The gangs of Haiti and the failure of bourgeois rule

The economic and political situation in Haiti continues to deteriorate, with seemingly no end in sight to the suffering of the masses. The problem of the gangs, which has been growing for some time, is now reaching crisis levels with gangs blocking ports and preventing the delivery of fuel around the country in an effort to force the resignation of Prime Minister Ariel Henry. Following the assassination of president Jovenel Moïse in early July, which is still shrouded in mystery, what little remains of the disintegrating Haitian state has been unable to deal with the situation.

Gangs have long been a fact of life in Haiti, but the situation is now spiralling out of all control, with significant economic and political consequences. Haiti is in its third year of recession. The country’s economic growth rate was -1.7 percent in 2018-2019 and -3.3 percent in 2019-2020. According to the Bank of the Republic of Haiti (BRH), economic growth will remain negative at -2.3 percent for the fiscal year 2020-2021.

Some economists have estimated that between 2016 and 2020, gang violence cost Haiti over $4 billion per year, or approximately 30 percent of its gross domestic product. This clearly shows us the scope of the problem of gangs, but it should be noted that the gangs are not the cause of the economic crisis, but a severe symptom of the sickness of Haitian capitalism.

A symptom of capitalist sickness

It should be remembered that in Haiti, nearly 60 percent of the population lives in poverty, nearly half the population, or 4.4 million, need immediate food assistance and 1.2 million suffer from extreme hunger. In this context of a deep economic recession, high unemployment, and extreme poverty, the gangs are some of the biggest employers in the country. With no jobs and no opportunities, it is little wonder that people, especially the youth, flock to the gangs for protection and a chance at a share in the loot.

People will have access to a certain amount of money and wealth via the gangs that they would never have through a normal job. The jobs that are available don’t provide any path out of the cycle of poverty and violence, with most offering exceptionally low wages, including in the free trade zones where cheap products are exported primarily to the US.

poverty haiti Image United Nations Photo FlickrNearly 60 percent of the population in Haiti lives in poverty, nearly half the population, or 4.4 million, need immediate food assistance and 1.2 million suffer from extreme hunger / Image: United Nations Photo, Flickr

Kidnappings by gangs have tripled in the last year, with The Washington Post reporting that Haiti now has the highest per capita kidnapping rate in the world. The gang violence has displaced some 19,000 people, primarily from Cité-Soleil, Croix-des-Bouquets, Delmas and the Port-au-Prince neighbourhood of Martissant. Entire areas of the country are effectively in lockdown as people are terrified of leaving their homes for fear of being kidnapped. In one high-profile case, 17 missionaries from the United States and Canada, including children, were kidnapped, with the gang responsible demanding a $17 million ransom.

The power of the gangs was clearly demonstrated in the aftermath of the earthquake and tropical storm that struck Haiti in August. Shipping relief supplies to affected areas was impossible because of the gang violence in Martissant, the Port-au-Prince neighbourhood through which the only major road to the earthquake zone passed. Transport trucks were blocked and attacked at gang checkpoints, trucks were looted, and drivers kidnapped. The United Nations eventually called for a truce among the gangs to allow the shipment of goods. The main gangs battling for control of Martissant did eventually declare a short truce which allowed the shipment of some relief supplies, but the truce has since ended and the highway south is once again a no-go zone.

The Haitian state is extraordinarily weak. Some have talked about Haiti being a “failed state”, while others have commented that there is a “non-existent state”. The fact of the matter is that services from electricity and traffic lights to sewer systems are practically non-existent, while health, education and other basic services are primarily fulfilled by nongovernmental, charitable organisations.

The Haitian state has no legitimacy. With an assassinated president who had stayed beyond his term, a dissolved legislature and senate with only 10 sitting members, the current Prime Minister could not legally be sworn in. In reality, Ariel Henry is not so much the Prime Minister, but acts as President: unelected and not legitimately sworn in. The political process in Haiti is unfolding entirely outside the constitution.

