The Nature of the Coup in Haiti

Jean-Bertrand Aristide stepped down as President and left Haiti early in the morning on Sunday February 29 under threat of a coup d'etat from former death squad leaders and Duvalier supporters. Shortly thereafter the US announced that it was sending in marines to help 'stabilize' the country and make way for a UN 'peacekeeping' force. The UN Security Council also, in a unanimous decision, decided that it will send a multi-national 'peacekeeping force' for at least three months as well as a 'stabilizing force' that it will send later in the year. These developments clearly demonstrate the reactionary role played by US imperialism in the region and far from solving the crisis in Haiti it is setting the stage for further unrest and instability in the whole area.

The role of US imperialism


With the threat of an assault on Port-au-Prince from the paramilitaries, who were armed with brand new M-16s, M-60s, armour piercing weapons, all terrain vehicles, and rocket-propelled grenade launchers, the US joined in the chorus for Aristide to step down the day before Aristide left. US officials also kindly informed Aristide that in the event that the 'rebels', who claimed they would put him on trail and kill him, entered Port-au-Prince they would not protect him. The US role in Aristide being overthrown is far from clear, as there are rumours that a helicopter landed near Aristide's residence and that armed soldiers entered the house and took him out of his bed and on to a waiting plane. Contrary to a letter Aristide wrote during his final hours in Haiti claiming that he was leaving to avoid bloodshed, he is now claiming that he was forced to leave by US military forces, and that he was kidnapped and forced to leave the country. Adding further to the rumours are Randall Robinson, Rep.Charles Rangel, and Rep. Maxine Waters, all of whom have been on CNN and alternative media claiming that Aristide had been abducted by US marines and forced to leave.

The US administration, while denying these charges, seemed quite happy that Aristide had finally left. President Bush claimed that it was the opening of a new chapter for Haiti, and he called for an end to the political violence. As we pointed out in our previous article, Haiti – There can be no solution under capitalism, it was clear that the US was willing to simply wait and see how things developed in Haiti before committing to a firm stance on the crisis. In this way, the US could wait for the most suitable outcome for securing their own interests. Shortly after Aristide agreed to the 'deal' brokered by the imperialist powers, the bourgeois opposition refused the terms, feeling themselves in a position of power on the basis of the paramilitaries who controlled the north of the country. They clearly felt that Aristide was not in a position to bargain. For a time it seemed that the easiest solution in the eyes of the US was to broker a compromise between the opposition and Aristide. Although many in the current administration wanted to get rid of Aristide, it could have been possible to use him in an attempt to control the situation and stop the development of a messy bloodbath. In the end though, a deal along these lines seemed unlikely, as Aristide was besieged in Port-au-Prince and it looked as though the paramilitaries would attack and possibly assume power, something the US did not want as it seemed unlikely that they could control the paramilitaries. As explained in Haiti – Which Way Forward Against Imperialism?, the US is not interested in establishing or supporting open military dictatorships at the present time, as these regimes are more difficult to control and don't always listen to US dictates. It is far easier for the US to control a weak 'democratic' regime from Washington, as a weak regime is more reliant upon US support.

The most suitable outcome for the US was then to have Aristide leave before an attack on Port-au-Prince had been made, as both the paramilitaries and the bourgeois opposition would be easier to control before an attack, not during or after they seized power. It is much easier, and infinitely more favourable for the US to send in a 'stabilizing' or 'peacekeeping force' than to send in an invasion force which would have to pacify the paramilitaries and embroil the US in another messy situation abroad. Either way, the US wanted someone in power in Haiti that they could control, whether it was a weakened Aristide government along with the opposition, or the opposition on its own. In the end, with Aristide weak and under siege, the US made its move and added to the pressure for Aristide to step down, thereby getting rid of a thorn in their side and allowing them to find a new candidate to control the situation.

The view from the left


From the point of view of Marxism, it would be an absolute crime to support the so-called 'opposition', comprised of factory and sweatshop owners, media moguls, and wealthy students, or to proclaim and support the operations of the paramilitaries as a popular uprising as some on the left had done. The situation in Haiti is far from black and white. In Haiti it is not a clear cut case of supporting one side or another. Neither does it do any good to try to paint one side as progressive, or 'democratic'. Given the crushing poverty, it is natural that there is widespread confusion in Haiti. Both sides of the conflict received support from elements of the urban poor and elements of the working class. This is due mainly to that fact that there is no mass, independent organization of the working class which could have lead the workers forward on their own path.

