As a Haitian immigrant to the US, I find myself arguing with leftists in the US to take a hard look at Haiti today. Comrades, Haiti should be considered a battleground against neoliberalism by leftists. Instead it is considered a charity case. An analytical look at Haiti’s current state of affairs and resistance will show that leftists should be looking at Haiti, with solidarity, as a critical battlefield. Why? There is a popular understanding of both neoliberalism and government in this stage of global capitalism by the poor, and July 8, 2018 proved this.
Haiti’s current social reality can be defined through neoliberalism and its brother-condition corruption. The Haitian elite as a junior partner to foreign capital took an industrial and neoliberal turn as product of the marriage between neoliberalism and dictatorship with Jean Claude Duvalier in power, and the subsequent populisms that afterward privatized state enterprises without ever being able to translate either theory or the expectations of the radical populaces (that got them elected despite being shot at at the polls again and again). This due to their getting too close to the neoliberal international community despite the watershed moment that was Jean Bertrand Aristide’s election to the presidency.
This corrupt mini-state, staffed by the middle classes, primarily serves the interest of the rich who are agents of American neoliberalism and protected by it given the nature of their enterprises (import export, ultra low wage manufacturing). The only true producer of counter-ideology to this state of affairs in “working with the IMF, World Bank, etc” comes from Haiti’s far left. Leftism in Haiti began with poet, anthropologist, and novelist Jacques Roumain’s founding Haiti’s first communist party, the PCH, a marxist-leninist party, in 1934. Roumain was of Bourgeois descent and dissent, and had been before being a communist activist an anti-American occupation nationalist. Communism and socialism are alive and well today and manifests itself through different political parties and especially through the literary works of writers such as Lyonel Trouillot and labor groups such as PAPDA and Batay Ouvriye. This constellation of counter-ideology (counter-corruption and individualism), however, despite having played the central role in overthrowing Jean Claude Duvalier in 1986, is not in power.
Sunday July 8, 2018
On Sunday, July 8, 2018, with riots against the neoliberal consensus managing the state manifesting itself through gas hikes amidst general inflation, two things were made apparent: that the absence of a suitable state is an opportunity for the left, and that the population understands neoliberalism and hates it. It is now up to organizing to match the two.
Sunday, July 8, 2018: Haitian residents in several cities, mainly in Port au Prince and Cap Haitien, riot against a hike in fuel prices that is pre-condition set by the IMF to the Haitian government for a loan. Haitian residents specifically target the businesses of a Dr. Boulos, a close advisor and campaign donor to President Jovenel Moise. Boulos is said to have suffered around 20 million dollars in damages. The government brings the price of fuel back down.
In a single day, rioters prove that the Haitian state is extremely weak, and make it clear that the state must be re-founded to avoid steering a population into this situation, and its misery in general. They easily topple the Prime Minister. How did Haiti get to this point? Why attack Dr. Boulos? Why was the government unable to do anything? The answer is that the Haitian state has lost control of the country, for better and for worse, and that street fighters know this.
The history of the Haitian state, corrupt since day 1 because the colonial administrators were, is a fascinating one. Born as a constitutional monarchy of one, no one else but the emperor was an aristocrat, the Haitian state was to both produce prosperity and justice mainly through agriculture and arms. The state was to also engage in serious international affairs as a state that avenged not only blacks but also the natives of the newly termed Americas. “I have avenged the Americas” declared Jean Jacques Dessalines, is studied by most young Haitians. The second Haitian state was founded after his assassination and a civil war in order to keep the wealthy and light skinned both powerful and not working much (the aspiration was to be a neocolonial gentleperson). Its first theorist was the historian Beaubrun Ardouin who re-wrote Haiti’s history and first leader Jean Pierre Boyer. Haitians have been rebelling and revolting against this state and its mutation (complicity with America) since the mid 1800’s.
Before the collapse of Bretton Woods, and after the end of World War 2, the Haitian state was in the midst of a profound transformation. A “nationalistic” version of the government that Haiti’s comprador elite and the US had produced during the American occupation from 1915 – 1934 whose main institution of social and political control was a military that watched over a “democracy” is in place. Why was it changing? Dr. Francois Duvalier comes to office as President of Haiti on September 22, 1957. Note that at the time the US is the world’s only creditor. First, how does Duvalier come to power? He is not a popular candidate: Daniel Fignole is beloved by the people. Duvalier was a member of Fignole’s MOP party before defecting, he knows this very well. Duvalier defects to Dumarsais Estime’s side, whose politics are neither popular or populists but rather elitist. He defects when he is offered a place in a “consensus government”, and eventually becomes a cabinet member.
Duvalier becomes President with the help of the military. General Antonio Kebreau, head of the transition military junta that is guiding the elections, not only chooses Duvalier as President but kills thousands of Fignole’s base in the Bel-Air area of Port-au-Prince who rise up against the election results.
Kebreau is appointed Ambassador. It is an odd political tool that Duvalier uses: all who are in his way are either killed or sent to be Ambassadors in far away lands, a bizarre exile. Slowly, Duvalier strips the military of its power. With a political party structured to promote his interests as its prince, the “National Unity Party”, Duvalier begins to mold the state as his idol Ataturk has in Turkey, and as Nasser is doing in Egypt. He forms the VSN, known as the Tonton Macoute, to produce a massive police state that repressed and suppressed any form of dissent. He sells “revolutionary bonds” to his own government employees to raise funds for his government. He is President-for-life of Haiti constitutionally and dies in office.
