Haiti’s Vibrant Struggle for Freedom since the Revolution
International leaders, including President Biden, are still supporting a kelptocracy that the Haitian people desperately want gone
It is not an exaggeration to say that the nation of Haiti has been under foreign attack from the end of the Haitian Revolution until today. The Haitian Revolution was a blow for freedom that capital and empire didn’t dare to accept without seeking vengeance, but the people of Haiti never give up, and neither should we. This article will give a short overview of the meddling by the foreign powers that still keeps the Haitian people from being free, what Haitians are doing about it, and what people in other countries can do too.
Haiti is the origin point of great music like that of Wyclef Jean, great foods with historic significance like Soup Joumou and Lambi, great religious traditions like Baháʼí and of course Haitian Vodou. Its people live life to the fullest and do not submit to the suffering still heaped on them by the outside world. While there are several mentions here of dependency foisted on Haiti by foreign powers, but it’s important to know that the Haitian people do not see their struggle exclusively in these terms. From their perspective, they are in a fight for their freedom. Of course there are major obstacles, and through solidarity we can overcome them.
If you want know more about the history of the Haitian Revolution and its international context, see my last article about the rise of the international abolitionist movement.
From slave colony to lab-rat for imperialism
Only briefly after Haiti declared its independence, France asserted that Haiti must make debt payments to them, the expelled former occupiers. Unfortunately, this alleged debt was not challenged as vehemently as slavery was. It really should have been, because it was essentially a way to continue slavery by other means.
Haiti was a cash-crop economy which struggled to grow enough food to feed its own population. In order to afford food and other imports, any Haitian government had to keep plantations running. As a French colony, Haiti’s economy had been intentionally kept dependent, and this dependence on trade continued after the revolution. It was this dependence which allowed France to foist a debt on the newborn nation. This original debt, which Haiti continued to pay until 1947, was a means of robbing Black people of the value of their labor which differed from slavery in form but not in substance.
Over a century of forest destruction and cash crop agriculture also left Haitian soil severely degraded. This is a deep environmental issue which continue to contribute to Haiti’s social issues even today.
The treatment of Haiti after the revolution became a formula for how empires could loot as much wealth from the Global South as possible. The formula goes like this: the European Empire militarily occupies an area, treats its people terribly, extracts wealth from them by any means possible, steals any cultural artifacts to be had, steals as much natural resources as possible, fosters economic hyper-exploitation and dependence over decades of occupation, crushes uprisings for as long as possible, cedes political independence eventually, then ensures that the new government remains “in debt” as a means of continuing the economic exploitation. In many instances, colonial empires also drew the borders of new nations with the explicit goal of perpetuating ethnic conflicts which would keep the oppressed divided. For some countries, political independence only came as recently as the 1970s.
In 1915, the United States invaded Haiti and occupied it for 20 years. After 1947, when Haiti’s original “debt” was over, new loans were made to keep the country in debt. In the 1980s, the CIA helped back anti-communist military dictatorships in Haiti. In 1990, the country held its first democratic elections ever.
That’s right. From 1804–1990, the Haitian people were ruled by completely unelected juntas and autocrats who exploited them to enrich France. In 1991, little more than a year after Jean-Bertrand Aristide was elected, the military ousted him in a coup. He returned in 1994 and served as President until 1996. As the age of NAFTA and “free trade” mania took hold, the US leveraged its economic position to make US grain very cheap in Haiti, which drove Haitian food producers out of business and continued the country’s dependency problem. This happened at the same time as the US State Department was supposedly promoting democracy in Haiti. In 2000, Aristide was overwhelmingly reelected President, and in 2004, he was again forced out in a coup and exiled from the country by the military the US had helped train and arm after he raised the country’s minimum wage. He also demanded reparations of $40 billion from France for Haiti having been extorted by that country since 1804. We can assume this made certain French heads hit the roof. Aristide himself insists that there was direct US government involvement in his 2004 ouster. Even if direct US involvement in the the coup is not considered proven, the Bush administration easily could have stopped the coup if it had wished to do so, but instead it openly urged the elected Haitian President to resign in the face of quasi-fascist military goons. The country was plunged into violent chaos and returned to holding elections in 2006, but Aristide’s popular social-democratic party, Fanmi Lavalas, was banned from participating.