It is clear, especially in light of current events, that the paramilitaries and the opposition represent the forces of counter-revolution. This is not to say that Aristide is a revolutionary, he is also a counter-revolutionary, but we must look at what outcome would be better for the Haitian working class, peasants, and urban poor. To support the uprising and the opposition is to tailcoat the bourgeois and submit the interests of the workers and poor to the counter-revolutionaries and imperialism. And now, in supporting the 'uprising', many on the left have found themselves in a difficult situation, as this means supporting the US and UN imperialist intervention, as these are clearly linked to and supporting the opposition. This is a clear case of opportunism. To support the 'opposition' and the 'uprising' is to support now the imperialist intervention. It also demonstrates a clear lack of understanding of the basics of Marxism. Many of these so-called revolutionary groups have not understood the processes at work in Haiti, and are contributing to the miseducation on the nature of the uprising and the general political situation in the region. As revolutionary Marxists we must explain what is happening in Haiti in class terms and in the context of a developing revolutionary situation across the whole of Latin America and the Caribbean, and base ourselves on a class, that is a working class perspective.

The new regime


With the arrival of US troops, the paramilitaries have said that they will put down their arms, and that they will cooperate with the US and UN 'peacekeeping force'. The bourgeois opposition has quickly denied all connections with the paramilitaries but has said that they are willing to work with them to restore order and stability and rebuild Haiti.

The US administration and their imperialist allies are singing the chorus of bringing 'democracy' and 'stability' to Haiti. We've heard this talk before, most recently in Iraq and Afghanistan, where the US vision of democracy can be seen to mean democracy with no elections and based on the barrel of a gun.

And what of this stability? The arrival of US marines was taken as a clear signal by the paramilitaries to move into Port-au-Prince and establish themselves as a security force. Among their first acts was to free some 2,000 prisoners from jail, the main aim of which seemed to be the liberation of a number of notorious killers from previous dictatorships, including Prosper Avril, who headed a military junta that ruled the country from 1988 to 1990 and was responsible for terrible acts of violence against political opponents. These freed criminals are also providing fresh recruits for the terror squads that are operating in Port-au-Prince.

There are now reports that the paramilitaries and death squads are hunting down and beating and murdering Aristide supporters. Canadian officials who were, at the time of Aristide's 'resignation', still counting on a deal being reached that would allow him to remain in office have claimed that the US seems to have a 'high tolerance' for further bloodshed in Haiti, and are standing by as Aristide supporters are being attacked, although the US would not allow the pressure of violence to force them into defending Aristide.

The US is now trying to gain control over the paramilitaries, who have been flexing their muscles over the past few days. Guy Philippe, the leader of the 'rebels', proclaimed himself Haiti's "military chief" and announced his intention to arrest Prime Minister Yvon Neptune. The US administration, clearly worried about losing control of the situation and the rebels, has said that Philippe leads nothing but a ragtag band and that they should make themselves scarce as the international force deploys. The US State Department has said that the rebels should go home and that they will have no role in the political process in Haiti. Philippe has now said that his rebels would not put down their arms until Aristide's supporters had been crushed, although he maintains that they will cooperate with the intervention forces. His band of criminals and murderers, apparently in cooperation with the police, are roaming throughout Port-au-Prince 'cleaning up the streets'. It has been reported that scores of Aristide supporters have been murdered.

As an indication of the nature of the opposition and the uprising, and the political tendencies that this has unleashed, it has also been reported that former dictator, Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier, has announced that he intends to return to Haiti from exile in France.

