By Pierre Beaudet
Published by Znet on October 02, 2005
Posted by AlterPresse on October 07, 2005
There has been considerable debate on the left in North America about
the current situation in Haiti. As part of this debate, there have been
accusations that those of us critical of Aristide have somehow sold out
to the forces of evil. The situation in Haiti is dire and deserves a
serious debate rather than accusations and counter accusations.
Some of these accusations have been directed against Alternatives.
Over the years, Alternatives, a Montreal-based solidarity movement, has stood
by several popular movements in Haiti and extended its communication skills
to a number of community media and journalist associations. Back home in
the meantime, Alternatives has helped a number of organizations from the
Haitian Diaspora in Canada to participate in the campaign of solidarity
for Haiti, including pressing the Canadian government for more generous
aid policies and more support for a genuine democratic process involving
the society at large, and not just the political elites.
More than 200 years ago, the African slaves of Haiti defeated French
and later Spanish and British imperialism. The first republic of the
hemisphere had a very difficult beginning. France and Britain, then
later the United States never gave in to what was perceived as a mortal
threat to the interests of the slave-owners. The Africans in Haiti were
also split between various factions combining race and class factors,
which did not help to create the conditions for a democratic state.
In the early part of the 20th century, the US intervened directly with
military occupation and repression. Resistance continued, however and in
the 1930s, a new populist movement came about under Francois Duvalier
(the father). After flirting with the popular classes, Duvalier
established his own dictatorship, courting an African «middle class» and
enlisting Haiti in the Cold War led by the United States.
The rise and fall of Aristide
In the 1980s, Duvalier (the son) was unable to crush the rising tide of
people’s resistance to the dictatorship. Out of this, a charismatic
priest active in the shantytowns of Port-au-Prince, Jean Bernard
Aristide became the spokesperson of the movement.
In 1990, he was swept into power through Haiti’s first democratic elections.
But US imperialism and the local ruling group could not accept
this democratic verdict.
A few months later, the military overthrew Aristide opening a
new cycles of violence and repression during which many of the popular
leaders were executed, jailed or exiled. In 1994 under Haitian and
international pressure, the US was forced to bring back Aristide from
his Washington exile. Artistide’s movement, Lalavas, which was a sort of
rainbow alliance during its first incarnation, began to fumble after the
return of a transformed President who was mostly concerned with
reaffirming his control rather than engaging in the political, social
and environmental reconstruction of the country. Many supporters of
Lavalas broke away, including most of the left factions that had
supported him initially. Dissidents of various stripes became the target
of Aristide, such as the famous journalist-agronomist Jean Dominique and
many other popular leaders. Subsequent elections were rigged to the
extent that most of the opposition boycotted the futile exercise.
In the last presidential election in 2000, less than 15% of the Haitians
bothered to vote (for René Preval, the "stand-in" for Aristide). By 2003
and 2004, popular demonstrations, strikes and riots multiplied, creating
more disturbances. In the meantime, the economy went bankrupt,
increasing Aristide’s drive towards the side of drug dealers who
transformed Haiti into a major smuggling operation.
Descent into hell
All throughout that period, the big international players kept out,
creating around Haiti an invisible wall of isolation and neglect. None
of them were interested really in supporting the democratic opposition.
For the United States particularly, Haiti had to be saved from itself
only to avoid a major influx of boatpeople. Later, the old gangs of
Duvalierists and ex-military thugs engaged into their own
destabilization with the help of the Dominican government and mafia.
They came out with their guns and kicked Artistide’s supporters out of
several cities. Port-au-Prince became ungovernable. Then the
panic-button was hit. In February, US Marines came to «surgically
remove» Aristide who was shipped to Africa. In a few days, the coup was
endorsed by the UN under a joint resolution to the Security Council
presented by France, the US and Canada. Later a UN-mandated
Brazilian-led contingent was sent to protect a «transition» in principle
managed by a non-elected government. The left and many of the popular
movements that had led the democratic struggles in the last decade came
out of this series of extraordinary events quite stunned. Some decided
to side with the transitional government in the hope of rebuilding a
minimum space for democratic governance. Others aligned with Aristide
defending the principle of national sovereignty above and beyond
anything else, including the crimes that everyone knew Aristide had
committed. Some of the radical groups refused however to side with one
or the other and announced that they would fight «on two fronts». In the
meanwhile, the situation has gravely deteriorated. Most of the members
(with exceptions) of the «interim government» have been ineffective as
it was predicted in the beginning. Aristide has succeeded in joining
hands with some of the hard-nose gangs in the capital to create havoc.
Many of his supporters on the other hand have been arbitrarily
repressed, even those who had nothing to do with crime or drug
trafficking. In addition to the misery and famine inflicted on the
Haitian people, insecurity and violence now prevail in many parts of the
country. Tons of promises by the «international community» to clean the
mess have been left into the air.
The enemy of my enemy is not my friend
Aristide who has been suppressed by the United States has tried
successfully to present himself as a «martyr» and a victim of
imperialism. For sure, he was punished, as were several others who have
dared to confront at one point or the other the arrogance of the
powerful. He is not alone in that family that includes genuine popular
leaders but also distorted populist thugs such as Noriega, Saddam
Hussein, Robert Mugabe and others. In their desire to overthrow these
regimes, imperialism is much less concerned with democracy as it is with
the protection of its own interests. While «bad» dictators are
overthrown, «good» dictators are supported and promoted by Washington
when they are able to ’do the job’ properly, like in Saudi Arabia,
Colombia or Indonesia. In any case, should solidarity movements support
Aristide because he was punished by the US? Well-know Haitian left
activists like Camille Chalmers say that in no way can they support
Aristide even though they are highly critical of the way he was expelled
and more over, of how the international community has handled the
situation since then. The sovereignty of the nation has to be preserved,
and at the same time, the Haitians want democracy and social justice,
not the coming back of the thugs. How to do that? Chalmers concludes
that there is no escape from rebuilding an alternative through the
popular movements that struggle and propose. There is no quick-fix and
the task is tremendous. This is where solidarity movements should stand.