In the last few months there has been an escalation in the severity of the political situation in Haiti. In the wake of the assassination of president Jovenel Moïse last year by US trained Colombian mercenaries, the nation has become wrecked with crisis and political strife. Ariel Henry has taken over as the unelected prime minister, taking the place of Interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph, a move which was supported by western nations of the Core Group. Since taking office, Ariel Henry has continually postponed democratic elections, and in September lifted fuel subsidies amidst a global energy shortage at the behest of Washington and the IMF. In response, the armed group “Revolutionary Forces of the G9 Family and Allies” (FRG9) seized control of the nation’s fuel supply demanding either the immediate lifting of the price hike or the resignation of Henry.
Almost immediately, Ariel Henry requested a United Nations “specialized armed force” to intervene in Haiti, a call which was supported by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. Since then, the US government has sold military equipment to Haitian national police, lobbied sanctions against Haitian gang leaders, and continually expressed their eagerness to mount a military invasion under UN Article Seven.
In early November, FRG9 leader Jimmy “Barbecue” Chérizier announced that the blockade would be lifted and the flow of petrol would resume. This came after attacks from Haitian National Police using armored cars supplied by the US. Although the fuel blockade was cited as the main pretext for foreign military intervention, American officials and news sources have continued their warmongering rhetoric.
Today, the flow of fuel has resumed, but the situation still remains incredibly tumultuous as the people of Haiti suffer under a corrupt and oppressive government which cares more for the interests of the nation’s wealthy minority than those living in slums. A recent cholera outbreak which has primarily affected children will only exacerbate this suffering, and Haitian refugees are being deported back from Florida and the Dominican Republic, actions which are deeply rooted in racist sentiment. Despite months of empty promises of elections from unelected president Ariel Henry, Haiti currently has no democratically elected lawmakers in the senate after their terms expired. Haiti’s government represents the interests of a dwindling upper class, and its authority is overwhelmingly rejected by its citizens.
Demonstrations in the streets have been almost constant in the past few months and the message is clear: the people of Haiti are prepared to fight for a better future, one without the oppressive boot of American imperialism on their throat.
A Legacy of Imperialism
The island of Haiti has been brutalized under the yoke of foreign imperialism since Columbus first landed on Hispaniola in 1492. Within 25 years, the indigenous Taino people were worked to extinction. African slaves were brought to take their place, and forced to toil in the most astoundingly brutal conditions. Hundreds of thousands died to fill the pockets of French plantation owners. In 1791, General Toussaint Louverture, national hero and martyr, led a slave rebellion against the French slaveowners. Although he never lived to see a free Haiti, the rebellion lived on, and under the command of Jean-Jacques Dessalines, the Haitian revolution became the most successful slave revolt in history. For this sin, the imperialist powers of the United States and Europe would condemn the island to centuries of rape, oppression, desecration, and robbery.
The US has been interfering in Haitian affairs since Haiti first won its independence, and has deployed military forces to the nation multiple times in the past century. Most notably, from 1915-1934, the US military occupied the island and declared martial law. This campaign was preceded by the seizure of $500,000 from Haiti’s national bank, and the occupation was characterized by viscous persecution of dissidents and the authoring of a new constitution, which for the first time in Haiti’s history allowed foreign ownership of Haitian land.
In 1991, Haiti’s first ever democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide took office. Only eight months into his presidency, he was deposed in a coup backed by the CIA and led by US trained Haitian military commanders. In 1994, US troops reinstalled Aristide under “Operation Uphold Democracy”, but he was again removed from power in 2004 and forcibly exiled by the US. These series of events, almost comical in their absurdity, show just how deep rooted American interests are in Haitian politics.
Between 1993 and 2019 there was a near constant UN peacekeeping force present in Haiti, comprising multiple “stabilization missions”. These have been associated with widespread allegations of sexual abuse by the “peacekeepers”, as well as a massive cholera outbreak.
