Besieged by popular pressure, in the midst of an internal security crisis, the de facto president of Haiti suspended the constitutional referendum. A massive popular insurgency is growing and the new international intervention is looming.
Jovenel Moïse is currently the de facto president of Haiti. On February 7, the five-year term of government stipulated by the Constitution expired. Moïse remained in power and has ruled by decree ever since. The mayors and local governors have ended their term. The National Assembly lost all its deputies and two-thirds of the senators when the legislature closed. Moïse controls all the institutions in the country. This is only possible because the US and the OAS support him. He does not take any action without the consent of the US Embassy.
The current cycle of demonstrations in force has been going on for more than a year and a half. A colossal internal security crisis is unfolding. The general crisis has been developing for decades thanks to state repression, the loss of the monopoly of force, and above all, international interference that has been going on for decades.
Let’s look at some of the aspects of recent history and conjuncture elements to understand the current crisis, to contribute to the understanding of the political dynamics and possible developments in the land of Toussaint Lóverture.
The protests today
For several years now, people have been fighting against economic policies and repression, requesting an end to violence and international occupation and interference. More recently, there have been demonstrations of up to 2 million people against the de facto government (Moïse obtained only 500,000 votes in the 2016 elections).
The protests grew when Moïse and PHTK (Haitian Party Tèt Kale) announced in January a referendum project to modify the 1987 Constitution. It is the Constitution that arises after the historic mobilizations that overthrew the dictator Duvallier and re-established the citizens’ rights that had been suspended since 1957. Many of the revolutionary aspects of this Constitution confronted the oligarchic order, but those who ruled since then never made them concrete. The whole of the people defend this document and know that its end will bring a worsening of the conditions of social and political life.
Main political actors are showing their positions. The judges went on strike in February 2021 to demand the withdrawal of the presidential decrees by which they forcibly retired three Supreme Court justices and replaced them. Moïse said the move was aimed at “protecting” the high court and the democratic and independent institutions. One of the judges was detained by the National Police during an operation that supposedly thwarted an alleged coup.
The Catholic Church became directly involved in denouncing the social and security crisis after the kidnapping of 12 religious at the beginning of the year.
Little by little, support for the referendum has been falling apart. The leader of the PHTK Line Balthazar himself withdrew his support from Moïse, citing lack of consensus. The Democratic and Popular Sector, a group made up of moderate parties, radicals and social organizations, has been promoting massive mobilizations against the referendum. The island’s bishops criticized the holding of the referendum and called for it to be suspended. Private business sector associations (Haitian Industry Association, ADIH; Haitian Tourism Association, ATH; American Chamber of Commerce in Haiti, AMCHAM; Western Chamber of Commerce and Industry, CCIO) demanded the same.
The dominant opposition political parties (DIRPOD, EN AVANT, ENTENTE, FND, MTVHAITI and OPERASYON TÈT ANSANM) agreed on a work plan as an exit from the crisis that tries to satisfy the interests of the OAS. They demand the departure of Moïse, and his replacement by a Prime Minister chosen by an especial Commission for the Implementation of the Agreement.
The straw that broke the camel’s back was the meeting between the US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield and Moïse. There, the delegate from the US voiced strong criticism and conveyed the White House concerns about the referendum.
The referendum was finally postponed. All the actors involved, except the de facto president, consider that if the referendum were consummated, there would be an ascent of violence to immeasurable levels. Moïse is using the exponential increase in Covid-19 cases and the worsening of the health crisis as an argument to counterbalance the hard blow he received. He is heading towards September 2021 general elections backed by the US, hoping to have a dignified exit without going to jail during the new government. Possibly, his destiny is some foreign country in the style of the old Haitian dictators.
A society in crisis
Haiti has more than 11 million inhabitants and is the most populous nation in the Antilles, located a few kilometers from Cuba. It occupies the western third of the island called Hispaniola, shared with the Dominican Republic (DR), the second largest island in the Caribbean region. It is the country with the greatest poverty and inequality in the Western Hemisphere in a region which is itself the most unequal in the world.
More than half of the population is under 20 years old. According to the Human Development Index, which combines life expectancy, educational attainment, and Gross Domestic Product per capita (GDP), Haiti is ranked 169 out of a list of 189 countries. The minimum wage for a well-paid laborer is $6.50 for a day of 8 hours or more; 25% of the population lives on less than $2 dollars a day, 50% on less than $3 dollars. Haitians face repeated shortages of food and fuel. Inflation rises and the currency sinks. Unemployment is around 15%, while most jobs are precarious. The State is the largest employer in the country. Its economy is entirely controlled by multinationals.
Many young people visualize exile as the only horizon. There are 1.6 million Haitians living outside their country (50% of them are in the US, and 30% in DR). The money Haitians abroad have sent back home in remittances has accounted for at least one third of Haiti’s overall economy. It increased markedly last year reaching $3.8 billion as a record high (76% coming from the US). The US government and international banks control that entire financial flow and could block it in a matter of hours.
