This article originally appeared in the Bulletin on December 4, 1987
1. Last Sunday’s election bloodbath and the continuing violent repression in Haiti have exposed the real face of US imperialism and its native stooges in that oppressed Caribbean nation.
The savage abrogation of the elections through armed terror has posed before the Haitian working class the urgent task of overthrowing the US-backed dictatorship and organizing its own independent struggle for power.
All the conflicting proposals now being debated in Washington—the renewal of support to the murderous junta of General Henri Namphy, maneuvers to revive the election farce, or the launching of a Grenada-style invasion of the country—have the same counterrevolutionary aim. Whether through the terror of Haitian Army troops and the tonton macoute or at the direct point of US bayonets, US imperialism is determined to maintain the “stability” of slave-wage capitalism in Haiti and to prevent an insurrectionary movement of the working class and the oppressed masses.
Behind all of the hypocritical expressions of outrage by the capitalist politicians lies the determination to preserve US economic hegemony and political domination over Haiti and the entire Caribbean. Yankee imperialism was born in the brutal exploitation of the masses of this region and has continued to condemn its peoples to the status of oppressed semicolonies or direct colonial rule. Control over the resources, cheap labor and markets of the Caribbean remains a vital prop for US imperialism and it is forced to defend it all the more ruthlessly under conditions of the mounting world economic crisis.
No amount of crocodile tears and feigned shock from the Reagan administration and the Democrats can hide the fact that the gruesome massacre of unarmed men, women and children outside of polling places on November 29 was the logical outcome and continuation of the policy carried out by US imperialism and the Namphy junta ever since the fall of Duvalier in February 1986.
2. Scores of people were killed and wounded in the carnage unleashed by the army and former members of the tonton macoute, the hated political police of the Duvalier regime. The University Hospital in Port-au-Prince reported at least 34 dead and 75 wounded. But Haitian sources reported that the real death toll was considerably higher and that the army disposed of some of the bodies without taking them to the city morgue.
In a campaign of calculated terror, people seeking to vote were shot with automatic weapons and hacked to death with machetes. Victims seeking to flee were chased down and executed.
In one of the most horrendous accounts, it was reported Thursday that Haitian soldiers shot and stabbed to death 46 civilians at the Fort Dimanche military prison, the infamous death house under the Duvaliers.
A woman survivor of the massacre told the San Francisco Examiner that men in uniforms shot and bayoneted her 46 cell mates and threw the bodies into an open ditch.
She said all those in the cell were accused of “causing problems for Haiti” and of being members of civilian brigades formed to resist attacks by the armed gangs and the military.
This terror has continued following the disrupted elections of November 29. Squads of macoutes and soldiers have raided working class neighborhoods in the capital, rounding up known opponents of the regime and indiscriminately firing into homes. A particular target has been the Carrefour Feuilles shantytown, where workers first formed “vigilance brigades” to protect the area against the marauding gunmen. Troops arrested various people there and returned to burn down their homes. Large numbers of young people believed to have supported the brigades have either disappeared or gone into hiding.
Similar groups sprang up in a number of neighborhoods on the eve of the elections, prompting Gen. Williams Regala, minister of internal security and defense and the strongman in the junta, to deploy the army in the streets. Regala, who took no action when bands of macoutes shot and killed people in the middle of Port-au-Prince, denounced the Haitian workers and the vigilance brigades for their “usurpation of power.”
3. Behind the preparations now underway within the American ruling class for a possible military intervention in Haiti lies precisely the same logic as Regala’s troop deployments.
The liberal Democrats who are spearheading the call for an invasion never bothered to stir themselves in the three decades in which the Duvaliers were creating a mountain of corpses in Haiti. Nor did they utter a word of criticism of Namphy during the repeated killings over the last 20 months. Their concern is not for the Haitian people, but rather for the immense financial interests of the US banks and corporations. Their fear is that the Namphy junta is losing control.
Most prominent among those calling for an immediate invasion is Democratic Congressional delegate from the District of Columbia, Walter Fauntroy, who heads up the congressional task force on Haiti.
“I think the world, with United States leadership, does now have to intervene or the Haitian people are lost to this gang of savage thugs,” Fauntroy declared.
On Wednesday, House Foreign Affairs committee chairman Rep. Dante Fascell (D-Fla) joined the chorus, demanding the junta’s immediate resignation and threatening US military intervention. Fascell is the leading Democratic supporter of the CIA-backed contras attacking Nicaragua.
