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Political and Social Crisis in Haiti – Historical Analysis


Haiti is one of those countries that is close to our hearts in Mauritius. This is because, curiously what with Haiti being so far away, the Creole that Haitians speak is well-nigh identical to Kreol Repiblik Moris. Haiti shares a history of slavery and slave revolts with Mauritius, and has a history of sugar cane, too. It was, like us, a French colony, and has, like the Republic of Mauritius, been occupied by US troops. So, for all the clear differences, we really need to understand Haiti, which is now suffering near total economic, political and social collapse, so that we can be in solidarity with the people of Haiti and also so that we can avoid following that infernal downward spiral.

To understand the present crisis in Haiti after the murder of the Prime Minister, what with the military in the USA whipping Haitians as they flee the societal collapse in their country, and what with the kidnapping of 17 Americans for hostage money right now, it is worth looking at one key aspect: a whole century of U.S. military intervention in Haiti. Since the murder was committed by Colombian “mercenaries”, it is also worth looking how and where on earth Colombian mercenaries got engendered, and how they got to murder the Prime Minister of another country, Haiti. 

We could go all the way back to the slave revolution, at the time of the French Revolution, and which gave the country independence and ended slavery, and to the 150 years’ damages that Haiti had to pay to France until 1947, some $21 billion in value in 2004, crippling Haiti’s economy – damages for freeing people from the yoke of slavery! But, we will go back just 100 years in this article, to find the source of the present day catastrophic situation in Haiti, which is directly related to the USA’s fear of this small, poor country. It is too near to Cuba for the somewhat paranoid USA to tolerate it being free from US control.  

Early USA Invasion of Haiti

In 1914, the US President sent marines into Haiti on the mission of taking the Haitian National Bank’s funds from Haiti to the USA. The USA had leant Haiti funds to help its crippling debt payments to France. The next year, after the assassination of Haiti’s President, the USA invaded Haiti to protect US investments there. The Treaty confirming the occupation read, “The [Haitian] constabulary shall be organized and officered by Americans” i.e. U.S. Marines.  Just like that. It added that the Haitians would “clothe” (meaning disguise) the constabulary so as to look Haitian in its institutional framework.

This turned out to be a 20-year occupation. It was characterized by a two-pronged U.S. action: hideous repression imposed upon the Haitian people, and massive transfer of Haitian assets to US private companies.

This was how Haiti first developed a huge army that could, and did, then run politics. US Commander Butler, during the occupation, testified before Congress that, “We were all imbued with the fact that we were the trustees of a huge estate that belonged to minors,” i.e. the Haitian people were seen as “children”, and worse, he wrote privately that he was the “chief of a n***** police force.” That gives an idea of just how hideously colonial the occupation was. For more details, see the book, Taking Haiti: Military Occupation and the Culture of U.S. Imperialism, 1915-1940, and for a key short article, read Jonathan Ng’s 31 October article in Truthout.

Though the U.S. Marines withdrew in 1934, the over-sized Haitian military they left went on exerting influence over politics, often the puppet-master pulling the strings being the USA. 

So it was that in 1957, the army, with US support, put Francois Duvalier into power by rigging elections. For 30 years, or until 1986, the Duvalier family kept a bloody dictatorship in power by a purpose-built paramilitary force and support from both the USA and France.

When Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a priest who had militated for the poor, was elected as president in 1990 – the first freely elected president – his agenda, though reformist, and his independence of spirit were too much for the USA. It backed his removal in September 1991, though not his assassination. He came back to power in 1994. The US administration had meanwhile stolen military and paramilitary records and taken them out of the country, so as to prevent any prosecution of Americans.

The next year, still under Aristide, Haiti dissolved its military. But by 2004, former officers and officers were ready to oust Aristide. Jonathan Ng says, “Their leaders included Guy Philippe, who received training from U.S. Special Forces, and Louis-Jodel Chamblain, a retired officer who previously led a CIA-backed death squad. Their main goal was to reestablish the military. ...

In February 2004, a delegation of U.S. diplomats and soldiers arrived at Aristide’s house. They warned him that rebels were coming and would slaughter his family unless he immediately boarded a U.S.-chartered plane.” The US refused to use their Marines and embassy military to protect him, instead kidnapped him and forced him to sign a letter of resignation. He went into exile in South Africa. 

This time George Bush did not send in Marines directly. The US, instead, led a UN Stabilization Mission into Haiti (MINUSTAH) with some 9,000 Blue Helmets. So Haiti was again under military occupation by foreign powers.

