by Marty Goodman / June 2005 issue of Socialist Action
NEW YORK—On May 21, the Grassroots Haiti Solidarity Committee (GHSC) sponsored a forum on the crisis in Haiti, co-sponsored by the Batay Ouvriye Solidarity Network, the Haitian Information Center, the Nicaragua
Solidarity Network, N.Y. CISPES, Socialist Action, and the Brooklyn Greens.
The forum was a departure from the middle-class politics of supporters of ousted Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, an elected leader who once
described himself as a socialist.
Aristide was ousted in February 2004 by U.S.-backed right-wing forces and a U.S.-led UN military occupation. Aristide, now in exile, had in fact called for the U.S./UN intervention and the 1994 U.S./UN occupation as well.
During his presidency Aristide pursued a World Bank economic policy, which included agreements to operate “free-trade zone” sweatshops (see April 2005 Socialist Action). Aristide also renewed agreements permitting slave labor in the DR, often refusing to protest abuses.
Within Haiti, the left opposed Aristide, except for forces in support of the Brooklyn-based Haiti Progres newspaper. In the U.S., Aristide supporters include the non-profit Pacifica Radio, Workers World Party, and members of the Congressional Black Caucus of the Democratic Party.
The meeting began with the reading of a statement in response to slanders directed at the GHSC by Aristide supporters: “We denounce and oppose the imperialist intervention involved in the ouster of the Lavalas [Aristide’s movement] government [and] the incursion of the so-called rebel troops from the DR and the overt support that the U.S. government gave to the
right-wing groups such as the ‘the Democratic Convergence.’ We denounce and oppose the current government in Haiti and the current UN-mandated
“From 1994 to 2004 the Lavalas established a long record of implementing various aspects of the imperialist neo-liberal agenda in Haiti. They
maintained the lowest minimum wage in the Western Hemisphere, repressed labor organizing and workers’ rights complaints by jailing, beating and burning down houses, granting complete impunity to factory owners and agro-landlords who systematically violate workers rights.
“In the spring of 2004 the Aristide [regime] was besieged both by popular mobilizations and also reactionary forces, particularly through the armed
insurgence of the so-called rebels, former members of the Haitian army invading from the DR. Because these mobilizations were largely spontaneous they were at times co-opted by right-wing forces.
“Why should the people’s camp be asked to bring back a corrupt and repressive government which the people’s camp was mobilized to overthrow?”
The forum’s first speaker was Sandra Quintela, a Brazilian activist who was a member of the International Fact Finding and Solidarity Mission (headed by Nobel Peace Laureate Adolfo Perez Esquivel), which visited Haiti in April. She is also a member of the Brazilian Campaign Against the Debt, the FTAA and Militarization and of Jubilee South.
Quintela referred to the fact that some 1200 Brazilian troops are now heading the U.S./UN occupation in Haiti, after the withdrawal of most U.S. forces. A
week before the forum Brazilian troops shot, for the first time, a demonstrator protesting rising gasoline prices and poverty in the country. The troops were
sent by the government of the Brazilian Workers Party, headed by President “Lula” da Silva, in an act of betrayal of working-class solidarity.
Quintela reported that the intervention was protested by left organizations in Brazil, but some “left” deputies voted for it.
During her stay in Haiti, Quintela said, “We met with the [puppet Haitian] president and 60 organizations. The perspective of the people in the non-governmental agencies, the schools, in the hospitals, and in the streets was that they were absolutely opposed to the military occupation, which increased the violence in the country.”
Most intervention officials showed their contempt for Haitians, said Quintela: “We asked the president of the Organization of American States about sexual abuse by international troops against the Haitian population. He replied, ‘If this happens every day amongst Haitians then what’s the big deal?’”
On the economy, said Quintela, “There is this ‘Interim Cooperation Framework’ (CCI) economic plan for Haiti made in DC. Sixty-eight percent of Haitians are living in the rural areas, and agriculture is not even mentioned by the CCI. The CCI is seen by the people as a way to impose a neoliberal policy.
“The exact economic plan that the Aristide government was imposing is the same plan that is being taken up by the government now. The one billion dollars that was to go to reconstructing Haiti—as of April, Haiti hasn’t seen a cent of it.”
A written report and a video documentary of the Fact Finding mission will soon be available. Contact the GHSC at (718) 284-0889 for details.
The second speaker was Paul Philome, a representative of Batay Ouvriye (Worker’s Fight), a respected organization of labor organizers, particularly of
sweatshop workers in Haiti (www.batayouvriye.org). Said Philome, “In 2004, Haiti celebrated 200 years of independence. 200 years after independence Haiti is under occupation. This is a very cruel reality.”
Philome then traced the evolution of Haiti’s ruling class. Philome catagorized the recent Lavalas regime as a corrupt government of the “petite bourgeoisie,”
i.e., small businessmen and professionals—with a large base amongst the urban unemployed, often organized in street gangs. The U.S. imperialists, said Philome, recognized the government’s inability to efficiently organize an economy geared to the corporate World Bank agenda and replaced it with a more capable—but no less corrupt—regime of exploiters.
Philome also described the destruction of Haiti’s important sugar and coffee export industry by U.S. corporations in the 1990s. This drove masses of
peasants out of rural areas into overcrowded urban centers seeking jobs, where long-term unemployment is about 80 percent.
Haiti’s main asset for multi-national corporations is the lowest wage in the Western Hemisphere. Philome spoke of a recent “trade fair” in Indianapolis in
which Haiti’s wage was promoted as being only $1.62 per day!
The recent protest against the hike in gas prices and the shooting was the first sign of “a new polarization based on class,” not one individual politician, said