2004-01 Haiti’s struggle for freedom continues [Colome]
NEWS & LETTERS, January-February 2004
Haiti is Latin America’s first Black republic, established 200 years ago in a revolutionary struggle against France. The struggles of its "Black Jacobins” brought the ideas of the French Revolution of 1789-93 to the Americas. The Haitian Revolution inspired liberators throughout Latin America, such as Simon Bolivar, José de San Martin, and Bernardo O’Higgins.
Today the Haitian masses continue to try to free themselves from their masters–both internal enemies and the external power of U.S. imperialism.
In December thousands of Haitians took to the streets in some of the largest political protests in the nation’s history. In various parts of the country the protesters confronted the police and military forces, and several were killed. The protests have been directed against the policies of President Jean Bertrand Aristide, who once enjoyed mass support, especially from the working class and the poor.
Large-scale demonstrations have also been held in support of Aristide. Armed attacks have been directed against two independent radio stations and one of them, Radio Metropole, was forced to shut down due to ongoing threats. Haiti is increasingly becoming a nation divided into two.
The U.S. has closed its embassy in Port-au-Prince as a security measure and the Bush administration has advised U.S. citizens not to travel to Haiti. President Hipolito Mejia of the Dominican Republic, Haiti’s neighbor, has ordered that the Dominican-Haitian border be closed and that no Haitian citizen be allowed to cross into the Dominican Republic.
ARISTIDE IN TROUBLE
Many protesters have called for the resignation of Aristide, blaming him for violence that took place against earlier protesters; many of them were students and businessmen. In addition, many unemployed say the government has mismanaged the economy. Most of Haiti’s eight million citizens are unemployed and it is the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere.
Some also accuse the government of using violence to silence newspapers and the media. One well known journalist, Jean Dominque, was killed in April 2002 in front of his radio station. Since then, a number of journalists have been assassinated and others have left the country, claiming that the government wants to end freedom of the press.
In 1994 Aristide came to power as a popularly elected candidate, supported by a group of left-wing and mass organizations. He fiercely supported liberation theology and worked with poor peasants in the countryside. A priest, he was expelled from his order because of his revolutionary stands.
Aristide was considered to be the country’s hope to end years of poverty, corruption and political repression. Since 1803 Haiti has had 58 governments and has suffered through a series of brutal dictatorships.
Aristide was overthrown by a military coup eight months into his presidency and was forced to live in Venezuela and then the U.S. In 1996 he was brought back to power by American troops. Not long afterward, he began to change his policies towards the poor. He defended globalization and justified the presence of U.S. troops in the region.
In early January a number of civic and political groups called on Haitians to stop paying taxes and engage in a one-day general strike. Schools, big and small business, and banks were closed. One of the leaders of the protest marches, Andre Apaid, said "We can not continue to be giving money to Aristide to pay thugs to attack us.” The strike-call received the support of most sectors, except that of public employees, who fear losing their jobs.
Many university students are also opposing the government. One graduate student, Herve Julien, said "We expected justice, transparency and participation from this administration. Instead we got anarchy and corruption.”
Despite the protests, Aristide has declared that the opposition is part of the future of the country and are not his enemies. He bases his promise for a better future for Haiti on his demand for $21 billion in reparation payments from France. But few think that France will honor the demand for reparations.
A DIVIDED LEGACY
Many leftists in the Caribbean have strongly supported Aristide because of his revolutionary past. But many activists in Haiti are divided in their attitude towards him and have mixed feeling about his presidency and his alliance with the U.S. Many contend that Aristide ceased to listen to the voices of the people from below, deciding instead to follow instructions from the imperialists to the north.
Raya Dunayevskaya addressed the kind of problems currently facing Haiti, when she wrote in regard to the revolution in Grenada in the early 1980s: "When revolutionary methodology is reduced to ‘leadership methods,’ individual or collective, the very basis not only of theory but of the revolution itself has been lost” ("Lessons of Grenada for Today,” NEWS & LETTERS, December 2003). There is no better statement about the problems that have faced even those leaders in Latin America with good intentions.