administration. ”In the countryside, the big landowners (grandons) or Duvalierists who had been long exiled, supported by the self-proclaimed “rebels” and members of the former Army of torturers, have returned to sow terror among hard-working people, blatantly trying to steal the land of the small farmers, just like in the ‘good old days’. [...] The terror which we suffered under the Lavalas regime, and which still haunts us, must be resolved! Nobody will do it for us. As far as the ruling class is concerned, we are clear: the occupiers only came to resolve the problems of the international and local ruling classes! Our responsibilities to defend ourselves in this new situation SHOULD ONLY BE ASSUMED BY US! In every town, in every district, in every hamlet, section, commune or rural zone, WE MUST SET UP ORGANISATIONS TO DEFEND THE INTERESTS OF WORKERS!”
Batay Ouvriye is also very clear that they were never members of nor did they support the “Democratic Convergence”, whose three main leaders were Andre Apaid, a US citizen and sweatshop owner, Charles Henri Baker, who owns sweatshops and is the vice-president of the sweatshop owners’ organization the Manufacturers’ Association of Haiti, and Hans Tippenhauer, a member of the Washington based Center for Strategic and International Studies Caribbean Leadership group, and was previously associated with the National Association of Producers and the Manufacturers’ Association of Haiti.
Haiti is on the verge of an all out civil war, and the return of Aristide would not change the situation or make it any better. The workers and peasants of Haiti must form action committees to fight the occupation. Batay Ouvriye has called for the establishment of workers committees at all levels that can defend the interests of the workers. These action committees would quickly become the pole of attraction and centres of organization, uniting the struggle of the peasants, the workers and the urban poor against the occupation. The struggle of the Haitian workers and peasants for the restoration of democracy, against the occupation and for better working and living conditions must be linked to the struggle against capitalism. As long as the economy remains in the hands of the Haitian ruling class and the imperialists, the Haitian workers, peasants and poor will not be able to achieve their goals. The main levers of the economy must be put under the democratic control of working people. Socialism is the only way forward for Haiti, and victory of the Haitian workers and peasants against the occupation would become a beacon of hope and a pole of attraction for workers all across the Caribbean and Latin America.