Class dynamics of Haiti's freedom struggle

October, 2004

Interview with PPN leader Ben Dupuy

Class dynamics of Haiti's freedom struggle


On Feb. 29, 2004, U.S. marines escorted Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide from his home in Tabarre outside Port-au-Prince and flew him to the Central African Republic. While they claimed Aristide resigned, Aristide himself charged that he was kidnapped and forced from power. Since then, thousands in Haiti and around the world have called for his return to power.

To better understand the Haitian people's struggle, Socialism and Liberation editor Andy McInerney interviewed Ben Dupuy, General Secretary of the National Popular Party (PPN). The interview was conducted in July 2004.

Q: President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was kidnapped and removed from power five months ago. Can you give us a sense of what President Aristide represents for the Haitian people?

We have to start by saying that until the late 1980s, United States policy in Latin America was to support military dictatorships. That was in the context of the "containment" of the Soviet Union. So the U.S. had no problem sponsoring coups d'etat or any kind of dictatorship.

That was the case in Haiti as well. François "Papa Doc" Duvalier(1), one of the prominent traditional leaders or politicians, established a particularly brutal dictatorship in Haiti. Because of his anti-communist ideology, he was not penalized for the obvious crimes that were being committed.

Later he died and his son Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier came to power. There was a fundamental change, with the U.S. making an agreement with Baby Doc. Remember the visit of Nelson Rockefeller (2), who was instrumental in preparing the transition from Papa Doc to Baby Doc. From then on, neoliberal policies were implemented in Haiti.

They started a program of so-called foreign "aid" through USAID(3). The idea was to provide the government of Baby Doc with foreign aid in the form of agricultural products. The whole program was very clear. Although it wasn't stated, the objective was to destroy the agricultural economy and self-sufficiency of the economy. And this aid was mostly in terms of agricultural surplus.

This started the indebtedness of Haiti. It was also the beginning of the destruction of our agriculture, which eventually made the country totally dependent on this kind of foreign aid in terms of a market for whatever surplus production the United States produced. So by the end of the government of Jean-Claude Duvalier in 1986 when he was overthrown, the country was deeply in debt to international institutions like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, owing more than a billion dollars.

Now in the late 1980s, the United States government realized that in order to carry out their neoliberal policy of relocating industries to the Third World, the implementation of the capitalist mode of production in underdeveloped countries was not viable within the context of brutal dictatorship. So they advanced the concepts of "democracy" and "human rights." That was a fundamental shift in European and U.S. policy toward Latin America and the world.

The U.S. tried to recycle Jean-Claude Duvalier's dictatorship into some kind of democracy, with some form of popular consultation, elections, etc. But because of the legacy of his father, Duvalier could not fulfill this objective. The United States government decided Duvalier had to go.

After that, there was a political vacuum in Haiti, in the sense that under the Duvalier dictatorship, even the bourgeoisie could not organize themselves politically. The downfall of the Duvalier dictatorship left a political vacuum. In the meantime, the neoliberal policies in Haiti, which meant the destruction of the traditional agricultural sector, caused an exodus from the countryside. Peasants had no alternative than to come to the city. They lived in ghettos under precarious conditions. This led to the creation of a huge sub-proletariat.

During the 1980s, Father Aristide was a priest in one of the slums. Because the Catholic Church had been going along with U.S. policies in Latin America, it started to criticize the dictatorship. I think that this opened the door for Father Aristide to start his opposition to the dictatorship, using liberation theology and an anti-imperialist, nationalist, and anti-Duvalierist stand. He very rapidly became a spokesperson for the downtrodden. When the church realized he was going a little too far, they tried to shut him up and force him out of the country. But it was too late. The people rose up and prevented him from being exiled.

Q: How did this popular momentum intersect with the state of the Haitian ruling classes after the fall of Duvalier?

We can say that Aristide filled a political vacuum. The bourgeois sector has traditionally been at odds with Duvalierism. Duvalier represented the feudal sector of our society.

One fundamental thing about Haiti is that the elite is composed of two sectors: the feudal landowners and the commercial bourgeoisie. These two have been in political control of the country since 1806, when the leader of the struggle of independence, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, was assassinated. As Haiti's first head of state, Dessalines-himself a former slave-started a program of agrarian reform designed to benefit the vast majority of the population, made up of former slaves. Dessalines's assassination was Haiti's first coup d'etat.

