Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Haiti and the Struggle Against Imperialism

Haiti and the Struggle Against Imperialism

A History of Resistance to Slavery and Occupation

by Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire

A devastating earthquake struck the Caribbean nation of Haiti on January 12. The quake has left millions homeless and without food, shelter, clothing, medicines and water.

Although various estimates indicate that anywhere between 100,000 and 500,000 people have died as a result of the quake, an accurate assessment of the disaster will take months to fully document. Messages of condolences, support and solidarity have poured into the country from throughout the world.

Various states and organizations have responded to the current situation in Haiti. The Cubans already had over 400 medical personnel inside the country who are now operating field hospitals where care is being provided.

China has sent rescue teams to assist in efforts aimed at finding people trapped under collapsed buildings and homes. Numerous states and non-governmental organizations are on the ground providing assistance to the Haitian people who are exercising a high degree of discipline and self-organization.

Corporate media reports have sought to portray Haiti as a "failed state" with weak or non-existent institutions. The Obama administration's initiative, which includes the deployment of 10,000 troops and the allocation of $100 million in humanitarian assistance, must be viewed within the broader historical context of U.S. foreign policy toward Haiti.

Despite the pledges of U.S. governmental assistance, which will be coordinated by former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, the role of the world's leading imperialist power overall has not been supportive of the aspirations of the people of Haiti. The U.S. has a history of over two centuries of involvement in suppressing the right of self-determination and national independence of the Haitian people.

The Significance of the Haitian Revolution

Haiti was the most prosperous colony of all the French possessions during the period of slavery. The production of sugar, coffee, and other agricultural products brought tremendous profits to the colonial landowners on the island of Hispaniola, which today encompasses both the Dominican Republic and Haiti. At the time of the uprising on August 14, 1791, which was led by Boukmans, there were over 500,000 African slaves and thousands more free blacks and people of mixed race.

During the rebellion of 1791, over 200 sugar plantations, 600 coffee plantations, 200 indigo plantations were liberated by the Haitian masses. In has been recorded that 12,000 people died during this period including 2,000 European settlers.

The earliest European intervention on the island took place when it was visited by Columbus in his expeditions in the Caribbean during 1492 on behalf of the Spanish monarchy. When the Spanish colonialists occupied the island it already had a population of indigenous people who were divided into five kingdoms ruled by hereditary leaders.

According to Ralph Korngold in his political biography of Haitian revolutionary leader Toussaint Louverture, entitled "Citizen Toussaint, he states that: "When Columbus discovered Haiti, the island, which is about the size of Ireland, had a population estimated at from 1 million to 3 million. When forty-three years later Oviedo visited the island, there were not over 500 of the original inhabitants left."

Korngold continues to illustrate the degree of cruelty and barbarism exercised against the indigenous people of Hispaniola. The writer says "What could have been the reason for the cruel extermination of a people of whom Las Casas says 'they never committed against the Spaniards any one mortal offence punishable by the law of man'? The Spanish adventures who flocked to Haiti had only one aim in view: They wanted gold and colonial products."(Korngold, pp. 5-6)

Competition continued over the three centuries between the French, Spanish and British colonialists seeking dominance over the island. At the time of independence from France in 1804, the island was divided between Haiti and the eastern territory controlled by Spain.

In regard to the fear instilled by the developments in Haiti during the period between 1790s and the first decade of the 19th century, the slaveowners of the United States and the British colonies in the Caribbean saw the Haitian revolution as a serious threat to the slave system. In 1799, the United States Consul General to the French colony in St. Domingo, the part of the island now called Haiti, Edward Stevens, wrote General Thomas Maitland, Commander in Chief of the British Expeditionary Force to the colony, warning that the colony of Jamaica and the United States were in danger of an invasion by the armed forces of General Toussant Louverture.

Korngold noted in his biography of Toussaint said that "Since in 1812 the British did not find it difficult to land an army in the United States, there is reason to believe that with the aid of the French fleet Toussaint could have done the same. He might have proved a more formidable adversary than the British, since thousands of plantation slaves undoubtedly would have joined him.

The writer continues by outlining the plot saying "The invasion plan included seizure of all ships in Haitian waters for use as transports. The American Government took the matter sufficiently to heart to forbid American ships to depart for Haitian ports." (Korngold, p. x)

After the proclamation of independence on January 1, 1804, the nation of Haiti was subjected to a blockade by France as well as the United States. Because of the French refusal to recognize the Republic of Haiti, in 1825 the Haitians began to pay "indemnity" to the former colonial power for the claims related to the destruction and seizure of the slavemaster's property during the revolutionary period of 1791-1803.

