Protesters calling for the resignation of Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry run after police fired tear gas to disperse them in the Delmas area of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Monday, Oct. 10, 2022. | Odelyn Joseph / AP
The news story begins: “The Council of Ministers [on October 8 in Haiti] authorized the prime minister to seek the presence in the country of a specialized military force in order to end the humanitarian crisis provoked by insecurity caused by gangs and their sponsors.”
The circumstances are these:
Masses of Haitians have been in the streets protesting intermittently since August. Their grievances are high costs—thanks to the International Monetary Fund—and shortages of food and fuel. Banks and stores are closed. Students are demonstrating. Labor unions have been on strike.
The pattern has continued intermittently for ten years. Pointing to corruption, demonstrators have called for the removal, in succession, of Presidents Michel Martelly and Jovenel Moïse, and now de facto prime minister Ariel Henry.
Recently, violence has aggravated the situation, and foreign powers, including the United States, have paid attention. That’s significant because U.S military interventions and other kinds of U.S. intrusions have worked to trash Haiti’s national sovereignty, and, with an assist from Haiti’s elite, deprive ordinary people of control of their lives.
Presently, 40% of Haitians are food insecure. Some 4.9 million of them (43%) need humanitarian assistance. Life expectancy at birth is 63.7 years. Haiti’s poverty rate is 58.5%, with 73.5% of adult Haitians living on less than $5.50 per day.
Electoral politics is fractured. It was Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who arranged for Martelly to be a presidential candidate in 2011. Moïse in 2017 was the choice of 600,000 voters—out of six million eligible citizens. He illegally extended his presidential term by a year. As of now, there have been no presidential elections for six years, no elected mayors or legislators in office for over a year, and no scheduled elections ahead.
Gangs mushroomed in recent years, and violence has worsened. Moïse’s election in 2017 prompted turf wars, competing appeals to politicians, narcotrafficking, kidnappings, and deadly violence in most cities, predominately in the capital, Port-au-Prince. Violence escalated further after Moise’s murder in July 2021. Hundreds have been killed and thousands displaced, wounded, or kidnapped.
The U.S. Global Fragility Act of 2019 authorizes multi-agency intervention in “fragile” countries like Haiti, the U.S. military being one such agency designated to do the intervening. The influential Council of Foreign Relations (CFR) wants U.S. soldiers instructing Haitian police on handling gangs. Luis Almagro, head of the Organization of American States, calls for military occupation. U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres wants international support for training Haitian police.
Former U.S. Special Envoy to Haiti Daniel Foote weighs in with a choice: Either “send a company of special forces trainers to teach the police and set up an anti-gang task force, or send 25,000 troops at some undetermined but imminent period in the future.” The Dominican Republic has stationed troops at its border with Haiti and calls for international military intervention.
Meanwhile, foreign actors intrude as Haitians try to reconstruct a government. Their tool is the Core Group, formed in 2004 following the U.S.-led coup against progressive Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. The Core Group consists of the ambassadors of Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Spain, the United States, and representatives of the United Nations and Organization of American States.
Haiti’s government is now in the hands of Ariel Henry, whom the Core Group approved as acting prime minister, overruling Moïse’s choice made before he died. Some believe Henry, a U.S. government favorite, may even be complicit in Moïse’s murder.
Henry insists he will arrange for presidential elections at some point in the future. Prevailing opinion, however, holds that conditions don’t favor elections any time soon.
The Core Group backs an important agreement announced by the so-called Montana Group on Aug. 30, 2021. It provides for a National Transition Council that would prepare for national elections in two years and govern the country in the meantime. The Council in January 2022 chose banker Fritz Jean as transitional president and former senator Steven Benoit as prime minister. They have still not assumed those jobs.
The Montana Group consists of “civil society organizations and powerful political figures,” plus representatives of political parties in Haiti. One leader of the Group is Magali Comeau Denis, who allegedly participated in the U.S-organized coup that removed Aristide in 2004. Henry also has a connection to coup-plotting, having worked with the Democratic Convergence that in 2000 was already planning the overthrow of Aristide.
The CFR wants the U.S. government to persuade Henry to join the Montana Group’s transition process. U.S. Envoy Foote supports the Montana agreement because it shows off Haitians acting on their own. Recently, some member organizations have defected, among them the right-wing PHTK Party of Henry and of Presidents Martelly and Moïse.