The landlords, the big landowners, divided the country into large landholdings. This sector mostly came from the affranchis freedmen—who were both Black and mulatto—who led the Haitian revolution and independence struggle. Since then, there has been a very clear divide between the haves and the have-nots. The former slaves were relegated to live as sharecroppers in a semi-feudal mode of production.

At the same time, because the country exported primary products like coffee, cocoa, sugar and certain other agricultural products, a bourgeois sector very soon emerged. It is essentially a comprador bourgeoisie (4) and not an industrial bourgeoisie.

These two sectors have been at odds and at war for political power throughout our history. This explains why you often hear Haiti has a violent history. In fact, it has been the struggle between those two sectors for political hegemony.

The only time that these two sectors have come together is when the masses attempt to rise up. This is what happened in 1991 and 2001.

In 1986, the bourgeoisie was not politically organized. Having been forced to be politically impotent for almost thirty years under the brutal dictatorship of the Duvaliers' Tonton Macoutes(5), and with most of their political ideologues either dead or in exile, the first move of the local bourgeoisie was to try to re-enact their traditional policy of "doublure"; that is to say a policy throughout our history where they would hide behind an uneducated popular leader, who acts as a figurehead while they retain all the levers of political and economic power. This explains why at first the bourgeoisie and the petty-bourgeoisie, the intellectuals, were behind Aristide.

But Aristide was very educated and politically shrewd, and their policy did not work.

Q: How long did that sector of the ruling class support Aristide?

After 1990, when President Aristide was elected in a landslide, they realized that he had not changed his anti-imperialist rhetoric nor was he about to alienate so soon his constituency. So the bourgeoisie started to have second thoughts. That is when the United States also realized that this kind of participatory democracy was not practical. The army, which was created by the U.S. in 1915 as a tool of internal repression, realized that something had to be done. They could not accept this form of participatory democracy.

So seven months after the election, with the complicity of the CIA and the DIA(6), the U.S. under the first Bush administration—I would say Papa Bush—sponsored the first 1991 coup d'etat. President Aristide went into exile, first in Venezuela, then in Washington.

Now the U.S. found itself in a contradiction. On the one hand, it was preaching democracy and human rights. Of course the form of democracy they had in mind is the kind of democracy we have in the United States: selling a leader, investing millions and millions of dollars. In the context of poor countries, that kind of democracy finds itself not always being feasible.

They find themselves in this kind of contradiction: they were not supporting the dictators anymore in Latin America, like Pinochet in Chile, and so the fact of being forced to carry out a coup d'etat in Haiti was certainly the wrong message. They had to make some kind of "democratic correction."

The idea was: let's bring Father Aristide to Washington, and let's see to what extent he would be willing to make a deal. To the extent that he would agree to implement their program, that is the neoliberal program, and to tone down his rhetoric, then possibly we could reinstate him. That would let us say to world public opinion that we really are behind democracy in Latin America.

Q: Did Aristide accept that U.S. arrangement?

Father Aristide, positioned ideologically, is not a revolutionary. In a way, he inherited the policy or attitude of one of our original leaders and heroes before the revolution, Toussaint L'Ouverture. Toussaint was instrumental in the liberation of the former slaves in the former French colony. During the French Revolution, after the Jacobins proclaimed the abolition of slavery, Toussaint L'Ouverture played a vital role in keeping Haiti in the sphere of France's colonial empire. His objective was not independence, but rather to end slavery—and in fact to keep the colony within the French colonial empire.

But after Napoleon Bonaparte's coup d'etat, France sent an expeditionary army of 40,000 troops under the command of Napoleon's brother-in-law, General Leclerc, to re-establish complete French rule in the colony. Napoleon thought that Saint Domingue, as Haiti was then known, could not be ruled by a Black French General, being one of the richest French colonies.

Because of Toussaint's policy enabling former slave owners to return to the colony, he lost the allegiance of most of the former slaves. Therefore, the French expedition didn't have too much trouble re-establishing French supremacy.

But when the indigenous leaders in Haiti and the masses learned that the goal of Napoleon was to re-establish slavery and eliminate all people who had ever been part of Toussaint's army, they decided they had nothing to lose but their chains. The war of independence started, under the leadership of Jean-Jacques Dessalines.

Now to come back to Father Aristide, his mentor has been Toussaint L'Ouverture. His attitude has been to try diplomatically to get the blessing of the former colonial powers and the United States. He thought that he could find a middle way, re-enacting in a way the policies of Toussaint L'Ouverture.

Unfortunately, the second coup d'etat in 2004 where he was kidnapped is a repeat of what happened to Toussaint L'Ouverture, who was also kidnapped by French forces and sent back to France where he died in captivity.

