This article originally appeared in the “Bulletin” on November 23, 1990.
The United States and Canada—the imperialist powers that propped up the Duvalier dictatorship for three decades—are organizing general elections in Haiti December 16. These elections are aimed not at establishing “democracy,” but at intensifying imperialist oppression.
Washington and Ottawa are seeking to shore up Haiti’s decrepit bourgeois state so it can impose yet another IMF “recovery program.” In a country that is already the poorest in the Western Hemisphere, where one in five children dies before the age of five, and 85 percent of the population is malnourished, more IMF “austerity” will mean outright famine.
With the December 16 elections, American imperialism is trying to carry out in Haiti a maneuver it used in many Latin American countries during the 1980s to strengthen bourgeois rule. In Argentina, Brazil, Chile and elsewhere, Washington orchestrated the transfer of power from bloodstained military dictatorships to elected governments because it had concluded the latter would be better able to impose the crushing burden of the debt crisis on the masses without igniting a social explosion. The new, “popularly-elected” governments have imposed the savage dictates of the IMF, while keeping the machinery of state repression intact and well-oiled.
In the case of Haiti, Washington has given the job of managing this operation to ex-President Jimmy Carter. Accompanied by a delegation from the Organization of American States led by Jean Cate, the Directeur général des élections au Quebec, Carter has just finished his third tour of Haiti.
The imperialist sponsorship for the elections notwithstanding, it is by no means certain that they will be held. With the economy in ruins, social tensions in Haiti, which have repeatedly exploded during the past five years in the form of violent state repression or mass unrest, are again reaching the breaking point. Last week, the US State Department urged Americans to postpone nonessential trips to Haiti because of the threat of violence.
Until recently, the election process, rallies and voter registration centers alike were being shunned by the Haitian masses. Having experienced the bloody, aborted elections of November 29, 1987, and the masquerade of January 17, 1988, when the army selected a puppet president who was deposed six months later, the Haitian workers and peasants placed no confidence in the “democratic” promises of the military government.
But since Fr. Jean-Bertrand Aristide declared he was running for president, more than two million people have registered to vote. A Roman Catholic priest, Aristide gained a popular following for opposing the Duvalier dictatorship. He espouses “liberation theology,” and in the past proclaimed himself a socialist.
Fr. Aristide’s candidacy has been enthusiastically welcomed by the petty-bourgeois radicals, particularly those grouped around Haiti Progres. The New York-based weekly ran a banner headline on the front page of its October 24-30 issue reading “Aristide: Candidate of the People,” and has devoted its subsequent issues to promoting the priest’s presidential campaign.
Also running for president is Réne Théodore, the general-secretary of the Haitian Stalinist party, the Parti unifié des communistes haïtiens (PUCH).
Haitian workers must beware. With their claim that the machine of state repression can be overturned through elections, financed and sponsored by imperialism, Theodore and Aristide are leading the Haitian masses into a dangerous and potentially bloody trap.
Since the overthrow of Jean-Claude Duvalier, Théodore and his PUCH have connived not only with right-wing bourgeois democrats, like Marc Bazin, who clutch at the coattails of the US ambassador, but also with Haiti’s military rulers. In the past, Haiti Progres denounced the PUCH for its “opportunism,” and boosted Aristide as a militant alternative. But since declaring his candidacy for president, Aristide has made clear his campaign is not aimed at mobilizing the working class and oppressed peasantry for class struggle. Rather, he is seeking to convince Washington and the Haitian bourgeoisie that because of his mass following, he would be better able to maintain “peace and order” in Haiti than the infamous Tonton Macoutes, and that a “democratic” regime of capital led by Aristide would be more profitable than a Macoute-army dictatorship.
During a visit to New York at the beginning of November, Aristide made this explicit. He categorically rejected the expropriation of the big landowners and the redistribution of their land to the poor peasants. “The bourgeois shouldn’t be scared by the idea we are going to take his wealth,” affirmed Aristide. “That won’t happen here.”
Then he made a direct appeal to US imperialism for support and pledged, in return, to safeguard its profits. “Bush, don’t follow Lafontant,” he appealed, referring to the leading Duvalierist candidate in the elections. “Follow the Haitian people and you won’t get lost.... Only Aristide and the people can guarantee to the bourgeoisie that it can produce in its factories ... without the country being turned upside down. Any government that comes to power through conspiracy would be faced with an outraged populace and would never enjoy the people’s confidence. As a result we would soon see demonstrations, strikes suppressed by the army, and the industrial bourgeoisie would not benefit from the equilibrium it needs, from the serenity that comes with respect for the rules of democracy and the law.”
Only days before announcing his candidacy, Aristide himself had been vigorously denouncing the December 16 elections as “made in the USA,” and urging that they be boycotted. He has explained his sudden reversal by saying that his presidential campaign is the only means to block the return to power of Lafontant, the interior minister and real power behind the throne in the last years of Jean-Claude Duvalier’s dictatorship.