The defeat of the French in Haiti caused tremendous financial hardships for the colonial power. These events prompted the so-called Louisiana Purchase, enabling the United States to expand its territorial control over large sections of the South and West of the North American continent.

In regard to the United States during the same time period, the political position of the government was exemplified in a statement made by South Carolina Sen. Robert V. Hayne who said that "Our policy with regard to Haiti is plain. We never can acknowledge her independence." (Haiti: A Slave Revolution, p. 104)

It was not until the period during the U.S. Civil War in 1862 that the recognition of Haiti became a reality. The French maintained economic dominance over Haiti during the 19th century. When the Haitian National Bank was established in the 1880s it was overseen by French officers and financed with capital from the former colonial power.

France remained the principal neo-colonial power in Haiti until the United States invaded and occupied the country between 1915-1934. During this period a guerrilla campaign organized by the Haitian masses was crushed by the U.S. imperialists. Even after the Roosevelt administration withdrew from Haiti in 1934, the U.S. continued to have enormous influence inside the country.

The regimes of Papa Doc and Baby Doc Duvalier further extended the process of labor exploitation and state militarization from the 1950s through the 1980s. The Haitian masses rose up in rebellion in February 1986 and forced the resignation of the Duvalier regime, however, the absence of a well-organized political party or coalition allowed the military to take power over the state.

The social process that unfolded between 1986-1990 saw a sharpening of the political situation inside the country. In 1990 a former priest Jean Bertrand Aristide was elected to office with the overwhelming support of the working class and the poor.

Nonetheless, before the Lavalas coalition could consolidate its hold on power, efforts were under way aimed at regime change in Haiti. Consequently, it was not surprising that President Aristide was overthrown by the U.S.-trained military, which was supported by the American Central Intelligence Agency in 1991.

The Aristide government did not come to power through force of arms and the maintenance of popular para-military and guerrilla strategies. Yet, as soon as Aristide began to send volunteers to Scandinavian countries to train militarily, he was pushed aside by the army and the police, necessitating the U.S. to transport him out of the country into the mainland. Aristide continued to push for the restoration of his government while living in exile in the United States.

A naval blockade of the country during the Bush Sr. administration in 1992, that was designed to prevent Haitians from entering Florida, was continued under the Clinton presidency and is still enforced until this day. The U.S. utilized the re-imposition of Aristide in 1994 as an excuse to continue its racist immigration policy towards Haiti.

Even though Aristide was restored to office in 1994, it was with the understanding that he would only remain in office for one year. Haiti held another election in December 1995 that resulted in the eleciton of Rene Preval. However, the turnout for this election was very low with only 25% of the voters going to the polls.

There were several reasons cited for the paucity of voter response to the 1995 elections. One observation was that the electorate was disillusioned with the agreement imposed on the country by the United States and the United Nations. Many also felt that the elections would not improve the swiftly deteriorating economic conditions in the country, which prompted numerous attempts at commandeering rafters to the U.S. in search of jobs.

Aristide ran again and was elected in 2000 to the great consternation of the United States. In 2003, opposition parties supported by the U.S. engaged in a massive destablization campaign against the Aristide government. This anti-Aristide campaign involved military actions that attacked government offices and resulted in the creation of a coalition of organizations, known as the Group of 184, which opposed the democratically elected ruling party.

On February 29, 2004, President Aristide was kidnapped by invading U.S. military forces and his government was deposed. Under the guise of a humanitarian mission thousands of imperialist troops occupied the country less than one year after the invasion of Iraq. President Aristide was taken to the Central African Republic. A coordinated campaign launched by the International Action Center and the Congressional Black Caucus Haiti Task Force demanded the released of Aristide leading to his re-location in the Republic of South Africa, where he remains to this day.

The Republic of South Africa, led by the African National Congress, was the only state that supported Haiti during its 200 year celebrations in January 2004. The then President Thabo Mbeki traveled to Haiti under extremely dangerous circumstances to participate in the commemorations.

Despite the fact that an aid package for Haiti had been passed by the United States Congress during this period, the Bush administration refused to release the money to the Aristide Government. The U.S. later convinced the United Nations to establish a mission in Haiti where thousands of so-called peacekeepers took over the occupation of the country. Numerous violations of the rights of Haitian people have occurred under the United Nations presence.