So today we find ourselves in a situation where the great majority of the people, the poor people in Haiti, had seen Father Aristide as the embodiment of their aspirations. But we have to admit that Father Aristide's fundamental ideology and position was reformist, and therefore he could not have carried out this fundamental and radical change that is needed to get Haiti out of the clutches of the United States and France.

Q: How would you characterize the situation after Aristide was returned to power in 1994 with a U.S. military intervention?

Aristide was caught in a contradiction. On the one hand he wanted to make some concessions to the imperialists, but on the other hand he would lose the support of the masses if he went completely along with this. When he came back, he was in an ambiguous position where, on the one hand, he tried to make some concessions on neoliberal policies, such as allowing the building of "free trade zones" all along the Haitian-Dominican border. Haiti gives up sovereignty in these zones, in violation of one of the Lavalas movement's earliest demands that "Haiti is not for sale, either wholesale or retail."

On the other hand, Aristide kept a nationalist posture since he didn't want to lose his support of the masses. These contradictory positions and policies created an opening for the United States. At the same time, the bourgeoisie and the feudal sectors were totally mobilized to put an end to this experience.

Q: You are talking about his second elected term, which began in 2000. Now, about the events leading up to the February coup, we saw here in the media armed groups in the countryside, demonstrations against Aristide and so on. Who was the opposition to Aristide? As I understand it the armed opposition was small, really small groups of 100 people here and 100 people there. How was it possible for such a small force to topple Aristide's government?

Aristide's political ambiguity could be seen by the fact that to appease the different sectors opposed to his government-the bourgeoisie and the feudal sector represented politically by the Tonton Macoutes, the former Duvalierists and the former army—he had some members of those sectors join his government and his party, the Fanmi Lavalas Party.

Fanmi Lavalas was not structured in a way to create some form of leadership of the popular masses. It was more a party around a personality. And these kinds of concessions and ambiguity created a situation where organizing the masses and preparing them for eventual confrontation with the traditional forces was not possible.

At the same time, the United States prepared the ground by financing the bourgeois opposition and securing the support of the local media by financing so called "non-governmental organizations," private radio stations, and anti-Aristide unions. They established an embargo with two characteristics. On the one hand, there was the weapons embargo, which had been imposed in 1994 when the U.S. occupied the country for the second time.

On the other hand, an economic embargo was also imposed. The U.S. vetoed $500 million in loans for Haiti, from institutions like the Inter-American Development Bank. After the period of Baby Doc's government, the country was highly indebted, the economy was practically in ruins and Haiti's traditional income from exports of agricultural produce to the world market was practically nonexistent because the capitalist countries planned overproduction of those commodities in Third World countries. The country had come to a point where the survival of its government depended on foreign aid.

The U.S. had veto power within the IMF and the World Bank. The fact that it managed to cut off aid made it impossible for the Aristide government to even start to better the social and economic conditions of the masses.

The U.S. also drew on past experiences, like the one they implemented in Nicaragua when they wanted to oust the Sandinista revolution. The Tonton Macoutes and the former military, the army that had been disbanded by Aristide, went into the neighboring Dominican Republic where they were organized, financed and armed by the CIA. Those people started to make incursions into Haiti, creating all kinds of havoc.

At the same time, there were the "psyops," psychological operations, where the local media were instrumental in creating panic. Elected officials and the ill-equipped police in the countryside thought that the so-called rebels coming from the Dominican Republic were a fantastic army, even though these minimal forces, the so-called "freedom fighters," were not really capable of overthrowing the government. The demoralization was such that the police were deserting and the elected officials were leaving the countryside. So it was easy for those forces to take control of different regions of the country.

When these groups threatened the capital, the masses started to mobilize, taking up positions to defend the capital. Here again the United States representatives in Haiti carried out a massive deception. They managed to convince Aristide to demobilize, to remove the barricades, holding out the hope that peace would be restored.

The coup and kidnapping took place in the context of South African President Mbeki responding to the request of the Haitian government to provide the national police with weapons in order to confront the advancing so-called "rebel forces." As a matter of fact, a plane bound for Haiti arrived in Jamaica. It was supposed to arrive on Feb. 29 with weapons and all kinds of police paraphernalia. So the U.S. intelligence services had to precipitate the coup or the kidnapping on the night of the Feb. 28.