Sections of the capitalist press have also advocated an invasion. The most blatant was the Miami Herald which declared Tuesday that “the time has come for multinational troops to impose order in that tiny, oppressed nation.... Washington now should apply the Grenada example to Haiti.... Let the hemisphere’s democracies—or the United States alone, if need be—invade Haiti. Let order be imposed.”
While the Reagan administration has formally denied that it is preparing a military invasion, the State Department announced that it has set up an emergency task force on Haiti headed by Assistant Secretary for Inter-American Affairs Elliot Abrams and including Michael Armacost, Undersecretary for Political Affairs, and John Negroponte, acting deputy national security adviser and the former CIA point man for the contra war on Nicaragua.
In a televised interview Tuesday night, Abrams refused to comment on US military contingency plans, but declared that the administration’s first priority was to “protect Americans who happen to be in Haiti.” Meanwhile, in Miami, Jamaican Prime Minister Edward Seaga announced that he had joined with seven or eight other imperialist stooges in the Caribbean to form a “group of concerned leaders” to lend “external support” to “democracy in Haiti.”
These events are virtually a replay of the preparations for the Grenada invasion, when Reagan claimed he had acted to save the Grenadian people from “a gang of thugs” and to “protect Americans” and that he had done so at the behest of “concerned Caribbean leaders.”
The fact is that the “gang of thugs” in Haiti was trained, armed and supported by US imperialism for 30 years. From Eisenhower to Reagan, every US president supported the Duvaliers’ fascistic dictatorship as a bulwark against communism. Namphy, the army commander under Duvalier, was consistently hailed by Washington as the guardian of democracy and only last year, Fauntroy himself flew to Port-au-Prince to praise him after masses of Haitians had already entered into bitter struggles against his junta.
For his part, Seaga was the closest ally Duvalier had in the Caribbean.
The imperialist politicians, Democratic and Republican, and their stooges like Seaga are not worried about saving the Haitian masses from the tonton macoute. Quite the opposite. Their fear is that the Haitian workers and peasants are being provoked into an open struggle to smash Duvalier’s murderers and torturers together with the rotting capitalist state apparatus with which they are inseparably connected.
4. Every Haitian and American worker must be clear that any US invasion of Haiti, no matter under what “democratic” and “liberating” slogans it is conducted, will be imperialist aggression aimed at securing the interests of the US multinationals and banks and savagely repressing the struggles of the popular masses.
A US intervention would mean that the armed thugs now seeking to terrorize the Haitian people would be reorganized under the direct supervision of the US Army and the CIA to carry out the same job in a more disciplined and systematic fashion.
This lesson has been written in blood in the Caribbean. This would not be the first time US troops invaded Haiti. US Marines occupied the country between 1915 and 1934. Over 3,000 Haitians died fighting the occupiers in 1918-20. Just as in Nicaragua during the same period, when the troops withdrew, they left behind a US-trained military which served as the bulwark of reaction.
Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier came to power on the back of this army in 1957. His regime of murder and torture was not some inherent product of Haiti’s backwardness, as imperialist apologists claimed, but the direct outcome of US counterinsurgency strategy in the region following the Cuban revolution.
In 1965, US troops returned to the island of Hispanola, invading neighboring Dominican Republic. Over 2,500 Dominicans died in the fighting which followed. In the end, a right-wing regime was imposed which ensured the suppression of the labor movement and the unrestrained US exploitation of the country’s human and natural resources.
5. US policy toward Haiti today has the same basic aim. The “order” which Washington is demanding be restored is the order of grinding exploitation and poverty maintained for nearly 29 years under the Duvaliers and which continues under the Namphy junta.
The entire purpose of the US-funded electoral exercise which collapsed on Sunday was to install a figurehead civilian president, while real power remained in the hands of the same repressive apparatus which had been built up under the Duvaliers. Modeled on the Salvadoran elections which installed the US puppet Jose Napoleon Duarte, this approach was seen as the ideal means of safeguarding imperialist interests in Haiti.
The spectacular failure of this political maneuver expresses the tremendous weakness of the Haitian bourgeoisie, which has no means of exerting its rule outside of the gangs of thugs inherited from the Duvaliers or direct US military occupation.
The complete dependence of this bourgeoisie on imperialism and its inability to offer any independent solution to the current crisis was summed up by Christian Democratic presidential candidate Sylvio Claude, who called Monday for US intervention.