Aside from direct military presence, the US also has a longstanding record of clandestine operations in Haiti, including collaboration with drug traffickers. More impactful than any direct imperialist violence, however, is the grip that foreign financial imperialism has had on Haiti from the very beginning. In 1825, French warships blockaded Haiti’s harbors. For the crime of winning their freedom, the Haitian people were forced to pay reparations to French slave owners. The principal amount was $150 million, but the young nation, ravaged by centuries of slavery, was unable to pay it back, and the debt stayed for years as interest compounded. Wall Street also got their piece of the pie during the US occupation in 1915 when Citigroup purchased shares of the Haitian National Bank, and American companies bought up Haitian property. These debts are the primary cause of Haiti’s current poverty, as for decades all of the nation’s wealth was spent to line the pockets of foreign property owners. As Micheal Parenti astutely remarked, “the third world is not poor…[they] are not underdeveloped, they are overexploited”.
When considering this time-honored tradition of foreign exploitation in Haiti, it is no wonder that the Haitian people are so averse to foreign intervention. In protests over the last few months, angered masses have called Canadians and Americans “monsters” responsible for “chaos”. Protesters have also been seen flying Russian and Chinese flags, urging America’s adversaries to veto UN mobilization and work to construct a multipolar world order. Haitians are not blind to the lies of the western world. They demand a government that will bring an end to hunger, poverty, and inequality instead of offering empty promises of “freedom” and “democracy” while lining the pockets of domestic and overseas business like the US backed regimes. These aren’t just demands for political reform, either. The popularity of figures like Jimmy “Barbecue” Chérizier, a self-described revolutionary, shows that this is a movement for radical change.
What Happens Next?
Chérizier has been in the crosshairs of American and Haitian business interests since emerging as a popular leader a few years ago. Originally a member of the Haitian National police, he has been smeared with allegations of involvement with massacres on behalf of the Moïse government, which he denies. The main source of these allegations come from the Haitian human rights group Réseau National de Défense des Droits Humains (RNDDH), which receives funding from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), an organization with deep ties to the CIA and American State Department. Chérizier rejects the label that he is a gang leader, saying in no uncertain terms, “The day I become a gang leader who gives someone a gun to go steal, bring me money, to kidnap, to do bad things, that’s the day I’ll take that gun and shoot myself in the head.”
Regardless if Barbeque is a revolutionary, a criminal, or some of both, his massive popular support cannot be denied. G9 has grown from a small armed group protecting the lower Delmas neighborhood in Port-au-Prince to a large coalition which controls a significant portion of the city, all through grassroots support from Haitians who resonate with Barbeque’s message. The news coverage surrounding Barbeque has been primarily critiques of his character and history, when the focus should be on the rhetoric that has gotten him so popular. “We want a revolution to redistribute the country’s wealth”, says Chérizier, “for all Haitians to have something, just like the nation’s father, Jean-Jacques Dessalines wanted Haiti’s children to have something, and that’s why they assassinated him.”
Its impossible to say if Chérizier’s movement will live up to these lofty ideals, but he importantly represents a growing disdain for foreign imperialism that has escalated into an organized militant movement. Haiti’s liberation can only be achieved by the Haitian people, but it will require international solidarity. The American state has committed innumerable atrocities against Haiti, and we must begin to atone. First and foremost, as citizens we must do all in our power to resist any escalation on the part of the US government which could lead to intervention in Haiti, military or otherwise. We can support legitimate efforts of solidarity, looking toward the Cuban Medical Brigade as a shining example.
Additionally, the American and French governments must pay reparations to the Haitian people, including not only the money stolen by the US in 1914, but also the sums paid to French slaveholders, plus compensation for the decades of disruption and stunted growth. These demands are meager, and will only begin to recompense the horrible legacy that America and others have left on Haiti, but we must begin somewhere. As Franz Fanon said, “Imperialism leaves behind germs of rot which we must clinically detect and remove from our land but from our minds as well.”
The Haitian people are aggravated from centuries of exploitation. They know their enemies, and see clearly that America does not meddle in their country’s affairs for any altruistic reasons, but to satisfy the overwhelming greed of capital. In a tragic irony, the first nation of slaves to win their freedom is today still subject to the same masters and must once again liberate themselves. This liberation may be peaceful or violent, but it will come, and it is our responsibility as Americans living in the imperial core to do all in our power to reject hawkish rhetoric and ensure that our government does not stand in the way of Haitian self-determination.
“In overthrowing me, you have done no more than cut down the trunk of the tree of the black liberty in St-Domingue-it will spring back from the roots, for they are numerous and deep.”