At the time, the US is an absolute hyperpower. Paranoia, however, has taken over the American elite: they are scared of a spread of communism and they are willing to do anything to stop it. Duvalier the cultural anthropologist is an ultra-nationalist and wants to found a large state guided by his political party: an order for a new Haitian “civilization”, that is a crystallization of his thoughts. He writes about this civilization in his books. In order to found his order, all governed by ideas, he works with the US. He becomes an anti-communist, despite his government’s communist operatives such as historian Roger Gaillard. He builds enough leverage and space for himself to even kick out an America Ambassador, Clinton Knox. Duvalier gets his ultra-paternalistic state, though this civilization never materializes.
Duvalier’s state remains firmly in place until his son Jean Claude Duvalier is toppled on February 7, 1986. After he leaves to France, the Haitian Military take over first as a Junta and then in the form of a General-President. They lose out to a faction of the Haitian left, Lavalas, led by Jean Bertrand Aristide: a faction that had not been prominent in leftist politics then mostly dominated by the PUCH, the Haitian communist party. This faction is very popular and comes to power in 1991 with the election of Jean Bertrand Aristide. Aristide is sent away by a military coup, until he is reinstated by the American military (approved by the United Nations) on July 31st, 1994. By decree, without changing the constitutional provision calling for an Army, Aristide sends the Army home.
This left faction is weak without an Army and a VSN, and begins to accept the neo-liberalism of the World Bank both as a means for its corruption and to pacify the population it does not know how to control. Government institutions are sold. The state begins to collapse: the government can no longer control any sector of the population, including itself. How could it not? Who staffs a revolutionary government when most of the staffers of the inherited government had been the product of Duvalier’s vision. This Haiti becomes the land of oligarchic business practices, and an economy of survival.
A new Haitian right: junior partners of global capital
The faction of the left in question loses power with the elections that come after the January 11, 2010 earthquake. Why? It is unable to regenerate itself. Michel Martelly, a musician, comes to power? Why? The economic controls the political. The left faction once in power except for a short spell (2004 – 2006) had not only not changed the social order, but had given the bourgeoisie free reign if only they wouls.be willing to live in a country with much kidnapping and general security issues. This elite, astronomically wealthy, is being represented by middle to upper middle class politicians who come to power with US help.
Representation, financed in almighty US dollars, is not translating into any sort of order, good or bad. The Haitian legislative branch, product of money in politics, has the promise of filling the political vacuum that a collapsed executive has left. Instead, it seems like the Churches fill it in with charity and symbolism. The branch is where Haiti’s future cannot get off its feet. It is extremely powerful and essentially staffs the government less for the Presidency and some appointments. It does not manage the state, as it cannot and can only dictate a new state without materializing it. Haitian power has been balkanized, somewhat for the better and somewhat for the worse. The American occupation had centralized power in Haiti, which Duvalier had continued in his own way. It is the main site of both consent and dissent, except for national elections, which are produced in complicity with the international community. The legislative is too corrupt to propose a new society enforced by the executive and checked by the judicial, as the constitution prescribes.
This new government has no army and no VSN. Haiti’s government is no longer in control. Not-for-profits reign freely. The government can’t pay its workers. It is there to build wealth for the the elite, and in doing so crystallize social order that has come out of anarchy. How does it impose itself? It cannot, it has no state. Michel Martelly orders the arrest of Maitre Andre Michel, a leader of the opposition. Dissenters (rioters) walk to the jail and demand his immediate release, which they get. Jovenel Moise is elected after Michel Martelly: the party PHTK of elite interests is in firm control of presidential politics by controlling the CEP, the governing body of the elections. The PHTK brings back the military. How will it finance it? This new state is very poor.
The lead up to July 8 2018: The price of fuel is raised by Jovenel Moise, amid a general economic slump and inflation. The Haitian dissent take to the streets. They get what they want. Why? They understand that anarchy is the rule. Why not attack government buildings? Attacking the party / elite makes much more sense now. The battle is apparent: PHTK vs. The streets. Who will get to found the state that will pull Haiti out of its anarchy and crystallize any sort of order with a government at its heart? We hope socialism will.
Complicity is fueling this state of affairs. American prosperity, the ideology, of every class, is the driving force of this complicity.
We in the US live in relation to every other nation in this world, where some in particular have stronger relations with us than others. I am not speaking about diplomatic relations, but instead the relationships embodied by catastrophe, like migration to the US because of US intervention in the affairs of the nation that the migrants in question call home. Haiti is such a nation, where many Haitians today continue to migrate to the US in droves. Many live in Tijuana and may one day become a large subset of Los Angeles (you never know).
Conspiracy is the reason for the migration of Haitians, instability that comes from a state of affairs produced by the US and the Haitian economic elite. This instability has led to the destruction of the Haitian state by both corruption and IMF / international demands.
It must be said that Haiti’s social reality is not all grounded in Haiti’s relationship with the US. Haiti’s past is full of rebellions first and foremost against paternalistic governments, all which are reproductions of the paternalistic and militaristic colonial government that ruled the colony of St. Domingue that Haiti was (the governor appointed by the King was always a military figure). This paternalism is executed in tandem with a source of income to pay for arms and “organizing”, whether it be from inside the country or from the United States. However, since the American occupation of 1915 – 1934, Haitians have been rebelling against governments that primarily conspire with the US.
Haiti’s case is a fascinating one. White saviorism has diluted what is a case of resistance to neoliberalism into a case of inability. As we can see, Haiti is a battleground for the future of the left thanks to infighting and a culture of resistance. It is up to us tp consider it as such.