Although the exact composition of the new regime is not clear, what can be established is that the new regime will not possibly be able to establish democracy or stability. Any new government in Haiti will obviously be comprised of members from the so-called opposition, who are members of the hated elite of media and sweatshop and moguls, and/or the paramilitaries, who are all members of former death squads, and Tonton Macoutes from the Duvalier days as well as former military leaders. The Haitian people will not appreciate a return of hated figures and murderers from the past. The US wants a regime in Haiti that will be prepared to carry out IMF dictates will much more zeal, élan and conviction than Aristide. Although Aristide at first seemed prepared to carry out the IMF austerity package, pressure from the urban poor and working class, the bastion of his support and the basis of his popularity and electoral victories, forced him into a series of half measures and concessions in the form of minor reforms and social programs. The crisis of capitalism is such that the problems facing any country in the world, let alone the poorest in the Western Hemisphere, cannot be solved on the basis of capitalism or reformism. This is what got Aristide into such a mess. Due to pressure from US imperialism and Haiti's ruling class, he pushed through IMF policies, on the other hand, pressure from the Haitian workers and urban poor forced him to halt certain aspects of IMF policy (such as discontinuing fuel subsidies) and initiate minor reforms. Aristide tried to be everything to everyone and play the classes off one another, to his own demise. So what the US is now looking for is a regime that will push through IMF policies to their full extent. This is a finished recipe for further unrest, instability, as the workers and poor will undoubtedly not be pleased with this and cannot accept any further impositions into their already meagre income and standard of living.

The Venezuelan connection


It is no secret that the US State Department's section of Latin American and Caribbean policymakers is full of extreme right-wing allies of Jesse Helms and John Burton. These include Otto Reich, John Negroponte, Elliot Abrams and one Roger Noriega, the Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs. He is also a senior staff member of the Committee on Foreign Relations of the US Senate, and a senior advisor to both Helms and Burton. He has had Aristide 'in his sights' for over a decade and was part of a three year propaganda campaign aimed at defaming Aristide and preventing his return to power. They even went so far as to claim that Aristide had been treated for mental illness in Canada, producing evidence from the CIA. The only problem was that Aristide at the time this was supposed to be happening was teaching and studying in Israel!

For the past two years Noriega had been openly advertising his intentions to oust Aristide. In April of last year he openly linked US policies in Haiti to those in Venezuela and Cuba. He congratulated the Organization of American States for adopting the Inter-American Democratic Charter. Article 20 of this charter calls for a series of actions to be taken if a member state fails to 'uphold the essential elements of democratic life'. He then added that "President Chavez and President Aristide have contributed wilfully to a polarized and confrontational environment. It is my hope that the good people of Cuba are studying the Democratic Charter". This is a tad ominous to say the least. Given the fact the US is clearly involved in the current counter-revolutionary provocations in Venezuela, this would almost seem to confirm that they played a role in Haiti and that they have something planned for Cuba. The US is well aware that many workers and peasants across the entire region look to Cuba as an example, an inspiration and as a ray of hope. The US is aware of the importance Cuba can play in the developing revolutionary situation. This does not mean necessarily in the direct role Cuba could play in the situation, mainly because Castro seems reluctant to do so and is in fact urging Chavez to not go too far out of fear or provoking the US, but in terms of the consciousness and imagination of the working class in Latin America. In the context of this developing revolutionary situation in Latin America and the Caribbean, Cuba will be seen as a point of reference for millions, and the US would be interested in isolating and removing the Cuban regime.

Of the three regimes mentioned above, Aristide's was the weakest, and he has now been removed. The next one on the list is Chavez, although the US will find it much more difficult to oust Chavez than they did Aristide. We cannot view these events and crises in isolation. The situation is entirely linked by the developing revolutionary situation across the Caribbean and Latin America. As we have commented many times before, there is not a single stable bourgeois regime from Tierra del Fuego to the Rio Grande. There are revolutionary developments in Venezuela, Argentina, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Brazil is on the brink. The US is desperate to stop the growing instability and halt the developing revolutionary situation across the entire region, which has forced them to intervene in Haiti and may force them to intervene in Venezuela and elsewhere.

It is possible that the Venezuelan opposition, either with or without direct US involvement, having failed in their bid for a referendum to oust Chavez, saw the events in Haiti over the weekend and the past few weeks and decided to go on the offensive. This was however a serious miscalculation. Although there are some similarities in the situation in Venezuela and Haiti, there are some serious differences. Aristide had given in to IMF pressure, and as a result he had discredited himself in the eyes of his supporters – the urban poor and working class. Although he still had support from these sections of society, mainly in Port-au-Prince, it was not enough in the end to save his regime.

