Saturday was the 214th anniversary of the Battle of Vertières, in which Haitian forces triumphed over Napoleon’s French expeditionary troops shortly before the country officially won its independence from France at the beginning of 1804.
Haitian President Jovenel Moïse used the anniversary to officially remobilize the Haitian armed forces, which was disbanded at the beginning of 1995 by then-president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. The Armed Forces of Haiti (FAd’H) and its predecessor, the Garde d’Haiti, perpetrated bloody crimes against the Haitian people from the 1920s through 1995, without ever fighting a battle outside the country.
The official ceremony took place on Saturday morning at Place Vertières in the northern city of Cap-Haïtien. Moïse was accompanied by Haiti’s Chief Justice and Senate President Youri Latortue, a former death squad leader whose role in drug trafficking was documented in the State Department cables published by Wikileaks.
While Moïse has claimed that the reconstituted FAd’H will act as an Air Force, medical corps and Coast Guard, Defense Minister Hervé Denis let slip a more accurate description on November 16, according to Alterpresse: to “counter the unprecedented growth of insecurity in the country.”
Moïse—who last year was elected by less than 20 percent of eligible voters—and his ministers know that they’re sitting on a social powder keg. In Cap-Haïtien during the week leading up to Saturday’s ceremony, students protested to, as Le Nouvelliste put it, remind the powers that be that “there are budgets for all sorts of things, including the army, but not for education.” Moïse’s government has yet to announce the size of the military’s budget or how it will be paid at a time when national deficits are causing the government to levy intolerable taxes on workers.
Anger at the government is also being fueled by an audit released last month revealing that government officials, including former Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe, embezzled money from the PetroCaribe program. One opposition group told Alterpresse that the new army will be “an armed group, which will be there to protect people who squandered funds from the PetroCaribe program and funds collected by the General Directorate of Taxes.”
Moïse’s speech at Saturday’s ceremony, in which he counterposed “anarchy” to “democracy,” declared fascistically that “conditions have come together for the reawakening of the vital forces of the Nation from the lethargy in which our internecine quarrels have sunk it for too long.”
He also used the speech to tout his “caravan of change,” which includes infrastructure projects around the country. While he was talking up this program, torrential rains in the southern city of Les Cayes—near where Hurricane Matthew made landfall—flooded out the only hospital in the area.
Moïse declared repetitiously in his speech that “unity makes strength.” While this slogan appears on the Haitian flag, in Moïse’s mouth it means that he is seeking to unify the ruling elites. Similarly, his boast that “the Army is the mother of the nation”—a clear warning to the working class of today—was disguised as a paean to the generals who led the country to independence in 1804.
The American occupation of Haiti that began in 1915 established a Gendarmerie d’Haiti to give a facade of local governance to the puppet regime. The name of that police force was eventually changed to Garde d’Haiti, and the force was gradually transformed into the Forces Armées d’Haiti.
In 1957 the FAd’H was instrumental in François Duvalier’s rise to power, having collaborated with the CIA to oust provisional president Daniel Fignolé because of his popularity among workers in Port-au-Prince. After the fall of Jean-Claude Duvalier in 1986, a series of generals including Henry Namphy, Raoul Cédras and Prosper Avril came to power through bloody coups d’état and murderous interventions in elections.
During the election of November 29, 1987, one hospital in the capital received 34 dead and 75 wounded. The following day, as many as 46 political prisoners were bayonetted in Forte Dimanche with their bodies dumped in ditches.
Aristide was elected president in 1990 but forced into exile by a 1991 coup led by Cédras. After his return to power in 1994, Aristide disbanded the FAd’H in favor of a separate police force as spelled out in the constitution of 1987.
The interim commander of Moïse’s armed forces is Jodel Lesage, who trained in the mid-1970s under the Duvalier dictatorship and was a member of the Leopard Corps trained by US imperialism. He had risen to the rank of colonel by 1995.
The remobilization of the army was begun under President Michel Martelly, Moïse’s mentor and the namesake of his Tèt Kale party. The 150 soldiers who marched on Saturday had trained in Ecuador under a program arranged by Martelly. The government is planning to expand the force to 5,000.
They will be accompanied by the 15,000-strong Haitian National Police (PNH) in the suppression of unrest. While a national police force was called for in the 1987 constitution, its size has been expanded rapidly in recent years under the tutelage of the United Nations.
In the Port-au-Prince neighborhood of Grand-Ravine, on November 13, some 250 police descended on a Protestant school, supposedly in search of bandits. Eight citizens including a professor were killed, but no gang members or weapons were found.
The director of the school, Armand Louis, was arrested, beaten and held for a week. Witnesses accused the police—who planned the attack with the United Nations Mission for Justice Support in Haiti (MINUJUSTH)—of executing the victims.