Disasters and Profiteers deepen the dependency crisis
In 2010, Haiti was hit by a devastating earthquake. We still do not know the true death toll, but estimates range from 92,000 to over 300,000 deaths. The quake damaged structures so severely that there was a bad cholera outbreak in the aftermath that went on for years. In the wake of the earthquake, there were attempts to show international solidarity with Haiti. However, individual donations to mega-NGOs like the American Red Cross did little for the Haitian people. According to an investigation by ProPublica and NPR, the American Red Cross raised $500 million dollars in individual donations which was to be used to build new homes. They only built 6 homes. This is just one particularly heinous incident in a long and ongoing history of international charities, NGOs and “non profits” cashing in on sympathy for Haiti while delivering little to no actual aid. The earthquake deepened Haiti’s dependence on support from other governments and the UN, but much of the support that was promised never materialized, and the behavior of UN peacekeepers in the country has been, for the most part, ghastly. There is also a significant possibility that it was the peacekeepers who introduced cholera to the country.
In an example of the “Shock Doctrine” outlined by journalist Naomi Klein in her book of the same name, Haiti’s then-President Martelly’s plan for reconstruction was to let the free market handle it. As has happened in many other countries following big social shocks, foreign-backed proposals to privatize state assets were forced through while organizing sufficient opposition was nearly impossible. This approach was, predictably, a windfall for foreign investors and a total disaster for the Haitian people. Many of the companies taking part in this legal pillaging were donors to the Clinton Foundation and/or Clinton Global Initiative, which was and is involved in promoting the idea that “free markets” and “public-private partnerships” can solve major social issues.
In 2016, Haiti suffered another natural disaster, this time a tsunami, in which over 500 Haitians were killed. These two disasters, and the swindling away of aid money meant for the Haitian people, set the stage for what is going on in Haiti now.
The “Core Group”
One very influential faction in Haitian politics is not Haitian at all. It’s called the “Core Group,” and is essentially a diplomatic unity pact between the US, France, Brazil, Canada, the EU (ie, Germany) and the OAS. This group is often accused by Haitians of being representatives of the foreign powers enacting a proxy-occupation of the country through corrupt Haitian officials. Indeed, the countries in the Core Group are home to companies with investments in Haiti and which benefit from Haitian destitution through the exploitation of labor and natural resources.
The role (or even the existence) of the Core Group is not very well known outside of Haiti and its diaspora. Of course, the Core Group tries to insist that it has only the best intentions for Haiti. They want to bring “development” and “democracy,” kind of like how the original colonizers brought “Christianity” and “Civilization.” In reality, the Core Group represents the interests of big capital. They play at being humanitarian, but are only upset about “unrest” (ie, resistance to their agenda) in Haiti because it’s bad for business.
The PetroCaribe Scandal
Between 2008 and 2016, the government of Venezuela gave the Haitian government around $2 billion in disaster recovery aid. All of it “went missing,” (ie, was funneled into the foreign bank accounts of the president and his hangers-on) and this is one of the core reasons why the people of Haiti are so outraged at their government.
Mass strikes and demonstrations have roiled the country since at least 2018, demanding that the current president, Jovenel Moïse, step down. Despite mounting rebellion, he insists on staying in office, claiming he will step down at the end of his term in 2022. However, his many critics are skeptical. Haiti has a long history of men setting themselves up as autocrats, going all the way back to the revolution. Parliamentary elections which should have taken place have already been canceled and parliament dissolved, leaving President Moïse ruling by decree since January. Also, he may have rigged his own election.
In Haiti the working class fights for democracy and the oligarchy fights viciously against it. The president and surrounding oligarchs attempt to convince foreigners that Haiti is a democracy (ie, that their rule is legitimate), but the Haitian people themselves know otherwise.
