by Seth Donnelly, originally published in Counterpunch, July 13, 2021
Today, the people of Haiti are facing down the US-backed dictatorship of the ruling Haitian Tet Kale Party (PHTK) that came to power through the fraudulent election of Michel Martelly in 2010 and maintained its grip on power through the fraudulent election of Jovenel Moise in 2016, what Haitian activists refer to as electoral coup d’etats. Both elections were held under UN occupation and sponsored by the US government. As Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton detoured from her trip to the Middle East at the height of the Arab Spring uprising in Egypt and personally intervened to put Martelly into power. Similarly, the US State Department immediately heralded the 2016 elections as legitimate and subsequent US administrations, first Trump then Biden, continued to prop up the Moise regime diplomatically and financially.
The July 7 assassination of Jovenel Moise by a professional kill squad does not alter US support for the PHTK regime. Unless there is massive opposition by the US public and members of Congress, expect the Biden Administration to continue to support the current PHTK regime led by Prime Minister Claude Joseph or whoever else emerges within this regime to assume power during this transition. Expect the Biden Administration to provide ongoing funding for its brutal security forces. These central points should not be obscured by escalating media speculation regarding “who did it”, particularly in the aftermath of arrests of ex-Colombian soldiers and several Haitians with US ties such as Christian Emmanuel Sanon.
What Are the Characteristics that Define the PHTK Regime Under Both Martelly And Moise?
The PHTK regime is a puppet dictatorship installed and maintained by the US government and UN occupation forces, in coordination with members of the Haitian upper class, operating against the interests of the impoverished majority of the Haitian people. The following are central characteristics of the regime:
1. Engaging in pervasive corruption and the massive looting of public funds.
2. Facilitating land grabs and the dispossession of Haitian farmers, including by Moise himself to enlarge his personal banana republic, as well as the plunder of Haiti’s vast natural resources (gold, petroleum, bauxite and more) by domestic oligarchs and foreign corporations. The “open” investment climate supported by the PHTK regime is noted in this 2018 US State Department Report on “doing business in Haiti”.
3. Waging a war on the poor majority and the popular, grassroots Lavalas movement through horrific massacres in poor neighborhoods such as Lasalin and Bel Air, violent gentrification, and targeted assassinations and rapes of human rights activists. These gross human rights violations perpetrated by the regime are also documented by the International Human Rights Clinic of the Harvard Law School in its April 2021 report Killing with Impunity: State-Sanctioned Massacres in Haiti.
What Were the Limits of Moise’s Effectiveness as a Puppet Ruler?
1. Moise proved incapable of containing the massive, grassroots uprising to establish a truly popular, democratic government. Since Moise took power, the Haitian people have taken to the streets by the hundreds of thousands, again and again, facing live ammunition, tear gas, arbitrary arrest, torture, rape, and extrajudicial killings by the Haitian National Police (HNP)– trained by UN occupation officials in Haiti and by the US police, including the NYPD. The HNP have likewise been funded by the US government to the tune of millions of dollars per year, with US funding increasing under the Trump Administration, a move correlating with increasing human rights violations by the HNP. The Biden Administration has likewise continued this support for the police force clearly implicated in massacres and gross human rights violations. Despite such US training and funding of the HNP, Moise has been unable to keep “law and order”. Huge protests continue to erupt. At the same time, regime-backed paramilitaries (“gangs”) like the G9 death squad, led by former policeman Jimmy “Barbecue” Cherizier, continue to terrorize the poor people of all ages in Port-au-Prince through a reign of kidnappings, torture, rape, and killings. G9 and paramilitary violence have displaced thousands of people who have been forced from their neighborhoods after their homes have been burned down and their relatives and neighbors have been massacred.
2. Moise recently clashed with members of the small, powerful Haitain upper class, such as Reginald Boulos and other oligarchs. This clash reflected intra-elite squabbles, as Moise was using his political power to consolidate his hold in ways reminiscent of the Duvalier dictatorships.
3. There was growing opposition inside of the US Congress to the Biden Administration’s ongoing support of the Moise regime, as reflected by this April 26th letter from 68 members of the US House of Representatives to the Biden Administration, noting that the Moise regime “lacks the credibility and legitimacy to oversee a constitutional referendum… or to administer elections that are free and fair.” In the aftermath of this letter, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced, as reported on June 9, that the US would no longer support the plan by the Moise regime to augment its power through holding a bogus “referendum” this summer to weaken the Haitian Constitution. Despite this policy reversal, the Biden Administration nonetheless continued to support the regime to illegally stay in power and manipulate elections scheduled for this next September. The US has allocated extensive funding for these sham elections which will include the referendum, in violation of the wishes of the Haitian majority. Moreover, the Biden Administration called for more US funding for the Haitian police, despite the clear record of gross human rights violations linked to the police. Yet this support by the Biden Administration for Moise was facing mounting political opposition in Congress.
What Drives US Foreign Policy Towards Haiti?
In his speech “Beyond Vietnam: a Time to Break the Silence” given in the Riverside Church on April 4, 1967, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stated: “All over the globe men are revolting against old systems of exploitation and oppression, and out of the wounds of a frail world, new systems of justice and equality are being born. The shirtless and barefoot people of the land are rising up as never before.” He protested the fact that the US government stood on the wrong side of this revolution, in Vietnam and elsewhere. Nowhere is this more graphically illustrated than in Haiti.
