A devastating earthquake struck Haiti on Jan. 12, leaving millions homeless and without food, shelter, clothing, medicines and water.
Various estimates indicate that anywhere between 100,000 and 500,000 people may have died as a result of the quake. An accurate assessment may take months to document. Messages of condolence, support and solidarity have poured into Haiti from throughout the world.
Various states and organizations have responded to the current situation there. The Cubans, with more than 400 medical personnel already inside the country, are providing care in field hospitals.
China has sent rescue teams to assist in finding people trapped under collapsed buildings and homes. Numerous states and nongovernmental organizations are on the ground providing assistance to the Haitian people, who are exercising a high degree of discipline and self-organization.
Corporate media reports have sought to portray Haiti as a “failed state” with weak or non-existent institutions. The Obama administration’s initiative, which includes the deployment of 10,000 troops and the allocation of $100 million, must be viewed within the broader historical context of U.S. foreign policy toward Haiti.
Despite the pledges of U.S. governmental assistance, to be coordinated by former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, the world’s leading imperialist power has a history of more than two centuries of suppressing the Haitian people’s right of self-determination and national independence.
Significance of Haitian Revolution
Haiti was the most prosperous of all the French colonies during the period of slavery. The production of sugar, coffee and other agricultural products brought tremendous profits to the colonial landowners on the island of Hispaniola, which today encompasses both the Dominican Republic and Haiti. At the time of an uprising on Aug. 14, 1791, led by Boukman, more than 500,000 enslaved Africans and thousands more free Blacks and people of mixed race lived in Haiti.
During the rebellion of 1791, more than 200 sugar plantations, 600 coffee plantations and 200 indigo plantations were liberated by the Haitian masses. Some 12,000 people died during this period, including 2,000 European settlers.
When Columbus visited the island in 1492, the indigenous population was estimated at from 1 million to 3 million. Some 43 years later, no more than 500 of the original inhabitants were left.
For three centuries, French, Spanish and British colonialists competed for dominance over the island. At the time of Haiti’s independence from France in 1804, Spain still controlled the island’s eastern part.
The slave owners of the United States and of Britain’s colonies in the Caribbean saw the Haitian Revolution as a serious threat to their system. In 1799, Edward Stevens, the U.S. consul general to France’s colony there, wrote to Gen. Thomas Maitland, commander in chief of the British Expeditionary Force, warning that Britain’s colony of Jamaica as well as the United States were in danger of an invasion by the armed forces of Gen. Toussaint L’Ouverture.
After the proclamation of independence on Jan. 1, 1804, France and the United States both blockaded Haiti. France refused to recognize the Republic of Haiti and in 1825 the Haitians had to begin paying “indemnity” to the former colonial power for claims related to the destruction and seizure of the slave masters’ property during the revolutionary period of 1791-1803.
France’s defeat in Haiti caused tremendous financial losses for the colonial power, prompting it to sell land — the Louisiana Purchase — that allowed the U.S. to expand its control over large sections of North America.
The U.S. position at the time was exemplified by South Carolina Sen. Robert V. Hayne, who said that “Our policy with regard to Haiti is plain. We never can acknowledge her independence.” (“Haiti: A Slave Revolution,” p. 104)
It was not until 1862, during the Civil War, that the U.S. recognized Haiti. However, France maintained economic dominance over Haiti during the 19th century. When the Haitian National Bank was established in the 1880s, it was overseen by French officers and financed with French capital.
France remained the principal neocolonial power in Haiti until 1915, when the U.S. invaded and occupied the country. A guerrilla campaign organized by the Haitian masses was crushed by the U.S. imperialists. Even after the Roosevelt administration withdrew from Haiti in 1934, the U.S. continued to have enormous influence inside the country.
The regimes of Papa Doc and Baby Doc Duvalier further extended the exploitation of Haitian labor and state militarization from the 1950s through the 1980s. The Haitian masses rose up in rebellion in February 1986 and forced the resignation of the Duvalier regime. However, the absence of a well-organized political party or coalition allowed the military to take the reins of power.
The social process that unfolded from 1986 to 1990 saw a sharpening of the political situation inside the country. In 1990 a former priest, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was elected to office with the overwhelming support of the working class and the poor.
President Aristide was overthrown by the U.S.-trained and CIA-backed Haitian military in 1991.
The Aristide government had not come to power through force of arms. As soon as he sent volunteers to Scandinavian countries for military training, the army and police pushed Aristide aside. Presumably for his safety, the U.S. flew him to the mainland. Aristide continued to push for the restoration of his government while living in exile in the United States.