The Present Occupation and Need for Another Revolutionary Upsurge

After the coup against Aristide and the occupation of Haiti by the United States, France and Canada in 2004, the MINUSTAH forces targeted the members and supporters of the political party loyal to President Aristide, Fanmi Lavalas. Many of the supporters of President Aristide were harassed, imprisoned, driven into exile and even murdered.

Moreover, the economy of Haiti continued to suffer as a result of the failed policies of the Preval government which faced severe political restrictions imposed as a result of the invasion and occupation of the country. The majority of the people in Haiti still supported Fanmi Lavalas during this period and the scheduled elections of 2007 were postponed due to natural disasters and political unrest in the country.

In early 2008 unrest flared again as a result of the dire economic conditions prevailing in Haiti. This social situation was a manifestation of the deepening world crisis of finance capital that erupted during the previous year in the United States and throughout the capitalist countries.

Food rebellions, strikes and clashes with the United Nations forces and the Haitian police gained international attention during this period. In addition, several hurricanes struck the country resulting in tremendous damage to property and the deaths of hundreds of Haitians.

However, in the early months of 2009, general strikes took place in other parts of the Caribbean under French colonial control. In Guadeloupe and Martinique, workers shut down businesses that are largely owned by the French settlers demanding significant wage increases and the improvement of conditions for the class as a whole. The French dispatched riot police to break the strikes and in Guadeloupe one trade unionist was killed by the authorities.

The strikes and rebellions in Guadeloupe and Martinique exposed the continuing role of French imperialism in the Caribbean. Nonetheless, as a result of the militancy of the trade union organizations and youth on these islands, workers won significant gains in regard to wage increases and the improvement of working conditions.

In Haiti during this same time period, there were mass demonstrations commemorating the coup against Aristide that demanded the return of their legitimately elected president. On the anniversary of the removal of Aristide, 10,000 supporters of Fanmi Lavalas took to the streets demanding an end to the United Nations occupation and the restoration of the elected government that was overthrown five years before.

During March 2009, and less than two weeks after the demonstrations acknowledging the fifth anniversary of the coup, another series of protests took place which sought to lift the ban on candidates who are supporters of exiled President Aristide. A United Nations fact-finding delegation visited the country in an effort to prevent another political crisis from erupting in the country.

According to Haiti Action, a solidarity organization headquartered in the Bay Area of California, "Over 10,000 pro-democracy activists took to the streets of Haiti's capital, once again, to demand the return of President Aristide, who was kidnapped by U.S. officials five years ago." (, March 12, 20009)

This statement went to say, "While the U.S. State Department assisted its escorts, an assortment of NGO personalities, in avoiding any contact with the largest political party in Haiti, Fanmi Lavalas simply converged on the National Palace from the surrounding neighborhoods."

While these events unfolded in Haiti, a deportation order in the United States against 30,000 Haitians was opposed by the International Action Center through an online petition drive. In the aftermath of the earthquake on January 12, President Barack Obama temporarily lifted the deportation order pending the outcome of the current humanitarian crisis.

However, as a result of the quake and the presence of U.S. troops, the present situation in Haiti can only be resolved through the independent actions of the masses of workers and youth inside the country. Anti-imperialists and solidarity activists in the United States must demand that the deportation orders be lifted permanently against Haitians.

In addition, those seeking to truly stabilize the political situation in Haiti should demand the restoration of President Aristide to power. In a statement by the President in the immediate aftermath of the quake, he stated from South Africa that he was prepared to return to Haiti as soon as possible.

Haiti should be paid reparations for the years of exploitation and oppression imposed upon the country by the United States, France, Canada and the United Nations. Efforts by the imperialist states has severely hampered the ability of Haiti to become self-reliant and truly independent.

The imperialist-imposed policies directed towards Haiti, which has underdeveloped the country for over two centuries, are at the root cause of poverty and unemployment. The collapse of the agricultural sector derives from the neo-colonial policies designed to preserve the country as a vast reservoir of cheap labor for the capitalist corporations operating in the country.

With the erosion of agricultural production in the rural areas, the masses were forced to re-locate in the urban centers which has resulted in tremendous overcrowding along with an acute shortage of housing. With the earthquake of such magnitude and the efforts of the U.S. to dominate the relief efforts, poverty will inevitably increase in Haiti.

Who will rebuild Haiti and on what basis? Any real progress toward reconstruction has to place the masses of workers and farmers at the center of the process. Although the earthquake has done tremendous damage to the Haitian people and its underdeveloped infrastructure, the current situation provides an opportunity for the workers and youth to exercise independent self-organization based upon its own class and national interests.

1 comment:

cb said...

A very much needed analysis of the history behind so many deaths