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Haiti Earthquake Horror:
Imperialism, Racism and Starvation

Workers Vanguard No. 951                                  29 January 2010

 

JANUARY 25—Any country whose capital was struck by an earthquake registering 7.0 on the Richter scale would suffer grave damage, but Haiti’s unimaginable toll of death and destruction is a measure of the poverty inflicted upon it by the racist imperialist overlords. Upwards of 200,000 are believed to be dead and many more die every day from lack of food and clean water and untreated infections. Up to three million people are rendered homeless, trying to survive on the streets amid the rubble. Doctors and nurses who flew in to aid in the relief effort are performing operations in makeshift open-air “hospitals,” often without anesthetic or even material to sterilize their equipment. The ramshackle state administration, such as it was, has collapsed, with the government now operating out of a police outpost at the airport.

The poorest country in the hemisphere, Haiti was totally exposed to the earthquake’s impact. Even before the earthquake struck, the unemployment rate was as high as 80 percent, more than half the population lived on less than one dollar a day and nearly one out of every two Haitians had no regular access to drinking water. With little in the way of an indigenous working class, many Haitians rely on remittances from Haitian workers in the U.S., Canada and elsewhere, which amount to nearly a quarter of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Many people lived in tin shacks that collapsed when the quake hit, and many of the concrete buildings were constructed so shoddily that they simply “pancaked.”

Given the impoverishment and lack of infrastructure, the Haitian population now finds itself totally reliant on international aid efforts. Thousands of medical and search-and-rescue volunteers from many countries rushed to Haiti to provide assistance. At the same time, the United Nations augmented its 9,000-strong occupation force with an additional 3,500 soldiers, while the Obama administration is rushing in 10,000 troops as well as military aircraft and a flotilla of naval vessels. While reformist “socialists” like the International Socialist Organization (ISO) and Workers World Party (WWP) call for the U.S. to provide aid without the exercise of American military might, we have no such illusions. Indeed, American forces in Haiti have made “security” a higher priority than providing aid. While many planes carrying aid have landed at the Port-au-Prince airport, which is now controlled by U.S. forces, others were criminally diverted as the U.S. gave landing priority to planes carrying military personnel.

Against the backdrop of the brutal occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq as well as the escalating air strikes in Pakistan, the Haiti “relief effort” provides the Obama administration with a means to refurbish the “humanitarian” image of U.S. imperialism. As we have often pointed out, after eight years of the oddly demented regime of George W. Bush, which reveled in imperialist arrogance and barbarity, Obama is well suited to help provide a facelift for U.S. imperialism’s tarnished image around the world. Yet whether the Commander-in-Chief is a Democrat or Republican, U.S. imperialism remains the most bloody and rapacious imperialist power on the face of the planet. Obama’s “humanitarian” pretensions in Haiti are but a thin veneer on racist oppression and imperialist subjugation.

One of the central aims of the U.S. imperialist rulers is to prevent Haitians from fleeing the island. Thus, the U.S. quickly launched a full-scale naval blockade to prevent a seaborne exodus of refugees seeking sanctuary in the U.S. An American Air Force plane flies daily over Haiti broadcasting a Creole-language appeal from that country’s ambassador to Washington calling on Haitians not to attempt to flee the country by boat.

The Obama administration announced that undocumented Haitians in the U.S. would be granted “temporary protected status” allowing them to remain and work in this country—if they can even find jobs in this economy with rampant unemployment and dispossession. However, many injured Haitians were denied the visas that would allow them to be transferred to Miami for surgery and treatment—immigration officials in Florida even seized a two-year-old Haitian child who required medical treatment. At the U.S. military camp in Guantánamo, Cuba, almost 200 prisoners of the “war on terror” remain locked up in inhuman conditions. Obama’s deadline for shutting down the prison passed unnoticed last week. Military authorities there are rushing to set up an installation capable of holding up to 13,000 Haitian refugees.

In preparing to interdict any Haitian refugees seeking to reach the U.S., Obama is following in the footsteps of George W. Bush and previous presidents going back to a 1981 treaty signed by President Ronald Reagan and the then-puppet dictator “Baby Doc” Duvalier. In September 1991, a military coup toppled the presidency of populist priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide after less than one year, sending many of his supporters to sea in rickety boats. The administration of the first Bush plucked thousands of Haitian refugees from their boats and imprisoned them indefinitely at Guantánamo with no right to legal counsel—a policy continued under Democrat Bill Clinton. We demand: Down with the racist ban on Haitian refugees! Full citizenship rights for all immigrants! U.S. out of Guantánamo!

Down With U.S. Imperialism!