Protest and Repression
Haiti has been in a cyclical uprising since at least 2018. Public protests are brutally suppressed by the Haitian National Police (PNH), forcing protests to take on the character of insurrections. The first thing to know about the Haitian National Police is that they are trained and armed by the US. It is telling that the US will help a country arm and train an armed force, as this is considered vital for “stability,” and that everything else is essentially secondary. So when Haiti’s national police fire live ammo at protesters, it is something we can hold the US government’s guns-and-cops-first “aid” strategy directly responsible for. This type of “aid” is deployed into many other countries as well, mainly by the US government.
In fact, Haiti’s police and government are so corrupt and kleptocratic, it can be difficult to ship or bring any valuable things into the country without them being stolen by the police. Haitians mail valuable items to their family in the diaspora just for safekeeping. In doing so they are less worried about regular theft but theft by the Haitian police forces which the US trains and arms.
In this Sky News clip, Haitian police are clearly shown doing drive-by shootings against protesters. The viewer can also see how parts of Port-au-Prince look like Gaza City after being bombed by Israel. There are also nine “gangs” in which are run by a former police officer, Jimmy Chérisier, who are loyal to Moïse. In reality, these are not “gangs,” as foreign media often calls them, but fascistic para-military militias that make the US “proud boys” look like a just a bunch of hooligans just blowing off steam by comparison. In the face of literal massacres, the working-class opposition has little choice but to form rival armed groups in response. These groups of people attempting to defend their own communities are also commonly written off as “gangs” by major media outlets. Obviously, they do not have the advantage of being funded by wealthy foreign interests.
Moïse took power in 2017, and claims his 5-year term ends in 2022. The opposition says he should step down this year. So far, the Biden Administration has supported Moïse’s claim. The claim may look good on paper, but the facts on the ground are that his presidency has been an unmitigated disaster for the Haitian people. This past December, when a Haitian Supreme Court Justice agreed with the opposition and said that Moïse should step down, Moïse had him arrested on charges of “plotting a coup.” In addition, Moïse has created a new secret police service with unlimited powers and who are loyal only to him.
The “Core Group” is soon going to have to choose between breaking with Moïse or backing up a full blown police state dictatorship in Haiti. The people of these nations (mentioned above) should stand in solidarity with Haiti’s working-class resistance movement and force our officials to drop support for Moïse and any further intervention, no matter the faulty public pretexts.
Tools for Solidarity
The most foundational way to be in solidarity with the struggle for freedom in Haiti is to be informed about what is going on from a working-class Haitian perspective. One of the best places to find this information online is from the Haiti Info Project. Right now they are mainly on Twitter but are building a website as well. They are under-supported citizen journalists who are publicizing the perspectives of Haiti’s exploited majority. Their coverage, although just on Twitter so far, is invaluable and far more in-depth than any other English-language source I’ve been able to find. Once you’ve read their material and see how good it is, reach out to others and share their work.
But being informed is only the first step. It is an essential one, because all sorts of fraudulent NGOs are eager to capitalize on humanitarian sentiments, as mentioned above. These organizations and their leaders deserve to be exposed. What we should support instead are the working-class organizations built by Haitians for their own emancipation. The Rapid Response Network is an online hub that connects internationalist supporters to the Haitian labor movement in order to pressure companies to give in to the demands of Haitian workers. Unlike charities, they empower Haitians to assert their rights and make the positive change they themselves desire. They do not post or send emails very often but when they do it is very important. You can join their network easily via their website.
Also, contact your national representatives in government and tell them to stop supporting an illegitimate government in Haiti. The more we all do this and stay informed, the more likely it is that the Core Group will be forced to withdraw support from Moïse or the next kleptocrat in line. This would be a good way to back up Haitians who’ve been protesting outside the US embassy making the same demand.
The ruthless exploitation and proxy-occupation of Haiti by the Core Group is reinforced by the ignorance and indifference of the people in those other countries. This article is by no means a complete examination of the Haitian freedom struggle. By learning more about Haitian history and extending solidarity to those fighting for freedom in Haiti now, we can all take steps towards greater freedom.