US policy towards Haiti, as elsewhere through the “Third World”, has been remarkably consistent over the 19th, 20th, now 21st centuries, based on three pillars: 1) a white supremacist opposition to genuine decolonization and national liberation by Black and colonized peoples; 2) the Monroe-doctrine mindset of the US as the police officer of the western hemisphere in particular and the world in general; and 3) the elevation of US business and local upper class interests above the basic human rights of the poor majority, along with the elevation of capitalist exploitation over popular democracy.
In 1804, Haitians waged a successful revolution against one of the most powerful European empires of the time, emancipating themselves from slavery and colonialism, becoming the world’s first Black republic and the first nation to permanently ban slavery. It can be said that the Haitian Revolution was the most radical assertion of the right to have rights in human history. Fueling hope, resistance and rebellion among enslaved people throughout the Caribbean and the United States, the newly independent Haitian government offered asylum and citizenship to any African who escaped slavery. The independent Haitian government invited people of African and Indigenous origins who were fleeing oppression to come and live in Haiti. Freedom fighters such as Simon Bolívar and liberation movements throughout the Americas were given material support by the Haitian government on the condition that they abolish slavery if they came to power. Haiti stands at the very center of the world struggle to end slavery.
Haiti’s freedom posed a great threat to the system of slavery in the US and the Americas. The white supremacist leaders of the United States attempted to strangle the new nation at its birth by instituting a worldwide boycott against Haiti. France took similar action, forcing Haiti to pay reparations to French slave owners for the property they lost when slavery ended. This “property” was the human beings who had been enslaved. The debt was not paid off until the 1940s, by which time banks in the United States had taken over the collection process. Over time Haiti paid France $21.7 billion, an extortion that has been aptly called the greatest heist in history.
In the 20th century, Haiti became a virtual colony of the United States, beginning in 1915, when the U.S. Marines were sent by President Woodrow Wilson to occupy the country. More than 20,000 people were killed by the marines. During 19 years of occupation Haitians put up fierce and protracted resistance, and Black activists in the United States were in the forefront of solidarity with the Haitian struggle. The NAACP denounced the invasion, as did the Garvey Movement. NAACP leader James Weldon Johnson detailed the crimes committed by US occupying forces in “The Truth About Haiti: An NAACP Report” (1920) published in The Crisis. The marines finally left Haiti in 1934, leaving in their place the notorious Haitian Armed Forces to violently protect foreign corporations and the Haitian elite by smashing all opposition.
From the 1950s through the 1980s, the US government supported the brutal dictatorships of “Papa Doc” and “Baby Doc” Duvalier, who tortured and killed thousands of Haitians. The popular mass movement that came to be known as Lavalas (The “flash flood” of the people), succeeded in toppling the Duvalier dictatorship and electing Jean-Bertrand Aristide as President of Haiti. Twice, the United States supported coups to overthrow the elected government, in 1991 and 2004. Ever since this last coup, Haiti has been occupied by the United Nations, as authorized by the UN Security Council, at the behest primarily of the US, France, and Canada. Under this occupation, the people of Haiti have been engaged in a fierce struggle against a series of puppet dictatorships installed by the US. What is important to recognize now is that the current PHTK regime is the institutional manifestation of the 2004 coup, an attempt to make the coup permanent, with or without Jovenel Moise.
Solidarity Is Needed Now More Than Ever
Today, the people of Haiti are struggling courageously to establish their own transition government of Sali Piblik (public safety) drawing on dedicated professionals and activists from all sectors of Haitian society, a government capable of stabilizing society and attending to people’s most pressing needs, while organizing truly fair and free elections. In this struggle, Fanmi Lavalas, the party of the Lavalas movement, remains a vital force, based on speaking to the needs of the poor majority. The Haitian people have not forgotten what Lavalas could accomplish during the brief period of real democracy before the US coup of 2004 hurled the country back into misery. During this brief period of real democracy, more schools were built than in the previous 150 years of Haitian history, healthcare was expanded, affordable housing was constructed, cooperatives were formed, the dreaded army was disbanded, women’s rights were expanded, along with so many more achievements. And all of this was done with a tiny national budget while the US attempted to economically strangle Haiti by cutting off aid and loans. In contrast, the PHTK regime has been fully backed by the US and had a budget 14 times greater, yet it can only show deepening poverty and misery for the masses of people, including a doubling of acute severe childhood malnutrition, along with widespread massacres and gross human rights violations– all made possible by the USA. As Fanmi Lavalas put it in a statement on March 2nd, 2021:
“Indeed, today’s reality clearly lays bare the truth. If there had not been a February 29, 2004 kidnapping coup d’etat, today we would not have a government of kidnappers that causes each and every Haitian citizen to go about with his or her own coffin. Yes, ever since the 2004 coup d’etat, the masses have never ceased to experience more and more suffering. Massacres, repression, misery, starvation, unemployment, bullets, tear gas, kidnapping… and more. The criminals have not stopped stealing the lands of the peasants. If we can’t go to school, can’t eat, can’t have decent housing, if we don’t have potable water to drink, if we don’t have security, if they are kidnapping us, it is a direct consequence of the 2004 kidnapping coup d’etat.”
All progressive-minded people in the US need to make the struggle of the Haitian people central to our own struggles. We need to organize solidarity protests everywhere we can and pressure our members of Congress to do the following:
1. Cut off all US aid for the Haitian police once and for all.
2. Stop the Biden Administration’s support for the PHTK regime regardless of who the new figurehead becomes.
3. End US support for sham elections and the Constitutional referendum organized by the PHTK regime.
4. Support the right of the Haitian people to form, through their own popular movement, their own transition government free from US interference. No US military intervention in Haiti.