A naval blockade set up in 1992 under the first Bush administration to prevent Haitians from entering Florida was continued under the Clinton presidency. This racist immigration policy is still enforced.
The U.S. restored Aristide to the presidency in 1994 on condition that he would remain in office for just one year. In December 1995, with only 25 percent of the voters going to the polls, Rene Preval was elected.
In 2000, the popular Aristide ran again and was elected, to the great consternation of the United States. In 2003, opposition parties supported by the U.S. engaged in a massive destabilization campaign against the Aristide government, including military attacks on government offices.
On Feb. 29, 2004, U.S. military forces kidnapped President Aristide and deposed his government. Under the guise of a humanitarian mission, thousands of imperialist troops from the U.S., France and Canada occupied Haiti.
The U.S. flew President Aristide to the Central African Republic. A coordinated campaign launched by the International Action Center and the Congressional Black Caucus Haiti Task Force demanded his release. This led to his relocation in the Republic of South Africa, where he remains to this day.
South Africa, led by the African National Congress, had been the only state to send its president to Haiti in January 2004 for the bicentennial celebrations.
The U.S. later convinced the United Nations to establish a military mission in Haiti known as MINUSTAH. Thousands of so-called peacekeepers, led by Brazilian troops, took over the occupation of the country. Numerous violations of the rights of Haitian people have occurred under the U.N. presence.
Need for another revolutionary upsurge
MINUSTAH forces targeted members and supporters of Fanmi Lavalas, the political party loyal to President Aristide. Many were harassed, imprisoned, driven into exile and even murdered.
In early 2008 food rebellions, strikes and clashes with the U.N. forces and the Haitian police gained international attention. This social situation was a manifestation of the deepening world crisis of finance capital that had begun the previous year in the United States.
In the early months of 2009, general strikes and rebellions in Guadeloupe and Martinique exposed the continuing role of French imperialism in the Caribbean. Nonetheless, as a result of the militancy of the trade union organizations and youth on these islands, workers won significant wage increases and an improvement of working conditions.
In Haiti during this time, mass demonstrations took place on the anniversary of the coup against Aristide. Some 10,000 supporters of Fanmi Lavalas took to the streets demanding an end to the United Nations occupation and the restoration of the elected government that had been overthrown five years earlier.
Less than two weeks later, another series of protests took place which sought to lift the ban on candidates supporting exiled President Aristide.
According to Haiti Action, a solidarity organization headquartered in the Bay Area of California, “Over 10,000 pro-democracy activists took to the streets of Haiti’s capital, once again, to demand the return of President Aristide, who was kidnapped by U.S. officials five years ago.” (Haitiaction.net, March 12, 2009)
While these events unfolded in Haiti, the International Action Center in the United States conducted an online petition drive against a U.S. deportation order affecting 30,000 Haitians. In the aftermath of the Jan. 12 earthquake, President Barack Obama has temporarily lifted the deportation order, pending the outcome of the current humanitarian crisis.
However, as a result of the quake and the presence of U.S. troops, the present situation in Haiti can only be resolved through the independent actions of the masses of workers and youth inside the country. Anti-imperialists and solidarity activists in the United States must also demand that the deportation orders be lifted permanently against Haitians.
In addition, those seeking to truly stabilize the political situation in Haiti should demand the restoration of President Aristide to power. Immediately after the quake, Aristide said he was prepared to return to Haiti as soon as possible.
Haiti should be paid reparations for the years of exploitation and oppression imposed by the United States, France, Canada and the United Nations. The imperialist powers have severely hampered Haiti’s ability to become self-reliant and truly independent.
The imperialist-imposed policies that have underdeveloped Haiti for more than two centuries are the root cause of the poverty and unemployment. The collapse of the agricultural sector derives from neocolonial policies designed to preserve the country as a vast reservoir of cheap labor for the capitalist corporations operating there.
With the erosion of agricultural production in the rural areas, the masses were forced to relocate in the urban centers, resulting in tremendous overcrowding along with an acute shortage of housing. With an earthquake of such magnitude and the determination of the U.S. to dominate the relief efforts, poverty will inevitably increase in Haiti.
Who will rebuild Haiti and on what basis? Any real progress toward reconstruction has to place the masses of workers and farmers at the center of the process. There is no doubt this earthquake has done horrible damage to the Haitian people and the underdeveloped infrastructure. Nevertheless, the current situation provides an opportunity for the workers and youth to exercise independent self-organization based upon their own class and national interests, even as they struggle for survival.
Articles copyright 1995-2010 Workers World. Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article is permitted in any medium without royalty provided this notice is preserved.