Chavez on the other hand has not given into the pressures of imperialism and is still seen as a champion of the working class and as a hero. Time and time again the workers of Venezuela have come out to the streets en masse to defend his regime from the threat of a coup. The most recent example is over this past weekend, where the counter-revolutionaries have provoked violence, only to be met with a strong response from the working class in the form of mass demonstrations in support of Chavez. It is possible that the counter-revolutionaries and the right-wing opposition in Venezuela saw events in Haiti and thought that they could achieve the same results. Perhaps they thought that if they provoked violence, that a prolonged crisis would develop based on a determined opposition and that Chavez would be forced to resign, or flee, and that the US would be forced to intervene. This attempt at a reproduction of Haitian events is a pipedream in the present period. Working class support for Chavez is far too strong, and neither the right-wing opposition, a group of paramilitaries as in the case of Haiti, or even the US army are capable of overthrowing Chavez at the moment because of it. It is also clear that the right-wing does not have the necessary support or forces for an attempted coup against Chavez as was the case against Aristide, and at present they will not be able to drum up support, in fact they are losing support and their forces are much weaker now than during the two coup attempts.

The Working Class


The real tragedy of the events in Haiti is that, unlike in Venezuela, there is no mass independent movement of the working class. Had there been, the situation would have developed along much different lines. Although many workers and urban poor, mainly in Port-au-Prince supported Aristide, he did not enjoy the mass support of the working class that Chavez enjoys, mainly due to the fact that he was a US stooge who had been returned to power on the back of US military operations. Aristide discredited himself and lost support when he initiated IMF dictates.

The independent organizations of the Haitian working class have been decimated during the years of coups, dictatorships and civil strife. This is a great tragedy in Haiti, because had there been mass independent organizations of the working class, and a revolutionary Marxist leadership, the outcome of the present crisis would have been entirely different.

There is a wealth of historical lessons upon which the Haitian workers can base themselves. The situation Aristide found himself in was similar in many ways to the situation Kerensky faced in Russia 1917. Aristide was a bourgeois who was trying to be all things to all people in a desperate attempt to maintain control of a rapidly disintegrating political and economic situation. Many people had illusions in Kerensky and his ability to initiate reforms, just as many had illusions in Aristide as some sort of hero and champion of the Haitian workers and poor. Kerensky, like Aristide, demonstrated that a solution is not possible along capitalist or reformist lines. General Kornilov represented the black flag of reaction, and the Bolsheviks took a clear principled and class position. The first task for the workers was to crush the reaction to safeguard the revolution. The weak and corrupt bourgeois government could then be dealt with later, as was done in the October Revolution of 1917. But in order to do this the reaction had to be defeated. So in a similar way, just as Marxists did not support Kornilov, it is not permissible for so-called Marxists to support Philippe and his gang of paramilitaries or their allies in the bourgeois opposition. This means supporting the counter-revolution, a gang of criminals and murders who carry the black flag of reaction. Ultimately what was missing in Haiti was a mass revolutionary party, which could have defeated the paramilitaries and set the ground for a socialist revolutionary struggle against Aristide's bourgeois regime.

The arrival of imperialist troops is a recipe for further unrest and instability in Haiti, and the only way out of the present crisis will be for the Haitian working class to build mass, independent organizations, ie trade unions and a revolutionary party, capable of leading the workers to victory and commencing the socialist transformation of Haitian society. Given the widespread instability and unrest across the entire region, the only way out for the working class will be to build these organizations under the leadership of a revolutionary, internationalist Marxist leadership. Without this there will be no way out of the current crisis and Haiti will be doomed to further instability and bloodshed.

As we have explained, the situation in Haiti is not occurring in isolation. As Lenin explained in relation to Russia, capitalism is breaking at one of its weakest links in Haiti. The events in Haiti are a reflection of the general instability and unrest across the entire region. The tasks of the workers across Latin America and the Caribbean are to forge international links to battle the counter-revolutionary role of US imperialism and move forward with the construction of a socialist federation of Latin America and the Caribbean, as part of a world socialist federation.

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