A few days earlier, a contingent of Marines arrived in Haiti under the pretext of protecting the U.S. embassy. Those were the troops that occupied the National Palace, the airport and the residence of President Aristide in the night of Feb. 28. President Aristide's security detail was made up in part of U.S. mercenaries. They were ordered to evacuate the palace, and President Aristide was put in a situation where he had to take a plane or else lose his life.

Q: What was it about Aristide that would cause the hatred of the U.S. government?

We think that the reason is that the current U.S. attitude, especially with the present administration, is very ideologically blinded and intolerant. Their view is that a leader of any particular Third World country in Latin America should be completely subservient and dependent on their good graces and not on a popular base, regardless of the willingness of the leader to make concessions and accommodations. It is a very black and white vision. They want stooges and people who are not going to have their own opinion.

Q: Could you describe the government in Haiti today?

The present de facto government, if we have to compare it to different situations, we could compare it to the imposed government of Mohammed Karzai in Afghanistan, or to the U.S. imposed Allawi government in Iraq(7). The U.S., in carrying out "regime change," is setting up a form of puppet leadership.

The de facto prime minister, Gèrard Latortue, is practically a foreigner, having lived most of his life abroad working for the United Nations in Europe and then retiring in Boca Raton, Florida. He is a U.S. stooge. He was parachuted in to fulfill this role with the support of the bourgeoisie.

What is very interesting, in fact a constant in the U.S. approach, is that even though the U.S. does not intend to re-instate the oligarchy in power, it keeps it as a necessary instrument in order to fight any kind of popular response. By oligarchy I mean the feudal sector, the most backward sector in Third World countries in Latin America.

In other words the bourgeoisie has formal, institutional power, but they rely on the feudal sectors for the dirty work. This very often creates a contradiction, and this is exactly what is happening in Haiti. The so-called rebels are members of this feudal social sector. These are the ones that are organizing the death squads and "self-defense" squadrons, and are usually in tune with the CIA.

But this sometimes causes contradictions. Just like we can see in Iraq or Afghanistan where the warlords and former feudal elements have been armed and trained by the CIA, they later become a problem for the implementation of a bourgeois type of government. I think the same phenomenon is happening in Haiti. Now there is a huge struggle to disarm those so-called rebels because the bourgeoisie realizes that after having accomplished the violent phase of the struggle against the people, they have become a problem.

This is the situation now, where UN forces are trying to neutralize those "rebel" forces. But I think the U.S. goal is to keep them alive. They fear if the people would ever rise up to continue the struggle that these paramilitary forces would be the ones to be instrumental to this neutralizing the uprising.

Q: Could you say a little more about the role of the UN in Haiti today?

I think that the UN has come to be more and more an instrument of the foreign policy of the United States. The U.S. would normally use the Organization of American States, but the CARICOM countries have made the use of the OAS as an echo chamber much more difficult. The CARICOM countries are small, recently independent countries which feel that the democratic form of government is preferred for the stability of their economies. They feel that any kind of extra-legal change of government could be a threat to their own stability in the future.

That is why the U.S. has had to use the UN, which has been complicit in this kind of role. We have seen what happened in the course of the Bosnian situation. We have seen their role in Afghanistan. The U.S. has had some problems with the UN concerning their intervention in Iraq. The fact that France was also very willing to oust President Aristide because of his demands of restitution of the 150 million gold francs imposed on Haiti (8) made it easier for the United States on a moment's notice to get the approval of the Security Council.

So we think that this will contribute to delegitimize and to expose the role of the United Nations.

As far as Lula is concerned, along with Kirschner in Argentina and Lagos in Chile (9), they have seen fit to go and give this kind of cover for United States policy in Latin America under the umbrella of the United Nations, as good social democrats. This shows clearly the limitation of social democracy in Latin America.

Q: So the role of the United Nations in Latin America is not to protect the people against armed thugs as much as to defend the bourgeois government or to give it some element of stability?

Yes, to give it some element of stability, as well as some form of legitimacy.

We are convinced that they will not really succeed in neutralizing the feudal representatives like the FRAPH(10) and the so-called rebels. The U.S. will keep those forces present because they fear that eventually the people, the masses, will adopt some other form of struggle.

Q: Let's talk about the state of the struggle in Haiti today. What is the state of the Fanmi Lavalas now that Aristide has been driven from power?