The USA worked to keep Aristide out. A former U.S. Ambassador James Foley agreed in writing with the strategy to keep him out. In a telegram, he said: “Aristide Movement Must Be Stopped.”

Another US Ambassador Janet Sanderson said in 2008, “A premature departure of MINUSTAH would leave the [Haitian] government … [vulnerable to] resurgent populist and anti-market economy political forces.” Note the “anti-market economy political forces”.

Aristide came back from exile in South Africa in 2011. His political party was banned from standing in the elections, though. He still lives in Haiti. In July he flew to Cuba for Covid treatment.

How come Colombian soldiers assassinated Prime Minister?

All the while, the USA had started to put its “Plan Colombia” into practice. 

“Plan Colombia” was, to quote the accurate Wikileaks definition, “a United States foreign aidmilitary aid, and diplomatic initiative aimed at combating Colombian drug cartels and left-wing insurgent groups in Colombia.” It was a hybrid of the War on Drugs and the War on Terror. So, it was that from 2000 to 2016, the US spent $10 billion supposedly to quell guerilla forces and eradicate drug producers there. In fact, after Israel and Egypt, Colombia is third-biggest receiver of US military aid. US defense contractors made a packet, supplying helicopters and other arms, while Monsanto made a fortune supplying herbicide to kill the coca peasants’ plantations. 

And this is how, according to Ng, Colombia became the “Israel” of Latin America, in the sense of being a regionalgendarme. Colombia, like Israel, acts as an extension of the USA’s repressive forces against any form of anti-imperialist movement in the whole area. And the plan to eradicate drugs has failed. Colombia remains the biggest exporter of cocaine.

Colombian officers, funded by the USA, meanwhile systematically murdered civilians. They even targetted the poor just to boost the number of cadavers they “produced” for piece-rates wages, Human Rights Watch says.  

After a peace agreement with the guerilla movement in 2016, the Colombian military’s repression continued, and even expanded into spy networks that harass journalists, political activists and human rights groups today. In April last year, during Covid, the chief of the UN mission warned against “an epidemic of violence against social leaders, human rights defenders, and former combatants” in Colombia.

But Plan Colombia acts not just in Colombia but abroad, too. Colombia in 2018 became a “global partner” to NATO. This is the new kind of alliance typifying the 21st Century. That is how Colombian armed forces and private companies are believed to have trained the military of 47 countries, their military men trained by the USA receiving high wages, at “UN level” as they brag. Colombia’s de-mobilized troops have also set up private companies of mercenaries for “export” abroad. These mercenaries have fought in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen and elsewhere. 

Also, as we saw in previous articles, in Haiti.

On 7 July, mercenaries assassinated the late President Jovenel Moïse. The mercenaries included Plan Colombia veterans. At least seven had been trained by the USA. Their contractor, CTU Security, is a U.S. firm owned by the Colombian president’s protégés. So, it is not as though we do not know who pays the mercenaries.

Their orders were reported to be: “everyone had to be killed … the police, the president’s security, everything we encountered in the house” and that “there could be no witness.” But, what was the plan?

After the assassination, indeed the Haitian Prime Minister Claude Joseph did call for the U.S. and UN to send troops. 

However, opposition to this was huge. A large alliance of forces within the country began to form in order to oppose this. And it seemed not to be possible.

But, after the earthquake a month later, the U.S. sent in Marines, on this pretext. They brought with them, if you can believe it, the USS Arlington, MH-60 Seahawk helicopters, P-8A Poseidon planes for this supposed humanitarian mission. 

As if to prove the point it is the very same “United States Southern Command” that trains Colombian soldiers and oversees the humanitarian mission in Haiti.

Because the USA is the cause of an impossible social, economic and political situation in Haiti, after military interventions for a Century, many Haitians have set out to get refugee status in the USA. Many ended up being whipped by mounted US border guards with split-reins as they tried to cross the Rio Grande in Texas in September. 

Meanwhile, gangs run social “order” in the cities. Kidnapping for ransom has become a way-of-earning-a-living for the gang leaders. This hideous social reality is now headlines after the kidnapping of 17 American missionaries on 16 October. They are still being held. A million dollars is being asked for  each hostage.

 The importance of grassroots political organization in Haiti, as indeed elsewhere, becomes paramount. And it becomes evident in Haiti. It is just not good enough to organize only on a charity-basis (NGOs and other do-gooders), nor to think that civil society can just “desann dan lari” and hope for the best. We need political organization based on very clear programs that we work out together.