The former head of the Tonton Macoutes, Lafontant has enjoyed protection from the highest echelons of the state apparatus since he returned to Haiti last summer. After there was a public outcry over the failure of the police to carry out a warrant for his arrest on charges of torture and murder, it was none other than Gen. Abraham, the commander in chief of the armed forces, who came to Lafontant’s defense, calling the warrant a “veritable judicial rigmarole.” With a large military escort, Lafontant appeared at the headquarters of the electoral commission and filed papers to be a presidential candidate.
At present the status of Lafontant’s candidacy is in doubt, as the Haitian government and its imperialist sponsors are uncertain as to how far they should go in restoring Duvalierism. The electoral commission ruled Lafontant ineligible to run in the elections, but it chose narrow technical grounds, rather than invoking Article 291 of the new constitution, which bars former top officials in the Duvalier regime from holding political office for 10 years. Lafontant is appealing the decision in the courts.
The return of Lafontant and other prominent Duvalierists has rightly raised fears among the masses that the reestablishment of a bloody dictatorship is imminent. In September, the country was rocked by a general strike demanding Lafontant’s arrest, and there have been calls in the working class neighborhoods of Port-au-Prince for the formation of brigades de vigilance (“defense guards”) to counter the threat of army-Macoute violence.
Aristide’s election campaign, however, is not aimed at arming the Haitian workers and peasants politically, warning them that civil war is inevitable and that only through revolutionary action can the masses prevail. Rather Aristide, with the support of Haiti Progres, has stepped forward to divert the masses from the revolutionary road into the blind alley of the ballot box and alliances with the Bazins and Sylvio Claudes, the same bourgeois democrats who have shown time and again during the past four years that faced with a choice between a mass uprising against the military government and bloody state repression, they will favor repression.
While preaching to the masses that the elections are the sole answer to Lafontant and the Tonton Macoutes, Aristide himself admits there are no guarantees the elections will even be held. “If at a certain point we see the enemy wants a bloodbath at any price,” says Aristide, “we will reject entirely the elections.”
Aristide’s sole program is “anti-Macoutisme.” But never does he say how the disarming of the Tonton Macoutes will be realized. He implies, once elected, he will simply pass a decree ordering the army to arrest all Macoutes. But anyone who considers the role the army has played over the past four years, and its attitude to Lafontant, would have to conclude it is far more likely that President Aristide will be arrested than Roger Lafontant.
As for the other burning questions facing the Haitian workers and peasants, Aristide speaks only in generalities. Asked specifically what he will do to resolve the crisis in the countryside, Aristide declared, “These are delicate questions which cannot be resolved by statements.”
The petty-bourgeois radicals of Haiti Progres and the Stalinists of the PUCH, notwithstanding the invectives they hurl at each other, share a common, reactionary perspective. They claim that the bourgeoisie in Haiti can play a progressive, if not even a revolutionary role. This is the reactionary, Stalinist-Menshevik two-stage theory of revolution, which contends that all the working class can do in the backward countries is assist the bourgeoisie in establishing capitalist democracy.
But the entire history of Haiti—it was the second country in the Americas to gain its independence—shows that the venal national bourgeoisie is completely incapable of realizing the tasks of the bourgeois democratic revolution: national liberation; the expropriation of the big landlords and the redistribution of the land; and the eradication of Duvalierism. Only the working class in alliance with the poor peasantry, and as a component part of the international socialist revolution, can free Haiti from the grip of imperialism.
Haiti Progres and the Stalinists preach Haitian exceptionalism, i.e., they divorce Macoutisme from its social roots. Macoutisme—savage dictatorship—is not something unique to Haiti, but a phenomenon common to all the countries oppressed by imperialism. It is a product of the economic weakness and dependence of the national bourgeoisie. The Haitian bourgeoisie has need of Tonton Macoutes because it can impose the brutal dictates of imperialism only by brute force. The struggle against Macoutisme is, therefore, inseparable from the straggle against its cause: imperialist oppression. This is a struggle the national bourgeoisie is organically incapable of waging. Its dependence on imperialism and fear of the proletariat drive it inevitably into the camp of reaction, whatever its democratic pretensions.
Behind the smokescreen of anti-Macoutisme propagated by both the PUCH and Haiti Progres lies a program of collaboration with the national bourgeoisie and imperialism, aimed at binding the Haitian masses hand and foot to those who have bloodily suppressed them for decades. “Industrialists, bourgeois, ANDP [the party of Bazin],” said Aristide, “there is no problem if certain among you recognize the need for a tactical alliance to ... bar the route to criminals.” And so as not to jeopardize that alliance, Aristide pledges to maintain the profits of the industrialists, and to suppress all demands of the masses that threaten the interests of the bourgeois.