6. US imperialism’s interests in Haiti were summarized in two recent reports. The World Bank, on the eve of Duvalier’s fall, issued a 1985 “Strategy Statement” which declared that in Haiti: “Industry as a whole can take advantage of the factors that have so attracted the largely foreign assembly firms: productive low-cost labor, proximity to the United States, functioning basic infrastructure, pro-business atmosphere, and political stability.”
A US Agency for International Development report from the same period stated, “The US has significant security interests in Haiti, which shares the windward passage to the Caribbean sea and the Panama Canal with Cuba. Haiti is strategically located only 700 miles from Florida and the existence of a non-hostile government and populace in Haiti is a fundamental security interest.”
This “pro-business atmosphere,” characterized by wage levels of one dollar a day in the 1970s and only three dollars a day today, and enforced by the savage repression of working class militants, resulted in more than 200 US-based multinational companies setting up export assembly plants in the country.
In addition to a guarantee of slave wages and no strikes, the Duvaliers provided the multinationals with tax and duty-free operations and the ability to repatriate all their profits. The Namphy junta has sought to maintain these conditions.
While the opening of these plants expanded Haiti’s industrial working class, they did nothing to change the semicolonial backwardness of the country’s economy. By their very nature, these plants function as virtual offshore operations, with parts shipped in from abroad to be assembled and then shipped back out for export. Neither are raw materials bought from the local market nor are the products produced for it. Nonetheless, these assembly plants account for 58% of Haiti’s total exports.
Therefore, the conditions facing the masses remained unchanged. An estimated 80% of the population has an annual income of $130 or less. Unemployment stands at over 60%. And, in terms of average daily food consumption, Haiti ranks 127th out of the world’s 137 nations, on a par with the famine-stricken regions of sub-Saharan Africa.
In the countryside, where 75% of the population still lives, conditions are the worst. The vast bulk of arable land remains under the control of a handful of latifundists, the state and the Roman Catholic Church, while the masses of peasants are forced to barely survive on tiny parcels of their own land or as agricultural laborers and sharecroppers.
7. The economic crisis which affected the entire region drove Haiti’s Gross Domestic Product down by 10% between 1980 and 1985. This resulted in increased deprivation of the masses, which combined with the internal crises and fissures within the regime of Jean-Claude Duvalier to produce the mass struggles that led to his downfall. The army’s gunning down of four school children in Gonaives in November 1985 provided the spark for the popular revolt.
In what amounted to a preventive coup, the US plucked Duvalier out of the hands of the masses who had poured into the streets and flew him and millions of dollars from the state treasury to France, aboard a US Air Force plane on February 7, 1986.
The junta which replaced him was handpicked by the US Embassy in consultation with Duvalier himself.
The US action in Haiti paralleled its role in the airlifting from the Philippines of Ferdinand Marcos and his replacement by the government of Corazon Aquino. In both cases, US imperialism was responding to the crisis in oppressed semicolonies which it had been able to rule for a long period through bloodthirsty despots. While it sought in both countries to erect a “democratic” facade for its continued exploitation and counterrevolutionary violence, in Haiti it has found even less room for maneuver than in the Philippines.
8. Immediately after Duvalier’s flight, the Haitian masses waged a ruthless struggle to wipe out the tonton macoute, which was actively discouraged by the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois politicians together with the Catholic Church.
With the security forces and the bulk of the state apparatus remaining in the hands of the same Duvalierist elements, the bourgeois parties sought to introduce bourgeois democratic forms of a constituent assembly, a new constitution and the formation of an independent electoral council to organize national elections.
At the same time, Duvalier’s fall sparked a renewed struggle of the Haitian working class. New unions were formed and a strike wave mounted against many of the US-owned multinationals.
The US employers responded by firing or locking out at least 14,000 workers in the assembly industry. Former tontons macoutes have been employed as strikebreakers and company thugs. The US Embassy’s first secretary, Larry Rossin, denounced the demands of the Haitian unions as “radical and unreasonable” and warned, “The only benefit in Haiti for the corporations is cheap labor.”
A full partner in this attempt to beat back the upsurge of the Haitian workers has been the anticommunist bureaucracy of the AFL-CIO in the United States. In the midst of the strike wave, the American Institute for Free Labor Development (AIFLD), the AFL-CIO’s CIA labor front in Latin America and the Caribbean, dispatched a
top level delegation to Port-au-Prince. It immediately established the closest ties with the Federation Ouvriers Syndicat (FOS), the collaborationist labor organization which was the sole union federation to be allowed under the Duvalier dictatorship. Its leader, Joseph Sonat, has widely been accused of functioning as an intelligence operative for Duvalier.
