PI Briefing | No. 11 | Haiti’s freedom flood can’t be dammed forever

Haitians are unbowed as imperialism seeks to intervene again.
In the Progressive International's 11th Briefing of 2024 we bring you news from Haiti and analysis to understand it. If you would like to receive our Briefing in your inbox, you can sign up using the form at the bottom of this page.
In the Progressive International's 11th Briefing of 2024 we bring you news from Haiti and analysis to understand it. If you would like to receive our Briefing in your inbox, you can sign up using the form at the bottom of this page.

You may have seen Haiti in the news. State services have collapsed. The capital is overrun by gangs. Hundreds of thousands are internally displaced. Prime Minister Ariel Henry was blocked from returning to the country as armed men threatened to overrun the international airport. He then resigned. The US is trying to conjure up a military intervention force.

But the key questions are rarely asked in the mainstream accounts of the crisis: What do the Haitian people want? How are they organising? And why do they face such a crisis in the first place?

This flattened telling of events renders not only the Haitian people but also the reader or listener passive observers — or, worse, active accomplices. It leads to mourning the inevitability of the violence or demanding an intervention because something must be done. In either case, the narrative ensures that there will be little to stop another US-backed military intervention in the Caribbean state.

But if we were to tell the full story and answer those key questions, that apathy would turn to anger and acquiescence to antipathy.

Haiti’s crisis is real. Basic services are paralysed, demands for change are met with batons and gunfire, and death and displacement are horrifyingly quotidian. But it is an external crisis, not an internal one. The Haitian people are not uniquely incapable of self-government. They have suffered more than two centuries of intense imperial efforts to shatter their self-government and undermine their sovereignty.

In 1791, the people of Haiti, mainly enslaved peoples brought from across Africa to produce sugar for European taste buds and wealth for the French Empire, rose up, liberated themselves and led a revolution that rocked the world. On New Year’s Day in 1804, they formed the world’s first Black republic.

In the two centuries since, the Haitian Revolution has been brutally punished: with sanctions, invasions, occupations, and repeated regime change at the hands of Western powers. For 122 years, at the barrel of a gun, Haiti paid to France the debts of its liberation. In 1915, the US invaded Haiti and occupied it for 19 years, the longest occupation in US history until Afghanistan. The US left in its wake a quiescent local elite and a series of violent puppet regimes that served the interests of US monopolists.

But the Haitian revolution marched ahead. In the 1980s, it found expression in the mass Lavalas social movement that drove the government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide and his Fanmi Lavalas party to power. For more than thirty-five years, the story of Haitian politics has seen the power of the Lavalas movement face relentless domestic elite and foreign military attempts to destroy it.

As president, Aristide demanded colonial reparations from France and implemented reforms that made strides toward improving conditions for the Haitian people. For that, he would be overthrown twice: in 1991 and, the second time under the flag of the United Nations, in 2004, when Canada’s Task Force 2 took control of Toussaint Louverture International Airport while US Marines kidnapped Aristide and flew him to the Central African Republic. Then, too, North American leaders and their stenographers sought to create humanitarian motivations for their actions. But a WikiLeaks cable published in 2008 revealed the true motivation of US interventionism in Haiti: to prevent “resurgent populist and anti-market economy political forces” from taking hold.

In the wake of that coup, the institutions of the Haitian state were systematically dismantled. Foreign-financed NGOs took their place, at one point providing 80% of all public services, while sustaining and profiting from the misery they promised to confront.

In 2009, the Haitian parliament sought to increase the minimum wage to $5 a day. The US intervened on behalf of the interests of companies like Fruit of the Loom, Hanes, and Levi’s, blocking the bill. The wage hike, a US Embassy official said, was an unrealistic measure aimed at appeasing “the unemployed and underpaid masses.”

Haiti has been without a President since July 2021 when Jovenel Moïse was assassinated, allegedly by a group of Colombian mercenaries. Ariel Henry was then installed as prime minister at the behest of the US. He has since failed to hold elections, restore order or provide basic services.

To prop up this unpopular and illegitimate government, the US sought to create and fund, but not formally lead a foreign intervention force. Kenya was selected — and its President, William Ruto agreed to head up the force.

The insecurity on the streets of Port-Au-Prince would become Henry, Ruto and Biden’s excuse. But these gangs don’t spring from nowhere. They are in large part made up of former, and some current, police and military personnel. Some work for sections of Haiti’s political and business elites. Their weapons come entirely from abroad, particularly the US and neighbouring Dominican Republic. The US — surprisingly you might think for a country claiming selfless concern for Haiti’s security — continues to reject calls for an arms embargo.

Henry is gone, finally forced from the office he held without any democratic mandate. But the US imperial plan for Haiti remains: construct a local leadership to welcome in another foreign intervention. Kenyan participation in that force has been delayed by recent events but the will remains.

The United States still aims to send Africans to slaughter Afro-descendants 12,000 kilometres away — for a small price to be paid to the Kenyan President. Kenya’s High Court has already ruled the intervention unconstitutional, but its government is determined to press ahead with the agenda.

The deployment of Kenyan police forces to this mission in Haiti would be an affront to the spirit of Pan-Africanism. It reflects the United States’ reliance on client states and proxies to do its bidding. And it threatens to exacerbate the already devastating conditions of life facing millions of Haitians.

The only thing that can stop this heedless and violent cycle of intervention is a massive international movement, combining political forces from the grassroots to the global.

As in Cuba, which is being suffocated for daring to chart its own course, and in Palestine, where bombs, bullets and hunger seek to beat down the very hope of self-determination, Haiti represents a key terrain in imperialism’s war on humanity. Its every defeat is ours. That’s why the Progressive International is committed to Haiti’s sovereignty and full liberation.

Join us as we oppose yet another foreign intervention. Haiti’s freedom flood can’t be dammed forever.

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J.L. Boquet's print Passage of the Eleven Days of Looting of the City of Cape Town documents the key events of the Haitian Revolution that culminated in the first emancipation proclamation of the Atlantic world.

A part of three prints — now held in archives across the world — the first print shows the burning of the plantations on the northern plain of the colony in 1791, while the other two depict the burning and sacking of Cap Français in 1793. Although these prints are Eurocentric in their gaze, they nonetheless reflect the complete overturning of the slave-based society of Saint-Domingue, which became the Republic of Haiti shortly after.

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