The weakness of Haiti’s government in the face of dictates from abroad was on display during Moïse’s era. The perpetrators of his murder, who had been recruited by a Florida-based military contractor, were 26 Colombian paramilitaries and two Haitian-Americans. Their motives remain unclear, and there is no apparent movement toward a trial.
Moïse, the wealthy head of an industrial-scale agricultural operation, became president through fraudulent elections in 2017. He was the target of massive protests a year later. Prompting them were fuel and food shortages and revelations that the president and others had stolen billions of dollars from the fund created through the Venezuela’s PetroCaribe program of cheap oil for Caribbean nations.
Foreign governments, the United States in particular, may now be on the verge of intervening in Haiti. But the ostensible pretext—gang violence—turns out to be muddled. Progressive Haitian academic and economist Camille Chalmers makes the point. He claims that “gangsterism” in Haiti actually serves U.S. purposes.
Interviewed in May 2022, Chalmers explains that the “principal [U.S.] objective is to block the process of social mobilization, to impede all real political participation … through these antidemocratic methods, through force using the police … and above all these paramilitary bands.” Terror is useful for “breaking the social fabric, ties of trust, and any possible resistance process.”
By means of gang violence, the Haitian people “are removed from any political role, and the economic project of plundering resources from the country is facilitated.” Also, Haiti becomes “an appendage of the interests of the North Americans and Europeans.” Chalmers refers to gold deposits on Haiti’s border with the Dominican Republic and big investments by multinational corporations.
He sees a bond between reactionary elements in Haiti and the gangs. The gangs “have financing and weapons that come from the United States. Many of their leaders are Haitians who have been repatriated by the United States.”
Within this framework, Haiti’s police must be ready and able to fight the gangs in order to achieve maximum turmoil. The U.S. government provided Haiti’s police with $312 million in weapons and training between 2010 and 2020, and with $20 million in 2021. The State Department contributed $28 million for SWAT training in July. As of 2019, there were illegal arms in Haiti worth half-a-million dollars, mostly from the United States.
In view of U.S. tolerance or even support of the gangs, the zeal to suppress them now is a mystery. Perhaps some gangs have changed their colors and now really do pose danger to U.S. interests.
The so-called “G-9 Family and Allies,” an alliance of armed neighborhood groups led by former policeman Jimmy Cherizier, may qualify. Not only has it emerged as the Haitian gang most capable of destabilization, but the words “Revolutionary Forces” are a new part of its name.
Cherizier observed in 2021 that, “the country has been controlled by a small group of people who decide everything …They put guns into the poor neighborhoods for us to fight with one another for their benefit.” He noted that, “We have to overturn the whole system, where 12 families have taken the nation hostage.” That system “is not good, stinks, and is corrupt.”
Referring to a mural depicting Che Guevara, Cherizier declared, “we made that mural, and we intend to make murals of other figures like … Thomas Sankara and … Fidel Castro, to depict people who have engaged in struggle.”
These are words of social revolution suggestive of the kind of political turn that repeatedly has prompted serious U.S. reaction. Beyond that, the words of Haitian journalist Jean Waltès Bien-Aimé represent for Washington officials the worst kind of nightmare.
He told People’s Dispatch: “Activation of gangs is part of a strategy to prevent Haitian people from taking to the streets.” He scorns Ariel Henry “as a present from the U.S. embassy,” adding that the “Haitian people do not need a leader at the moment. Haitian people need a socialist state … We have a bourgeois state. What we need now is a people’s state.”
In the background are U.S. racist attitudes. They flourished initially as a consequence of the slavery system’s central role in developing the U.S. economy. They still show up, it seems, as discomfort with the ideas of formerly enslaved Haitians gaining autonomy and securing independence for their own nation.
W.T. Whitney Jr. is a political journalist whose focus is on Latin America, health care, and anti-racism. A Cuba solidarity activist, he formerly worked as a pediatrician, lives in rural Maine. W.T. Whitney Jr. es un periodista político cuyo enfoque está en América Latina, la atención médica y el antirracismo. Activista solidario con Cuba, anteriormente trabajó como pediatra, vive en la zona rural de Maine.
Peoples World, October 12, 2022, https://peoplesworld.org/