For liberals disappointed with the Obama administration’s policies in Afghanistan and Iraq, the earthquake in Haiti was seen as an opportunity for the U.S. to show a benign face. This was echoed by Obama’s somewhat disillusioned reformist boosters, such as the ISO and WWP. The ISO demands that “Obama immediately stop the military occupation of Haiti,” while calling for the U.S. to “flood the country with doctors, nurses, food, water and construction machinery” (Socialist Worker online, 19 January). Likewise, a January 14 statement on Workers World’s Web site demands “the removal of all U.N. combat troops,” while calling for “all bonuses from executives of financial institutions that received bailout money to be donated to Haiti.”

The notion that U.S. imperialism can be pressured into serving the needs of the oppressed, rather than its own class interests, shows boundless illusions in the good offices of the rapacious American ruling class. Reformists like the ISO and WWP perennially raised calls at demonstrations against the U.S. war in Iraq demanding a shift of U.S. government spending priorities from war to social services like education. But neocolonial domination and aggrandizement are inherent to imperialism, and no amount of pressure and pleading can change that.

The brutal treatment routinely meted out to Haitians seeking asylum in the U.S.—detention, humiliation, deportation—contrasts sharply with the way the U.S. welcomes counterrevolutionary gusanos (worms), whom they encourage to “flee” from Cuba. A social revolution in Cuba overthrew capitalism in what had been an impoverished neocolony, and ever since then the U.S. ruling class has been determined to overturn the Cuban Revolution and re-establish capitalist exploitation in that country. We stand for the unconditional military defense of the Cuban bureaucratically deformed workers state against imperialism and the forces of internal counterrevolution. At the same time, we fight for workers political revolution to oust the ruling Stalinist bureaucracy and replace it with a regime based on workers democracy and revolutionary internationalism.

Cuba has provided medical personnel and medical training to countries throughout Latin America and elsewhere, and Cuban universities have trained over 500 Haitian doctors, free of charge. Before the earthquake hit, some 350 Cuban medical personnel were already working in Haiti. Within hours of the quake, Cuba dispatched an additional 69 doctors from the Henry Reeve International Contingent of Doctors Specialized in Disaster Situations and Serious Epidemics. That brigade, named after a U.S. citizen who fought for Cuban independence from Spain in the late 19th century, was set up by the Cuban government in September 2005 to aid victims of Katrina (the Cuban doctors were refused entry into the U.S.).

Even the conservative Wall Street Journal (17 January) conceded: “U.S. officials have blamed security concerns for holding up providing relief. Yet a team of Cuban doctors were seen Monday treating hundreds of patients without a gun or soldier in sight.” Moreover, despite repeated attempts by U.S. imperialism to foment counterrevolution—including a decades-long U.S. starvation embargo—Cuba has temporarily allowed U.S. military aircraft to fly over its airspace in order to speed up aid efforts for Haiti.

The advantages of a collectivized economy over capitalist anarchy are evident not least in the way Cuba deals with natural disasters. Cuba, which is regularly battered by hurricanes, is well known for its efficient evacuation of citizens in the face of such disasters. When the Haiti quake struck, southeastern Cuba was put on tsunami watch for 90 minutes. During that brief period, Cuban authorities evacuated some 30,000 people from Baracoa, that part of the island closest to Haiti; they were able to return home that evening.

A History of Neocolonial Rape and Dispossession

For 200 years, the Haitian masses have been paying in blood for the revolution they carried out under the leadership of Toussaint L’Ouverture against the French colonial slavocracy. Directly inspired by the Great French Revolution, the Haitian Revolution of 1791-1804, which culminated in the creation of the first independent black state in the modern era, served as a beacon, inspiring slave revolts throughout the Americas. It was greeted with a frenzy of racist counterrevolutionary hostility from both Napoleonic France and the slave-owning United States.

In return for recognition by France, Haiti was compelled to compensate the former slaveowners to the tune of 150 million gold francs—approximately $20 billion at today’s prices. For its part, the U.S. refused to grant Haiti diplomatic recognition until 1862, during the Civil War against the Southern slavocracy. Throughout the 1800s, the U.S. and European powers used gunboat diplomacy and the threat of military intervention to extort debt repayment. By the end of the 19th century, 80 percent of Haiti’s national budget was going to pay off its former exploiters, and the country remains a hideously impoverished debtor nation today.

The U.S. militarily intervened into Haiti in 1888, 1891 and 1914. In 1915, the U.S. initiated a bloody occupation of the country that would last until 1934. The U.S. military regime in Haiti was, according to one historian, “probably the bloodiest in all of the Caribbean” (Donald Schulz and Douglas Granham [eds.], Revolution and Counterrevolution in Central America and the Caribbean [1984]).

