October 23, 2022

Western Military Intervention Attempts to Stop Haiti’s Cycle of Protests

Vijay Prashad

ON October 15, 2022, aircraft of the United States and Canada air forces delivered military equipment to the Haitian National Police (HNP), which the government of Haiti had previously purchased. This equipment, rushed to Port-au-Prince – Haiti’s capital – came, according to the United States, to ‘assist the HNP in their fight against criminal actors who are fomenting violence and disrupting the flow of critically-needed humanitarian assistance hindering efforts to halt the spread of cholera’.

Meanwhile, the United States has circulated a draft resolution to the members of the United Nations Security Council seeking to establish an UN-enforced sanctions regime against Haiti. This draft resolution points to an asset freeze, a travel ban, an arms embargo, and targeted sanctions against various individuals. The most important individual that the US seeks to sanction is Jimmy Chérizier, called Babekyou (Barbecue), a leader of a gang known as the G9 an fanmi e alye (G9 Family and Allies). The draft resolution says: ‘Chérizier and his G9 gang confederation are actively blocking the free movement of fuel from Varreaux fuel terminal. His actions have directly contributed to the economic paralysis and humanitarian crisis in Haiti’.

These two moves – the arming of the HNP and the draft UN resolution – do not come without a context. This context goes back to 1804, when the Haitian Revolution attempted to create a sovereign state against the French colonial order and to develop a dignified process against the colonial structure set in place by slavery and theft. Both the French and United States continued to intervene into Haiti’s affairs, undermining the Haitian Revolution consequently. France stole $28 billion (in today’s money) as payment for the liberation of the country, putting Haiti in an impossible situation. Then, the United States occupied the country militarily from 1915 to 1934, put in place a brutal dictatorship of the Duvalier family from 1957 to 1986, engineered two coups against the democratic leadership of Jean-Bertrand Aristide (in 1991 and 2003) and then set in place a deeply unpopular UN military intervention (MINUSTAH) from 2004 to 2017. The recent moves in Washington, DC and New York suggest that the ‘Core Group’ (made up of the US, the European Union, the UN, and the Organisation of American States) wants another full-scale invasion of the country.

No doubt that Haiti faces a terrible crisis. Food and fuel price inflation are galloping, the numbers difficult to believe (the Institute of Statistics reported an inflation rate of 30 per cent in July, which has now been doubled). Close to three-quarters of the working-age population are unemployed, while half the country struggles to find food. The head of FOSSA (Fós Sendikal pou Sove Ayiti), the union federation set up to ‘save Haiti’, Jacques Anderson Desroches led his people to strike in September against the rising cost of fuel. ‘If the state does not resolve to put an end to the liberalisation of the oil market in favour of the oil companies and take control of it’, Desroches said, ‘nothing good will come of it’. Unions and community groups have been in a cycle of protests and strikes that began in 2018, long before the pandemic and the current global inflationary wave. This cycle of protests has several authors:

  1. Political destabilisation of the country that came in the aftermath of the 2004 coup against Aristide. No government since then has had political legitimacy within the country, since most of them have been appointed – in one way or another – by the United States and the Core Group. The current head of government, for instance, is Ariel Henry, who has been the acting president since the assassination of deeply unpopular president Jovenal Moïse in July 2021 by a conspiracy of Colombian mercenaries, Haitian American agents, and others. Henry came into political life fully funded by the United States government, for whom he was the instrument in the coup against Aristide in 1991.
  1. The Haitian State has been dismantled and replaced with a pliant NGO structure that relies upon the goodwill of the Haitian oligarchy and their foreign allies. The Core Group of countries took advantage of these serious problems in Haiti to import onto the island a wide range of western NGOs, which seemed to substitute for the Haitian State. The NGOs soon provided 80 per cent of the public services. They ‘frittered’ considerable amounts of the relief and aid money that had come into the country after the earthquake. Weakened State institutions have meant that the government has few tools to deal with this unresolved crisis.
  1. Economic dependence is now total. When even the pliant Haitian politicians tried to raise minimum wages to assist the purchasing power of an increasingly desperate population in 2009, the United States directly intervened to inform the parliament that it must not list wages. Such a wage increase would hurt the ability of US-based multinational garment manufacturers from making vulgar levels of profit. The garment sector accounts for 90 per cent of Haiti’s exports. This sector, thanks to free trade agreements that are beneficial to the companies, provide almost no rights for workers. The multinational corporations used money for relief after the devastation of the 2010 earthquake to build the Caracol Industrial Park in Haiti’s northern flank. The present protests have their origin in working-class strikes in Caracol that broke out in January 2022 against the sweatshop conditions in the garment factories. Dominique St. Eloi of the Centrale nationale des ouvriers haïtiens (CNOAH, National Centre of Haitian Workers) said that the workers wanted a wage rise from $5 or 500 Haitian gourdes per day to $15 or 1500 gourdes per day. ‘With 500 gourdes per day, without any government subsidies, we cannot meet our needs while the prices of basic goods, transport costs have increased’, St. Eloi said.
  1. The US policies of destabilisation in the Caribbean further exacerbated the situation in Haiti. Illegal US sanctions imposed on Venezuela crushed the PetroCaribe scheme, which had provided Haiti with concessionary oil sales and $2 billion in profits between 2008 and 2016 that was meant for the Haitian State, but which vanished into the bank accounts of the oligarchy.

These four developments provide the start of an explanation for the crisis that Haiti has faced over the past decade, which was revealed through the cycle of protests since 2018. However, none of these developments are part of the UN draft resolution or the discussions about the crisis in Haiti today. Nor is there an acknowledgment that the overall global stagflation – as revealed in the 2022 IMF report (Countering the Cost-of-Living Crisis, October 2022) – has made its impact felt on already vulnerable countries such as Haiti. This inflationary crisis, which the US blames on the war in Ukraine, predates even the full-flown period of the pandemic. US prices began to rise in May 2020. As economist John Ross notes, ‘The US budget deficit rose to 26 per cent of GDP and the annual increase in US money supply reached 27 per cent – both by far the highest in US peacetime history. With a huge surge in demand taking place, and no major increase in supply, soaring US inflation was inevitable’. This US inflation then spilled onto the countries of the Global South, such as Haiti, where it has been felt in almost every single household.

Rather than deal with the actual causes of the crisis, the United States and Canada are eager to treat it as a law-and-order problem. Such a reduction of the complexity of the problems in Haiti allow the US and Canada to position themselves as great champions of human rights, hiding their own deep role in the production of the crisis in the first place. Let’s say that the US can arrest or even kill Babekyou: will this change the situation for the Haitian people? Not at all. None of the public statements of the US government acknowledge, for instance, that the arms used by the gangs in Haiti come from Miami, and that the gangs themselves are a symptom of the garment industry-inducted poverty in the country.

The mood in Haiti is against any increased military intervention. Former Prime Minister Fritz Alphonse Jean released a widely shared YouTube video in which he said: ‘It’s a national disgrace that in 2022 there are people waiting with open arms for a military intervention. They are waiting for the foreigner instead of working to find a consensus to put the country on the path of progress and social peace’. Ebens Cadet, who leads Nou Konsyan (an anti-corruption group), said: ‘We should chain the doors of all offices of public institutions until Prime Minister Ariel Henry leaves. We should also gather in front of the different countries’ embassies in Haiti, including the United States, France, and Canada, to make ourselves heard’. What do they want to say: ‘We do not accept the presence of foreign forces on our territory’, said Cadet.