Finally, Aristide and Haiti Progres, like the Stalinists, claim the US-created and financed Haitian army—the most important pillar of imperialist exploitation in Haiti—can be a force for democracy. “It’s not all the army that supports Roger Lafontant,” declared Aristide after announcing his presidential bid.
Aristide’s current popularity is itself a measure of the crisis of working class leadership.
Following the overthrow of Duvalier in February 1986, the working class, particularly workers employed in the assembly plants that US companies established in Port-au-Prince during the preceding decade, organized militant trade unions. The working class quickly proved to be the principal obstacle to the army’s attempts to practice Duvalierism without Duvalier. This was exemplified in June 1987, when a general strike thwarted Namphy’s drive to crash the opposition and reimpose a Duvalier-style dictatorship.
But while the working class has repeatedly demonstrated its power, under its present leadership—the Stalinists of the PUCH and various petty-bourgeois “socialists”—it has been politically straitjacketed.
Because of the savage repression it suffered under the Duvalier regime, the PUCH had considerable prestige and support in the period immediately following Duvalier’s flight. The Stalinists, however, proved to be the most determined opponents of any independent struggle of the working class, and servile supporters of the military.
When General Avril replaced Namphy in September 1988, the PUCH was the first Haitian political party to recognize his government. In March of this year, when Avril, in turn, was deposed, Theodore appeared on the balcony of the Presidential Palace, arm-in-arm with the current military strongman, General Abraham.
The Stalinists are attacking Aristide’s campaign from the right. “If one wanted to break up the elections,” declared Max Bouijolly, the number two man in the PUCH, “Aristide would be their man.” In other words, so as not to provoke the Macoutes, the working class should subordinate itself to Bazin and accept IMF-dictated misery.
There is an ominous parallel between the current situation and the events of the summer of 1987, when the masses were threatening to topple the CNG. With the blessing of the petty-bourgeois leadership of CATH, the most important union federation, the capitalist politicians took control of the movement and then torpedoed it. Their slogan was: “Throw out the CNG by elections.” As a result, the military regime was restabilized and then able to retake the offensive, perpetrating the massacre of November 29, in which hundreds, if not thousands, died. At that time it was Gerard Gorgue—a bourgeois politician who had led a campaign against human rights abuses under Duvalier—who served to pacify the masses and preach electoralism. Today it is Aristide, the self-proclaimed socialist priest.
The return of Lafontant and the support he is receiving from the top echelons of the state apparatus is not accidental. Four years of heroic resistance by the masses have convinced important sections of the bourgeoisie that the most savage repression is the only means to break the mass movement and impose the austerity measures demanded by the imperialists. With 30 years of experience, the Macoutes are obviously the best equipped to organize such a reign of terror.
Aristide’s appeals for “a united anti-Macoute movement” to meet this threat are a reactionary fraud. The déhoukaj (popular settling of accounts with Duvalierists) of February 7, 1986, and the continuing upsurge of the Haitian masses have repeatedly thrown the state apparatus into crisis and led to many fissures within the ruling class. But these divisions are only over what is the best means to suppress the masses.
At this point, the Canadian Foreign Affairs Ministry, the US State Department, and one wing of the Haitian bourgeoisie appear to prefer a fig leaf of democracy. They want to give the masses the illusion they are masters of their own fate by giving them ballot papers and removing some of the most odious Duvalierists.
Another section of the Haitian bourgeoisie, principally Duvalier’s cronies and the Macoutes, fear that to give the masses any opening to voice their opinions and organize themselves, no matter how small, would be exceedingly dangerous, and are seeking to convince the imperialists they are the only viable means to subjugate the masses.
The way forward for the working class is not to ally with the “democratic” wing against the “Macoute” wing of the bourgeoisie, as Aristide and the petty-bourgeois radicals advocate, but for it to break with all factions of the bourgeoisie and adopt the program of permanent revolution. The workers must take the road of class independence and rally the oppressed peasantry behind them in a revolutionary movement aimed at overthrowing the bourgeoisie, smashing its state machine, and establishing a workers and peasants government.
Haitian workers should boycott the imperialists electoral conspiracy and form workers committees in the neighborhoods and factories, and committees of poor peasants in the country. These committees—soviets—which would act initially as organs of self-defense of the masses against the Macoutes and army, could and must become the basis for a new state, the dictatorship of the proletariat. The task of the hour is the formation of a revolutionary party of the working class to fight for this perspective.
Only a revolutionary government of the workers and peasants can eradicate Macoutisme, free the country from imperialist oppression and resolve the agrarian problem by giving the land to those who till it, for it would link the Haitian revolution to the international proletariat and the struggle for world socialist revolution.
It is necessary to build the revolutionary party that will fight for this program, a Haitian section of the International Committee of the Fourth International, the World Party of Socialist Revolution.