The occupation and the subsequent imposition of forced labor provoked a national uprising by cacos (peasant bands) beginning in 1916, which lasted five years before being drowned in blood. As described by Mumia Abu-Jamal, America’s foremost class-war prisoner, in a 1994 column (“American Hatred of Haiti,” WV No. 609, 28 October 1994):

“When the people rebelled against this involuntary servitude in the Cacos Insurrection, the U.S. Marines responded by ruthless repression, that left an estimated 15,000 peasant casualties.

“One U.S. Marine officer, Colonel Littleton W.T. Waller (Virginia) wrote of his impressions of the people historians now say they came to ‘help’; the Haitians were ‘real n----rs and make no mistake—there are some fine looking, well educated polished men here, but they are real n--s beneath the surface.’

“A perfect example of exported American ‘democracy’.”

Since then, the U.S. has propped up one Haitian despot after another, each further bleeding the country dry of whatever resources were left. Among these brutal dictators was the infamous “Papa Doc” Duvalier, who organized the Tonton Macoutes thugs and killed 50,000 opponents. His demented son “Baby Doc” was forced to flee to France amid a mass upheaval in 1986. One report estimated that “Baby Doc” stole the equivalent of up to 4.5 percent of the Haitian GDP for every year he was in power. As Graham Greene put it in his novel The Comedians, the U.S. was responsible for setting up “the nightmare republic.” Americans can read the novel; Haitians had to live it.

The massive discontent that drove “Baby Doc” Duvalier out of power ultimately led to the election of radical Catholic priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide in December 1990. Virtually the entire left internationally gave him political support. WWP hailed Aristide for supposedly promising to introduce such things as “economic justice,” “honest” government and “broad participation of the people” (Workers World, 27 December 1990). The WWP article quoted from a solidarity message they sent to Aristide hailing his “great courage in bringing the flood of the mass struggle into the election campaign.” Likewise, the ISO celebrated Aristide’s election, claiming that he was “fully aware that for democracy to survive in Haiti, the whole system had to be restructured” (Socialist Worker, November 1991).

In contrast, we warned: “Aristide will either play the role of groveling instrument of the Haitian bourgeoisie and the U.S. imperialist overlords or he will be swept away in a reactionary crackdown aimed at decisively disciplining the pitilessly oppressed population” (“Haiti: Election Avalanche for Radical Priest,” WV No. 517, 4 January 1991). Both proved to be true.

Initially, Aristide irked the U.S. rulers by resisting their economic diktats and establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba. This was one of the few benefits from the Aristide regime since it meant that Cuban doctors and nurses began working in Haiti. Aristide was toppled in 1991. In 1994, following a starvation embargo against Haiti, President Clinton re-installed Aristide at the point of bayonets, with Marines occupying the country in a military intervention dubbed “Operation Uphold Democracy.” Aristide supported both the embargo and the invasion. He proved his reliability to his U.S. overseers by agreeing in advance of his 1994 return to power to a drastic austerity program, privatization of state-owned industry, massive layoffs in the public sector and the virtual abolition of import tariffs. The latter induced the collapse of the indigenous economy as the market was flooded with, for example, American rice at prices cheaper than the Haitian-grown product. Having dissolved the army (a center of opposition to his regime) in 1995, Aristide propped up his rule with a brutal police force and gang terror.

Again in 2004, as Haiti was being swept by armed revolts (some with the support of Washington neoconservatives), Bush sent U.S. Marines to invade Haiti as a U.S. military escort whisked President Aristide out of the country and into exile in Africa. Prominent in pushing the hesitating Bush administration to send the Marines were the Democrats of the Congressional Black Caucus, though ostensibly in defense of Aristide. The 1994 and 2004 U.S. invasions, both of which were carried out with UN backing, were largely motivated by the U.S. rulers’ determination to prevent Haitians from reaching America’s shores. We pointed out that the U.S. occupation of Haiti also represented a danger to the Cuban deformed workers state, as well as to the militant proletariat of the Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti (see “Haiti: U.S./UN Troops Out!” WV No. 821, 5 March 2004).

Following the 2004 U.S. invasion, an occupation force was set up under UN sponsorship, bringing with it a beefed-up Haitian police force composed of sadistic rapists and killers. The UN, since its creation at the end of World War II, has always been a fig leaf for naked imperialist aggression against semicolonial countries. During the current earthquake disaster, the U.S.-armed thugs of the Haitian police have coldbloodedly gunned down “looters,” including a 15-year-old girl who was shot in the head as she carried a few wall hangings from the ruins.