Ariel Henry was accused by the justice minister and chief prosecutor of being involved in the assassination of Jovenel Moïse. They demanded that he come in for questioning and requested that his travel privileges be revoked. In response Henry simply fired them, with no consequences. The reality is that there is no framework for the constitution to function in Haiti. There is no framework for the functioning of bourgeois democracy in Haiti.

hospital Danielle Butin FlickrState services are practically non-existent. Health, education and other basic services are primarily fulfilled by nongovernmental, charitable organisations / Danielle Butin, Flickr

The power of the gangs reveals the failure of the rule of the bourgeoisie in Haiti. Port-au-Prince is largely controlled by the gangs, as are entire swaths of the country, including the main highways and transit routes. In the areas controlled by the gangs, they effectively are the state. The gangs outnumber and outgun the police and the army. In the areas under their control, they are the only special bodies of armed men. The money extorted and collected by the gangs from businesses and residences are now even called “taxes” in some areas.

The gangs have been consolidating their power across the country, quickly filling the political vacuum. But the gangs have not simply grown powerful on their own. They have been funded and fostered by the country’s bourgeois elite and politicians, who use them for protection services, to terrorise rivals, and for various criminal enterprises. Given the economic crisis and the political disintegration, it was only a matter of time before the gangs became a political force on a national level. This presents a real danger for the masses.

On 17 October, Ariel Henry was forced to flee an official ceremony commemorating the assassination of Jean-Jacques Dessalines. Henry was chased away by members of Jimmy “Barbecue” Cherizier’s G9 gang, who outnumbered and outgunned Henry’s security forces. Not long afterwards, Cherizier, dressed in a white suit and shirt with a wing collar, which is the dress code for officials on national holidays, officiated the ceremony himself. Cherizier was sending a message to the political elites that he was in charge and leading the country. He was demonstrating his very real power and showing everyone that he was playing the role of head of state.

Gangs replacing the state

With the fuel blockade, Cherizier wants to create chaos and instability in the hopes that the government collapses. He can then present himself as the strongman who can save the country from the crisis. This is the real reason he presents himself as a modern-day Robin Hood that can save the poor from the bourgeois elites that have supported him. In reality, Cherizier is no saviour of the Hatian people. He is the leader of the G9 an fanmi e alye (G9 Family and Allies) gang, considered the most powerful alliance of gangs in the country. This gang has been involved in numerous massacres, including the 2018 La Saline massacre, and attacks in May 2020 across numerous neighbourhoods in Port-au-Prince, another series of massacres in the capital in August and September 2020, and an April 2021 attack in Bel Air.

A prominent human rights organisation in Haiti, the National Human Rights Defense Network (RNDDH), has investigated the massacres carried out by G9 and found that the police failed to intervene, did not file any witness reports, and that police equipment was used in the attacks. This points to a certain level of collusion between G9 and the police.

It is widely believed that Cherizier was closely allied with then-President Jovenel Moïse, who was using the G9 gang to eliminate dissidents and rivals. After the assassination of the president, Cherizier publicly supported Ariel Henry as his successor. But now that Henry has been implicated in the assassination, Cherizier has turned against him and is using fuel blockades to force his resignation.

The situation has since deteriorated further. Towards the end of October, the G9 and other gangs began to blockade Haiti’s main ports, preventing the transport of fuel. Haiti doesn’t have a functioning electrical grid, so most people and institutions rely on diesel generators for fuel. With the blockades, there is now a major fuel shortage across the entire country. Petrol stations have been out of fuel for weeks. As a result, nothing in the country functions properly. Transport has ground to a halt. Children and teachers cannot get to school, and workers cannot get to work. Hospitals have been forced to close wards and some are on the verge of closing entirely, threatening the entire healthcare system itself. Schools, businesses, street vendors and even cell phone towers are rationing what little fuel they have left, with the country almost entirely paralysed.

Haiti fuel shortage Image peoplesdispatchWith the fuel blockade imposed by the gangs, Cherizier wants to create chaos and instability in the hopes that the government collapses / Image: peoplesdispatch

On 25 October, Cherizier announced that the fuel blockade would be lifted when Henry resigned. In response, Henry guaranteed the establishment of security corridors to ensure the transport of fuel. While Henry has claimed these corridors have been established, transport drivers have reported that these security corridors are essentially non-existent and that they continue to be attacked and kidnapped along the main routes from the ports.

