Haiti: Class Analysis of a Crisis

Haiti: Class Analysis of a Crisis

An analysis of the Haitian political conflict of the early 2000's which culminated in overthrow (for the second time) of President Jean Paul Aristide in 2004.

This past week [end of November, 2002] saw dueling demonstrations between thousands of pro- and anti-government marchers in Haiti. Political tension, violence and lawlessness are growing. Telephone calls and Internet chat rooms are filled with rumors and speculation about how events will unfold.

To understand the nature of the crisis shaking Haiti today, it is essential to understand the class forces at play.

The destabilization campaign against the Haitian government is being led by the George W. Bush faction of the U.S. bourgeoisie, which is arch-reactionary and hostile to regimes which even pay lip-service to a progressive agenda, as Aristide once did. Two conservative retreads from the previous Bush administration, Undersecretary of State for the Americas Otto Reich and Ambassador to the Organization of American States (OAS) Roger Noriega, are spearheading the campaign to uproot Aristide, whom they charge is becoming an "illegitimate president" of a "pariah state," even as other OAS states stand by wringing their hands at the plight of the besieged president.

Meanwhile, the majority of the Haitian bourgeoisie, as represented by the Association of Industries of Haiti (ADIH), the Chamber of Commerce and of Industry of Haiti (CCIH) and, more globally, the Civil Society Initiative (ISC), has allied itself with the forces of its age-old rival, the landed oligarchy or "grandons," whose purest recent political manifestation was the Duvalier dictatorship (1957-86). The armed expression of the grandons under the Duvaliers was the Tonton Macoutes, who were the eyes, ears and fists of this class. The remnants and descendants of this brutal corps live on in Haiti. Neo-Duvalierist political representatives are often referred to, in Haitian political parlance, as the Macoute sector.

This "Macoute-Bourgeois" alliance is embodied in the Democratic Convergence opposition front, which is funded by Washington's National Endowment for Democracy (NED). Social democratic groups like the Struggling People's Organization (OPL) of Gerard Pierre Charles, the National Progressive Revolutionary Party (PANPRA) of Serge Gilles and the National Congress of Democratic Movements (KONAKOM) of Micha Gaillard and Victor Benoit represent the bourgeois current, which favors taking power through political wrangling facilitated by the OAS and Washington's diplomatic muscle.

The Macoute current favors the "zero option," code for the violent overthrow of Aristide. The Mobilization for National Development (MDN) of Hubert DeRonceray, the Christian Movement for a New Haiti (MOCHRENA) of Pastor Luc Mesadieu and, increasingly, the Democratic Uniq Confederation (KID) of Evans Paul are the foremost representatives of this tendency.

Despite Washington's backing, the Convergence has very little support among the masses across Haiti. But two weeks ago, it found collaboration from former soldiers, as represented by former putschist colonel Himmler Rebu. Aided by intense media coverage and increasingly desperate living conditions, the Convergence/Rebu alliance was able to pull several thousand people in its train during a November 17 march in Cap Haitien (see Haiti Progres, Vol. 20, No. 36, 11/20/02).

Since his emergence as a firebrand priest from Port-au-Prince's La Saline slum, Aristide has had his principal base in Haiti's growing lumpen proletariat. The ranks of this dispossessed, desperate class have swelled as falling prices for coffee, cocoa and sugar, cheap food dumping from the U.S. and neoliberal reforms have driven peasants off the land and into Haiti's miserable slums. Aristide's populist sway over this volatile class is the essence of his power, and it is precisely what the Haitian ruling class fears and U.S. officials distrust.

Aristide has attempted to sell himself to Washington as the intermediary who can control and reign in this explosive underclass in exchange for a few crumbs from the ruling-class table. Hence he periodically whips up the lumpen masses, and then soothes them, as a demonstration of his power.

On the other hand, he has also sought to reassure the U.S. and Haitian ruling classes by integrating businessmen and Duvalierists into leading positions in his government and party, pushing it even more to the right. The Lavalas Family party has sold off state industries, begun the sale of Haitian territory for free-trade zones, cracked down on union organizers, and acquiesced to treaties allowing unilateral U.S. penetration of Haitian territory.

While the Clinton administration was willing to gamble on using Aristide to control Haiti, the Bush administration is not. C)n the contrary, they have counterattacked. Working through the OAS, Washington has pushed through two resolutions which compel Aristide to arrest the popular organization leaders who effectively coordinate the slum masses into a political force. Aristide is being forced to saw off the branch on which he sits.

By blocking some $500 million in international aid and loans to Haiti, Bush has worked to discredit and trap Aristide, who made rosy campaign promises to the masses now suffering and hungry as never before. Disillusionment with Aristide is growing as he fails to deliver.

Meanwhile, other political forces have begun to emerge. For years, the National . Popular Party (PPN) has focused its organizing in the Haitian peasantry, which is still Haiti's majority. In May and October, the PPN organized two mass 3; marches in Port-au-Prince and Cap Haitien to propose a "popular alternative" to the Convergence and Lavalas Family (see Haiti Progres, Vol. 20, No. 8, 5/8/02 and Vol. 20, No. 32, 10/23/02).

The Convergence may rend into rival factions as the crisis matures. Already, one hard-liner, Leslie Manigat of the Assembly of Progressive National Democrats (RNDP), broke away earlier this , year from the Convergence because of its continuing negotiations with the Lavalas Family. Tensions are likely to grow as Washington, ultimately, decides whether to try OAS-controlled elections next year or the zero option sooner to remove Aristide and his party from power.

It is ironic, but historically predictable, that the bourgeoisie is collaborating with former soldiers and Macoutes. In 1987, the neo-Duvalierist sector, working :: through and with the Haitian Army, massacred Haitian voters to block the election dreams of the bourgeoisie, united at that time in the "Group of 57." The bourgeoisie may come to rue today's alliance. "The Macoutes never share power with anybody," the PPN's Secretary General Ben Dupuy warned in a November 21 press conference.

Similarly, Aristide's decline has resulted from his foolish notion that he could somehow appease Washington through concessions. He cannot, a lesson Nicaragua's Sandinistas learned during the 1980s.

Aristide's party will likely provide little support or defense as the crisis grows, and it may also fracture. Many of the Lavalas Family's elected officials are archetypal petty bourgeois opportunists, intent only on snagging a government post with which to enrich themselves through corruption or personal projects like radio stations, bus lines or supermarkets.

Unfortunately for Washington, it has no viable alternative to Aristide in Haiti and no Haitian Army (disbanded by Aristide in 1994) through which to make a coup, as was done in 1991. The only standing military force on the island is the 24,500-man Dominican Army, to which the U.S. is now sending 20,000 M-16s as part of a multimillion dollar military aid package (see Haiti Progres, Vol. 20, No. 36, 11/20/02). Some 1,000 U.S. soldiers will also be stationed in the Dominican Republic, supposedly for training purposes. Most certainly, both U.S. and Dominican forces will be poised for a military intervention into Haiti if and when the moment comes. Ironically, this scenario looms as Haiti prepares to celebrate the bicentennial anniversary of its January 1, 1804 independence.

Despite this ominous outlook, the Haitian people have managed to foil Washington's best laid plans repeatedly over the past 16 years since the fall of the Duvalier regime. Whatever unfolds in the weeks ahead, the Bush administration and its Haitian allies can expect fierce resistance from a nation and a generation which has learned many lessons and shed many illusions on its march toward democracy and independence.

From Haiti Progres, November 27, 2002.