Meanwhile, in the countryside, peasants formed new organizations and sought to repossess land stolen from them under the Duvaliers.
Last June, these mounting class tensions exploded when the Namphy junta intervened to outlaw the largest Haitian union federation, the CATH, and to take control of the electoral process out of the hands of the newly-formed council.
The masses responded with the largest general strike movement in the country’s history. Repressive violence, in which at least 50 Haitians were gunned down by security forces, failed to halt the strikes and demonstrations which demanded the downfall of the junta.
But the petty-bourgeois leadership of this movement—the Group of 57 and the Concertation Front, backed by the Haitian Stalinists of the PUCH—called off the struggle on the basis of Namphy’s rescinding the junta’s actions and pledging to proceed with the November elections.
A continuous wave of repression and state terror has followed. In July, over 300 peasants were massacred in Jean Rabel by tontons macoutes and other agents of the local landlords. Death squads resumed operations on the streets of Port-au-Prince and two of the bourgeois presidential candidates were assassinated, one of them while delivering a speech in front of police headquarters.
US imperialism has played a direct and guiding role in these actions. Its first step following the ouster of Duvalier was to resume military aid to Haiti. US Army “advisers” were dispatched to the country to operate with elite counterinsurgency units, such as the “Leopards,” which have been at the center of the repression.
9. The last several months, culminating in the November 29 massacre, have given bloody proof that the Haitian masses cannot liberate themselves from oppression through the fraudulent parliamentary democracy controlled by the Duvalierists and US imperialism.
No section of the Haitian bourgeoisie is capable of carrying out a struggle against “Duvalierism without Duvalier.” All of them are closely bound up with and dependent upon imperialism and fear the Haitian working class and poor peasantry far more than they fear the killers of the tonton macoute.
The perspective that Haiti can somehow gradually free itself from decades of semicolonial exploitation and achieve democratic and economic reforms under the bourgeoisie and in collaboration with US imperialism is false to the core.
10. US imperialism is in tremendous crisis. It is not capable of making concessions either to its own working class or to the masses of those countries which it oppresses. The myth propagated by the Reagan administration that capitalism would lead to a renaissance of the economies of the Caribbean has already been shattered by the manifest failure of the so-called Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI).
Since its initiation in 1981, the CBI’s program of an open door to US exports and capital penetration has only resulted in a further impoverishment of the region. By the end of 1984, the total value of exports to the US from the region had dropped by $1 billion. In 1986, these exports fell by another 10%.
At the same time, US imperialism has engaged in the increasing militarization of the Caribbean. US military aid to Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and the regimes in the Eastern Caribbean has soared from $3.6 million in 1980 to $21 million in 1986.
The meaning of these figures is clear. Forced by their crisis to resort to even more savage exploitation, the imperialists are preparing for the military suppression of the resistance of the masses. The 1983 invasion of Grenada was only the test run for even bloodier US expeditions.
11. The masses of Haiti and the entire Caribbean can only achieve genuine self-determination and improve their conditions through the overthrow of imperialism.
Only the Haitian proletariat is capable of uniting the masses of oppressed peasants and urban poor behind it in this struggle. It must advance a program for the nationalization of the land and its distribution to the peasantry, in order to break the back of the latifundist system which is the root of hunger in Haiti; for the abolition of the Haitian Army and police—the base of the tonton macoute—and their replacement by a workers’ militia; and for the convening of a genuine constituent assembly.
These democratic demands are only realizable through the proletariat taking power as the leader of the oppressed masses and establishing its own dictatorship. For this reason, these democratic measures are inseparably linked to the tasks of the socialist revolution: the nationalization of the multinational banks and corporations, as well as the major industries and financial assets owned by the Haitian bourgeoisie.
Such a revolution in Haiti will give a mighty impetus to the struggle against imperialism throughout the Caribbean, in the United States and internationally. At the same time, only this struggle can guard the Haitian revolution from capitalist restoration and imperialist intervention.
What is required above all to realize such a policy is a revolutionary party based on the vanguard of the proletariat and completely independent from the bourgeoisie. Such a party does not yet exist in Haiti. It must be built on the perspective of permanent revolution and as a section of the world party of socialist revolution, the International Committee of the Fourth International.