Révolution Socialiste|| |
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,
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
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
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
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,
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,
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
Down With U.S.
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
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
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
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,
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 ).
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
“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
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
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
“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
“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
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
It is only this revolutionary internationalist program that holds out any
genuine perspective for the liberation of the Haitian masses.