The imperialist system, which imposes grinding poverty and degradation on its colonial and semicolonial subjects, must be swept away through international proletarian revolution. Toward that end, Haitian workers in the U.S., Canada and elsewhere will serve as a vital bridge linking the struggle for national and social emancipation in Haiti with the fight for socialist revolution in the imperialist centers of North America that have turned that country into a neocolonial hell.

For Revolutionary Internationalism

In a January 20 article posted on its Web site, the centrist Internationalist Group (IG) argued that the earthquake provides an opening for socialist revolution in Haiti. The IG wrote that Haiti’s “small but militant proletariat can place itself at the head of the impoverished urban and rural masses seeking to organize their own power, particularly at present where the machinery of the capitalist state is largely reduced to rubble and a few marauding bands of police.”

The stark reality that the IG would deny is that a) even before the earthquake, there was virtually no working class in Haiti; b) in the aftermath of the earthquake, not only is the state “largely reduced to rubble,” but so is the society as a whole, including the desperate and dispossessed population; and c) there is a military power in Haiti that is far from “reduced to rubble,” and it’s U.S. imperialism.

The IG demands that “all U.S./U.N. forces get out,” painting the U.S. military presence in Haiti today as aimed at suppressing a popular uprising: “This huge military occupation is not intended to deliver aid, but to put down unrest by the poor and working people of Haiti” (emphasis in original). By the IG’s reasoning, the Cuban government is to be condemned for opening its airspace to American military planes after the earthquake. The IG is cynically toying with rhetoric, blithely unconcerned with the fact that, in the real world, if the policies they advocate were implemented, they would result in mass death through starvation.

Notwithstanding the IG’s deranged and grotesque fantasies, there are no good alternatives facing Haiti today. The U.S. military is the only force on the ground with the capacity—e.g., trucks, planes, ships—to organize the transport of what food, water, medical and other supplies are getting to Haiti’s population. And they’re doing it in the typical piggish U.S. imperialist manner. We have always opposed U.S. and UN occupations in Haiti and everywhere—and it may become necessary to call for U.S./UN out of Haiti in the near future—but we are not going to call for an end to such aid as the desperate Haitian masses can get their hands on. As Bolshevik leader Leon Trotsky explained in his 1938 article “Learn to Think: A Friendly Suggestion to Certain Ultra-Leftists”:

“An irreconcilable attitude against bourgeois militarism does not signify at all that the proletariat in all cases enters into a struggle against its own ‘national’ army. At least the workers would not interfere with soldiers who are extinguishing a fire or rescuing drowning people during a flood; on the contrary, they would help side by side with the soldiers and fraternize with them....

“In ninety cases out of a hundred the workers actually place a minus sign where the bourgeoisie places a plus sign. In ten cases however they are forced to fix the same sign as the bourgeoisie but with their own seal, in which is expressed their mistrust of the bourgeoisie. The policy of the proletariat is not at all automatically derived from the policy of the bourgeoisie, bearing only the opposite sign (this would make every sectarian a master strategist). No, the revolutionary party must each time orient itself independently in the internal as well as in the external situation, arriving at those decisions which correspond best to the interests of the proletariat.”

The IG’s conjuring up of a proletarian revolutionary opposition in Haiti today is the demented logic of their glorification of Third World nationalism. In practice, they deny the horrendous impact that nearly two centuries of depredation by the U.S. and other capitalist powers has had on Haiti. The bitter truth is that the desperate conditions of Haiti today cannot be resolved within Haiti. The key to the liberation of Haiti lies in proletarian revolution throughout the hemisphere, in which the mobilization of the sizable Haitian proletariat in the diaspora can play a key role. In addition to the brutally oppressed Haitian sugar cane workers in the Dominican Republic and those elsewhere in the Caribbean, hundreds of thousands of Haitian workers now live in cities from Montreal to Miami. These workers can be a vital link to class struggle by the powerful North American proletariat.

The IG’s article does not even mention the hundreds of thousands of Haitian workers in the urban centers of North America. In contrast, as a Spartacist speaker explained at an October 1991 forum in New York City (“Haitian Workers: Fight for Power!” WV No. 537, 25 October 1991):

“Haitian nationalists are forever lamenting the fact that the Haitian diaspora exists. Comrades, it is very good that you have this diaspora! It internationalizes the struggle of Haitian workers, gives them social power and helps forge an international vanguard directly linked to the U.S. proletariat, which has the power to bring imperialism to its knees....

“Haitian workers throughout the diaspora are today a vital link between revolutionary class struggle in Haiti and throughout the Caribbean, and the North American continent. Organizing the most conscious elements into an international Bolshevik party, a Trotskyist party, is the task the International Communist League sets itself in the struggle for worldwide socialist revolution.”

It is only this revolutionary internationalist program that holds out any genuine perspective for the liberation of the Haitian masses.