There is very little that the Haitian state can do in this situation. Some have raised the prospect of a gang-led coup. At the moment this prospect cannot be ruled out, as Cherizier and G9 effectively have more power than the state and control the situation. The state is paralysed and cannot even carry out its basic functions. It does not have the means to deal with the gangs, as they are bigger than the police and armed forces and better armed. There are corrupt elements in the police that have close connections with the gangs, complicating any serious police operations. Some of the most powerful gang leaders, such as Cherizier, are former police officers themselves. The situation has become so dire that in early October, Foreign Minister Claude Joseph requested that the UN Security Council help deal with the gangs.

The only way the UN can help would be to send troops (“peacekeepers”) to deal with the gangs militarily. For the people of Haiti, this would be no solution at all, as it would mean open warfare in the streets. It might be argued that open warfare already exists on the streets. However, the sheer number of UN troops required to uproot and defeat the gangs would take the conflict to a whole other level.

In response, the UN has said that “Haiti must implement a more holistic approach to addressing gang violence.” Of course, dealing with the root causes that have given rise to the gangs would be the best way to deal with the problem. Good jobs and full employment with decent wages and a massive investment in decent housing, education, and healthcare would be a way to eradicate the gangs. By taking away the problems of poverty and the incentives that drive people to join the gangs, they could be defeated.

Defeating the gangs demands an alternative to capitalism

But how is this to be achieved in Haiti? The ruling class and the imperialists have never agreed, and will never agree to the economic and social policies that could deal with the gangs. A holistic approach to the gangs will not be possible under capitalism. It is precisely because of the greed and corruption of the Haitian ruling class and the imperialists that Haiti is in its current state. Furthermore, the general sickness of capitalism in Haiti has allowed the gangs to grow and metastasise like a cancer. The gangs are now a component part of capitalism itself in Haiti. Politicians and the bourgeoisie have funded and employed the gangs to further their own interests. The corruption runs so deep that the entire capitalist system, including the political framework, has become criminalised and gangsterised.

It may seem as if there is no hope for the Haitian masses. Yet, the Haitian working class has already pointed the way forward. In response to the crisis of the gangs and the fuel blockades, several general strikes have been called to protest the security situation and the fuel blockades, led by the transport workers. The working class is beginning to seek its own solutions to the crisis, and this ultimately will be the only way out for the Haitian masses.

Haiti Police Image UN Photo FlickrThe ruling class and the Haitian state have created this situation, and are unable and more importantly unwilling to do anything to solve the current crisis / Image: UN Photo, Flickr

The ruling class has created this situation, and is unable and more importantly unwilling to do anything to solve the crisis. The Haitian state and the imperialists are also unable and unwilling to do anything. There is very little appetite for intervention in the imperialist countries. Any intervention would in any case only worsen the situation. The previous United Nations occupation left in its wake a cholera epidemic and sexual abuse scandal. A new occupation would mean open warfare. Solving this crisis will be up to the Haitian masses themselves.

The first practical step that needs to be taken is that the masses must form revolutionary action committees in the neighbourhoods and workplaces. The armed defence of neighbourhoods and protection against kidnappings is necessary. To this end, armed self-defence organisations must be formed in the neighbourhoods and workplaces to protect against attacks and kidnappings. The working class, the trade unions, those on the left and revolutionaries interested in real social change and defeating the gangs must begin to consider how this can be done and find ways to achieve it.

The entire edifice of Haitian capitalism is rotten. The only way to clear out this rot is the expropriation of the bourgeoisie and the imperialists. This will be a key step in overcoming the power and connections of the gangs. The revolutionary committees will need to develop an economic, political and social programme that can eradicate the poverty that drives people to join gangs. They will need to manage the collection and distribution of basic goods such as food, water and fuel; and the organisation of transportation, education, healthcare, and housing. By expropriating the bourgeoisie and liberating the country from the greed and corruption of the capitalists and the imperialists, the revolutionary committees could begin to develop an economic plan that could provide jobs and decent wages. This will be the only possible way to develop a holistic approach to the problem of the gangs.

Leaving the solution to the capitalists and the imperialists will be no solution at all. This will only result in the crisis worsening, and the power of the gangs growing. In short, the only result will be barbarism. The working class is beginning to fight for its own interests. This will be the only way forward: overthrowing the bourgeoisie and the entire rotten edifice of Haitian capitalism.