An oligarchic elite dominates society. It’s a ruling class made up of pro-North American importing sectors, which control the country’s customs, and groups that are dedicated to agro-industry and monocultures for export. All these sectors meekly submit to the mandate of the Western powers that intervene in the country and the international organizations (centrally the US, Canada, France, UN, OAS, and the IMF).
The Government decreed the end of the lock-down of the country at the end of June 2020. Since then, schools, businesses, churches, and markets operate without any restrictions. Few people wear masks. It is likely that most people have already encountered the infection and gained momentary immunity. Now the cases are increasing exponentially. If this trend continues, it could catalyze the crisis to unsuspected levels.
International war against Haiti
The US occupied Haiti militarily from 1915 to 1934. On the other side of the island, they supported the Dominican dictatorship of Rafael Leónidas Trujillo. In 1949, a military board took power and ruled until 1957. Then, with the financial and military support of the US, François Duvalier (Papa Doc) was elected President, and turned into a bloodthirsty dictator. He ruled for 14 years and was replaced by his son Jean Claude Duvalier (Bébé Doc) who stayed another 15 years until he was defeated in 1986 by a popular rebellion. He fled to France where he received asylum, taking with him $900 million (more than the total debt of the country at that time) that were dumped into western banks.
In 1991, Jean Bertrand Aristide became the first democratically elected president in the history of the country. He was then overthrown by the US, on two occasions. The first of them seven months after coming to power. The military established a fierce dictatorship that left 4,000 dead. In 2001 Aristide was reinstated in the government thanks to international pressure, being overthrown again in 2004. Amid a fabricated crisis, the president was kidnapped by US military elite forces. A rebel army was formed in the north of the country, very well armed. They threatened to enter Port-au-Prince and kill President Aristide. The National Police were eviscerated by the financial and arms embargo imposed on Haiti. Luis Moreno, the US Depute Charge de Mission in Haiti, accompanied by a contingent of US Marines, met Aristide, and told him that only if he left at that moment the US would provide an aircraft for him to leave, that he must issue a letter of resignation and agree to ask no questions about where he would be taken, or that he and his wife would be left at the airport and they would be killed. President Aristide signed a letter of resignation and boarded the plane. It was a coup supported by the US and Europe.
An unprecedented international device was immediately deployed: a multilateral military force made up of more than 10,000 soldiers and police officers from 31 countries invaded the small island nation under the rule of the UN Security Council. The UN, the OAS, the US, France, and Canada enforced the idea that Haiti represented an unusual threat to international security. As justification, they applied the terms “suspension of sovereignty”, “humanitarian interventionism” and “pacification”. Since then, the so-called UN Mission for the Stabilization of Haiti (MINUSTAH) was installed. Conceived to act for six months, its occupation would last for 15 years. In 2017 it was replaced by the UN Justice Support Mission in Haiti (MINUJUSTH).
These occupation troops –where the Brazilian Army performed a central role in the leadership, played a prominent part in the repression of the popular movement in the post-2004 situation that resisted emblematic massacres such as that of Cité Soleil, the trafficking networks and sexual exploitation of children and women. They also introduced the cholera bacteria in a country where this scourge was unknown.
In 2019, the military occupation ended and was replaced by the BINUH (UN Integrated Office in Haiti), a civilian mission of a “political” nature, with an initial mandate of 12 months that has already been extended. BINUH’s tasks include “promoting and reinforcing stability and governance”, supporting electoral processes and the reform of the judicial sector, addressing human rights and security problems.
A central instrument for managing interference is the so-called Core Group, an organization made up of “friends of Haiti” countries, with economic and geopolitical interests in the country (US, Canada, European Union, UN, and OAS). Through the figure of ambassadors, it establishes the general guidelines that must be assumed by the de facto government.
As part of the interventionist scheme, the work of US NGOs is also deployed. The National Endowment for Democracy (NED) stands out. Among his most outstanding works is the manufacture of the “Group of 184”, a group made up of businessmen, tycoons, public personalities, who before that, were at the forefront of the coup against Aristide and supported Moïse. Now they are taking a critical stance. Surely they imagine taking over the government after Moïse’s departure.
Violence and liberation
Especially since the crisis unleashed in 2004, high rates of organized political violence have developed in the country. The reflection in society has been the security crisis. Acts of violence occur daily in the main popular neighborhoods or in the center of Port-au-Prince. The state stands by or is unable to transform that reality. Apparently, the so-called criminal organizations, bandits, armed gangs, etc., have been strengthened. It is a heterogeneous phenomenon that fulfills different functions in the current political and social system.
Part of them are fulfilling the function of demobilizing the population. Since July 2018, the masses have taken over the streets of the country, generating a radical social insurrection of such volume that it is impossible to counteract it from the state. Moïse or other power factors could be using or manipulating the gangs only to some extent. Undoubtedly, many of these groups have been set up and financed by senators, ministers and presidents, when not directly stimulated by the imperialist powers.