The Lavalas Party has been in a way eliminated from the political process, by not even being admitted into the Provisional Electoral Council that is supposed to accomplish the so-called election. Their members are being persecuted not only in Port-au-Prince but also in the provinces by the feudals' so-called rebel forces. Also the fact that the Fanmi Lavalas party is so loosely structured has created a situation where some of the leaders seem to be willing to go along and try to "recycle" themselves within the context of the current bourgeois venture. On this basis, the large masses may have been left without a clear leadership. That is where our party, which has critically supported Lavalas, sees the need to provide this leadership for the masses.

Q: What are the origins and perspectives of your party, the National Popular Party? What are its outlook and its organization?

The National Popular Party has its origin in a mass organization called the National Popular Assembly, which was created in 1987 after the downfall of Duvalier. At the very beginning, we supported the positions of Father Aristide. We have fought the traditional sectors of the ruling class, which means the Macoutes' feudal sector as well as the bourgeoisie, which was trying to co-opt the popular movement.

We have concentrated our organizational work in the countryside, where the vast majority of the Haitian masses are. Whereas the Fanmi Lavalas base is more urban, we have been organizing in the countryside. The working class in Haiti is a minority, because of the difficulty for the bourgeoisie to recycle itself as sweatshop industry and neoliberal types of venture.

We have critically supported President Aristide's government, warning them of the severity of a backlash of the elite. We've encouraged them to take all kinds of initiatives to forestall this kind of undertaking. We have also tried to establish a positive relationship with countries that find themselves in the same social bloc, like Cuba and Venezuela.

We object to the coup d'etat that ousted Aristide. We object to the fact that the U.S., France, Canada and other former colonial powers have seen fit to reject the choice of the majority of the Haitian people. We have respected the verdict of the masses and we think that as a process, the Lavalas government was headed in the right direction.

Q: After a setback like this, there is often demoralization of the mass movement. What is your sense of the mood among the Haitian masses?

We think that demoralization may affect a certain part of the petty-bourgeoisie that has joined the movement. But I believe the masses find themselves in such a situation that they have no alternative than to struggle. If we make this analogy with the Toussaint L'Ouverture experience and the Dessalines experience, the war of independence started after Toussaint's kidnapping.

Q: Does the PPN have a perspective on armed struggle or armed self-defense?

We think that because the ruling sectors have put an end to the civil form of struggle, it would be an illusion to think that the normal democratic approach to political power could be practical in the current context. So we leave every door open. We think it is the duty of any people to fight illegitimacy, tyranny. It is a universal principle.

Q: Do you have a message you would like to give to the progressive movement, the working-class movement in the United States, who want to support the struggle of the Haitian people?

Yes, I think it is very important for U.S. progressive forces to understand the dynamics of the struggle in Haiti and to be aware of the force of the traditional media in shaping public opinion. Sometimes even progressive people fall victim even unconsciously to this form of propaganda. We think that the struggle in Haiti should not be looked at from a racialist standpoint but from a class struggle standpoint, and as a struggle for national liberation, which is the only basis that can create the conditions for a new socialist society.

Notes

1 Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier ruled Haiti from 1957 until his death in 1971.

2 Nelson Rockefeller, then governor of New York State, visited Haiti in 1969 as an emissary of the U.S. government.

3 USAID: United States Agency for International Development

4 Comprador bourgeoisie: The sector of the bourgeoisie in oppressed countries that derives its profits from trade with the imperialist countries, and is wholly dependent on its links to imperialism for its existence.

5 Tonton Macoutes: Originally set up as Papa Doc Duvalier's personal police force, these death squad militias carried out atrocities against popular organizations on behalf of the big landowners.

6 DIA: Defense Intelligence Agency

7 Mohammed Karzai was installed as president of Afghanistan following the 2001 U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. The U.S. installed former CIA agent and terrorist Iyad Allawi as prime minister of Iraq in 2004.

8 In 1825, France recognized the independence of Haiti on the condition that the Haitian government pay France 150 million gold francs. The Haitian government finished repaying the debt over 100 years later, in 1946.

9 Luiz Inacio "Lula" da Silva is president of Brazil. Nestor Kirschner is president of Argentina. Ricardo Lagos is president of Chile. The three South American countries are providing most of the troops for the UN mission in Haiti.

10 The FRAPH (the "Revolutionary Front for the Advancement of the Haitian People"), founded by Emmanuel "Toto" Constant, is a paramilitary group that terrorized Haiti during the period of Aristide's first exile, 1991-1994.

S & L Magazine

http://socialismandliberation.org/mag/

Volume 1, Issue 2

********
Forwarded by the Haitian Lawyers Leadership
******

Aristide.Org created and maintained by Jay Atkinson