A moment of birth of the armed gangs can be stated in the decade of 1980, after the fall of Duvalier. Militias were created to protect the neighborhoods from the aggressions of the paramilitaries that remained in clandestine action after the end of the dictatorship. The proprietary classes paid to protect their shops, warehouses, houses, or land. Other armed groups are beginning to be used for reckoning. Later, some of them were part of the insurrection against Aristide, they were used to undermine his government. Now they seem to have gained new momentum, but particularly after the 2010 earthquake that produced a social debacle, the death of 300,000 people, the displacement of 1.6 people, and the massive and accelerating impoverishment, a process that has not yet been reversed.
Many other of these organizations must be grasped as collective structures that are the product of a culture of violence. Hundreds of thousands of young people were formed and grew up in the context of impoverished and abandoned communities, surrounded by violence, having lived under occupation and repression. Many gangs simply remain independent, replacing the state inside the poor neighborhoods. They have the support of local populations as they perform social functions. Some of their leaders become community leaders. The network they form becomes a source of income or work. Various material resources or money can flow from gangs to residents in need (for a funeral or medicine, weddings, car accidents, books and school uniforms). They can take care of cleaning the garbage from the streets. They care about the schools and protect the neighborhood from rival gangs. Related to the culture of violence we can mention as the crudest example, that of three young men who recently kidnapped the girlfriend of one of them because they thought he was a wealthy businessman. The girl’s father was poor, she had lied. The kidnappers end up killing the girl and tried to hide her body. They confessed before cameras in a case that shook the country.
In effect, the armed groups carry out their activities in a crude manner. Violence has colonized multiple social relationships. There are many direct and indirect victims. Some die in shootings, from stray bullets or victims of a confrontation. Massive house burnings take place in popular neighborhoods, apparently to force displacement of families as part of the struggle for territorial control. They are kidnapped or raped. The logic of competition between gangs prevails. Fear is instilled. Only last weekend, after 6 days of fighting between gangs (“Ti Bois” and “Grand-Ravine”) for control the southern entrance to the capital (Martissant), there were displaced almost 600 people. Meanwhile, in another part of the city, heavily armed members of “G-9 and family” (a coalition of gangs), simultaneously broke into all the police stations of the Municipality of Cité Solei. They took all available weapons and radios, among other things, and killed several policemen. There were house fires and forced displacement.
Let us remember that the international military forces have withdrawn from the country. Aristide dissolved the Armed Forces in 1996 because of their institutional participation during the dictatorship of the Duvalier clan. They were remobilized by the Moïse government, but are still precarious, disorganized, and surely submerged in a dynamic of internal push.
The National Police, for its part, is also experiencing its own internal crisis. They have been discredited by Haitian citizens. They are weak, inoperative, and penetrated by criminal networks. It is an institution dedicated centrally to persecuting political opponents and trade unionists. For decades it has been an appendix of the logic established by the international occupation, and now it confronts the harsh reality with their existing resources and capacities. Internal factions generated a parapolice organization (“Fantom 509”), made up of active, retired and exonerated troops.
Violence has been multiplying. Kidnappings and murders are growing. Shootings between gangs or armed events against police occur on a daily basis. In February 2021, 400 members of different gangs escaped from prison in Haiti, becoming the largest and deadliest escape in the country in a decade, with 25 deaths.
Has the US, the OAS or the Security Council considered that the end of the military occupation and the Moïse government would lead to a process of social and political stability? Or is this chaotic instance a calculated moment by those who built and led the occupation to show, as a constructed situation, that Haiti is a country that can only be sustained with the help of international humanitarian intervention? That argument is false. It is the raison d’etre. The situation contributes, in the long run, to the positions of those who cry out for the intervention of the “international community” and the US in particular, as a way to safeguard the accumulation process of transnational companies and the local oligarchy.
The international forces that have dominated Haiti for decades want to suspend a potential new revolutionary stage in the historical evolution of what was the second American colony to become independent after the US, the second in Latin America, the third republic in the world. There the world’s first “black” republic was formed, the cradle of the Black Jacobins, after the only successful slave insurrection occurred.
The social revolution and the anti-colonial struggle against three European powers (France, England and Spain) are deeply intermingled in the Haitian experience. The Haitian nation has been paying for its insubordination and rebellion. The people, with their African, Creole and rebel culture, continue to resist. People know their present and understand that they have been subjected to oppression and international war. The only thing that does not work, the inoperative, the incapable, have been the result of western plans, imperialist models and the local elites. The people of Haiti have always risen to the occasion. The definitive liberation and the second independence would imply the unleashing of powerful, unknown popular and sovereign forces that would move in the direction of the re-founding of the nation-state, the creation of a new social experience, probably a post capitalist society where capitalism showed its worse face and clearly has nothing to offer but hunger and violence.